Jan. 25, 2010 - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Agents: Here to Stay?
Real estate blogger and St. Paul broker Teresa Boardman recently published an article in Inman News, “Bad Agents are Here to Stay”. Boardman says:
“I have never heard anyone say that the bar is set too high and that it is too hard to become a Realtor. Take a few classes, pass a test, get a license, pay your dues to the National Association of Realtors and you are a Realtor. It all takes two to six weeks, depending upon which state issues the real estate license.”
She observes that the only measure of industry success is whether or not an agent makes money by selling houses. The “how”, or the quality of a salesperson's performance isn't an issue, and neither is skill or ethics. She concludes by saying, “The economy and the housing market are changing the way agents do their jobs, but I don't see any evidence that "bad agents" will be weeded out, and the bar for entry is still low. As real estate companies struggle for head count, any licensee who can fog a mirror is in.”
Sad, Teresa, but true. And it's not a new complaint: in the thirty years I was an association exec, quality control was always the central issue in the association. Members always rated “Enforcement of the Code of Ethics” as a close second to “MLS Service” in their response to the ever-present “rate the association services” questionnaire—sometimes “Code of Ethics” even came first in member priority.
Of course, what I always knew was that the enforcement process was designed for somebody else, not the complainants. And what I also knew was that most of the dissatisfaction lay not in unethical behavior in the larger sense of the word—the 'ethics' complaints were often just plain lack of professional respect for others and sloppy and unskilled performance. In her article, Boardman cites Bad Agent behavior as “rude” and irresponsible. These characteristics are not really unethical in the larger sense of the word, and they are certainly not things which any association can control through enforcement of the Realtor Code of Ethics. In fact, most of the ethics complaints I heard about association members from other association members had to do with lack of communication, insufficient education, and thoughtless, rude and predatory sales behavior.
There's no real way to enforce these kinds of behaviors. Just as there will always be doctors with poor a poor bedside manner, or lawyers who chase ambulances, so to will there always be Bad Agents: Boardman is right. The thing is, we as real estate trade associations don't have to turn our backs on efforts to mitigate the problem. We can provide some solutions. Here are a few that have surfaced and deserve some consideration:
Quit reinforcing dollar volume as the measure of success. Many associations have gotten rid of the “Million Dollar Award” celebration, especially since “Million Dollars in Sales” really doesn't mean the sales person made a million dollars—quite the opposite. But sales awards do substantiate the public perception that our members are all very rich—and very greedy. It seems more to the point of professionalism to identify the qualities which need to be encouraged in members—like professional courtesy and respect, and dedication to the good of the industry—and reward those instead.
Develop some other method for identifying and encourage professional behavior besides fines and punishment. One of the things that has always amazed me is that real estate associations seldom tell members what professional behavior IS. Of course they teach the Code of Ethics in some fairly uninspiring ways, like boring case studies of Realtor A and Realtor B. But our members aren't lawyers and don't learn well from case studies, and the Code of Ethics really doesn't address the daily irritants of unprofessional behavior, like not returning phone calls or turning in Under Contract listings.
“What other ways can we encourage professional behavior”, you ask. “We have designations, but most members don't get them, and the public doesn't know about them so all those letters after one's name really don't mean much.”
Wow, that's true, isn't it? In order for it to be valuable to the designee, the public needs to understand the designation, and care about it. And does the public know, or care about the letters after one's name? Not really. Even lawyers, medical doctors, and Ph.Ds seldom us their professional designations anymore. So what's the answer?
First, let's try and identify professional behavior. AEs might try something as simple as asking the members: “What are the three things that cause you to know a real estate professional when you see one?” Then, compile a list, aka David Letterman, of the most popular responses. Tell the members—in orientation, publications, whatever. Give them a clue!
Secondly, devise a 'body of knowledge' with some benchmarks. It's interesting: if you go to Realtor.org and search on 'body of knowledge', the only responses which are returned are for the valuable document, the AE Body of Knowledge. Our members don't seem to have any such guide—and if we are depending on individual state licensing requirements or individual brokerages to be that guide, we are subject to a great delusion. You've heard the comment, “He's completed his first year in real estate —seventeen times.” Maybe we need to identify and articulate what the expectations are for the second year in real estate...and the third.
Third, associations need to provide the consumer public with a way of articulating values. What constitutes a successful transaction experience? With a few exceptions, the industry has not supported consumer ratings or satisfaction survey. It's interesting that consumers can more easily rate an $80 a night hotel room, but not a real estate brokerage to which they may have paid thousands of dollars. Certainly the consumer is not likely to use an agent's sales volume as a measure of success.
One of the biggest problems Realtors have as a trade association is the antitrust issues that cooperative business practices, particularly with an MLS, bring to them. An an association, Realtors bend to accommodate every applicant for membership in order to give them access to the MLS as a business tool, and seldom deny membership to anyone except for non-payment of dues. Certainly, none of this structure ever will promote competency and skill. It's probably easier to get disbarred or have a medical license revoked than it is to be denied MLS access. There are a lot of legal reasons for this, of course, but the pure fact of the matter is that when the MLS ceases to become a member service, the silver lining may be that real estate will be able to be more proactive about professionalism.
Until that time, Realtor associations can encourage professionalism by devaluing the perception that real estate success is measured in terms of dollars, and by articulating and honoring the characteristics which are indicative of a true professional.
Monday, January 25, 2010
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Agents: Here to Stay? : Off Stage