I must say Mr Ehrling's insistance in my making the changes in this matter is both complimentary to me, in that the readership of this blog is minimal at best, and proper for the sake of accuracy in that it is possible that the "New Vista sales team" that I met may not have even been employed by him, but were in fact only a commissioned outside contractor, loosely using his name. Because I didn't agree to represent them, I have no paperwork to pinpoint who my "host" was.
The story, in case you somehow missed it partly follows: One dreary November day I was sitting in my real estate office looking out the window at the dusting of fresh snowflakes on the parking lot when the phone rang—this was 10 years ago in New Hampshire. The voice on the other end said he was calling from Florida, I thought he said he was from from a company called New Vista Properties, but maybe he only implied that...but he did say he was looking for a few NH based Realtors to help sell vacant lots in Florida's Charlotte County. I liked the concept right away.
The offer was—well—too good to refuse. “Come on down here and see what we have,” said the voice. “We’ll give you an all-expense paid trip to Florida, over a weekend. Fly down on a Friday and go home Sunday, all on us.” Ehrling says this never happened.
In answer to my many questions of what the weekend was to hold, he told me that he represented a Florida land developer; they had some 5000 lots, and crews to build houses. My role would be to funnel interested New England buyers to them and they would pay me a referral fee of 10% and take the buyers from there. 10% was about 8% more than I would get for doing a similar thing in New Hampshire.
My answer was that my partner (who is my wife in real life) and I would come to evaluate their offer and the properties, and to hear the offer in a face-to-face meeting with the “management team”. And so the event was scheduled, this was November 2003.
As it turned out there were non-stop from Manchester NH to Ft Meyers where they met us—and 9 or 10 other folks at the airport. The other folks who were a part of our “group” were from Canada New York and Europe. There were German Realtors, Brits, and a couple from France as I recall. Most of us owned real estate firms or were “estate agents” who could focus on bringing in new buyers.
We were given VIP treatment, and once we were all rounded up, we took a “unmarked company” van to North Port, where we were shown a few model homes and then whisked off to cocktails at the hotel in Port Charlotte, where we were both staying and where the “management team” wanted to welcome us. It was pretty clear by this time that they had done this kind of thing before and were good at the planning and execution.
After cocktails we were invited to have dinner in the dining room—“we can't join you, but just charge it to the room—order from the dining room menu or room service, you’re on your own for dinner,” said the marketing manager “Get some sleep tonight, we’ll see you at 9 AM to go out and look at the lots.”
The next day at 9 the company van picked us up and took us to a huge pontoon boat docked at a marina in El Jobean, and took us on a boat ride through the canals of South Gulf Cove. The marketing guy led the discussions about which lots were “ours” and the lot pricing was on everyone’s mind. I could see the interest from my fellow real estate sales agents. And of course I was interested too. These were nice lots.
We returned from the boat ride just before noon and were taken to Boca Grande to a little beachfront restaurant for lunch. We walked the unspoiled beach, waded in the Gulf briefly and then back in the van to go see North Port—where there were another 3000 lots. Finally, back to the hotel, with the instructions that the “developers” would meet us Sunday morning—they wanted to show us a presentation and discuss the offer they had for us. And if we liked it, they would ask us to agree to become a bonafide representative of theirs in our own area.
That evening my wife and I walked the half-mile to the Fisherman’s Village waterfront bar and talked over the opportunity. On the walk back I found a newspaper vending box and bought a paper. Remember 10 years ago was a long time before smart phones and hotel emails. That night in the hotel room I read the classified ads in the paper and discovered a bundle of lots for sale in the very areas we had driven through earlier that day; but what stuck with me most was that the price of lots for sale in the areas we had been looking at were for sale in the newspaper for significantly less than our hosts were charging—I mean MUCH less.
Listen, when you come right down to it, there's no law precluding overcharging a buyer in a real estate deal. A contract is a contract, if I offer you a watch for $100 and you accept the offer, we have a deal. If I offer you a bridge for $100,000, and you accept the offer, we have a deal. So if I offer a lot for $30,000 and you say yes, well that's how it's done. Due diligence allows a cooling off period for the buyer to review his decision, but as the law says, let the buyer beware--caviet emptor.
Well, we didn't sign up to become a representative for our hosts, but we still happened to move to the area—a decision we made largely through that November weekend with the salesmen who claimed to represent New Vista, but then again maybe actually didn't.
Dane Hahn is a real estate professional serving Sarasota and Charlotte Counties. You can reach him at 941-681-0312 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.