How you start is how you finish

HOW YOU START  IS HOW YOU FINISH

I have always believed that the way you start a deal is the way you finish a deal. Get off on the wrong foot and by the end of the deal you’re likely to have tripped and fallen on your face.

That’s why, throughout my career, I have always insisted on absolute honesty and clarity from the very first meeting with a potential client.

That’s true whether the client is referred to me, whether the client is someone, like Nelson and Claudia Peltz, whom I’ve sought out, or whether it’s someone who simply walks into my office one day.

It’s true whether the initial contact is in person, over the phone or by e-mail. Everyone is treated the same way: absolute honesty, absolute clarity, absolute commitment to fulfilling my side of our business, and absolute faith that my clients will fulfill theirs.

Sometimes, though, getting the client to fulfill that faith takes a little more effort than others…

The Kane Brothers, Dan and Stan, hold a special place in my memories. They were the wealthy owners of Kane-Miller, a major food processing company. And they were devoted to each other and their families, devoted to their families. They did everything together, a fact I discovered the first time I visited their wonderful, huge office.

I walked in, and was momentarily surprised by what I saw:

Instead of a large office space crowded with a lot of desks, there was only one desk, precisely in the middle of the room.  It was a partner's desk, with a chair on either side so that two people could face each other as they worked. 

I commented on it, and Dan and Stan answered simultaneously.

"We just don't like to have to repeat a story." They each heard everything at the same time.

I quickly learned how lucky I was to do business with the Kane brothers. Not only are they wonderful, thoughtful people but Dan, especially, proved to be a marvelous and almost constant client.

Dan took great pleasure in buying properties, fixing them up and then having me put them back on the market and re-selling them. I sold him between four and seven houses a year for him to work his magic on.

We would find a house that needed a lift, a pickup, in a nice area that he was proud of, and I would sell it to him. Together, we would decide what we were going to do in the house, or what he was going to do on his own. Dan paid for all of the construction and renovation. Then we put it back on the market.  It was what they call a win-win situation: Dan made a profit and I made a commission.

But a big problem came one day when he was living in a wonderful, wonderful house in Katonah, where Martha Stewart lives. It’s marvelous location—in fact, that part of Route 35 is considered one of the most beautiful trailed roads in Westchester.

Dan wanted to sell the house, and I sold it to a very young man.  I didn't know much about him, but he was so eager to buy that he signed the contract and he put up the down payment money, which was major money for a house like Dan’s, which I believe was priced at around $2 million. 

The young man’s eagerness to own the house had gotten in the way of his ability to pay for it.

One day he called and said, "I'm not going to be able to close on this house."

He understood that if you didn't close, his money was what we call "hard" now, meaning he couldn't get his down payment back. 

I went to Mr. Kane and I said, "Well, it looks like he's not going to close, but I assume you're going to pay me commission." 

"No, you have to sell it again," he said.

 I was surprised and said, calmly, "Well, I already sold it once and had a contract."

Dan said, "No, you sell it again."

I was having such good luck that year that I sold his house a second time without too much difficulty. But in the back of my mind, I always knew he still owed me my commission for the first sale. I wasn’t about to forget that.

After we closed on the house the second time, Dan handed me a check for one commission. 

And I said, "Mr. Kane, this only represents one sale.  I did two sales by law, and legally I'm entitled to the other commission." 

He said simply, "No, you're not." 

And with that, I decided that I would take this to court.  Sometimes this happens to brokers.  Sometimes you're lucky and sometimes you're not so lucky. I knew that I was in the right, and I wanted to prove it in court, or at least make my case.

Well, it took me a year to get aa spot in the Westchester court docket, and for all that time I just held on to Mr. Kane’s check. I never cashed it, although it was written, dated, everything. 

The day of my court appearance finally came. I was to appear before an arbitrating judge. These are usually retired judges, and they're generally just wonderful people to work with. They know. They've been through probably every case imaginable, and they’re very sincere about their responsibilities. 

Instead of the hearing being held in a major courtroom, we gathered a big table in an arbitration room. Mr. Kane was there with his attorney, who lived in Bedford, and was someone I knew very well myself. 

The judge looked at Mr. Kane and he said, "Why didn't you pay her?"

Mr. Kane said, "I didn't want to." 

"What do you mean you didn't want to?" the judge asked

"I didn't think she deserved it." 

The judge spoke slowly and clearly.

"You own a big company.  You're a rich man. You wouldn't understand that when you make a deal and you decide not to take it, or someone decides there is money left there for that—you owe that to her." 

"No, I don't think so," Dan Kane said matter-of-factly.

The judge was unpersuaded by his argument.

 "Well, you're going to give it to her in this courtroom.  She had a contract and she sold it the second time.  She had another contract.”

The judge had more to say. "If you were smart, what you should have done is said to her, ‘I'll give you an exclusive agreement on the next sale, so you'll be sure you get the sale.’  But you didn't condition it, and she sold it twice. So pay her."

My heart was blossoming. I was absolutely thrilled, and not just for myself. 

I was thrilled for all the brokers who work so hard. And you know and I know that when you have a client and you have a house you want to put them together so that both sides are happy. That’s the broker’s true goal—not just her commission.

If it works you are paid royally for what you do. And it is such a good feeling to know that all sides happy. I always said, "A deal is not a deal until everyone is happy in it." 

But it doesn't always work out the way you hope, no matter how hard you work. 

One thing that has always pleased me about the situation with Mr. Kane was that throughout it all he and I remained cordial. We had a business disagreement—a serious one—but we each understood that a disagreement was exactly what it was and didn’t allow our differences on this issue to affect our friendly relationship on other issues.

Mr. Kane eventually moved to Florida, and I missed him. I missed all the little house sales, but it was more than that. I missed him and his family. I missed his charm and warmth.

After he got to Florida and settled on a Key off Sarasota, he invited me down to his house.  He was residing in a cute little house on a small bay. And his yacht was right out the back door. It was the biggest yacht in a little marina filled with boats.

I took one look and said, "Mr. Kane, this house, it's so tiny compared to all your houses." 

"You don't think it is good enough?" he said. 

"Oh, I think everything that you do is wonderful, you know that.  But I don't know how you live here.  You're so used to living in a big house." 

After a moment he admitted, "Well, the truth is I hate it. But I don't know if they have big houses down here.  

Whether they did or didn’t have big houses of the sort he liked, in the end Daniel Kane built a magnificent house right on the beach in Sarasota, Florid, a wonderful house and exactly what he wanted and was accustomed to.

Over time he became well-known there. After his wife passed, he met a lovely lady walking with a baby on the beach. They were having hard times, as I understand it, and Dan took her and her baby into his home where they could be comfortable and cared for and he could help raise her child, providing security and opportunities that the woman could never have provided on her own.

That was just like him.  Daniel Kane is really a generous, generous man. Sometimes, though, things like my commission check got in his way. 

But it all worked out and I still loved him.  I loved all the Kanes, the whole Kane crew. They were wonderful people, and honest ones. As I’ve said, Dan wasn’t trying to steal from me or cheat me out of my commission—he just felt he didn’t owe it to me and didn’t hesitate to pay me when the judge ruled in my favor.

I loved receiving that check. Every commission represents a reward for me doing my job well, but that one represented a little more: it was a reward not only for the work that earned it, it was also a reward for standing up for my rights, and the rights of brokers everywhere.

I have been fortunate to do business with Daniel Kane—and just as fortunate to have faced him in court.

Daniel Kane and I started our business dealings honestly, openly, and with a warm and enjoyable professionalism on both sides. And that’s the way our relationship remained—even after a year, a court appearance, and judge’s ruling in my favor, not Mr. Kane’s. At no point did our relationship change

The way you start a deal is the way you finish a deal—and I wouldn’t know how to do business any other way.

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