This zany business of real estate.

I have clients in another country; it’s six hours later there than it is here, which makes communicating with them difficult at times. They’re moving to Ottawa this summer and planned to come to look at homes themselves, but weren’t able to for various reasons, so I said I’d preview the homes they were interested in.

I previewed one in particular I thought they would like that was getting quite a bit of activity. They had planned to have a family member come back the next day to see it, but I thought that was leaving things a bit late. I persuaded them to arrange that viewing a little sooner; I really didn’t want them to lose the house by a day.

The Ottawa market is crazy right now – there are multiple offers on almost everything, and so the family member, Kim,  came back with me that evening. She also thought it was beautiful  and agreed this was the right house for them.

They decided to put in an offer and we went over the terms but by then, it was past one AM where they were, and I knew they were getting pretty tired.  I asked them to fill in the paperwork for me the next morning so we could send off the offer first thing.

I put in a relatively short irrevocable (that’s the time period the seller has to counter the offer). As I explained to them, we wanted to be reasonable but not give the seller enough time to rustle up a second offer, given the activity on the house.

I sent off the offer to the other agent. The buyers wanted me to show Kim the other homes they’d been interested in  in the interim in case they didn’t get this house and so away we went to see  more homes. Meanwhile, I had several back and forth discussions with the other agent as part of our negotiations, and when I got home from the showings, I called her to find out when we could expect the sellers’ counter-offer.

Now, an agent cannot, by law, tell another agent they have received an offer unless it’s in writing. However, there’s nothing wrong with giving an agent a head’s up that they are expecting one. And in the course of our conversation, she mentioned she was expecting another offer to come in about an hour and planned to present both offers together.

Which would put my clients in a multiple offer situation — exactly what we’d hoped to avoid. More problematic, by the time we got the formal notice of the second written offer, if one arrived, given the time change and our short irrevocable, we’d have no time to respond.

Somehow I managed to persuade her to have the sellers counter back and she agreed, but wanted assurances we could get it  done within an hour. Which was more than fair; after all, she was expecting another offer and ours was soon to expire.  There was sufficient activity on the home that the sellers had options. If we didn’t act quickly, my clients were going to lose the house.

I scrambled to get hold of my buyers and told them to be on standby for the seller’s counter. A few minutes later, we received it and it was acceptable to them but left us with slightly over a half hour to respond. But they had no scanner and their embassy was closed. It was already late evening there; nothing was open.

We agreed they would take jPeg images of each page and send them to me, and a few minutes later, they confirmed they had signed everything and were sending the images shortly. I let the agent know the good news, that verbally we had a deal. But once again, verbal means nothing in real estate – you need the actual paper.

Ten anxious minutes passed and still I had nothing. My emails to my clients  asking how they were making out were suddenly returned undeliverable. I tried calling them, and I couldn’t get through: I kept getting automated messages telling me  I had the wrong area code.  I called Kim and she  said it’s hard to call that country because of special  area code requirements; she didn’t have their number.

Then finally, halleluah! the pages arrived. I looked at them and was horrified to see there were only three of the six I needed. Worse, I was missing the fifth page, the most important one with all the signatures, the one that actually accepts the sellers’ counter and makes it a deal. And the clock was ticking.

And then when I finally got the missing page, gahh!!!! They’d signed and dated it but in the wrong place.  So there I was with only minutes before the deadline expired, scanning back a version to them to show them exactly where to re-sign and where to put the time and date, replete with arrows and circles and giant “SIGN HERE”s.

I told my buyers I needed  page 5 ASAP. Minutes ticked by and I got nothing. I emailed them again. And again. And again. And then one of their email accounts stopped working altogether.

“You guys are killing me” I emailed. “I NEED PAGE 5.”

I finally got an email: “We sent it to your Royal LePage account,” they said. I checked again. Nothing. (I found out later that they had misspelled my Royal LePage email address  as Royal LePaige so their emails to me were bouncing back to them too.)

They tried again to send it using several different methods. Meanwhile I was getting undeliverables, repeat emails, and anxious “we sent it again– do you have it yet?” messages as we got ever closer to the deadline.

I was on the phone to the other agent explaining that yes,  we had a  written deal, but were some email issues getting the Jpegs to me,  and I thought their Internet there might be down as my emails were bouncing.  “You don’t use e-signatures?” she said, and then, in a tone of voice that reminded me of my mother:  “Peggy.”

Anyway, I”m happy to say we met the deadline; I sent the documents over to the other agent and we now have a conditional sale. My clients are thrilled:  they bought a great home, and they’re very excited. But I’m a few inches shorter than I was when I got up in the morning.

Now, I am a late adapter when it comes to technology: the laptop I’m still using is nine years old, and I have what must be the original Blackberry. I still use a rotary phone. And years ago, as a young lawyer (okay, decades ago), I was involved in one of the first cases to deal with mortgage fraud after a husband presented his girlfriend as his wife to a lawyer, mortgaged their house to hilt and ran off with the money. As a result, I’m very conscious of the potential for abuse when you can’t verify identity and because of it, e-signatures make me nervous; I don’t know who’s on the other end of the computer.

But I have to say, I will be looking a whole lot more closely today at using e-signing technology and will probably be setting up an account. I don’t think my heart can take this kind of craziness again.

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