Regardless of the advent of online shopping for a home, real estate remains a people business. Real estate agents who understand this do crazy things for their clients, going beyond expectations to make sure their buyers and sellers have the best possible experience.
Eric Murtagh, a real estate agent with Evers & Co., literally went the extra mile and gained a decades-long partnership with Jim Gibson, founder of Gibson Builders. Back in 1990, before everyone had cell phones, Gibson was looking for fixer-upper projects in close-in neighborhoods. Gibson mentioned to Murtagh (who was hoping to win him as a client) that he was going to Rehoboth Beach for the weekend on a Friday.
“A beat-up carriage house came up for sale in Palisades that Friday night,” says Murtagh. “I didn’t think it would last through the weekend and I didn’t have a way to reach Jim. So I left for Rehoboth Beach at 4 a.m. on Saturday in the pouring rain with my thermal paper MLS listing page and a blank contract and drove down without knowing where he was staying. I only knew what his car looked like. I made it in about three hours and I finally found his car just as he was walking outside. He saw me and thought I was crazy for making the ride down to the beach to find him. He took me out to breakfast, liked the house and wrote an offer.”
Sometimes, agents can do something over the top without ever leaving D.C.
“I was working with a very earthy, spiritual couple from Colorado who called me in to take over their listing that wasn’t selling,” says Daniel Heider, vice president at TTR Sotheby’s International Realty. “As a part of my pitch I brought them a bundle of white sage and we ‘saged’ the property to cleanse the former agent’s energy, right after they signed the exclusive.”
Marriage, babies, death and divorce move houses
A Washington Fine Properties agent says one of his oddest experiences was when a seller client said, “Oops, I forgot Dad!” The agent kindly went back into the home to retrieve the urn that had been left on the mantel, which contained the client’s father’s ashes.
The fast-paced current market leads to some almost comically quick sales
“My husband’s friend came in from out of town for dinner on a Sunday evening and casually mentioned that mutual acquaintances were getting a divorce,” says Nancy Taylor-Bubes, an agent with Washington Fine Properties. “He said the husband would be selling the house and I realized that I had a perfect buyer for it. I got right on the phone and mentioned to my broker the next day that I was tracking down the listing agent. Another agent overheard me. Within one day we both had offers on the house, which was in the upper brackets, but thankfully I got it for my buyer.”
A more pleasant scenario than divorce led Jim Bell, executive vice president and global advisor at TTR Sotheby’s International Realty, into an “exciting yet terrifying” settlement.
“A wealthy buyer wanted to propose to his girlfriend at settlement,” says Bell. “I had to sign for the engagement ring, which was delivered from New York City in an armored car, and then personally deliver it to the closing.”
Jamie Peva, an agent with Washington Fine Properties, was showing a Georgetown home that he thought would be a great fit for a young couple expecting their first baby.
“The house just didn’t resonate with them and they couldn’t picture having a family there,” says Peva. “I sent them off for a lunch break. I got my three-year-old daughter and put her in the backyard to play, and when they came back and saw her their whole attitude changed and they made an offer.”
Transactions that you might think would fail
Living on the edge is a common experience for real estate agents, who know that many transactions hang by a thread that could easily be snapped. Andrea Evers, an agent with Evers & Co. in Dupont Circle, had a wild story about her listing near U Street. Her clients decided to remove a broken fence door rather than repair it. A crime occurred while the property was in escrow.
“A chase ensued and the ‘chasee’ ran through the alley behind my listing, noticed an opening into a backyard where my clients had removed the door and ran in,” says Evers. “He was stuck and tried to scale a fence, but the man chasing him caught up and shot and killed the trapped man, who died in the backyard of my listing. I got a call very early the next morning from my scared and shaken seller clients. I never heard a word from the buyer agent until the day before closing. Before her clients’ walk-through, she called and asked if I could make sure any police tape or fingerprint dust was not on the property. ‘So, they know?’ I asked. ‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘No problem, we’ll make sure the house is clean,’ I said. The closing went smoothly.”
Hans Wydler, who recently opened Wydler Brothers Real Estate, says his brother Steve Wydler almost didn’t make it through his first year in the business.
“He had a listing where a guest clogged an upstairs bathroom and flooded it without telling anyone,” says Hans. “Water started dripping down the dining room chandelier and I got a call from Steve saying: ‘Help. 911. Emergency.’ He sold the house with multiple offers but lost about a year of his life to stress.”
Skip and Debbie Singleton, owners of DC Living Real Estate, worked with a buyer of a newly renovated home who fell in love with the dog that had been on site during construction and wanted the dog written into the contract.
“It turned out that the contractor-owner of the house loved the dog too, and wouldn’t part with him,” says Skip. “Our buyers got the home without the dog, but they rescued another dog soon after they moved.”
Margaret Heimbold, a Long & Foster agent, recalls: “A few years ago on a gorgeous sunny day in Georgetown, I was summoned by my out-of-town developer-purchaser to present Evangeline Bruce’s former home on 34th Street. It was listed for about $5,000,000. Of course, I was happy to do so and parked my Lexus SUV in the driveway. As I was presenting the house and ballroom, I patted my empty pocket and realized that I had left my car keys in the car. I excused myself and walked outside to the driveway only to find the car was gone. The car was ultimately recovered (with some damage because the person who took it was using it as a taxi service). I never did sell the house, but the developer listed one of his properties for sale with me.”
Nashwa Beach, an agent with Evers & Co., jumped right in with stellar service for her first listing. The family was moving overseas quickly and facing financial problems.
“The matriarch was a hoarder and I had to clean the entire house,” says Beach. “Movers took out several truckloads of trash and there were a few dead rodents too. I had to store and ship items via freight to their new location and even lend them a few thousand dollars.”
Fortunately for Beach, the home sold quickly for $65,000 over the list price.
Real estate agents are well known for recommending contractors and moving companies, but Taylor-Bubes and her staff step in to obtain emergency No Parking signs to help customers get a moving truck into Georgetown’s notoriously tight streets.
“One time, a new assistant had forgotten to get the signs, so she raced to the police station on a Sunday night and then the whole office moved our cars around and knocked on the neighbors’ doors to see if they could move their cars to create space for the truck,” says Taylor-Bubes. “Everyone hung around waiting for a car to move and then we’d race to put one of ours in the spot to reserve it.”
Nancy Itteilag, an agent with WFP, has taken delivery of cars shipped from overseas for clients who weren’t in town, driven clients to the airport and finished packing for clients who were too overwhelmed at the last minute.
“I’ve even folded laundry that people have accidently left in the dryer,” says Itteilag, who also delivers lunch to buyers and to their moving crews to keep people happy on a stressful day.
Catherine Charbonneau, another Evers & Co. agent, had to get a big bat out of one of her listings in Chevy Chase.
“I’ve chased cats, crated dogs and walked dogs for customers, climbed onto the roof, crawled under a home, landscaped, caulked and even sat with sellers to sort their ‘trash, donate or keep’ piles,” says Charbonneau.
In other words, customer satisfaction means a lot more than paperwork for most real estate agents.