The current pandemic has increased the physical distance between all of us to ensure public safety. There are also various state orders that govern social distancing, stay-at-home orders and other restrictions which businesses need to comply with. For real estate professionals, depending on your state, this means you may not be physically meeting with your clients much at all right now.
Working remotely, in itself, isn’t a new concept. However, traditionally in real estate, human contact has been an important aspect of the business. Working remotely with clients brings with it a whole host of challenges you may not be used to dealing with. Misinterpretations and misunderstandings can happen without that close personal contact you have typically had with clients in the past. And misinterpretations and misunderstandings can unfortunately lead to litigation.
Wondering how you can navigate this new way of doing business and minimize your risk exposure? Here are some tips to help you . . .
Keep The Communication Channels Open
It’s essential to keep the communication channels open, as always, in real estate. But, it’s even more important when dealing with clients remotely. Keeping clients informed and communicating with them regularly can make the difference between a satisfied client and an unsatisfied one.
In the absence of the physical contact we’re accustomed to, there are multiple communication channels that can be useful to communicate with clients remotely. (The telephone, of course, is an important tool for any real estate agent.) But , Skype or Zoom, which both offer real-time, video-conferencing capabilities are ideal for meetings. These tools allow you to record meetings, which can be very useful if you need to check back on the details discussed, if there’s a misunderstanding with a client. (If you’re going to record, be sure to get your client’s permission in writing before you do it.)
Whatever communication tools you decide to use, it’s important to road test them before using them with clients. This can help you avoid situations where clients end up with missing or incorrect information, which can lead to issues downstream, including potential lawsuits.
Be Aware These Are Sensitive Times
Keep in mind, in times of crisis, some client’s emotions can be heightened. This particular global crisis has had a significant impact on the world’s population. Your clients may be dealing with sickness, the loss of loved ones, job losses, changes in financial circumstances, isolation, and stress — all of these things can take its toll on a person. Consider this and be sensitive in all of your communications.
Everything Important Should Be In Writing
It’s not uncommon for people to misinterpret something said over the phone, especially in challenging circumstances. Telephone calls and FaceTime are great for casual conversations and updates, but avoid these for important communications about decisions and approvals. Anything important should be communicated in writing. Ensure that you get all approvals from clients in writing to ensure you don’t find yourself facing a lawsuit. Tools such as DocuSign can help with documenting the approval process. (And “in writing” is best by email, rather than texts. You should print out the emails and place the copies in the client’s file.)
If you do happen to discuss something important over the phone, practice active listening while on the call, and email a written recap of what was discussed with your client shortly after. This record of your conversation can help alleviate any confusion about what was discussed. Ask the client to respond in writing to confirm they have received the email and understand and/or agree.
Keep Everything Concise and Factual
To avoid any misunderstandings, keep all your communications concise, to the point and factual:
- Focus on what your client needs to know and be specific.
- Don’t provide unnecessary, irrelevant details that can distract or cause confusion.
- Be sure not to leave out any critical information, because in the absence of information, assumptions can be made and your client might assume something that is not correct.
Always proofread your written communications to ensure they’re accurate. Typos and accidental errors with the numbers have been known to get real estate professionals in hot water.
Also, keep in mind that email lacks the social cues of in-person communications. Tone of voice, facial expressions, eye contact and body language can all help people to comprehend a message correctly when dealing with each other face-to-face. Be aware of this when formulating your written messages and keep them as clear and informative as possible to avoid misunderstandings.
It’s also useful to double-check you’re sending the most current real estate transaction and disclosure forms for your state and make sure any website links or other information you send to clients via email is all correct.
Get Legal Advice When You Need It
If you’re faced with a situation where a client has misunderstood you or misinterpreted information you’ve have provided, and you think it could result in a potential lawsuit, consult with a qualified legal professional. With CRES Real Estate E&O + ClaimPrevent®, you’ll have access to pre-claim legal services 7 days a week. This service is staffed by fully qualified real estate attorneys who can provide specialized advice specific to your situation. With CRES, we don’t just help you deal with claims, we help you prevent claims from occurring.
Protect Against the Unexpected
While we all hope that misunderstandings won’t occur, inevitably, sometimes they do happen. To protect yourself and your real estate business, ensure you have adequate real estate errors and omissions insurance coverage in case a client makes a claim against you.
If you’re looking for superior E&O coverage, contact the real estate E&O specialists at CRES at 800-880-2747. (As part of one of the largest insurance brokers in the world, we have access to more coverage options than just about anyone!)