‘Dismissive’ Columnist?




-To the editor:
I generally look forward to useful and interesting information regarding local real estate in your publication, but was surprised at the similarly dismissive responses from Darrell Parsons to consecutive readers’ questions, published in the 24 March 2010 “Ask the Realtor” column.

Responding to a reasonable question from Tenleytown’s Norma T. regarding recommended areas to focus her house improvement investment, Mr. Parsons seemed to go out of his way to avoid the question, while instead offering a rebuke to the reader, basing his negative remarks upon his own assumptions. Mr. Parson then added a bit of unsolicited interior design advice.

Maureen C. of Cleveland Park provided another chance for Mr. Parsons to make assumptions, while he again ignored the reader’s central question, which in this instance was about house design. Sight unseen, Mr. Parsons first assumed the price range of Maureen’s home, then suggested (twice) that she reduce her asking price!

Although I can certainly appreciate Mr. Parsons personal experience-based point of view,
I can’t help but empathize with the readers, as they might have hoped for a more sensitive ear and positive direction.

My suggestions might seem novel to the realtor: First, respect your readers, and if making any assumptions, assume that the readers are taking the time to ask because they really seek advice, and not because they wish to be made an example of Mr. Darrell’s assumptions and following conclusions, or that wish to be entertained rather than informed.

Second, when tempted to provide advice outside one’s area of expertise, refrain,
and instead provide the reader with a referral to a knowledgeable professional who might better address the reader’s concerns. If a question requests facts regarding return on investment, answer that, and leave the interior design advice to interior designers.
If a question is about house design, perhaps a referral to an architect or residential designer would be more appropriate.

Just as realtors hope to enjoy referrals from other professionals, realtors should know that sometimes, the best way to serve is through a wise referral to, or consultation with, someone who can directly address an issue.

In summary to Ms. T., Mr. Parsons promises future answers, if the readers can just “hang in there”, and signs off: “Good Luck!” I can’t wait.

Shawn Glen Pierson

The author is the founder of Architétc, a D.C.-based architecture and design firm.

Dear Mr. Pierson:
My answers to readers are subjective of course, but they are offered with the utmost respect and sensitivity to the situation of those asking the questions. Of necessity, the length of the answers is limited by the amount of space which can be devoted to these written answers. As a result, the answers are not as thorough as I would like them to be, and a certain amount of generalization is required. I can see that this might come across as making assumptions and/or being insensitive, so I will be more tuned into that as I answer future questions.

One of the downsides of writing rather than speaking face-to-face is that voice inflection and facial expression are left out. In answering Norma T., I was attempting to inject a little humor in the response. I can see that the “humor” came out like a bit of a smart-aleck. Not my intent, of course. Despite those things, my basic underlying advice is sound, and is very clear that it is important to have the work done by appropriate professionals. I disagree that suggesting neutral colors is straying into the area of “interior design advice.”

As I re-read my answer to Maureen S., I can see that she might have received my comments as dismissive. What I intended was to give her reassurance that though her house hadn’t sold yet, she shouldn’t despair, because it is taking longer for properties to sell in this market. Unfortunately, I had to guess at what she meant by “unusual design.” That required either a generalized answer or making more assumptions than I had already made. However, my attempt at relating her situation to music still raises a valid point. The more “unusual” a house is, the narrower the field of potential buyers. I did not suggest that she redesign her property, or that one design is better than other. My answer had to do with getting her house sold, and it is a common observation that a larger percentage of buyers are not looking for houses with unusual designs. Regardless of the state of the real estate market, when the potential buyer pool is smaller for a given property, it takes longer for that property to sell. This could be related to floor plan, exterior appearance, paint colors, amenities, or any number of other possibilities. My comments are not, for example, about the relative value of one color paint over another, but rather that there is a much larger field of potential buyers for a house painted in a “neutral” color than for one painted in bright orange. Skilled realtors know this sort of thing, and part of their job is to communicate it in a sensitive way to sellers.

I welcome any further comments or suggestions.

Darrell Parsons

The author is a Georgetown-based realtor and is the author of our biweekly “Ask the Realtor” column. He blogs at georgetownrealestatenews.blogspot.com.

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