Doing the Right Thing and the Smart Thing

Elmo and Melitta Marquette got back property involved in a controversial sale that some said was predatory and amounted to elder abuse.We saw local examples last week of doing the right thing and doing the smart thing.

A couple, both of whom are real estate professionals, returned a 2-acre parcel to the sellers, an elderly couple, who by all appearances got the short end of a sale price.

A Canadian pipeline company announced plans for a $500 million propane export facility at the Port of Portland and declined to take advantage of available subsidies.

The couple who returned the property did so after blistering publicity generated by Oregonian columnist Steve Duin, which prompted calls that the sale amounted to elder abuse. The parcel carries a real market value of $220,000, but the buyers obtained it for just $22,000.

While the buyers ultimately did the right thing, it came too late to avoid dents to their professional reputations. Mrs. Buyer lost her real estate job and readers who posted comments on Duin's column questioned the integrity of Mr. Buyer who runs a mortgage company. The attorney general was preparing to investigate the sale. 

The buyers and sellers are neighbors, but that doesn't mean the buyers should have a blind spot to the appearance of vulnerability of the elderly sellers. After trying to explain their side of the story through an open letter, the buyers recognized no explanation would work. The right thing to do was void the sale. To their credit, that's what they did. They even let the couple keep the $22,000, which will go to defray legal and other costs the sellers incurred.

Doing the right thing later is better than not at all. But it begs the question of why people who work everyday in the real estate industry didn't see the train wreck coming from their actions. If they would have done the right thing in the first place, no one would have noticed, which is a lot better than getting noticed for doing a bonehead thing.

Pembina Pipeline acted smart by differentiating itself from other energy exporters by stressing the relative environmental and safety merits of propane and by saying no thanks to tax handouts. This disarming first impression could go a long ways toward quieting opposition and smoothing the way to build its facility at the Port of Portland's Terminal 6.

Companies are in business to maximize profit, but sometimes leaving money on the table can be a savvy strategy, especially involving a project that could generate a ton of controversy.

Understanding the context of decision-making and responding to it appropriately leads to doing the smart thing. In this case, getting a facility built quicker so money-making exports can start flowing sooner.