Your first reaction to bad news related to a real estate deal that you are brokering could mean the difference between the deal being saved or lost forever. If you have been a real estate agent or broker for more than a week, you have probably received bad news about a deal falling apart. You know the rush of emotions that comes when you read the email or get the dreaded phone call with “the problem”. How you respond from there makes all the difference in the likelihood of the deal coming together.
In Chapter Six of J. Paul Getty’s book “How to Be Rich”, “The Force of Habit”, he relays some advice he received early in his career as an oilman. “Always think of yourself as a man that has just fallen overboard in the middle of a lake.” This advice really resonated with me, probably because I have been thrown from a boat or had one capsize several times in my life.
In a boating incident, the first thing you must do upon entering the water is come to the surface for air, otherwise you die. That’s a given. The next thing to ensure your survival is remaining calm and orienting yourself to the boat or the nearest land. I experienced this firsthand one summer while whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River in Tennessee. We were shooting the section of rapids used in the Atlanta Summer Olympics, and there were some serious class 4 and 5 holes. It was our young guide’s first time to lead a raft through the course. Right in the middle of the most treacherous water, our raft hit a boulder and plunged all of the passengers into immediate peril. The rushing torrent grabbed us all. I had the good fortune of coming out of the raft and being able to cross my feet on the surface and point downstream, and as a result was picked up almost immediately by a nearby boat. My raftmates were not nearly as fortunate. All the rest of them waged a long battle with the cold, raging water. One of my friends had one of those experiences so close to death that you’ll never forget it. Casey rode the worst part of the Olympic course of the Ocoee River in nothing but his life vest.
Mr. Getty’s analogy is one we can all relate to. There will be times when we feel like a deal is sailing along marvelously, and suddenly we find ourselves plunged into the cold, wet reality of “the problem.” A decade as a land broker has taught me (often through hard knocks) the following suggestions for surviving and salvaging a land deal when trouble hits.
1. Compose yourself- Just as flailing and thrashing about when falling into the water exerts unnecessary energy and decreases your chances of survival, so does pitching a fit or “giving someone a piece of your mind.” You are a professional. Take a deep breath, a walk, a run, a drive, whatever you need to do to get in the right frame of mind to address the situation.
2. Orient yourself- You must identify with as much clarity as possible the answers to the following questions.
- What exactly is the problem?
- Who can solve the problem?
- How long will it take and how much will it cost?
When learning of a problem, I almost never contact the parties to a transaction until I have a clear understanding of what the problem is and identifying the path to a resolution. Our job is not to cause undue alarm, but to help our clients and customers achieve the desired outcome of the deal.
3. Identify who and what can be salvaged- Is it going to be possible to save the deal? It may or may not be. There are a million mitigating factors that could come into play. The priority, if at all possible, is to save the relationships. Things happen beyond your control. What you do and how you do it will determine if you will have a working relationship with your client, customer, or vendors in the future. Try to rescue as much of the deal and relationships as possible, and at the end of the day be glad you got out alive.
4. “Embrace the Suck”- This expression, used by Special Forces operators, is very helpful in reminding them to “consciously accept an extremely unpleasant circumstance that cannot be avoided.” If you are going to be a good land broker, you will face extremely unpleasant circumstances. Fortunately most of our stressful situations, unlike our military friends, are not life-threatening. Make peace with the fact that you are going to have to navigate some rough water, point your bow in the right direction, and make every effort to reach a positive outcome.
5. Ask for Help- If you are in over your head or in unfamiliar waters, reach out to someone more experienced than you to weigh in on your situation. I have two of the best land brokers in Alabama, Dave Milton, ALC, and Fletcher Majors, ALC, on speed dial so that I can contact them when I encounter a scenario I am not familiar with. I answer calls almost every week from brokers and agents inside and outside my company asking for advice on different scenarios. Do not be afraid to ask for help. You have a responsibility to your clients to provide the best service and solutions possible, and none of us can know everything.
Two of my favorite maritime clichés are “Smooth seas do not make Seasoned Sailors” and “Lose your head, wind up dead”. I believe these maxims are equally applicable to the situations we face in brokering land deals. Any business that requires you to deal with people, property, and significant amounts of money lends itself to problems. The problems are unavoidable, they will come. Following the steps listed above has allowed me to survive and salvage many land deals and kept them from sinking into the dark abyss where dead deals go. Godspeed, my friends.
Jonathan Goode is an Accredited Land Consultant (ALC) and a partner with Southeastern Land Group. He is a licensed broker in Alabama and Mississippi, and is the co-host of the weekly radio program and podcast “The Land Show.”