Friday, October 29, 2010

"standing in the wind" and "the wall is red"

I've probably talked about these two techniques before but just in case, let me explain.

What we call "standing in the wind" is the purposeful listening  to another person venting while remaining calm.  Our natural instinct is to get riled and defensive. It's not that the wind is bad.  The wind is.

Real estate is a large transaction that touches some of the most important moments of life and humans express frustration, rage, fear, sadness and joy in different ways.  Sometimes something completely unexpected will cause a person to need to vent.  These moments are normal.

As noted at the top of Title Insurance Talk, we think of our office as an emergency room of life and that means our staff must be trained in bedside manner.  Remain calm and help.

The second technique, "the wall is red", is the ability of staying on target with an important point, quietly standing your ground, and saying the same thing over and over until the other party understands whatever it is that you need to communicate but they are having a hard time grasping.  The point is to not go off on tangents and to not get riled or frustrated.  We are humans with all the frailties we share, but we are the professional in the transaction and we need to keep our focus on the task and help others to move forward to a successful closing.

Mind you, we are not always successful because we, like you, are not perfect.  We use these techniques to remember to stay calm and move forward to accomplish our shared task.

Here's an example:

Insuring title for property owned by an out of state LLC, not registered as a foreign LLC in PA.  There is a mortgage with a local bank.  The seller was represented by an attorney.

We requested:
  1. the operating agreement for the LLC along with any amendments
  2. a statement of the nature of the business being conducted in PA so we could determine whether or not there was a corporate tax lien risk
  3. authorization to obtain a payoff letter from the bank
We received a letter from the attorney stating that they had no operating agreement, since they were registered in another state, there was no corporate tax risk in PA, instructions to give him the proceeds check payable to the bank and he would secure a release.

We responded asking that he clarify who he was representing in the transaction - the LLC, the bank, or both.  We had reason to believe the LLC did have an operating agreement and would he confirm that with his client.  We respectfully disagreed with his position on PA corporate tax and asked that he provide a statement concerning the nature of the business being conducted in PA.   We also let him know that we needed to communicate directly with the bank and if the bank wanted us to give the attorney the proceeds check, they would need to give us those instructions in writing.

The response included an operating agreement with amendments, a statement that the LLC conducted no business in PA beyond the ownership of real estate and a signed release.

We had independently contacted the bank and received a letter signed by a VP stating that they wanted us to send the proceeds check directly to their office.

Fine, now we could move forward.  No, the attorney still wanted the check directed to him and produced a letter from the bank which instructed us to give the check to the attorney.  This new letter was signed for the VP by his secretary.  We said we would be happy to change the instructions but that the letter had to come from the VP, not by his secretary.  That new letter came a couple of days later, we validated it by calling the bank, and the transaction closed.

I thought the entire exchange was a bit odd.  My staff had remained calm and simply continued to reply and request what we needed over roughly a month.  We had dealt with this attorney in the past and not remembered such an unusual exchange.  Yesterday, the truth of the underlying tension was disclosed.  The attorney, who needed to vent sadness, shared with my staff that the previous manager of the LLC had recently killed himself and his wife in a murder/suicide.

We never know what might be causing another person in our transaction to be less than focused. I am proud of the folks in my office who gently worked their way to closing without getting riled.  They calmly repeated "the wall is red" until it was heard and understood and continued "standing in the wind" until the door to closing opened.

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