Real Estate Agent Truth in Advertising

Real estate is a competitive business; make no mistake. As agents, our world is a funny one. And by funny, I am talking about the peculiar kind, not the side-splitting ha-ha variety.

Our work is equal parts “get the job” and “do the job,” but both components are contained in a big bubble of ethical obligation – or, at least, they should be. Therein so often lies the problem. The other problem, of course, is that the equal parts rarely are.

First, agents are pitted against each other. They compete for the affections of the customers in an ultimate survival game of outwitting. Then, once the customer is safely recategorized as a client and becomes that precious “pipeline” or “inventory,” the agent must work with the very people they were working against at the kitchen table or open house on Sunday. It is in this second phase of the competition that we are found slapping backs at pitch sessions, begging for showing feedback, and working together to try to negotiate a contract or navigate a difficult escrow to closing.

An agent strictly defined is one who is authorized to act for or in the place of another, a business representative. When I am wearing my sporty rose colored glasses, I like to think of agents in a Jerry McGuire sort of way, but where the talent is the property for sale. We are supposed to package and promote, and it is also implied that we have the negotiating and procedural skill sets to produce the desired results – to work professionally and constructively, and even influence, the other Jerry’s representing the opposite side of the closing table to our clients’ benefit.

Sadly, all of that tends to get lost when the “get the job” component of the agent’s business begins to eclipse the actual work. And that is a rather long preamble to the subject of today’s Kris Rant: Truth in Advertising. Or, we could just call it “Stoopid Agent Tricks.”

Code of Ethics

I like to start here, because the commercials you see on TV produced by our own National Association of REALTORS®, the ones with the happy families sharing high fives on the manicured lawns beyond the perfect white picket fences, remind you that REALTORS® subscribe to a higher standard. We have a Code of Ethics, dang it!

REALTORS® shall not knowingly or recklessly make false or misleading statements about competitors, their businesses, or their business practices.

OK, fine. Except, the things my clients have told me other REALTORS® have said about me and my business model have included:

  • Kris doesn’t have an office. She works out of the back seat of her car from the parking lot at the pumpkin patch.
  • She hates kittens and puppies, and she washes the whites with the colors.
  • She under-prices her listings, she over-prices her listings, and she let’s her buyers pay too much.
  • She hasn’t sold a home since the Pleistocene era and that one was to her cousin, but I’ve sold 192 homes since noon.
  • Her car is a cheap import manufactured by monkeys who failed to properly glue down all the components resulting in random plastic pieces flying off every time she hits a pothole going over thirty. (That one’s true.)
  • She’s stupid.

The Top Producer

The cautionary tale here is that when you hear an agent talking smack about another agent, it may be true or it may not, but it isn’t ethical – except for the comparison of production numbers. In that case, make sure you demand evidence, and watch out for the qualifiers. The thing is, we can’t all be the “Top Producer.” Even suggesting we are the “Neighborhood Specialist” implies there is only one of those guys, and we are it!

These are things you might read or hear:

  • We have sold more homes than any other husband and wife team with more than three consonants in their combined middle names over the past six months on streets beginning with “B.”
  • We have been honored as Top Precious Medal Millenium Producers since 1942, ranking us among the highest 1% of production out of 742,000 agents in the galaxy because of our awesomeness (and, by default, this makes us better so we don’t need to waste time on professional photos or spell-check).
  • I have sold more homes than anybody, ever, in the whole history of real estate in the universe and in New Jersey.

The Brokerage

Experience is important, so now you have verified the agent’s proclamations of success. What your would-be agent should be doing is talking about the distinctions in the way the business is conducted and the differences in business models. And your would-be agent is often going to have to dig deep to make that important “hire me” distinction. Here, I want to attempt to dispel a couple of popular listing pitch myths.

“I am with Rock Solid Luxury Lifestyle. I bring the power of an international brokerage that is 5 gazillion agents strong! And we have more resources ‘cause we are so flipping big!”

And this matters, how? You see, last time I checked, Rock Solid Luxury Lifestyle used the same MLS I do. Heck, we even share an Internet! What we don’t share is expensive and unnecessary overhead for big, antiquated offices with impressive shiny lobbies intended to impress the three remaining people without computers who might wander in, having missed the memo on the 21st century. Nor do we have expensive and unnecessary window offices intended to recruit more and more and more agents who admittedly enhance the brokerages bottom line but do nothing to improve the customer’s experience or results. Oh – and we don’t have “resource fees” and “transaction fees” that we pass through to our clients in order to stay afloat.

You see, sellers hire agents, not companies. Rock Solid Luxury Lifestyle is not going to design your marketing, stage your home, or negotiate your contract. Your agent is. That the agent happens to share a corporate logo with one or one hundred thousand makes no difference. Until a buyer tells me they only want to see homes listed by “the brokerage with the balloon” or “the one on the commercials,” that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Buyers don’t notice who the listing brokerage is, nor do they care. What they do notice is the condition and price of the property and the quality of the marketing.

“We have a big, honking relocation department, and I am on the relo team which means I represent boatloads of people moving here from faraway foreign lands. Like New Jersey.”

And this matters, how? This is actually an argument we hear is used against us frequently and, for the life of me, I just can’t find the logic. Remember – sellers shop for agents, but buyers shop for houses. The fact that a buyer has been assigned your agent to play Chamber of Commerce on their visit to San Diego and ultimately represent them on their purchase is of absolutely no value to you as a seller – unless of course your agent tends to steer his buyers to only his listings, which we know he would never do because of the Code of Ethics dealie-bobber, not to mention real estate law.

Ask yourself this. When the agent meets his new clients at the airport, do they immediately blurt, “Let’s go see all those listings of yours!” I’m guessing no. Just like the guy surfing in his jammies doesn’t come across a great home only to utter, “Dang. Too bad that one’s not listed by Rock Solid Luxury Lifestyle. It would have been perfect!”

This is the part where I was going to get into the whole issue of open houses and why they make no sense whatsoever in 2011 (even though – full disclosure — we are delighted to do them every weekend until the cows come home if our clients wish). Alas, I am out of steam. So I’ll save that for the next rant titled “How an agent can advertise for free and try to drum up new business while claiming they are marketing their listing when all they are really doing is looking for new clients, and how they can even advertise for free when they don’t have a home to hold open by placing their signs that lead nowhere along the major thoroughfares at ten foot intervals so that innocent passer-bys will think they are really busy and successful.”

Not that your agent would do that, of course. We’re REALTORS®, and we have a Code of Ethics thingie.

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