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First I got an email. Then a text. Then a phone call. All were from an agent who was working with clients who were here for the weekend from Philadelphia.

“They want this building,” said the messages. “And they have to buy something before they go back tomorrow. Please please please get them in to see 604!”

The number the agent was referring to was a gorgeous three-bedroom penthouse in one of the top luxury condominium buildings in the city. It was a pocket listing, a property being sold off-market rather than officially listed on the MLS. Part of the reason for this, and the challenge for me as the one representing it, was that the unit was currently being leased by a very private celebrity couple who the owner didn’t want disturbed unless a buyer was genuinely interested in making an offer.

I called the agent back and explained this to him. He assured me that his clients were serious, qualified and ready to go.

“We’ve looked at everything else out there,” the agent said. “This is the one they want. They just need to see it. Their flight leaves early tomorrow afternoon. Any way we can get them in tomorrow morning at 10:30?”

I groaned to myself. Tomorrow was Sunday and every Sunday morning for the last twenty years I have played a regular doubles game at a private tennis court in Brentwood. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t dream of scheduling a work appointment during that time. But the unit had been difficult to sell and from the breathless assurances of the agent, this sounded like a slam dunk.

I agreed to set up the showing.

The next morning I was standing outside the condo building, thinking about the great tennis I was missing, when the agent arrived with his clients, a middle-aged husband and wife with “East Coast” written all over them. After exchanging some pleasantries, I escorted them into the lobby of the building.

It was on the way to the elevator that I overheard the agent ask the husband, “What did you think of the place on Ashton?”
The wife chimed in, “I liked the one in the Highlands better.”

An alarm went off in my head.

Despite all my skills as a real estate agent, I had fallen into that age-old trap: suspending my usual skepticism about what a fellow agent tells me about his clients’ urgency because of my desire to move a slow property.

I did a quick gut-check, thinking about my own client, the owner of the penthouse, and his concern for the privacy of his tenants. Then just as the elevator arrived, I turned to face the couple from Philadelphia.

“Forgive me,” I said. “But before we go up may I please ask you an honest question. If you see this unit and it is everything you are looking for, will you be writing an offer?”

The husband and wife looked stunned.

“Well…” the husband started.

“Why do you ask?” the agent said sharply.

“Because,” I said. “It seems that your clients are still in the looking stage. They’re considering properties in Westwood, the Palisades…very different parts of the city. They haven’t even decided what area they want to live in yet, let alone this building.”

“That’s true,” said the wife.

“Which is fine,” I said. “But as I explained to your agent, I am only authorized to show this unit to people who have narrowed down their search. So, I’m truly sorry for the inconvenience but unfortunately I won’t be able to let you see it today.”

The agent was aghast. Ironically, the husband and wife seemed to appreciate my candor and gave a nod of understanding.

Never again, I promised myself. Never would I allow another agent to dictate my schedule.

Until the next time.

As they left, I checked my watch. I had my tennis gear in the car. If I hurried, I could still get to the court in time to squeeze in a set or two.