Real Estate Agent Forced to Return Land in “Too Good to Be True” Deal: A Cautionary Tale

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One of the avenues new investors usually take if they can’t find cash flow properties is to advertise and find properties themselves. While this can be a great way to generate business and save a little money you have to, be careful.

A real estate transaction, whether through real estate professionals or for sale by owner, assumes that both parties know the value and condition of the property before making an agreement. If one side knows more about real estate or value than the other and uses that for financial gain, then the other side can sue for damages. Now, if they know what it’s worth and still decide to sell low, then get it in writing. You don’t want them to claim you took advantage of them later.

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A Real Estate Transaction Gone Wrong

Here is a recent case involving real estate agent Sandra Bittler and her neighbor, the Marquettes.

According to the report, Sandra had mentioned to the couple when they moved into the neighborhood they would be interested in buying their 2.02 acres parcel to extend their backyard. Seven years later the Marquettes decided to sell and went to Sandra’s house to make a deal. Before going to the house the Marquettes (owners) decided they wanted $22,000 for the property. That’s extremely cheap for land in Portland, but that’s what the couple wanted and that’s what they asked for. It’s not likely they knew the true value of the land when coming up with that price.

Related: The Uneducated Wholesaler’s Deal Gone Wrong: A Cautionary Tale

Sandra put in a call the title company to get some background information. The title company found environmental overlays that would make the property very difficult if not impossible to build on. The property was also landlocked, so there wouldn’t be access without a new easement. At this point there wasn’t whole lot you could do with the land except extend the backyard.

Before writing up an agreement, Sandra advised the Marquettes several times to get a real estate agent to represent them in the transaction because Sandra didn’t know much about selling or valuing land. Mr. Marquette said he didn’t want representation and would have sold it on a handshake if he could. They wanted to keep it simple.

With everyone in agreement, Sandra drafted a contract to purchase the land at the asking price of $22,000 with a verbal agreement that they wouldn’t build on it while the Marquettes lived there. A few days later Mrs. Marquette wanted to cancel the deal and see if they could get a better price, which they probably could have. The next day she changed her mind and they decided that getting it done was more important than waiting and getting more money. Everyone signed the closing papers, and the deal was done.

Related: The Savvy Buyer’s Guide to Winning Deals in an Seller’s Market

But That’s Not the End of the Story…

A little less than a year later, a newspaper article was published about the transaction, which started the proceedings. Once everything was said and done the findings showed that Sandra did make several mistakes in the paperwork and disclosures during the process. However, both parties had agreed on a price, and the Marquettes did not want representation in the contract. While the zoning and location of the property would have significantly reduced the value of the land, the 2.02 acres added to Sandra’s property would have increased her property value by more than $22,000.

The point is that even with both parties in agreement and the zoning problems with the land the realtor was still seen as taking advantage of the couple because she knew more about real estate than they did and had received a financial gain based on that knowledge. As far as we know, Sandra did not intentionally take advantage of them. In the end the Marquettes got their property back and kept the $22,000.

You have to be very careful when buying properties, especially if the purpose is to use your knowledge and experience to make a profit off of someone else. If you take advantage of someone, even if it’s accidental, you can still be liable for damages later.

Investors: Had you heard of this story? What are your thoughts on it?

Leave me a comment!

About Author

Brett Lee

Brett Lee is a licensed Real Estate Broker in Portland Oregon where he helps people achieve a better future so they can do the things that truly make them happy. Brett is also a buy-and-hold investor, property manager and investment advisor.


  1. Joel Owens

    The KEY is if the disclosures were verbal in nature. Verbal is generally in many states legal but not found to be enforceable in a court of law.

    If the sellers had signed proper disclosures in writing before closing and decided to not get legal representation or an appraisal of the land then that is on THEM alone.

    If it went to court a judge would likely say the sellers had their ” right to their own inquiry” before closing and chose not to enforce or research the options therefore they have no basis for a claim.

  2. Joel Owens

    I see the same situation with buyers waiving due diligence items and closing on the property because they do not want to spend the coin and later try to sue and say they were duped etc.

    Judge generally says they had their chance and chose not to research so no claim is allowed and case is dismissed.

  3. Michael Woodward

    I had to know more about this go I Googled it to get a clearer picture. If you read the articles from the links below you can see that clearly there’s fault on both sides of this transaction. Sandra was fired from her agency because she didn’t file the paperwork with her office and failed to disclose some things. As a licensed broker she should have known better but I don’t see just cause for her to lose the $22k. The Oregon real estate regulatory agency didn’t find the infractions bad enough to revoke her license so she definitely got the raw end of the deal.

    The Marquettes claim that they thought they were selling it for $220k but they had already offered the property to another neighbor for $5000 (he turned it down). Their claim that they didn’t know the sales price was $22k instead of $220k sounds awfully suspicious. It appears that their lawyer convinced them to sue to get their lot back and keep the $22k that Sandra paid. It would be interesting to know how much the lawyer made on the deal. That’s were you would likely find the real source of the controversy.

    Links to the articles……

  4. mike williams

    Great work Woodward. I did the same search and found that there’s a lot going on here, not just that one side knew more about real estate than the other. The article above says “If one side knows more about real estate or value than the other and uses that for financial gain, then the other side can sue for damages” – that’s just not a very accurate statement. CAN sue, yes. WIN? Not likely. Having been investing for 15 years and an agent for 4 years, I can tell you unequivocally that at least 90% of transactions occur when one party knows more about real estate than the other. It’s naive to think that the general public has the same knowledge. In this particular instance, the agent just didn’t do the paperwork right and that is her only fault as far as I can see. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a judge that would award these buyers anything if she had put everything in writing that she said was agreed to. She knew she should’ve put it in writing…we all know that verbal means nothing, and that doesn’t matter if you are a real estate agent or a garbage man (no offense to garbage men).

  5. Robert Blake

    I’m trying to decide if this article was intentional or mis-typed where it says “increased her property value by more than $22,000” as it seems the market value was $220k, not $22k.

    It’s also not clear whether Bittler was very ignorant or intending to actually deceive them. Not enough to press charges, but enough to get fired over. That said, the couple seems to have been improperly capable of acting in their own best interests, too.

  6. Johnathon Griggs

    This whole deal sounds messed up.
    – Bittler was a Principal RE broker and “didn’t know” she was supposed to turn in the transaction paperwork to her Agency? For real?
    – Bittler was a Principal RE broker and “advised the Marquettes several times to get a real estate agent to represent them in the transaction because Sandra didn’t know much about selling or valuing land.” For real? What exactly does she do in real estate?
    – The Marquettes thought they were getting $220k, not $22k? For real? Between what is verbally stated and written, how many times did they miss that? A couple of article quotes:
    “One neighbor, Wayne Shoultz, rejected a $5,000 offer, telling Elmo that he was clearly confused about the assessed value of the lot.”
    “”I guess I sold it a little cheap,” adds Elmo, who is a little stubborn and a little embarrassed.”

    Seems that he was clearly trying to sell it cheap up front, and not for 220k! Also indicated is that he recognizes that he messed up after finding out what the property was actually valued at.

    Wholesalers, flippers, etc. do this stuff all the time. People are just out to get a good deal, and if they find it, take it. I do, of course, though, realize that Realtors are in a bit of a different position than those who don’t hold a license.

    In summary, I would have to say that it seems Bittler and her husband were being a little sneaky and that the Marquettes weren’t communicating with eachother and were uninformed.

    Regarding the articles conclusion: “You have to be very careful when buying properties, especially if the purpose is to use your knowledge and experience to make a profit off of someone else. If you take advantage of someone, even if it’s accidental, you can still be liable for damages later.” — That’s just nonsense – if you’re unethical and don’t do things by the book, then you’re liable. I’m not saying that it’s okay to prey on mentally challenged people, etc, but that’s just how life works; those who understand, are knowledgeable, and act accordingly… they win. If people are going to actively get involved in something, they need to know what they’re doing if they want to do well.

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