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CYA Letters and Better Communication

Real Estate Agents would be well served to learn a lawyer’s trick of the trade – the CYA letter. Short for “Cover Your A$&,” these letters serve an important function both for limiting liability and improving communication. Rather than viewing these as obnoxious, overly legal annoyances, Realtors should view CYA letters as tools to better serve their clients.

Scenario

Buyer:        I like the work the seller did in the basement. But I worry about whether it’s up to code. Can you find out?

Realtor:    I don’t know. You would need to ask an inspector and maybe an attorney. We can ask the Seller’s Realtor about permits and whether all the work meets code, but the ultimate determination is a legal question and I’m not an attorney.

This might be a good, safe answer that does not delve into legal advice. But, without more, there is still a risk of being sued or having a licensing or ethics complaint filed against you. A buyer who later has costly problems because of code violations may lash out at anyone and everyone, including the Realtor. The Buyer might misremember the conversation or even fabricate what was said. All of this can be avoided with a simple, follow up letter – a CYA letter.

CYA Letters are Good Customer Service

Anytime a Realtor is asked for legal advice, they should both decline and follow up with an email or letter. This creates a written record that the Realtor did their job and complied with the law (Wisconsin law prohibits Realtors from offering any legal advice – REEB 24.06). More importantly, it is great customer service and provides a clear communication to the client. A good, CYA letter might read as follows:

I want to follow up on our conversation about the basement. As I said, I don’t know whether there might be code violations. I did ask the Seller’s Realtor and we’ll see what she says. I’m not an attorney and can’t offer anything on this kind of question. An inspector or attorney could help you answer this question and I have some great referrals, if you need them. Thanks!

Following up in writing shows a level of professionalism and assures a clarity of communication. And it covers your tail.

By Attorney Peter Zarov. Mr. Zarov is a Wisconsin attorney who represents many Realtors and Brokers.

This post is not intended as legal advice. Realtors, Brokers and other individuals should consult an attorney regarding their specific issues and questions.

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