Dotting The I’s: 22 Tips For Practically Perfect Paperwork

Dotting The I’s: 22 Tips For Practically Perfect Paperwork

This April, one of Inman’s most popular recurring theme months returns: Back to Basics. All month, real estate professionals from across the country share what’s working for them, how they’ve evolved their systems and tools, and where they’re investing personally and professionally to drive growth in 2022. It’s always smart to go Back to Basics with Inman.

Looking for more advice? Check out Inman’s New Agent Essentials.

Completing documents correctly is one of the key challenges agents face — and one that causes much angst for new agents. Below are 22 great tips to be aware of — whether you’re a new agent or just want to refresh your knowledge. 

1. No one has ever been sued for over-disclosing on material facts pertaining to the sale

2. When you don’t understand something written in the contract, ASK! There are no wrong questions, just wrong answers. You have a responsibility to your clients to get it right.  

3. Follow the Lynae Forbes Rule — when writing a request in a contract it should have a clear objective, deadline and consequence if the action isn’t performed by the other party.

4. Do not leave anything blank on a contract. If it doesn’t apply, write NA. If it is left blank, it can cause confusion as to whether that section was missed or intentionally left blank.

5. After writing additional provisions on a contract, re-read the line as if you were not involved in the transaction. Could a third party, like a lawyer, understand it knowing nothing about the details of the sale? If not, rewrite it with more clarity.

6. It is unprofessional to use slang on contracts.

7. Number your additional provisions points for easy negotiation reference. Never combine two points in one sentence.

8. Label addendums with keywords or phrases rather than numbers in case there are several addendums. Otherwise, it’s too easy to lose track of the count. This confuses lenders and closers (lawyers or escrow officers) who have to execute on these documents. 

9. Repair addendums should be as detailed as possible: Be sure to include the location of the repair, type of repair, who is to perform the work and by when are mandatory requirements. You should also identify when and if there should be a re-inspection.

10. Keep in mind that you are not a lawyer and not qualified to give legal advice. Any document created by you should not advise outside your expertise. If the information requires counsel by a lawyer, you must refer your client to one. If you’re not sure, refer them anyway. 

11. Always create a written follow-up on anything you advise your client. If you have given verbal instructions or counsel, follow it up with an email outlining the information you communicated. 

12. Double-check your work. In the end, if you wrote it, you are liable. 

13. Follow the Val Thorpe Rule — it’s the listing agent’s job to know about the property they are selling. Do your homework before you list the property by pulling permits, state disclosures, and any possible issues that could harm your client’s chances of getting their best price.

14. When working with a difficult co-op agent, move the conversation to email only. Create an email chain of all conversations in case you need them for arbitration. Should they continue to text or call, only respond via email. It’s likely they will begin to choose their words more carefully.

15. You work in “just the facts.” Buying and selling a home is a business transaction. When creating documents, only facts should be communicated. Remove any emotionally charged language. We are all human and make mistakes, but you must pull your reactions out of your contract communications and negotiations.  

16. When delivering paperwork (offers, addendums, etc.) to the co-agent, follow up with a text or email that it has been delivered. 

17. Create a system that includes creating transaction timelines that outline the deadlines pertaining to the contract. Have both the other agent and your client review and agree in writing, so everyone is working off the same knowledge.

18. If you’re newer, learn your contract, and review it with a more seasoned agent if need be. You are expected by your client to know and understand the language in your state’s contract. However, if your client is offering on a property that does not use the standard language (for example, Zillow uses different language on its iBuyer transactions), disclose this information to your client, and advise them they could retain a lawyer to review the verbiage. 

19. Remember, your job is to work on behalf of your client. Any request inside the law must be executed to your best efforts, even if you don’t agree. 

20. Being clear, concise and articulate will always win the day. Create pre-written templates for items you use frequently, or ask the brokerage for boilerplate language that has been reviewed by a lawyer. This would include things like escalation clauses, appraisal gap language or information about removing contingencies.

21. Create a checklist and cheat sheet for all items and documents that must be included in a transaction, and refer to it at key points in the process to ensure that you haven’t missed anything. Your broker may have one or ask an experienced agent if they have one you can use.  

22. Laws and requirements change, so be sure to review all templates and checklists frequently so that you’re using the most up-to-date information and verbiage. 

Shelley Zavitz is a practicing real estate agent in Portland, Oregon with an award-winning background in commercial copywriting and brand building. Connect with her on Facebook or LinkedIn.

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