You know I love to rag on real estate agents. So I was quite amused Friday night when I passed by the TV just as Jimmy Fallon was doing his thank you note shtick and I heard him say: "Thank you real estate brokers for earning thousands of dollars for saying 'How about that one?'" Popular culture is full of such references. It's no coincidence that Modern Family's clueless dad, Phil Dunphy, is a real estate agent. Let's face it the industry has a really bad reputation and it's largely well deserved. This despite the fact that the National Association of Realtors' annual survey of Home Buyers and Sellers consistently shows that roughly 90% of buyers and 85% of sellers were satisfied with the agents they used. Frankly, I don't know how they get numbers so high - especially since I hear so many complaints about agents. Maybe the dissatisfied buyers and sellers end up switching to agents with which they are ultimately satisfied.
Then I ran across a couple of articles written by Teresa Boardman, a St. Paul realtor, on the Inman News site in defense of realtors. Even after accounting for the fact that Inman News' audience is largely realtors I found her articles to be painful rationalizations of the ugly truth. They make good reading for realtors drinking a tall glass of their own bathwater.
Her first article, written back in September, explains Why Real Estate Agents Don't Answer The Phone. So she doesn't even deny the fact that realtors don't answer the phone. Instead she provides several examples of how phone calls don't always go to real estate agents and a few examples of how sometimes agents just have better things to do. So she thinks the solution should be educating consumers on how the industry works. Well, that would be the tail wagging the dog wouldn't it? She says she's not blaming the consumer but it sure sounds like she is to me. I'm sorry but when an industry is structured in such a way as to leave the customer bewildered then it's time to restructure the industry. Brokerages that don't treat consumers properly deserve to go out of business and agents that don't return phone calls in a timely manner don't deserve the business.
But she doesn't even address the inexplicable (I guess you can't if it's really inexplicable) situations where agents don't return calls from other agents who have buyers interested in their million dollar listing. Unfortunately, sellers are usually totally unaware that this is happening. This one always leaves me scratching my head.
Teresa's second article just appeared last week: Enough Already About Stupid, Lazy Real Estate Agents. In this article she laments the fact that hard working, underpaid, and under appreciated real estate agents continually get a bad rap. She's tired of all the criticism, finds it demoralizing, and thinks the industry would be better served by positive role models. But there are plenty of positive role models out there. It's just that the majority of real estate agents (I think it's as high as 80%) aren't paying attention. Here are a few of her other more interesting points:
".. if we are so bad, why have we not been replaced by technology?" Well, Teresa, you are being replaced by technology. You haven't noticed?
"I don't know too many lazy people who have what it takes to be an independent contractor. It means looking for work everyday, and trust me -- that isn't something that lazy people like to do. It's anything but easy." OK. This is something I've given a lot of thought to and my conclusion is that it's the independent contractor model that is the root of the problem in the industry.
First, the vast majority of real estate agents get into the business as a lifestyle choice. They like the idea that they don't have a boss (or so they think) and that they can set their own hours (or so they think) so they conduct themselves accordingly.
Second, precisely because real estate agents are independent contractors, who bring their own business to the brokerage, the traditional brokerages simply don't care how they conduct themselves. They aren't held accountable to any standards of performance at all. And this is something that consumers really should be educated on because it's an enormous problem.
"Some people are better than others at hiring a good agent, or any kind of contractor." OK. She hit the nail on the head here. How the heck is a consumer supposed to find a good real estate agent - and there are good real estate agents out there? How can they know in advance if a real estate agent is a turkey or not? Many assume that the highly visible or successful agents are the better ones but that is only a really loose correlation. Unfortunately, the only thing you can know for sure about the successful agents is that they are extremely talented at marketing themselves. And tremendous success often correlates with being overwhelmed - which translates to unresponsive.
I've written posts before on how to go about selecting a real estate agent but it's hard to verbalize how one can judge human nature. In the end you have to look for clues as to whether or not someone is sincere, intelligent, professional, and responsive. If it takes them forever to return your calls....If when you call them you hear a soap opera or cartoons playing in the background...If they spend more time talking about how great they are and little time talking about what they are going to actually do for you...If they are inarticulate...If emails sent between 6 PM and 10 PM routinely go unanswered for 14 hours...and drum roll here...if the only reason you are using them is because they are a friend or a relative...then chances are you are dealing with the bottom 80%.
I couldn't figure out how to work this in above without breaking the flow so I'm sticking it down here. One thing I haven't done a very good job of (and neither has the real estate industry) is explaining what a good real estate agent does so that the consumer understands the context within which they are trying to hire someone. I need to do that at some point so that will be the topic of a future post.
Oh...one other thing. Feel free to share your bad realtor stories below.