We’re Number 1! (Or are we?)

We’re #1! We sell more homes than all of the other agents south of Barstow put together. Our clients love us biggest. And by “biggest,” I mean they love us way more than any other agent’s clients love them. That is because we are awesome sauce, with a heaping jug of extra awesome thrown in. We sell our listings faster and for a factor of 10 – or even 20 – more than our “competitors.”

Here is what our clients are saying:

“Kris and Steve were awesome sauce, and we love them biggest! They didn’t suck, and we sold our home for $17 million dollars more than we expected to, in large part due to their brilliant marketing campaign, their expert negotiations, and their attention to detail – like the time Steve met the termite guy. We named our newborn twins after them. (Too bad they were both girls.) Thanks, Kris and Steve!

With undying gratitude,

Name Withheld

I made that up. So what? Is misleading, even false, advertising such a big deal? All the cool kids are doing it.

I was chatting with a prominent local agent this week. He called to voice his frustration with some of the misleading advertising he has been seeing in our community.  The ads have not been lost on me, of course. Many are quite obviously works of fiction, but then this agent and I know how much business others are doing – or not. We know who has which homes listed, and who represented the buyers on closed sales. And we know the reputations of the agents doing business in our local community.

Many, dare I say “most,” home buyers or sellers do not. But they do have access to the data. All they have to do is ask.

In light of my opposition here and on Inman News to the now-defunct Agent Scouting Reports, which were canceled shortly after the pilot aired, it might seem like I am dangerously close to making a case for total transparency in agent production numbers. And, in a way, I am. But that “data” that they attempted to publish was inherently and seriously flawed, not to mention a violation of our own MLS terms of use, so it just threatened to become more misinformation.

As this agent and I grumbled about the arguably ethically challenged marketing approaches of some of our colleagues, the overriding theme was, “How can we police our own?” You see, this stuff not only hurts consumers but it tarnishes an entire industry. Unfortunately, too many brokers are too inclined to look the other direction, either because they are unaware or because they are unwilling to shoot themselves in their bottom line foot.

So, all the home buyer or seller has to do is ask. But, as one Scouting Report advocate said:

If the agent tells me, the consumer, that they’ve successfully closed two dozen transactions in my neighborhood representing sellers, and sold the properties for 99% of market and even saved a few stray kittens in the process, I am supposed to take their word for it.”

No, you are supposed to demand verification. To quote myself from my Inman News column:

I give the average consumer more credit than to just take my word for anything today. My own clients don’t believe my opinions of value, my analyses of market trends, or even my representation of the listing inventory without fact-checking across multiple sites and asking 12 friends. Do you really think the majority of consumers are going to retrieve a self-promotional fluff piece from their front porch and give it the full weight of a tablet just delivered from the mountaintop?

True, some might do just that – take any agent-produced spiel on faith. But our world is changing, and so will this. People know that have a big ol’ Internet at their disposal now, and social search has exploded to the point that the checks and balances of validation among our spheres are the rules, not the exception.

If you are among the growing number of enlightened consumers who want the truth and not just hype, here is my own little consumer alert. The stoopid agent tricks in real estate marketing generally, at least in my area, come in three forms:

  • Intentionally vague, unquantifiable statements. Take, “No ‘ONE’ sells more homes in your neighborhood.” Watch out for words in quotes. That is code for “I can’t really prove it and don’t really mean it. It’s a figure of speech, and I can’t be sued for it.”  Another personal favorite is the self-anointed, meaningless title, like “Top Agent in Client Loyalty.” Really? How, exactly, did we come to this conclusion? “Neighborhood Specialist?” Puleese. Get in line.
  • Quantifiable statements that simply aren’t untrue. “We sell more homes than anyone in the Delta Quadrant!” In this case, they may, but you should confirm. Ask for the unadulterated, ugly MLS printout demonstrating as much. I give our own information to our would-be clients all of the time, and they can see my search parameters right at the bottom so there is no mystery. And beware of the quantifiable statement that comes with too much caveat baggage. “We have sold more homes that closed on a Tuesday than any other husband and wife team with two children in your zip code in the last fifteen years, but only it you consider the last fifteen years collectively, because most of the agents in our market weren’t yet licensed back then or were working in Boise at the time.”
  • Lots of pretty pictures of lots of pretty homes. As I discussed the whole truth in advertising issue with my fellow agent, we were both in possession of the same door dropping showing a collection of “available” and “sold” properties. In the case of most of these home, the agent responsible for the piece was not the listing agent or the buyer’s agent – had never even come within twelve blocks of the homes, except perhaps when he waltzed through during the broker caravan. Presumably, the agent had gotten permission to “advertise for free” the listings of several other, out of area agents. Unfortunately, this little detail was omitted from the fine print, leaving the recipient with the impression that he was in fact the “Neighborhood Specialist.” And I am certain it made the phone ring. That was, after all, the point.

My point is two-fold. Many of us do care about ethics and the integrity of the industry. We do respect ourselves and our customers too much to mislead and misrepresent ourselves into a place at your dining room table. Others, sadly, do not. But, you owe it to yourself to be an informed consumer and know the difference.

Ask the tough questions. Demand supporting documentation. Be inquisitive and, yes, be a little skeptical. And do your own homework. Whether it is through your social network or through your search box, research the agent in question and their body of work. The good agents have large digital footprints that will give you many clues to help solve the mystery.

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