Me, speaking to my child: “Who ate the last ten Oreos?”
Child: “I don’t know.”
Me: “Then why are your cheeks and teeth covered in Oreo-like residue?”
Child: “I don’t know.”
Does this sound familiar to you?
If so, then you would probably agree that sometimes kids use the phrase, “I don’t know” to cover many different situations. Maybe that is why we as adults can be reluctant to say it. Especially in the professional world, there could be pressure to not appear to be up on all the news.
We now live in the age of tons of free information. We can see across seas, know the location of our friends, and follow events in ways that would see like magic to us even twenty years ago. If we need to know something, we don’t even have to go to the trouble to type it into the Google machine. We now can just shout it aloud to your friend Siri or Alexa. She, like the Eye of Sauron, sees all.
However, in the day to day conversations that accompany real estate, there are lots of times when an answer of, “I don’t know” is appropriate – even preferable – to an educated guess. Why and when would it be preferable to admit a lack of knowledge?
For example, what if you are a potential lake home buyer and you have just walked through a home that you really love. You start wondering if your furniture will fit in it. You know that your “city house” is 2,400 square feet, and can base your frame of reference on that fact. You ask your agent, “How big is this house?”
If the agent says something numerically, whether it’s high or low, he or she had better be prepared to cite a source. Why? Because if the agent is wrong, the sale can be affected. If the answer given is lower than reality, the agent has misrepresented the seller’s home as being too small. If the answer is too high, the agent has given the buyer an incorrect impression of the home and the buyer might base his or her decision on that.
This is when a good agent (in my opinion) will say, “I don’t know, but let me help you find out.” The agent then should do some homework, consulting a number of possible sources like the original house plans, a prior appraisal, or the County Tax Assessor’s estimate. The point is that the agent should assist the buyer’s information hunt, instead of trying to be the ultimate expert about the home’s exact size.
Another similar situation that happens around Lake Martin is when a buyer may ask, “How many feet of waterfront does this lot have?”
If the agent has access to a current survey, a plat map, or the County’s tax records, great! But if not, the answer should probably go something like, “I don’t know, but let me help you find out.” The agent should then encourage the buyer to rely on a survey as one of the more reliable ways to measure a lot’s waterfront footage.
Again, the goal here is that the agent should assist in the discovery of information, not to be the ultimate authority of whatever fact the buyer seeks. Admittedly, in a competitive industry like real estate, where most practitioners are self employed, there is pressure to be known as knowledgeable about every possible detail of a sale.
It is especially hard for someone like me. I was the kid in class that always had to fight the urge to raise my hand and attempt to answer every single question from the teacher. Whether I was actually right or wrong, I really felt like I had a good answer and should try it. You know the type.
Where did I develop such an irritating instinct?
I don’t know.
Note: I originally published this article in my monthly column in Lake Magazine. I am proud to write about Lake Martin Real Estate for Lake Magazine and ACRE – the Alabama Center for Real Estate.