DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW???....If You Know What I Mean?

DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW???....If you know what I mean?

This post was inspired by Elliott Topkins, a superb real estate attorney in Massachusetts in his post about easements: In his post, Elliott makes a point of letting us know what we should have peripheral knowledge of when it comes to easements on a property we may be trying to sell.

As real estate professionals we can find ourselves in over our heads very easily, especially when complications arise with a property. As Elliott did in his post, we have to be able to share some information when a buyer says to us: "What does easement mean?" or "How do I know if I can sell off that guest house in the back if I buy this property?"                                                     LOOK LIKE THE WINNER WITH ALL THE INFO!

Before a lawyer gets involved,here in the Hamptons, we should be able to give the buyer a run-down on the possible complications of a property. Otherwise, a buyer is apt to turn and run when they see a path running along the side of a lot, or when they see a house behind the house they love and they want to subdivide after they buy. We should be able to supply cursory information BEFORE they hire an attorney.

I, personally had a recent experiencewhere the buyer of a property was caught off guard when his lawyer told him the county required that he had to "subdivide" a 20'X60' tab of land that had at one time been part of the lot he was buying. Because it had never been officially subdivided, it was falling on this buyers shoulders to do it....Well, because of my experience and because I knew the lot (I was a former owner) and knew the old issue of how a former owner had "given" over the ownership of the "tab" to his neighbor as a gift, I was able to expedite by going to the Village and saying: "Do you remember when I came to you in 1993 and asked why the size of my lot was not what the old survey stated?" The county approved the exception.

Because I was able to expedite the situation, I saved this buyer months of working through the system with his lawyer, and the cost of a subdivision process which could have been thousands of dollars in lawyers fees...

Now, you say, "That was an unusual circumstance"....and it was. However, these are the things that separate us from our peers and the newer agents who are now filling the desks at most agencies here in the Hamptons and other areas.

THE POINT I AM MAKING IS: There used to be a heavy duty level of knowledge amongst the long time real estate agents; through years of experience, good and bad, agents passed muster by gaining as much real information as feasible to be the "Experts" that they turned out to be. Many of those "Experts" have long ago left the business making way for the Newbies who began entering the arena of "Independent Contractor". These Newbies came, leaving the world of finance and other corporate structures because of downsizing.

Now, it is time that we become those "Experts":

  • It can only be done when we know what it is we don't know. 
  • As professionals, we need to take the time to go to our local building and zoning offices and learn the things that need to be a part of our accumulated knowledge.
  • Read local Building and Zoning books
  • Become an online participant in the local building and zoning meetings
  • Go to building and zoning meetings
  • Really get involved in understanding local zoning laws. 
  • Talk to your Building Inspector
  • Ask for a meeting with the Inspector at his office and ask questions
  • Set up an office meeting with the Inspector to talk about new Building and Zoning Laws eith all the agents. 




                                     **ALL INFORMATION AND CONTENT IN THIS BLOG IS ORIGINAL TO PAULA I. HATHAWAY.  The views expressed herein are my personal views and do not reflect the views of Douglas Elliman Real Estate


Paula I. Hathaway, Senior Broker Associate, Douglas Elliman Real Estate

Southamtpon Village Real Estate Specialist since 1995;  Also Specializes in North Sea, Noyac, Water Mill and Bridgehampton, New York

Diamond , Gold and Chairman's Circle Awards; Top Producer since 2005


Click here to see my Hampton's website to see all my listings; please email me or call me for all your real estate needs in Southampton, Bridgehampton and Watermill:



Comment balloon 36 commentsPaula Hathaway, REALTOR, LBA • March 19 2011 09:07AM


Sign of Intelligence, knowing what you don't know and then doing something about it.

Thanks for the post Paula.



Posted by Nor Yeretsian, Envoy Capitol Realty Inc., Brokerage Toronto (Envoy Capitol Realty Inc.) over 7 years ago

Nor: You said it! It can work to our benefit if we learn the things we don't know about real estate--Elliott bro9ught that out in his post too and we can't forget to keep learning!

Posted by Paula Hathaway, REALTOR, LBA, ...The Most Informed Agent In The Hamptons! (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 7 years ago

This is some great information Paula.  It's important to keep learning so we can keep abreast of these situations.  You give some good tips on where agents can go to know what they don't know :)!  

Posted by Brenda Mullen, Your San Antonio TX Real Estate Agent!! (RE/MAX Access) over 7 years ago

Paula - there are often times when we, because of our involvement in the market place, know things that have happened or may happen that will affect the sale price or even the sale itself of a given property ..... part of the reason why we have to declare whenever we buy or sell property for ourselves or act as agent for a relative.

Posted by Kathy Clulow, Trusted For Experience - Respected For Results (RE/MAX All-Stars Realty Inc. Brokerage) over 7 years ago

Brenda: Thank you! I hope you can use some of the suggestions too--unless you already know what you need to know!!! :)

Posted by Paula Hathaway, REALTOR, LBA, ...The Most Informed Agent In The Hamptons! (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Paula, We must know things! And local zoning rules and regs is certainly a easy and good place to start.  Great post!

Posted by Navona Hart, Selling the Best Properties in CentralVirginia (Real Living Cornerstone) over 7 years ago

Kathy: Right you are--in this case I think we can use the information for our own resume'--I have many experiences that are priceless because of the value they add to my expertise...this is what I am talking about. As far as the other things that negatively affect the value of a property--read my post that  is on the daily drop today "How Do YOU Tell The Buyer That The House They Love Is In The Wrong Place".

Posted by Paula Hathaway, REALTOR, LBA, ...The Most Informed Agent In The Hamptons! (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Navona: Glad you liked it!!I ended up spending an enormous amount of time at the B&Z meetings here in Southampton Village because of something that was taking place right in my neighborhood...I saw many people there who live next door--people I may never have met otherwise--so there is a double dip of good stuff to be found there at those meetings! :)

Posted by Paula Hathaway, REALTOR, LBA, ...The Most Informed Agent In The Hamptons! (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Paula I agree.  Some of the things those old timey agents know blows my mind.  My goal is to be right there with them and I try to learn everything I can because I want to know it.  You must build your knowledge constantly to remain relevant.

Posted by Tni LeBlanc, Realtor®, J.D., Tenacious Tni (805) 878-9879 (Mint Properties, Lic. #01871795) over 7 years ago

Paula, I'm lucky that often this is dinner table conversation. Between my husband dividing properties and building and myself and kids intreats, we do gain a lot.

Posted by Ellen Caruso (Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty) over 7 years ago

Tni: "Remain Relevant" has a ring Tni; You should do a post on that topic! I find that if i leave out the learning part of our business, it gets old real fast--and so do I for that matter. People percieve the aware, informed and educated agents as the TOP agents in our business...we need to foster that at all times!

Ellen: Good for you--and your family! It is a nioce thing to have, isn't it?--a family learning all the good things about the livelyhood of the parents..all together!..Nice!

Posted by Paula Hathaway, REALTOR, LBA, ...The Most Informed Agent In The Hamptons! (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Great article Paula!  I suggested this for a feature.  You point out a major issue with the newbies versus the veterans.  While it's impossible to know everything about all the properties in an area, the folks who have been around a while know the history on many properties, especially those with problems.  I know homes that have sold and been sold again where they had issues with drainage, foundations, etc.  Having that knowledge makes me more valuable to buyers and sellers.

What the newbies should be learning is that taking what is shown for granted is a dangerous assumption.  We, the experienced agents, should be teaching the newbies from the get go that looking at the details of reports and asking questions about property history is the best way to keep the knowledge veterens hold going strong.

Posted by Bryan Robertson, Broker, Author, Speaker (Intero Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Bryan: Thank you for your "vote" of confidence! :) I have the sense that most Newbies don't really know what they don't know so it goes on and on--meanwhile there are no easy ways to get the knoweledge without the time spent in the market place....I have always been a big proponent of mentors and as time goes on I think that is the way of the future for "oldies" when the time comes for them to retire and they don't want to. (Kind of like consultants in corporate America!) I would have paid a mentor a nice amount of money in the beginnning of my career. As it turned out, I had a fabulous manager who led me through the "thicket" and I got to the other side relatively unscathed! 

Posted by Paula Hathaway, REALTOR, LBA, ...The Most Informed Agent In The Hamptons! (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Good points Paula.  Although, I never refer to myself as an 'expert' for liability reasons.  I try to defer the tough questions to the 'experts' in that particular field.  If something pops up on the Preliminary Title Report, I ask a Title Examiner to take a look and advise the Buyer.  If something doesn't look right on an Inspection Report, I ask the Inspector to give more clarification to the Buyer/Seller.  I thank my lucky stars that I've never been sued (11 years) for the things I didn't know =)  

Posted by Melinda (Mel) Peterson, Curator of Happy Endings (Real Estate Cafe LLC) over 7 years ago

Paula, there are times when I don't know what Iknow, but just last year I showed some people that I knew more than they thought I knew. I had a client tat was going to try and subdivide his property and add 2 additional building lots. When I saw the surveyed plot, I pointed out to the surveyor that he was wrong and explained why. He doubted me and said so in front of the seller, but a few days later the seller called me to let me know that the surveyor had called to tell him that he was going to re-do the plot as he was wrong, and was unaware of the zoning change. I guess I showed them that I knew what I knew and that they didn't know it.

Posted by Ed Silva, Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally (RE/MAX Professionals, CT 203-206-0754 ) over 7 years ago

Melinda: I am not talking about inspection items and I am not talking about legal issues--I am talking about "use", "easements", "right of way", "setbacks", and "encumbrances" to mention just a few of the issues that we NEED to know about in our business. These are the things that can get us into a mess with the buyer if we can't give them an idea what is so with a property and of how important it is that they get legal council. These are the things we should have in our mind as we talk "knowledgeably" with the buyer.

Elliott: Thank you for reading the post and I am in full agreement with you about information. I call it knowledge because information can be fleeting--in one ear and out the other--whereas knowledge is cumulative and adds to our value as a really good agent vs an agent who just covers their a--! I loved your post about easements this morning so I am impressed that you found mine and could see that you inspired my post!

Posted by Paula Hathaway, REALTOR, LBA, ...The Most Informed Agent In The Hamptons! (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Ed: Good for you!! That should make you feel so good for at least a year--until the next "item" comes up. I think we need to be as proficient as possible with the knowledge that is available to all of us if we can absorb it! It adds that all important level of expertise that many other agents do not have.

Posted by Paula Hathaway, REALTOR, LBA, ...The Most Informed Agent In The Hamptons! (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 7 years ago


Wonderful information.  When you have worked in a city for 20+ years you may have learned all those things you mention.  But even so, many of the items on your list are valuable.  Great post.  I am bookmarking it.

Posted by Evelyn Kennedy, Alameda, Real Estate, Alameda, CA (Alain Pinel Realtors) over 7 years ago

Evelyn: Good, glad you found it informative--please feel free to bookmark it and also ask me questions if you have any.

Posted by Paula Hathaway, REALTOR, LBA, ...The Most Informed Agent In The Hamptons! (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Sometimes just knowing where to find the answers is enough.  It is okay to not know everything, but you need to know where to look and who to ask!  Thank you for sharing your knowledge and it is great that you were able to save someone so much time!

Posted by Karen Feltman, Relocation Specialist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, IA KW Legacy Group) over 7 years ago

Paula, love your suggestions about going to zoning and planning meetings, talking to them, etc. It has been on my list to do for sometime but now I am actually going to take the steps to do it! :)


Posted by Sharon Alters, Realtor - Homes for Sale Fleming Island FL (Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty - 904-673-2308) over 7 years ago

Bringing your own background to real estate is of tremendous help. In my case I was married to a civil and structural engineer, my father-in-law was an architect, one brother-in-law a contractor, and the other a lawyer. You get a lot of information by osmosis! Lastly, I felt I did not know enough just being an "agent" so I became a broker. Invaluable information, all of it.

Posted by Hella Mitschke Rothwell, Hawaii & California Real Estate Broker ((831) 626-4000) over 7 years ago

Hi Paula: congratulations on the feature!

Life as an agent can be a tad confusing: "know what you are supposed to know" versus "be the source for the source". Maybe it's best to know a whole bunch of stuff but say very little ;-).


Posted by Leslie Ebersole, I help brokers build businesses they love. (Swanepoel T3 Group) over 7 years ago

Hi Paula,

You're a wealth of knowledge.

I just have to do it: for anyone who doesn't follow you, they should follow Paula Hathaway Southampton, NY 

Posted by Michele Norris, ((( Buy or Sell, Call Michele ))) Lake Tahoe NV (Crystal Realty - Incline Village Nevada ) over 7 years ago

That was a good blog post! Thank you for sharing it!

Posted by Sarasota & Manatee Counties FL, - Listings In Paradise (SaraMana Properties - over 7 years ago

Karen: You are right---knowing that you DON'T know something is a winning attribute--that opens the door to learning more and more. I have found, in my early days in the business, that I would turn to the more experienced agents and they were always more than happy to give me advice....I was also very sure to thank them and even give them help with the more mundane things--open houses etc. They did love to share with me.

Sharon: There was a time when I never missed a single meeting...they can be eye opeing to say the least. We had a huge uproar here in Southampton Village at one time with a group who was tryinig to stop any and all renovations and new development in the Village---you should have seen the meetings! There were fist fights, arguments--well, lets say it was weekly entertainment!

Posted by Paula Hathaway, REALTOR, LBA, ...The Most Informed Agent In The Hamptons! (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Michelle: Thank you so much for the recommendation! I love ActiveRain because it is the only outlet that I have found for real creativity in this need to be creative has been stiffled because, as you know, when we stick our necks out in this business, there are more than a few ready to chop off our heads! Here, we can be as creative and self-expressive as we want to be (within reason :) and there are more than a few who are there to acknowledge us!! What a great thing--ActiveRain!

J.A: Thank you so much for reading it!

Elliott: I like that!! ActiveRain friends! I am more than happy to recommend anyone I know who may need an agent--and a good lawyer! the Boston Area. I have a sister in Manchester, NH and many friends in the Boston area as well. My 30 something neice and nephew live in NYC (CitiGroup).

I have been reading your posts now for a long time and you have shared some very valuable information for us here on AR--I do not find many lawyers who are willing to do that so much! In our training, we are thoroughly taught not to advise legally or any other way---that makes all of us a great wealth of recommendations for lawyers, accountants, inspectors and other professions...I would be very proud to recommend you to anyone I know.

Posted by Paula Hathaway, REALTOR, LBA, ...The Most Informed Agent In The Hamptons! (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Paula excellent post.  I believe we all need to be as informed and knowledgable as we can.  Even after being in the Real Estate Industry for many years, I know there is so much I still do not know and that it should be a continued learning experience, just not at the expense of others.  I am never afraid to call and talk with the real experts at any County level, and in my area I have never spoken with someone who was impatient, rude or anything like that, they have all been more than helpful.  I believe going to meetings is helpful and contributes to one's knowledge and also a good way to meet and bump into people and form some kind of relationship with them. Thank you for the reminder.

Posted by Mary Stewart, Wilsonville and Surrounding Portland Metro Areas (HomeTrust Real Estate, LLC, Homes for Everyone) over 7 years ago

Mary: Good! Glad I could be of help in reminding others about the good old Building and Zoning board. I found the meetings such a  fountain of information and because the meetings are experiential--we experience the...they stay with us and each and every incident that comes up in those meetings contribute to the wealth of information that we then exhibit to our buyers and sellers...

Posted by Paula Hathaway, REALTOR, LBA, ...The Most Informed Agent In The Hamptons! (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Hi Paula, Your premise, that there is so much background info about many of the lots/homes , etc in our areas, is sooo true.  They don't teach it in " I Want to be a Realtor " school, nor do the gurus, nor do the webinars.   It comes with dedication, experience and effort - and has a price attached to it !

Posted by Bill Gillhespy, Fort Myers Beach Realtor, Fort Myers Beach Agent - Homes & Condos (16 Sunview Blvd) over 7 years ago

Hey Paula,

I agree with your point regarding many of the seasoned agents leaving the business & many newer agents not being able to truly support their clients needs. Unfortunately, over the past 5 years or so, many people were doctors AND real estate agents or loan officers, or attorneys AND real estate agents or loan officers, etc.. and consumers have paid the price.

Somewhat off topic, but... your post got my attention because I always say "you don't know what you don't know. If you're crazy, you don't know that you're crazy, because YOU ARE CRAZY".  ; )

Sounds like you're incredibly knowledgable & your clients are lucky to work with you!!! Thx for the post!

Gina Lemos


Posted by Momentum Realty, Orange County CA Real Estate Agent (North Orange County CA Real Estate Specialists) over 7 years ago

Bill: You can say that again! It does have a price---those who just started even 3-4 years ago do not have a sense of how valuable that knowledge is...

Gina: I have always liked that saying "If you know that you don't know you are ahead of the game" because the truth in it is so accurate...someone once said that if you go by that premise you will always have the respect of your peers.

Posted by Paula Hathaway, REALTOR, LBA, ...The Most Informed Agent In The Hamptons! (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 7 years ago

There's nothing wrong in saying,  I don't know,.....but I'll find out!!


Patricia/Seacoast NH & ME

Posted by Patricia Aulson, Realtor - Portsmouth NH Homes-Hampton NH Homes (BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY HOME SERVICES Verani Realty NH Real Estate ) over 7 years ago

Patricia:....And then find out! I always believe in under-promising and over-producing. So if that is the promise you better believe I will do my best to get the information.

Posted by Paula Hathaway, REALTOR, LBA, ...The Most Informed Agent In The Hamptons! (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Paula, Nice post. It's so important for us to educate ourselves and stay on top of issues that may affect our clients and customers. Each property is as unique as each buyer and seller. Part of being a professional is to take the initiative to resolve or lessen the impact of issues faced by our clirnts.

Posted by Christian Bastian, Christian Bastian - Douglas Elliman Real Estate (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Christian: You are so right--"to resolve or lessen the impact of issues" is the key to being the best agent for a buyer or even a seller, depending on the case. I like that--it basically says it all when it comes to confronting a situation like I faced with this buyer... I have seen exclusive agents take a listing and never do any research--that is a big no-no to me. If someone has the faith that you will represent their property completely, or if a buyer comes to you and has the trust in you to use you as their representative then you had better have the goods to do just that!

Posted by Paula Hathaway, REALTOR, LBA, ...The Most Informed Agent In The Hamptons! (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 7 years ago