I like Seth Godin
I really do. I think much of what he has written about marketing is nothing short of genius. And I think his ideas about permission based marketing are right on the on the money. But even our heroes can make mistakes, and I think Seth has made one recently.
In a recent post, Seth wrote;
Travel agents… gone.
Stock brokers… gone.
Real estate brokers… in trouble. Photographer’s agents, too.
The problem with being a helpful, efficient but largely anonymous middleman is pretty obvious. Someone can come along who is cheaper, faster and more efficient. And that someone might be the customer aided by a computer.
Not sure I agree with him here. Real Estate agents may be in trouble, but that’s more the result of the economy and the lack of credit liquidity than the function of our job. Our job is not to be “a helpful, efficient but largely anonymous middleman” but to fulfill a number of functions for the consumer, only one of which involves sifting through data on the computer.
Seth Doesn’t “Get Us”
Some house sellers hesitate to pay real estate brokers because they don’t believe the 6% payment is an opportunity, they see it as a tax.
I might agree with him here, but this is more a function of the seller’s lack of knowledge than anything else, and certainly has not changed in the last 101 years. It has always been a challenge to explain to the seller the value that is added by our services, and many agents have a tough time articulating exactly what they bring to the process as well. In fact, I believe that the main reason some agents have a tough time negotiating commission is because they don’t fully understand what they bring to the table. That’s a subject that is deep enough and complex enough for another post, so I’ll ask that you take my word for it here, and just remember that properties that are sold by agents generally sell for more money than homes that are not listed by an agent. So let’s assume that the increased sales price,reduction of risk, third party negotiating, and navigation through a complicated legal process are sufficient value for the sake of this post.
We Know Who We Are
Key point: anonymous agents are interchangeable and virtually worthless. Agents that don’t do anything but help one side find the other side in a human approximation of Google aren’t so helpful any more.
Think about how anonymous the typical real estate broker is. He will sell almost any house or represent almost any buyer. When selling a house, he has a fiduciary responsibility to represent that house to the best of his ability. Just like every other broker. The great real estate brokers do far more than this.
OK Seth, here’s is where I really get some heartburn. The fact that our skills are transportable from one buyer or seller to the next, and are not defined by the property (with the exception of specialized disciplines) does not mean we are anonymous. Nor does it mean that we do the same thing over and over again or that we are interchangeable.
We Know What We Do
We don’t represent house. We represent people. We determine their needs and then we do what needs to be done to help them meet those needs. Its not our fiduciary responsibility to represent the client, it is our professional obligation. Doing that means different things to different people. And while the line “The great real estate brokers do far more than this” sounds good, it doesn’t make any sense to me. How do you do more than the best you’re able to do? We don’t all finish the race at the same time, even if we all start together, but that’s a function of our talent, training, skills, and effort, not the market or the technology.
To thrive in a world of self-service, agents have to hyperspecialize, have to stand for something, have to have the guts to say no far more than they say yes. No, you can’t publish this book. No I won’t represent you. No, don’t take that flight. No, I won’t sell this house, it’s overpriced, list it yourself.
Again Seth, this was always the case in our business. We have been training agents for years not to take the overpriced listing, to provide the right advice when its what the client needs to hear even if its not what the client wants to hear.Again, like some many others, Seth doesn’t fully understand the job of the real estate agent, and thinks its just a matter of putting the property in the MLS and then taking a nap until the property is sold.
Finally We can Agree Again
When markets change, agents can lead the way, not follow along grudgingly.
At last we can agree. Though I don’t think our expertise is going to eliminated by technology, it is important that as agents we lead the way. That we stay educated, understand the challenges facing our consumers. Guide them through the process in the smoothest way possible. Minimize their costs, and their legal exposure, while assisting them in obtaining terms that are preferential to them. All things that are easy for the do it yourself person to achieve, even with an awesome computer and a lightning fast interface to the largest database of properties in their market.