The Dangers of Hand-Shake Brokerage

There was a time when a person’s word and his / her hand shake meant a lot.  They were both binding and had real meaning.  Today, with vast global cultural differences, various interpretations of words, lengthy and extremely detailed contracts, a highly litigious society, and some plain-old dishonest people, conducting business on a hand-shake is not only inappropriate, it’s downright dangerous!

Remember that two honest people, with the absolute best of intentions, can easily misunderstand each other and disagree.  If this is true, then why do some commercial real estate brokers still conduct business on a hand-shake?  Why do they work on behalf of companies to negotiate transactions without so much as a simple document describing the roles of client and service provider?  Are they overly trusting? Are they lazy? Is there an advantage to working in this manner?

In many states, a real estate broker working without a document indicating which party he / she represents may be in violation of license law.  Such action could subject the licensee to fines, temporary or permanent license suspension, or worse.  In other states, the role of a real estate broker, and therefore his ability to serve his customer as intended, may be predetermined by law, irrespective of documentation.

So, at a time in history when creating written records and documents is easier and quicker than ever before, why do some commercial real estate brokers still work on hand shakes?  Is this simple laziness?  I’ve heard some brokers say that instead of spending time on documenting their client relationships, they move directly into the deal. They say that paperwork doesn’t make them money, but closing deals quickly does.  Some positively characterize this approach as being focused on the client’s needs, not their own. Is that really true?  Since the best written agreements, in these instances, describe the roles, rights, and responsibilities of both real estate brokers and their clients, I don’t see how working without such a document could possibly be in the clients’ best interests. I don’t even believe it is the best approach for service providers, either!

Some brokers have told me that they work on a hand shake, because their clients prefer not to sign agreements.  I find this to be a weak argument.  Don’t companies sign other agreements, like leases, employment agreements, purchase and service contracts?  Most companies will gladly sign a representation agreement when the reasons and benefits of doing so, as well as, the risks of working on a hand shake, are properly presented to them.  In fact, most companies will shy away from executing an agreement when they’re uncertain of the ability of the service provider to perform, when they lack confidence in the service provider’s experience or expertise, or when they are not yet committed to a project.

Are real estate brokers aware of the true implications of not documenting their client relationships?  Do they know that when working on a hand shake, their relationships, and their corresponding obligations, may not be clear?  Do they disclose to their clients that without proper documentation, their relationships may be different than intended?  Do they explain the increased potential for conflict-of-interest? Do they communicate that, absent a written representation agreement, a real estate broker presenting buildings to a prospective tenant or buyer may have a binding legal fiduciary obligation to represent the property owners?  By not informing their clients of these facts, brokers can land themselves in trouble.

Given the apparent dangers, why would any commercial real estate broker or his client, work on a hand shake?  What are your thoughts?

About Real Estate Strategies Corporation
Real Estate Strategies Corporation is a respected corporate advisory and transaction services firm that provides thought-leadership, decision-making, planning, project management, and transaction execution services to finance and senior executives at management team-led public, private, and portfolio companies, and not-for-profit organizations.  Under the leadership of its award-winning CEO, Andrew Zezas, RealStrat’s clients engage the firm when acquiring, disposing of, renegotiating, or enhancing occupied leased or owned real estate in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and throughout North America.  By creating and executing Business DRIVEN Real Estate Solutions and identifying hidden Opportunities, RealStrat drives greater operational and financial performance in support of its clients’ stakeholder objectives, M&A requirements, and exit strategies.

In the current economic environment, RealStrat’s efforts are focused on uncovering, capturing, and re-purposing hidden liquidity and minimizing risk in its clients’ leased and owned real estate.  The firm provides counsel as to competitive advantage strategies in preparation for the eventual economic recovery.  Visit www.RealStrat.com. Read about timely commercial real estate issues at RealStrat’s blog at www.CorporateAdvisor.wordpress.com. Follow RealStrat at http://www.Twitter.com/RealStrat.

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THIS WORK IS DESIGNED TO PROVIDE PRACTICAL AND USEFUL INFORMATION ON THE SUBJECT MATTER COVERED AND REPRESENTS THE OPINION OF THE AUTHOR. HOWEVER, IT IS PROVIDED WITH THE UNDERSTANDING THAT THE AUTHOR IS NOT ENGAGED IN RENDERING LEGAL, FINANCIAL, ACCOUNTING, OR OTHER PROFESSIONAL ADVICE TO THE READER. IF LEGAL, FINANCIAL, ACCOUNTING, OR OTHER PROFESSIONAL ADVICE IS REQUIRED, THE SERVICES OF A COMPETENT PROFESSIONAL SHOULD BE SOUGHT. THE AUTHOR SPECIFICALLY AND EXPRESSLY DISCLAIMS ANY LIABILITY THAT MAY BE INCURRED AS A RESULT OF THE USE OR APPLICATION OF THE INFORMATION THAT IS CONTAINED IN THIS WORK.

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