Several friends recently called my attention to the fascinating recent article in the New York Times regarding the well–known retail real estate broker Faith Hope Consolo who was found to have numerous misrepresentations concerning her life history (see the link at the end of this piece). While on one level this is a humorous tale involving a great New York character, it also raises important issues about the veracity and honesty required of a real estate broker.

Research subsequent to Ms. Consolo’s death about a  year ago uncovered several untruths in her efforts designed to convey the false impression that she enjoyed a privileged background including claims that she:

1) attended boarding school at Miss Porter’s when in fact she had gone to parochial school;
2) grew up in Westport, Connecticut instead of Cleveland and Brooklyn (before it was fashionable);
3) was fluent in French when she could not understand the language when spoken by a landlord; and
4) and took credit for deals she had virtually nothing to do with.

Of course, the secondary school background and upbringing of a real estate agent is about as important as good penmanship (analogy taken from Roger Angell of the New Yorker in another context). As was pointed out in the article no one hires a real estate broker because of where they went to high school and the languages they speak, and some may, in fact, admire the determination and nerve of a skilled negotiator in a business where the only barrier to entry is a modest exam which requires no formal training. Notably, no one was quoted in the article that challenged the quality of Faith’s work. Further, I can personally attest that Faith was a dynamo with an incredible magnetism – a life force that everyone liked to be around.

That said, there is an important question presented by this story; is there a slippery slope when someone lies about their background? When Faith did a deal, was she fully representing the interest of her client, or playing both sides and/or shading the truth to get the deal done?

Some key issues that an agent must advise a client on when evaluating a lease are:

1) is the landlord reputable and do they provide good services to tenants;

2) is an offer made by the landlord the best possible deal available to the client or can negotiations continue to improve it; (i.e., is two months free rent on a five-year deal the most that the tenant can get, or what is the best escalation package and work letter);

3) is a particular building the best property for a client;

4) what is the status of negotiations – are there really other interested parties or is that a red herring intended to generate urgency and interest;

5) is a major construction project planned that will disrupt the area and block views from the space.

Depending on the answers to those questions, there are any number of ways that a real estate agent can influence a client in favor of a deal for self – interested reasons. Accordingly, you should vet your broker carefully to see if there are any skeletons in her background.

I have always prided myself on the transparency of my background and my company’s business history. For Wharton Property Advisors, our motto that we represent clients with honesty, diligence and integrity is not just a slogan – it is a core guiding principle.

As a result, we have been fortunate to represent many of the same clients for several decades on multiple leases and in all stages of business life including growth, steady continuation and disposal of space. You can count on Wharton to provide straight answers and help you negotiate the best deal possible for your company. Like any good business, the most important things we have to sell are the quality of our work and our reputation for client service.

Please let us know your thoughts on the intriguing story of Faith Hope Consolo. Was her shading of the truth unimportant puffery, or did it show a significant character flaw that may have spilled over into her business dealings?  These are questions that can, of course, be asked of any business or service provider.

However, we can draw one clear conclusion from this cautionary episode which is that you shouldn’t take the representations of your real estate broker on faith – check them out and see if they are supported by decades of solid client service and results. You should seek out a real estate agent with character, not one who is a character.

go to New York Times article
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