Train for Service and the Law Will Be on Your Side

November 11, 2013

Avoiding breaches of fiduciary duty starts with rethinking how brokers train agents.

“Training agents for service is one of the biggest things that will get you out of lawsuits,” said J.P. Endres Fein, a broker with Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty in White Plains, N.Y. She said that too often training is focused on the rules and regulations of the industry.

But if training focused more on how to service the client, that would take care of compliance. “If you create the service for your customer, you create a customer who doesn’t complain,” she said.

In a session Friday at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo on fiduciary duty and avoiding lawsuits, Fein offered a few tips that will help shield brokers and agents from litigation. One of the standout themes was consistency in quality of service in every real estate office.

If one agent in an office offers one level of service —taking clients’ coats and offering them coffee, for example – and another agent in the same office doesn’t match that level of service, it could create the perception of discrimination, Fein said.

“Make sure you give the same experience to every client every time,” she said. “When you have a situation where everyone who comes into your office gets a different agent and a different level of service, clients could think that there is an issue.”

Fein also recommended having agents mark a checklist of requirements to ensure they are sticking to protocols. And by all means, be responsive to clients’ follow-ups, and keep records of cell phone bills and logs of all calls, e-mails, and texts between agents and clients. The records can protect against false claims by clients that agents didn’t live up to their fiduciary duties.

“My best clients have the most documented files I’ve ever seen,” said New York-based real estate attorney Scott Kossove.

Kossove said that most lawsuits he has seen involve home buyers claiming that their agents either concealed or made mistakes on property information. Most of the time, he said, it was the buyer’s mistake, but “they can’t bring themselves to blame themselves. So they end up blaming the agent.”

Therefore, brokers should be training agents on how to verify property details in public records, he said.

By Graham Wood, REALTOR® Magazine

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