Last week, I had occasion to be in New York. As I approached an EZ Pass lane to get off the Whitestone Bridge, I had this encounter with a man in uniform. He held my car at the toll and asked:
HE: Are you from Massachusetts?
ME: Yes, sir.
HE: Do you know that the Yankees are playing your team on Sunday night? Do you know what’s going to happen?
ME: I know what will happen, sir. (warm smile)
HE: Go Yankees! As long as you have that straight, you can go, too.
After so many years of getting and giving non-answer answers in real estate, they have become second nature to me. Since I thought I was about the get a ticket for something, I surprised myself in my ability to instantly say something that means nothing and get away with it.
Non-answer answers have their place. They go with questions that are none of the other agent’s business. They are questions about motivation, preference, or anything else that could have a bearing on the negotiation. Non-answer answers are not acceptable in matters of material concern, like whether there is something wrong with the house or something wrong with the buyer’s finances. In regards to material concerns, I don’t give non-answer answers and I make an effort not to accept a non-answer answer as my answer.
I can reliably count on getting a non-answer answer to the question, “Why did the first transaction fail?” Even if there is a material defect in the property, the first three or so utterances from the listing agent will include “… the buyer got cold feet.” That is a non-answer answer if there ever was one. If a buyer leaves a transaction as a result of inspection, they must tell the seller why, if they want their deposit back. “I have cold feet” is not what they said; you can bet on it.
If I persist in asking, some agents persist in denying any knowledge of material defects in the house. Oh well, I can’t prevent them from doing the wrong thing, but I must try; and I do. Most will reiterate what the previous would-be buyers listed as defects, when pressed by me. The best agents tell me those material facts without a lot of blow. Sometimes, it does add up to cold feet on the part of the previous buyer. Sometimes not.
Do I ever give a non-answer answer? Sure I do, when the question is not about material concerns. There are lots of questions asked about my motivations or my client’s motivations. They are off-limits and will get my best non-answer answer. My favorite tactic is to answer the question as I did above, with no indication as to what I am really thinking:
HE: Have you been working hard with these buyers?
ME: Oh, they are typical.
The other tactic is to answer the question with a question:
HE: What did your buyer think of the price of this house?
ME: Have you ever met a buyer who thinks an asking price is fair?
I’m amused by non-answer answers when I ask a question that is really none of my business; it means the other agent know his/her job. They are more fun than "That's none of your business!"
Are you amused?
Have you met agents who practice the non-answer answer when a straight answer is required?
And, yeah, I did know what was going to happen Sunday night!
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