When Spell Checkers Aren't Good Enough

I would appreciate any advices you may have regarding people who have come here from other countries, and for whom English is an additional language.

Often the advices of Brokers to agents from other Countries is that they should only work with people who are from their Country.  Clearly that is much too difficult to do, and sustain a reasonable lifestyle as a real estate agent, and growingly moreso.

If you receive an email from an agent with stilted language or broken English, and odd spellings created by the spellchecker (like shell instead of shall), do you overlook these things?  Or do you expect an agent to be fluent in the English Language?

Accent alone can be quite charming, but in a field where misrepresentation is quite hazardous and good communication is key, can a Broker afford the risks that come with misunderstandings created by language difficulties?  And yet it seems to be discrimination to not hire people with language issues.

Are there programs that are a big step up from spell checking, that assist people with these difficulties?  Any advices appreciated.

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ARDELL is a Managing Broker with Better Properties METRO King County. ARDELL was named one of the Most Influential Real Estate Bloggers in the U.S. by Inman News and has 33+ years experience in Real Estate up and down both Coasts, representing both buyers and sellers of homes in Seattle and on The Eastside. email: ardelld@gmail.com cell: 206-910-1000

50 thoughts on “When Spell Checkers Aren't Good Enough

  1. Ardell, I find deciphering grammatically incorrect emails not as challenging as trying to decipher phone conversations with people with heavy accents. Living in an area with a growing Hispanic population, as well as other peoples, iti is frustrating when I cannot understand what’s being said. No one in the real estate business wants to miss an opportunity to connect with a client, and these people calling are trying to buy or sell a home.
    We tried employing a bilingual agent, but unfortunately it did not work out. The only thing I know to do is be patient and try to get an appointment to meet in person. It is usually easier to understand people when you are face to face.

    By the way, I love your philosophy on blogging!

  2. Hi Ardell! I think too fast for my fingers and my spellcheck never seems to catch some of it – the worst is when I switch from and form which will never get caught by the spell checker!!!!
    I agree sometimes it is difficult, but I am guilty myself and I am very much from this country:)
    I am with Fran, though – the email is easier than vm sometimes when there is a language barrier. I have found a lot of very considerate agents who will speak slower if our accents vary from each other – I return the favor.

  3. Ardell, the email I just sent to you a few minutes ago had I know of, three misspelled words. 🙂

    Keep in mind, when most students first learn to read and write, they learn by saying the words out loud and writing the letters of the sounds that correspond to those sounds. In many places, one word can be pronounced one way and a completely different way in another area.

    Heaing impaired people like myself often have trouble at times with writing as well. Many of us have never been able to hear the words pronounced correctly, so some words are challenging for us.

    With foreign languages, most people (myself included) when we write emails and stuff to people, the spell checker will catch most of our mistakes but at times, if a word comes up as being wrong, we’ll just leave it as it is as on paper, it looks correct based on the sounds and the way we have heard the word in our foreign language classes.

    “And yet it seems to be discrimination to not hire people with language issues.”

    How do you make a case of that one? You know how much I enjoy arguing this stuff so tell me, how is it discrimination not to hire people with language issues? Is it a handicap, is it a race issue, is it an issue of national origin?

    Do you think Billy Bob would have much of a case in federal court if he walked in Brio and you denied him a job jus cuz he had spekin and riting probems? If Billy Bob had dyslexia or something, he might would have a case.

  4. As someone who uses a realtor who is not originally from an English speaking country, I’ve found myself in humorous situations like having to spell “woodpecker” for our purchase (the house had a small hole made by one that we wanted repaired), and asking him to repeat the words “carpenter ants” about a dozen times because I couldn’t understand what he was saying.

    In fact just last night he was suggesting we add “cut flowers” around our house for staging, and I could’ve sworn he was saying “cat flowers,” which confused me.

    I generally get a good laugh out of our communication confusion. But, all of those situations are outweighed by his extreme professionalism, great knowledge and excellent service, which is what I really care about.

    That said, I must admit if someone has a lot of spelling errors (not just the occasional thing or typo), it will impact my perception of their professionalism. That’s especially true if it’s my first dealing with them. Is that fair to do? Hard to say. But, it’s certainly not discrimination, per se.

  5. My office mate is originaly from Persia and still has trouble with English. I am his thesaurase and dictionary when I am in. I appreciate that Moe tries his best to be professional when communicating. When there is nobody to help Moe, things end up looking funny sometimes, but his expertise and helpfulness overshadow this.

  6. My concern is that negotiations often involve fine nuances of language. Also contracts and legal language don’t leave much room for error, as those errors can be very expensive.

    From a client standpoint, since I use email most of the time, there is no problem as people have time to look things up. Dependence on verbal representations is kept to a miniumum, if everything is then clarified in writing.

    From an agent standpoint however, the issues of misunderstanding, misrepresenting, or miscommunicating, offer significant liability challenges.

  7. I always think a bigger concern is the difficulty for a broker to provide oversight of an agent whose language they cannot understand, if the agent is working primarily with people who speak languages other than English. I’m sure most of the time there are no problems, but if there were, how would a broker know? I often wonder about this, and though I know that it’s not okay for a broker whose only language is English to discriminate against hiring someone whose primary language is something other than that, it does seem to me that oversight would be a challenge. Puts brokers in a bit of a conundrum, it seems to me.

  8. Fran,

    I have had clients and friends from “Persia”. It is their hope to return to better times, and so by saying I am “Persian” instead of Iranian, they are sending that hopeful wish into the Universe.

  9. I just had a sale fale, partially due to the fact that the Asian agent did not seem to be able to read English well enough to explain a basic addendum to his buyers. It was quite disconcerting, and trying to help explain the situation was far easier on email than on the phone.

    His buyers were very difficult to deal with anyway, but when we changed the language from their inspection request to fix several items to an addendum that said ‘seller will credit buyer $4500 at closing towards buyers closing costs’ the communications with the other agent became very odd.

    The agent told me on email that the buyers would be ok with with having the money for the work credited to them at closing, but when I got this addendum to him (and we had discussed this amount as being what they wanted) he got very upset and said he didn’t understand where I was coming from.

    Most agents with accents try very hard to make themselves understood, and I don’t care about misspelled words, or even the wrong choice of words on an email, but we’ve got to find a way that the nuiances of the PSA itself get negotiated in a way that get understood.

    I don’t know really how to do this – had I called the other agents broker and asked for help, I think he would have been very insulted.

  10. …sorry, “he” the agent, not “he” the broker …

    This sale basically failed because each step in the negotiation process was made more difficult because of the language problems. The PSA needed corrections, and we made many counter-offer changes, and every little detail took a very long time to get handled and accomplished. This agent used wrong forms, old forms, and wrong words.

    The end of the story was that I think everything just took too long, and both buyers and sellers simply said ‘it’s not meant to be’.

    Perhaps it should be a NWMLS requirement that brokers must have a procedure where all offers written by a heavily accented agent must be reviewed prior to presentation to the other office, or that their must be a team of agents to help facilitate the communications? I’ve had 4 transactions this year that were difficult due to accents, 2 went together, 2 did not. The 2 that did not likely could have been helped with a trusted intermediary.

  11. First, never worry about the agent being insulted if the net result is to better inform the buyer and seller and assist them in any way.

    I had this situation yesterday. The Listing Agent asked to meet with our client. The Agent came to me “insulted” or actually just not knowing quite what to do. It wouldn’t be best to let the agent for the seller meet with our client for sure! So I stepped in as the Broker and spoke with the listing agent, the lender and soon the client.

    This is a major issue involving options on a huge special assessment, and it is imperative that all parties understand the options before negoatiating a remedy. It is also imperative that the buyer understand the total picture before deciding whether or not to proceed with the purchase, so she should not be getting that from the agent for the seller.

    Plus my agent needs a witness that the buyer was fully advised both in writing and also had any questions resolved. HOA Managment firms do not speak with potential buyers, so communication via the agents and the consumers is very key in a situation like this.

    When did “don’t insult the other agent in the transaction” become some kind of rule. If the Code of Ethics includes that rule, then remove it. We insult other agents all the time. Heck we have some knock down drag out negotiations where we’re ready to kill each other on behalf of our clients. Insult the other agent for the benefit of your client when need be.

    That said, the real issue is the buyer wants to spell out what the money is for, and they are correct to do so. You are only applying it toward closing costs because you don’t want the lender to see the repair list. Think about that. Isn’t the lender entitled to know that these repairs are needed and not completed at the time they are funding?

    If you say $1,000 for a roof, the buyer has a remedy if the roof repair exceeds that cost. If you say $1,000 toward closing costs, the buyer does not have a remedy.

    It’s not simply semantics and just because the other agent and their client don’t want to do it your way, doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t understand what you are saying.

  12. First let me clarify that Real Estate agents negotiate Agreements between Buyers and Sellers. The meeting of the minds is essential to that agreement and escrow instructions.
    From a buyer or seller’s stand point why should they care who represents them as long as that person can put a deal together? In that case Persia has thousands of years experience in business. You haven’t lived until you negotiate the market price of a goat’s head. For that matter China, or other Asian cultures are stereotyped as being tough negotiators.
    So as you negotiate there may be a problem because things are not going your way. You have a client, the other party has a client and it’s up to you to come to the meeting of the minds. You give a little they give a little; it’s business. If you are too impatient to have a glass of tea, or find an interpreter, or work out a deal that’s your problem; more correctly it’s your clients problem.
    In the coming years you’ll find more and more people who prefer to have some one from a different culture represent them in a Real Estate transaction. For many years I was the face for an Asian buyer who wanted to make a good impression in our market place. Today that face is increasingly Asian.
    It’s a fact of business in America. Chinese funds have bought into billions of dollars in mortgages. Should the Chinese only send people who speak english to monitor those investments?

  13. Leanne,

    You are not trying to say that everyone who speaks English fluently is the equivalent of “a trusted intermediary” are you? Clearly we have have just as much difficulty with many, many other agents. To single out language issues therefore, would be discrimination.

  14. Ardell, are you suggesting that once a $$$ amount is negotiated between buyer and seller that the agents leave the language in that $1000 is for a new roof, just so the lender can say, oh gee, it must need a new roof, let’s require it.

    And just how would that benefit the seller who says, I’m only paying $1000?

    What I meant by trusted intermediary was that the accented agents need their own trusted intermediary to help with transactions – not that the accented person is the trusted intermediary.

    You said in your post “Are there programs that are a big step up from spell checking, that assist people with these difficulties? Any advices appreciated” so I was offering my recent experience with the thought that a trusted intermediary might be helpful.

    Yes, an office broker could be called in, but I’ve had situations with newer agents, or very aggressive agents too, where I have called in the broker and the subject agent was offended and that didn’t help the communications. Usually it does work, but sometimes you just can’t cut thru the clouds so to speak.

  15. Ardell, by “philosophy,” I refer to your Inman video from SF Connect, where you said, among other things, “Blog to your last client.” I found your approach to blogging very helpful as I started my blog. Maybe you don’t think of that as your philosophy, but I guess I adopted it as part of mine.

  16. “Ardell, are you suggesting that once a $$$ amount is negotiated between buyer and seller that the agents leave the language in that $1000 is for a new roof, just so the lender can say, oh gee, it must need a new roof, let’s require it.”

    Are you suggesting that material fact be hidden from the lender?

    I was hoping for an answer that involved technology in some way, just as spell checkers help. I was wondering if it might be better for someone to write in their native tongue and then use a translation program.

  17. Synthetik,

    If you had your choice of an agent that gave good advices that differed from your layman opinion, vs. one who would work for $40 an hour and leave the thinking to you, which would you choose?

    If they knew you would lose $40,000 if you proceeded with your line of thinking. Say they “knew” in the best educated guess sense, as they watched you overlooking a material issue that would impact value down the road. Not saying you don’t know the fact, but you are not factoring it into the equation properly. What would you think of them if they kept that to themselves because you were weren’t paying for advices?

    Should they say, “Are you sure you don’t want to upgrade now?” Should they get a hold harmless letter? Would you sign it?

  18. Fran,

    Thanks. I’ve been writing to agents on Active Rain and I use current issues at the office. I read your blog and you have a nice conversational style. I’d guess you to be younger than I since you refer to Blazing Saddles vs. Treasure of Sierra Madre for the “I don’t need to Steenkin’ Realtor” line.

  19. Is Language really the issue? Or is it understanding the contract or experience. I am mono-lingual and the minority in my office, working in the International District. I see just as many failed deals from new agents as from new ESL agents. Agents that have difficultly with the language can “team up” with agents that have a better command of English. This happens often in my office when a Hispanic agent comes across a client who doesn’t speak English well. They pair up with one of our great Hispanic agents and serve the client without worry of miscommunication. Trying to go it alone is asking for trouble.

    From my prospective, working in the International District, speaking another language is a huge asset, being able to serve an under represented community means less competition for business.

    Not understanding the PSA is experience related not Language.

  20. I agree Jonathan.

    I have more problem with agents who don’t know what a property is worth, or who think it’s worth “what a buyer is willing to pay”, than I do with agents not understanding the language.

    You know what? You’re right!!! I told two agents they needed a partner to sell a property last week. One had language issues and the other did NOT! The language issue was not the real concern, but I know the agent will feel that it was no matter what I say.

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