Blog: R.E. Tales
(Hey, they all can't be pretty...)
I thought of titling this “Downstate Lawyers”, then realized there are way too many perfectly likable, capable ones to paint them with that brush. But is true that local lawyers and agents silently shudder when a NYC area buyer mentions bringing in a lawyer that is local to them, not to us. It only normal to want to use someone you have used before and been happy with.
There are big differences between the greater New York City area and here in the Mohawk Valley, though we are only 150 miles apart. In a way, the differences stem from population. They have millions crowded into a small area; we have hundreds spread out over a large area. We get frustrated if we have to wait for a couple of cars to go by before we can pull out. They pile into trains and buses and think they are lucky if they get a seat. There are discernible differences in how we each approach our worlds.. Here, I wave at folks when I go by. A girlfriend of a NYC buyer I had out got all upset at that, worried that they would want something from me as a result. Her boyfriend had the right attitude, “He’s just being friendly.” We had a carload of NYC folks out one day and they saw an Amish produce stand and asked to stop. There was no one there, which amazed them: “How do you buy this stuff?”, they asked. I pointed out the money jar. The fact that anyone would trust their customers to take the food and leave the money was completely foreign to them. They said, if someone tried that down there, not only would the produce be stolen, along with the money, but they’d also steal the stand as well. They all took pictures of it so they could show friends when they told them about the self-serve produce stand.
Down there, inches count. Here, a few feet one way or another doesn’t make a great deal of difference. And that kind of difference is emblematic of how each area handles real estate transactions.
In NYC if you want to buy something, you usually start with what they term a “binder”. Up here, “binder” refers to an agricultural implement. The binder is analogous to a prenuptial, an agreement to agree. Despite the name, it is not binding upon either party. Here, we go directly to contract. I much prefer that. A binder leaves us in a gray area where the parties have basically agreed to try to make the sale work. Should I stop advertising? Should I stop showing it? I won’t because, to be fair to the seller, my employer, the deal could fall apart with no ramifications for either party, except the seller incurs a loss of possibly crucial time. And it’s a definite loss of time and money for me. Worse, it leads to hard feelings on the part of the buyer, especially if someone else steps in, for which I’ll get the blame and lose a valued customer. Going directly to contract like we do can be done in NYC too, but it’s not their custom.
I manage to keep most of my real estate contracts to two pages and actually make an effort to do that as I find it less intimidating to both parties. What I say generally satisfies both attorneys and if they are happy, so am I. Other agencies tend to use forms supplied to them by their Multiple Listing Service, and these tend to run 6 pages or more. I sold a property for a couple whose wife was a NYC lawyer who naturally enough wanted to handle her own case. Her contract was 28 pages long. What’s the difference between these contracts? Mostly, it is how many words you use to say something similar.
We are more laid back in almost everything we do here and that is part of the attraction for city folk, a calmer and quieter life, one with less hassles. Our building codes are more lax for instance, and you meet few code officials who think they are tin gods. Here, mostly they just want something done in a safe manner with the biggest mistakes eliminated. And our populace tends to support choices others make that we might feel are odd. “If that’s what they want, let them do it.” Is a common local attitude. Laissez Faire.
One thing I learned in real estate classes shocked me. There are laws that apply to all of New York, but not to New York City – and vice versa. State laws. I do not know of another state where the state laws do not apply the same to everyone no matter where they live.
In NYC, deeds are commonly of a variety called Bargain and Sale. I am not sure how this practice came about as it’s a lower form of deed than the Warranty Deed we routinely use. Every local lawyer and agent has seen this happen: a pushy and possibly arrogant NYC attorney makes his demands, including one for a Bargain and Sale Deed. The local lawyer rolls his eyes and does as he’s asked. Then they realize what they’ve done and come back; tail between their legs, and ask, “Ummm, … could you make that a Warranty Deed instead?” I have seen local lawyers tired enough of the grandstanding, state that since they have already prepared the lower one as requested, would the buyers pay them for the second one? Much chuckling goes on behind the scenes when this happens.
You see, the Bargain and Sale is what they are used to doing, so they demanded one without considering what is the practice, the custom in this area. Practice and Law do not always mean the same thing (just as Law and Ethics are not always the same thing). We have our own ways, every area does. These are ways adapted to our peculiar conditions. In NYC, you may need to be pushy and nit-picky. Here, it just annoys people; cooperation gets you further. A good lawyer will recognize that there are differences in legal customs between different areas as well as between states and he or she understands you get better results conforming to the ways others have learned to do their business in that area.
But still the.tendency is to do what you are used to and what has worked for you the past. We are dealing now with a very cooperative NYC attorney. She wanted her client to get Title Insurance for his purchase (that’s another topic to write about some time – Title Insurance is standard, mandatory in some states, but since NY is what’s called an “Abstract State”, title Insurance is not needed to get good title; it’s to make the buyer feel safer.). So she called in a title company she had always been happy with. But their standards were not the same as local standards and they have now been asking for things that cannot be easily provided. So the local attorney has had to educate them about our conditions here, where inches are not so critical.
OK, since inches count for far more in NYC it’s easy enough to understand why their lawyers would be extra fussy and hair-splitters. Drives us crazy to deal with this; we find little things take forever. This all comes out of someone’s pocket too; they don’t work for free. Worse, their costs of doing business are substantially greater in NYC and that has to be passed along if they are to stay in business there.
We have found the NYC lawyers are more apt to be argumentative and to take an antagonistic rather than a cooperative approach. That’s some of them, a higher percentage than we see here. I recall a Long Island lawyer named MacNamara. His clients were buying a property from a couple who were headed for financial trouble and knew enough to bail out before it happened. He figured this out and in a expletive-laced conversation to me said that he intended to make sure they had no money, zero left to their names when they moved out. Furthermore, he’d make sure I got only half of my commission. Who in his right mind would say such things? I didn’t hear any more because that’s when I hung up. No, they never bought the place – so what good did his hardball tactics do his clients? They could have bought it at the price they offered, but instead someone else got it. No doubt MacNamara still got paid. If fact, he also took the cake.
There’s another reason to use a local attorney that few consider: they have an established rapport between them. Lawyer A knows how Lawyer B wants things done and how he acts and thinks about things. Things go smoother if you can start with this knowledge. When I recommend a local attorneys, I make sure I suggest ones that get along with each other, who have a cooperative attitude and who won’t cause unnecessary difficulties in an attempt to impress their client (and justify higher fees). Sometimes the downstate buyer wants a local attorney anyhow so if they need one in the future, they will have somebody who already knows them and their situation. No matter how much you trust or like them, you are not going to call your downstate lawyer if you get a speeding ticket.
Some are merely amusing. some can help you immensely. All are interesting.
After 40 years, I've learned a lot, & acquired unforgettable experiences. Follow these long enough and you'll eventually get the whole book. (Names probably changed, for obvious reasons.)