Working Out the Bugs

A colony of termites had taken up residence in a home. Real estate pro Alexis Bolin realized this home was going to be a challenge to sell.

June 1, 2010

Location: Pensacola, Fla.
Square footage: 2,500
Lot size (square footage): About 21,500
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 2
Year built: 1983
Extras: Pool, termites

It all started with the roof, explains Alexis Bolin, CRS®, SFR, a broker-associate for ERA Legacy Realty in Pensacola, Fla.

A leak uncovered during the home inspection determined that the roof needed to be replaced. No problem. The sellers agreed to have a new roof installed at their expense, Bolin explains.

During the roof installation, though, the contractor found live termites and called Bolin. The veteran real estate pro arranged for a pest control company to check out the problem. It confirmed the live termites.

So Bolin notified the sellers, who promptly authorized the pest control company to treat the entire house and put the house under a termite contract for the buyers.

"Ordinarily, finding live termites wouldn't pose such a problem with folks who live in the south because termites are common. In fact, there's a saying in this area: 'Either you have termites or you're going to get termites.' It's just a matter of time," Bolin says.

"However, the buyers were from up North and were uneasy about the termites. And our winters aren't cold enough to kill off insects like they would be in areas like Minnesota," she adds.

In addition to the roof and the termites, there was the issue of some rotten wood on the building and a problem with the pool. Bolin says the sellers agreed to take care of all of the issues and absorb the cost.

But the buyers, nervous from all the problems, asked for a guarantee that the sellers would be responsible if termite damage, visible or otherwise, was found in the house in the next 12 months.

"They told us that if they didn't get the guarantee, they weren't closing. The sellers couldn't give them an unconditional guarantee and neither could the pest control company," Bolin recalls.

"After speaking to the buyers at length, I put the sellers, lender, and title company on notice that there was a good chance this deal wasn't going to close," she adds.

How did you overcome the challenge?

BOLIN: I discussed the situation with the sellers and suggested they offer to give the buyers back their earnest-money deposit and cancel the contract. I explained that it wasn't in their best interest to make buyers close on a home where they had grave concerns. If you force buyers to close when they're concerned about a serious issue, it always poses problems later. It was better to just let them go.

So with the sellers' permission, I told the buyers that the sellers understood their feelings and didn't want them to buy the house if they were uncomfortable. I also told them the sellers were willing to sign a document giving them back their earnest money and canceling the contract.

In essence, I put the ball back in their court to make a decision and even suggested they contact an attorney if they so desired. The next day, the buyers called to say they appreciated my understanding of how they felt. They admitted that they knew that no one could give them an unconditional guarantee on things. And they said they were at the bank getting the money to close and would be at closing in about an hour.

What was the selling price?

BOLIN: We got the listing in April 2009 for $245,000 and sold the home for $225,000 in May 2009.

How did you find the buyers?

BOLIN: The buyers were a referral from one of my previous clients. They were looking for a home in the neighborhood, and I had just listed this one. It wasn't on the market yet; the seller wanted to have an estate sale and to get the house painted inside and carpet shampooed prior to showing it. The buyers were interested, so I e-mailed them the photos. They actually bought the house without seeing it in person.

What was the housing market like at the time?

BOLIN: We're in northwest Florida. The housing market in our area isn't suffering like the South Florida market. But our prices are down and the inventory is up. Only about 16 percent of our sales in the MLS are short sales or foreclosures. That said, we're still selling homes that are in good condition and priced right.

What's the biggest factor you attribute to closing the deal?

BOLIN: Trust. I think the biggest factor that contributed to the closing was the approach we took, which was not to threaten the buyers but to sympathize and empathize and give them a way out of the deal without any penalty to them. We gave them an opportunity to get comfortable with the purchase, and they appreciated it.

What lessons did you learn?

BOLIN: By keeping calm myself, I transferred that feeling to the buyers and sellers, which put them more at ease with the situation. My feeling is that when agents get hyper about things and transfer their feelings to the buyers and sellers, they sometimes make the situation much worse than it needs to be.

We sometimes lose sight of our responsibilities in the transaction, which are to assist the sellers in selling and the buyers in buying a home that they really want. Many times over my 32 years I have sold homes that didn't suit me personally. But it wasn't my home or my decision. It's my job to assist the buyers in buying the home they want and to help make sure they are comfortable with their decision.

How did you get started in real estate?

BOLIN: I was a waitress for 18 years before moving to the Pensacola area. I made the decision to quit waiting tables and go into real estate in 1978. I was new to this area and new to real estate. All I had was my good work ethic. I knocked on 50 to 100 doors a day to meet people and get started in real estate.

Today, 32 years later, I am still doing business with many of those people and their children and grandchildren. Most of my business today is word-of-mouth, referrals, and repeat customers.

Do you have a specialty or niche?

BOLIN: Not really. I specialize in helping people in all price ranges buy and sell homes. My feeling is that regardless of the price range of the home, all people deserve the best knowledge and service possible, and I try to give it. Consequently, I sell homes from $50,000 to $5 million.