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In every field, there are reputable, competent, and highly ethical professionals, and then there are the unscrupulous and unethical characters who take advantage of the vulnerable.

As a Certified Senior Housing Professional (CSHP), you signed a Membership Pledge indicating your willingness to be an advocate for your clients, mitigating uncertainty and seeking education and knowledge to assist you in serving as a fiduciary in the real estate transaction.

It seems like each and every day, I learn about yet another opportunity to serve as that advocate and to help a senior avoid potential scams or unnecessary up-sells. There are those times, however, that no matter how much I want to protect those I care about, it just isn’t always possible.

I shared this personal story about my great aunt on my own real estate blog but I thought it might benefit you as a seniors real estate professional too.

My Great Aunt

My great aunt was taken advantage of by a local estate liquidator / auctioneer. Sadly, she hired this guy because he was referred to her by a friend (we think). Despite the fact that my uncle and dad (her nephews) were “helping” her, he still managed to facilitate a highly profitable estate sale — for himself, not for her.

Before I point out all the things that this unscrupulous auctioneer did to take advantage of an 89 year old widow, let me point out that sometimes the hardest people to help are the ones you care about the most.

We have been involved in advocating for older adults experiencing late-life moves for the better part of two decades, but as far as our family is concerned, we may as well still be in junior high. I take full responsibility for not having done a better job of asserting myself and educating my family regarding our ability to help them. I took it for granted they somehow knew and my assumption way wrong.

Lesson learned

It was clear that this auctioneer was completely lacking in the following categories:

  • Competence
  • Professionalism
  • Integrity
  • Competence

Despite the fact that my great aunt was a borderline hoarder who lived in her 1850 square foot home for approximately 45 years, the estate sale only grossed a grand total of $3100. The MANY items were not well staged and the crowd the day of the auction was dismal. As an example, a set of like-new patio furniture (8-piece wrought iron) that had been kept under cover and included all the pads sold for $5. It could easily have been sold online for $2o0. This is only one example of many.

Not only was the auctioneer incompetent in his ability to liquidate the personal belongings, he also contracted with my aunt to sell the home. Estimated AS-IS value of the home the day of the auction was $78000-$85000. With no minimum in place, the auction was about to end with the high bidder at $73000. My uncle called me expressing concern that there were only three bidders and that the sale price seemed excessively low. While unconventional, I instructed my uncle to place a proxy bid for me. He began bidding on my behalf at $73,500 and my husband and I ultimately bought the house for $85000.

While licensed to sell real estate, the auctioneer was not a REALTOR® member, therefore not a member of the multiple listing service. Not only did he not have current market knowledge about home values, his marketing of the home did not extend beyond the sign in the yard.


The auctioneer did not have access to market information, current sales documents, nor did he seek the advice of professionals in the field who could have possibly assisted him with such matters. This type of sale was clearly out of his scope of expertise and yet, he accepted the contract anyway. Extremely unprofessional. Had he been a member of the National Association of REALTORS, our national trade association, it would have also been unethical. Because he is not a REALTOR member, it was merely gross incompetence and extreme unprofessionalism.

Despite his contract reflecting otherwise, his crew left a variety of trash and unsold items in the home to be dealt with by the family afterwards. Promising the following week to come and complete the cleanup, he never showed.


Included in his contract to sell my aunt’s personal belongings and homestead, he charged a variety of fees that were highly questionable. In addition to the minimum $3900 or 35% of gross sales on personal items, he included fees for advertising, set up, and clean up. While this might be typical for some, the frustrating part of this scenario is that the sale should have easily grossed the minimum, but it didn’t, resulting in a post-sale invoice to my aunt of nearly $900.

Beyond this ridiculous invoice resulting from his own incompetence, the auctioneer also attempted to charge an additional 3% buyer premium to the purchaser of the home over and above the 7% commission to the seller (my aunt). While the commission percentage was within the normal range, he also tacked on a variety of extraneous advertising and showing fees that are normally included in a real estate agent’s commission. And remember he didn’t even place the home in the area’s multiple listing service (MLS) which promotes the home to over 4200 REALTOR members locally, as well as hundreds of thousands more internationally through affiliate services.

When we personally agreed to buy the home at the $85000 price, we advised him that this was only if he waived the 3% buyer premium. He begrudgingly agreed after I threatened to call an investigative reporter and share my concerns about his practices of taking advantage of vulnerable widows.

Caveat emptor

It is for reasons like these that we take such extreme care in the professionals with whom we align. Naturally, this guy is on the “no hire” list and we have no problem privately advising our clients against using him. The problem is that there are a LOT of people just like him who are on the “no hire” list. It doesn’t, however, seem to keep them from being in business and selling their services to unknowing and vulnerable consumers.

Be an advocate.

I hope you found this story valuable and will add it to your list of signature stories in assisting your clients with understanding just how invaluable you are in the service provider selection process. As a CSHP, you are equipped, educated, and choose to serve as an advocate for seniors.


Join our community of servant leaders and let’s work together to stop predatory practices! 

If you are a real estate professional seeking to serve seniors, register for Success in Seniors Real Estate course today! We need you!

If you are a homeowner, family member, caregiver, or senior living provider, be sure to locate a Certified Senior Housing Professional (CSHP) in your area and connect with them. You deserve an agent who is DIFFERENT and who is there to help take the overwhelm out of your home sale and relocation process.

One Comment

  • Claire Abate says:

    I mentioned in series 1 that i have a fondness for older adults, and that I’m disheartened by seeing them being taken advantage of. Your story is not at all unusual. I’m sorry your family fell victim.
    I’m not convinced that being a member of NAR or having the Realtor designation would have made a difference, I learned after speaking to three litigation attorneys, on behalf of a friend, all who said the agent was unethical and not acting on the clients behalf, that due to the legal representation that comes from paying E&O, the big gun attorneys will get called in on the agents behalf, and the victim can’t afford the legal fees to sue. Its very sad. In this case, a friend of a friend was forced to sell their house to the buyer at $70K under value.
    Sadly, my takeaway on this was that (we) can pretty much get away with all kinds of fraudulent and intentional incompetency and not be heled accountable.
    I don’t mean to leave such negativity, but this is why these folks need true professionals to help educate and serve them.

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