Real Estate Mediation: How Mediators Can Help When Clients Don't Like Each Other
"Whenever you're in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude." William James, noted American philosopher and psychologist, wrote these words when he discussed the crucial steps to navigating human conflict. Although he wasn't referring specifically to real estate disputes--he might as well have been.
The scope of real estate transactions and property ownership is often a slippery slope of things that can go wrong: including disputes are liquidated damages, faulty repairs, in which the former owners fail to disclose that the sewage backs up four times a year. All of these situations create high levels of tensions between parties and their brokers, with each party holding stubbornly to the reasons and justifications for his or her "side" of the argument.
Real estate conflicts easily produce situations in which relationships between parties deteriorate. This is especially true if one party feels that the conflict was initiated by the other party in an intentional act of disregard or disrespect. When property and ownership and someone's life savings hang in the balance, tensions can run higher than normal and "likeable" can turn into "detestable" quickly. The good news is that mediation, as a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), is a perfect forum for this type of scenario. In most California contracts, mediation is required to avoid the forfeiture of attorney fees. If approached in the right way, mediation can quickly turn a "detestable" disputant into someone worth hearing out, even if you disagree with them, including your real estate broker.
The key to this is the non-adversarial process of real estate mediation. Unlike litigation, mediation allows each party the opportunity to see the conflict from both sides of the fence and to negotiate with the other in a fair and reasonable manner. If James' advice is heeded, with the right attitude, disputants in a real estate transaction or problem can walk away from mediation with a broader perspective and a changed frame of reference regarding how the dispute began in the first place. This becomes the first step to reaching a resolution.
Put simply, mediation humanizes the people involved in a dispute and generally works to solve the problem. This process of humanization allows both sides to take a step back from their own resolute "side" of the argument and understand how the other party sees the problem. It is this act of open communication, combined with a mediator who knows how to shift the disputants' attitude from seeing a "me/my" problem to an "us/our" problem, that makes real estate mediation so successful.
John S. Preston
Oakland, CA. 94610