Bad Faith? Or Just Business?

J Philip Faranda December 21, 2008

Buyers are waging a war of attrition with sellers in this market to be sure. I recall that when the sellers had the upper hand that buyers had to pretty much deal with their demands or lose the deal. The opposite is now true. At what point, though, does using their leverage cross over into bad faith?

Example: We’ve have a listing under contract with a buyer who poses a challenge. First, this past Spring they were a low ball offer that my seller client did not accept. They lurked, though, with their agent calling me periodically with various Jerry Bresseresque pitches as to why we should sell to them at their price. The house is pretty nice though, and in the Summer we got another offer. Given the reality of losing their chance, they upped their bid and promised a fast closing. To make a very long story short, we went with their offer. The fireworks started once they realized they were ahead of the backup offers.

We do home inspections before lawyers draw contracts in our market, and these buyers used every delay in the book in the inspection and contract process to effectively dry up the backup offers to strengthen their own leverage with us. Intentional? I’d need a crystal ball to truly know. But the upshot is that after a hack home inspection, which took time to debunk erroneous flags of the heat, electric and well water, and various other delays, the backup offers moved on.

Along the way, radon came back as elevated. The buyer wanted $14,000 to remedy well water and air. The proposed November 30 closing was delayed in all the renegotiation, and all the early December talk is now early January because of even more changed stories. Parsing the details would turn this post into a book, but the bottom line is that once the competition for the home was beaten out, the promises made to beat that competition dried up and the buyer manipulated everything available to return as much as they could to their original offer. Their agent is an ineffectual carrier pigeon with no influence over them.

Have you ever been driving behind a slow car, only to have them get inexplicably competitive and accelerate when you try and pass them? If you don’t pass them, they slow down again and if you do pass them they’ll pass you, as if the object is to be ahead of you for its own sake. That’s what this whole transaction feels like.

So was this just business, with the buyer trying to get the best deal they could, or bad faith, where once they “got ahead” intentionally slowed down with no intention of keeping their word?

This much I know: what makes you a good businessperson is not so much how you can skew a deal to your own advantage to the detriment of your partner in commerce, but more how likely  they would do business with you again if the chance arose. That is the acorn of both good karma and repeat business. I wouldn’t do business with these people again, and I wouldn’t hire this agent unless she were completely retrained.

 

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