Land Brokers

What’s fair for a buyer to expect of a seller’s agent?

A client of mine and I looked at a 10-acre organic farm in New Jersey this week.

The USDA reports some 20,000 organic farms are currently operating.

I am not a broker and don’t provide broker services or act in an agency relationship with clients. I help buyers research property purchases as a consultant.

The agent representing the seller who is associated with a major real-estate brokerage showed up with her seven year old, who, she said, she was home-schooling. The child understandably was not interested in the leaking skylight in the farmhouse or the dozen 4 x 4 props in its basement holding up the first floor. I suggested that we turn on the seller’s tv and park the kid in front of “Sponge Bob Square Pants.”

She said she was not the listing agent even though her name was the contact on the Internet ad. She had shown the property before and was familiar with the house and the seller. She described herself as “specializing in land.” She was not an Accredited Land Consultant.

She came with a copy of the survey, seller-paid home inspection, listing agreement, tax-assessed value and yearly tax, purchase-offer contract and offer-proposal form.

Here’s what she did not know:

1. Soil Survey. This the CD or book that contains all the soil maps for the county and indicates which soil types are appropriate and inappropriate for which uses. She said the soils were sandy and loamy, which we had determined before her arrival by digging about 20 test holes.

2. Schedule F. She did not know the IRS schedule on which farms report income and expenses.

3. Copy of deed into the seller. She wasn’t sure whether it was a general warranty deed. She did not have deed book and page number, which I found on the survey and provided to her.

4. The seller’s purchase price in 2004.

5. The original amount of the seller’s mortgage.

6. The remaining principal on the seller’s mortgage and mortgage terms.

7. Whether the mortgage was assumable.

8. Name of the lender holding the seller’s mortgage.

9. The name of the organization that had certified the farm as meeting its organic standards. She did not have a copy of the farm’s current certificate in the file.

10. Date of the last reassessment. Date of the next reassessment.

11. How the asking price was set? Was it based on a competitive market analysis?

12. Number of finished square feet in the residence.

13. Number of bedrooms or square feet the “new” septic system was permitted for.

14. Cost per square foot of new construction in the local area.

Here’s what she was sketchy on, ranging from a little to a lot:

1. Information on the drilled well—depth, capacity, diameter of line to house.

2. Comps for 10 acres of farm land, like that being sold.

3. Comps for house, as a stand-alone property.

4. Minimum lot size and division potential. She thought one division was permitted.

5. Two “offers” now in front of the seller. She did not say whether these were

written contract offers or “proposals to offer.” One at $248,000, she said, was unacceptable. The other was under consideration. Both, she said, had a May deadline. I did not know whether to believe all, some or nothing of what she had just said.

6. Amount of farm revenue the sellers earned from their efforts.

7. Last time farm actually produced crops for sale. It looked to me that the farm had not operated in 2008. The two tractors and chipper were out in the weather, uncovered. The plastic on the two small greenhouses was down. The fields were weedy.

When I asked to see and read a copy of the contract the buyer would be expected to sign, she refused to show it to the buyers or me. Instead, she gave me — not them — a seconds-long glance at a “proposal form,” which included an offering price and terms, among things I saw, and other things that I did not have a chance to see. At that point, I suggested that the buyers have their local lawyer draft a contract for them.

John Wooten, the famous UCLA basketball coach, said: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” He was right. The fewer answers this agent had, the more I distrusted the information she provided. We were ready to move forward into a contract; the agent was not.

Is it too much to ask of agents representing sellers to know what they’re selling?

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About the author

Curtis Seltzer

Curtis Seltzer is a land consultant, columnist and author of How To Be a DIRT-SMART Buyer of Country Property, available at Curtis-Seltzer.com where his columns are posted. He also does commentary for Virginia public radio. His new book, Land Matters: The “Country Real Estate” Columns, 2007-2009, which includes 14 commentaries on CD.

6 Comments

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  • I agree she should have been better prepared. I must comment however that in Alabama she would not have been representing the seller. If she is not the listing agent she is merely assisting the seller as a transaction broker. Nevertheless, your point is well made, the sellers best interests were not well served and the buyer did not have the information necessary to make an informed decision.

  • It turns out that there was a contract offer on the property that the sellers did accept. My client would have bettered the offer had the agent been prepared. So everyone lost something.

    I will put you on the Country Real Estate mailing list, because you did not scream at me for writing this column, as others have done.

    Best, Curtis

  • It amazes me how we allow professionals to get away with being un-professional. Surely she does not make a living this way…There are those of us who do our homework and are prepared when we meet someone on a property. On a side note, it is John Wooden that was the coach at UCLA, and he has tons of inspirational quotes. Thanks for your articles…they always make me think about things.

    T

  • I make my living brokering raw land and have had many similar and even worse experiences. Sometimes bargains are found due to an agents ignorance and poor representation of the seller. In this agents defence, some of the information you sought was not in her sellers best interest to disclose and the smart buyer will search for that information themselves or hire you. Also, being an Accredited Land Consultant is good, but not necessary to be a specialist.

  • Just read the article in the LandThink e-mail I received.
    First of all there is no excuse for incompetence. If you are out of your league have the integrity to admit as much and refer the listing to a competent agent.

    Secondly however Joseph Cann in one of the above posts makes very good points in response to your “Heres what she did not know” list. Approximately half of that list is of no concern. Unless the listing specifically stated “assumable loan” she is under no obligation to disclose any of that information. In my part of the country an assumable loan is as common as a Republican in the Obama administration.

    What difference does it make how much the buyer paid for the property? That was then this is now, it makes no difference. I could go on but……I won’t.

    Lastly, how is it that you can charge a percentage of the purchase price as a
    “consulting fee” and not be a licensed broker or an attorney? Please let me know how that works. I may have wasted untold hours and money in continuing education and license fees in an attempt to maintain my real estate broker status.

    I await your response.

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