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Forums reveal continued distrust of Realtors – how we can fix this problem

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Buyer’s representation agreement

This post is inspired by a day spent reading consumer’s posts/questions on Trulia and Zillow, and fielding phone calls from buyers. REALTORS as a group are told to get out there and “sign up” our buyers for representation. Many buyers are hesitant to chain themselves to us, especially on the first meeting! But we’re trained to get that signature, so we can lay claim to that buyer.

I think this is like asking someone to marry you on the first date–and a blind date at that! Why don’t they want to sign? Because many have been BURNED! And if they haven’t had a bad experience with a bad agent, they know plenty of people who have.

Trulia and Zillow are FILLED with posts from upset/angry/disillusioned buyers and sellers. Wake up people: they don’t trust us! Spend an hour reading through the Q&A sections and you’ll believe.

What I have witnessed in online forums

1. Buyer’s agency is a joke…. a “sham” to quote one writer. They listed a diatriabe of issues they’ve had with not one but several “buyer’s agents” who were supposed to work on THEIR behalf and didn’t. (Keep in mind there’s always 2 sides of a story… but if this guy’s long travails of agent who have “done him wrong” are only 10% accurate, then agents in his area STINK). He details how one agent refused to write up an offer that was $5000 less than list because it wasn’t worth her time. She wanted him to write full price. Another agent constantly said she’d check into his questions and never returned with answers. Stories fill the internet about how their “buyer’s agent” screwed them out of a house, or talked them into paying more than they should have. We love BA (we get a check) but the public doesn’t think it’s “real” yet. And after reading these stories, I feel bad for these guys who got burned by bad agents.

2. There’s enough info out on the net to do this yourself… neither buyers/sellers need us. They can read our blogs and information online and figure out how to do everything themselves and save the commission. This is a common thread. We can puff out our chests all we want and rattle off everything we do that the public doesn’t see… but that perception is out there and it’s pretty prevalent. One writer said he cribbed off of one agent’s blog her step-by-step how to buy a house, and did it himself (Food for thought–if we put it ALL out there, to benefit the public, are we giving away the milk for free???). MOOOO.

3. We are not to be trusted. We lie. We don’t return phone calls. We sneak in other offers so buyers “lose out” on a house they thought they had. We are prostitutes–out for sale to the highest bidder (cannot remember where I read that today, but I laughed and moved on to the next post). The truth is we constantly compare ourselves to doctors and lawyers in our blogs (as in, other “professionals”) and claim the public would never ask their surgeon to “cut” a commission or their lawyer for discount advice. I have news for you: we are NOT doctors and lawyers. Some of us have had 30 or 60 HOURS of classes and we call ourselves professionals. Some have taken an online class and never even sat in a classroom (no disrespect meant, I’m on a roll here). So how dare we look a seller in the eye and compare us to his heart surgeon???? They trust their heart surgeon. They trust (they may not like but they trust!) their lawyer. They don’t trust us (as a group, not individually).

4. We are overpaid tour guides. Yes I know… I’m one of you so don’t stone me. But the public sees us making thousands and tens of thousands at the closing table. They don’t see the hours behind the scenes or the smoothing over we do or the research, to make sure the deal moves along. They don’t see all the buyers we work with who never buy anything (at least from US), or who waste our precious time and steal hours from our family. You know it’s out there. I have explained the “split” to more than one person who had their eyes opened that no, I don’t keep that whole check. And I have expenses. And I have to go weeks or months without a check. They don’t care.

Why consumers don’t (and shouldn’t) care

That’s the bottom line. Read these forums and you’ll see the common thread is the public doesn’t care if we eat or have a roof over our heads. They care about themselves: getting the house, or selling the house. They may like their agent, but given the choice between being loyal to you and getting a house they really really want (this is an emotional buy for most, not a brain decision), you’re dumped in the dirt. Right?

I once had a friend (of 20 years!) put an offer on a house because she saw the listing agent enter the house, and she wanted it. Later when I called to tell her it was for sale she didn’t apologize, she said she already bought it. WHAT? She was one of my closest friends. Yes, she said. Her husband told her to call me, but — and I quote– he told me to wait to call you, but I really didn’t care, I just wanted the house. And that’s a friend. If a friend doesn’t care if I make money or not, the rest of the public really really could care less.

How we can fix this continued problem:

We need to clean our house before our entire profession is in the toilet. We need to stop making excuses for our subpar comrades. We need to stop brushing their misdeads and poor behavior/unprofessionalism under the rug. Last year, I encountered two serious situations with bad agents, and I tried time and again to get the agents to fix the problem. In one case, their manager even ignored it. Then I went straight to their brokers to fix the problem. Both agents are still practicing, and probably hate me. But the brokers made it right, and hopefully got a taste of just how unethical their agents were.

Agents and brokers, we cannot hide our heads in the sand and pretend unethical things do not happen. If the broker doesn’t do something, go to your Board or Ethics committee. We must change these things. We must try to make our profession better, even if that means less (but better) agents.

Erica Ramus is the Broker/Owner of Ramus Realty Group in Pottsville, PA. She also teaches real estate licensing courses at Penn State Schuylkill and is extremely active in her community, especially the Rotary Club of Pottsville and the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce. Her background is writing, marketing and publishing, and she is the founder of Schuylkill Living Magazine, the area's regional publication. She lives near Pottsville with her husband and two teenage sons, and an occasional exchange student passing thru who needs a place to stay.

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20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Sean Carpenter

    November 1, 2011 at 4:58 am

    Erica – I am not disagreeing with you but I just want to remind you that you were looking for negative replies and comments in those Zillow and Trulia forums. Very rarely will satisfied clients (which we both know are out there) take the time to go in to those sites and rave about the hard work and efforts of their agents.

    I do feel that a consistent Buyer Counseling Session held before anything is done with the client will eliminate many of the issues you found in these forums and just might help the Buyers have an even better transaction than if they tried it on their own.

    The key is agents have to have a stronger desire to satisfy a client than earn a paycheck. You can sometimes do the latter without the former but when you start with the clients needs in mind and accomplish that you will usually not only earn commission on that transaction but on future transactions and referrals from that Buyer.

  2. Eric Hempler

    November 1, 2011 at 7:06 am

    It looks like to me the agents aren't conveying very good examples of what the benefits are in working with them.

  3. Hank Miller

    November 1, 2011 at 7:44 am

    This is spot one and I'm very happy to see someone with the chutzpah to write it.

    Fact is this that this business is far from "professional" and never will be by its very nature; it's viewed as a part time job that requires exceptionally low standards to perform. Agents are trained to hammer everyone they meet with the fact they're an agent, push every contact with "who do you know" and be as obnoxious as a used car salesman or ambulance chasing lawyer. Let's not forget that agents were vital building the road to this economy – something the public will never forget. And don't get me started with the NAR or any of the nonsensical "designations" they create just to fill their coffers…

    Until the industry polices itself and demands minimum production standards, brokers/owners switch from bodies paying fees to bodies selling homes, "real world" education requirements increase (like appraiser apprenticeships) and agents themselves begin having respect for the profession nothing will change. Done correctly, transactions should be boring and the scope of work that results in that is beyond what some part time hack can/will do.

    Trulia is a perfect example of how agents immediately push folks away. Questions are asked and almost every time there is a "great area, great time to buy, act now"…..is everything just peachy? Rarely is there an answer that is based on fact, it's just whatever sounds good in hopes of being contacted. Here's the bottom line right now – the market is a train wreck and will be for years, own it and advise folks pragmatically.

    Stop pestering every living sole with "I want to be your agent for life"; stop expecting every friend or family member to "use you" just because you have a license; stop being a mouthpiece for the industry and formulate your own opinions; stop thinking you know everything and most of all if you're going to be in this business please comport yourself with a modicum of professionalism so that those of us that make our livings doing this need to clean up your mess.

    Do this correctly or don't do it at all. Look at yourself as a consultant and not a salesman; the results and the image that you project will be far better than acting like and being viewed as a carnival barker.

    • Josette Skilling

      November 1, 2011 at 2:45 pm

      Spot on and Hank's reply is brilliant. We are our own worst enemies and nothing will get fixed until the "sales pitches" are gone and we all work as true advocates for our clients' needs.

  4. CJ Johnson

    November 1, 2011 at 9:18 am

    I love the Buyers Agent topic because I have listed my buyers since 1992. Locating a home for sale is easy it is all the other "stuff" that is difficult. Buyers beware when you do not have a written agreement by and between your selves and your Buyers Agent they may not even have a "duty" to represent you in a fiduciary capacity. It is my assertion that a true Buyers Agent will educate, negotiate, and facilitate on your behalf. Finding the property is only one small step. Comparing loan programs, review of disclosures, renegotiation if needed after inspections, monitoring of contractual time frames for compliance on both sides, and local issues are only a few of the things your buyers agent should be working on with you as your partner in the transaction. If you are not getting this service from your agent perhaps you should think about how you located that agent and how much time and effort you put into selecting them to represent you? Most buyers take more time picking out a pair of shoes. Did you interview the agent? Did you ask them even one qualifying question like How Do You Plan to Represent Me and My Needs? How many buyers have you successfully represented in the last 12 months? Or did you pick your agent at the Sellers Open House, use someone from your kids soccer team's mom, use the guy you know from the golf course, and have no idea if they are qualified to be your buyers agent in the first place. A 30 minute interview in the agents office will go a long way towards finding out if they should be hired as your agent. If you don't like what you see and hear you can say thanks and be on your way. As a true Buyers Agent I promise not to waste your time, to educate you, to work as your partner, and to protect your interests. This is a win-win for everyone.

  5. Donne Knudsen

    November 1, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    "I have news for you: we are NOT doctors and lawyers."

    OMG!!! I am so sick of hearing and reading this comparison. While I am not saying this to degrade or insult any of the really great and professional Realtors/agents I know and have worked with but they have no right comparing themselves to doctors and lawyers.

    While I have no doubt that all the people who have been burned by Realtors/agents will take to the net in a heartbeat to tell everyone and anyone about how horrible they are.

    Unfortunately though, all the people who were happy and satisfied with their Realtors/agents rarely take to the net to sing the praises of their Realtors/agents. That's too bad too.

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Opinion Editorials

Declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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decluttering

It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few months. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob or an un-alphabetized bookshelf.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, decluttering can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those three things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens, has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer slowing you down? Does it make a simple job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment to improve your productivity.

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better equipment, better work

What is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes.

In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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Opinion Editorials

How to build a company culture while working remotely

(OPINION EDITORIAL) It seems that even a post COVID-19 world will involve remote work, so how can you build and maintain a strong work culture that ensures growth and satisfaction?

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culture remotely

New startups and existing companies are starting to transition to a fully remote (or nearly fully remote) model, but what does this mean for work culture? If you’re not careful, your work culture could easily become diminished as you transition to a remote environment, and if you’re building a company from the ground up, you may not have a strong culture to begin with.

Culture isn’t something you can afford to give up, so how can you build and maintain your company culture while working remotely?

The importance of a strong work culture

Maintaining a strong, consistent company culture is vital, even if your company is operating remotely. With a strong work culture, you’ll enjoy benefits like:

  • Better recruiting potential. A company with strong work culture will seem more attractive to talented candidates. The best people in the industry will want to work at a place with a great team and a great set of values.
  • Like-minded teammates. Establishing a consistent work culture allows you to selectively hire, then maintain employees who are like-minded. Employees with similar goals and mentalities, even if they come from different backgrounds, will be able to collaborate more efficiently.
  • Smoother communication. A strong foundational work culture that establishes goals, values, and beliefs within an organization can enable smoother, more efficient communication. Staff members will be on the same page with regard to high-level priorities, and will be able to exchange information in similar patterns.
  • Lower stress and less turnover. Better work cultures generally mean lower stress for employees, and accordingly, less employee turnover. Of course, this assumes you’re hiring good fits for the organization in the first place.
  • A better public reputation. Your work culture can also boost your public reputation—especially if you emphasize core values that are important to your target audience.

How to build company culture remotely

Traditionally, you can use in-person team-building sessions, regular meetings, and workplace rules to establish and maintain your company culture, but while working remotely, you’ll need to employ a different set of tactics, like:

  • Hiring the right candidates. Building a great culture starts with hiring. You have to find candidates who fit with your organization, and already share your core values. If someone doesn’t agree with your high-level approach, or if they don’t like your rules or workflows, they aren’t going to do their best work. These same considerations should be applied to your third party hires as well; agencies and freelancers should also fit into your values.
  • Hosting virtual team-building events. You can’t host in-person team-building events, but that doesn’t mean that team-building is inaccessible to you. Consider hosting a video conference to introduce your team members to each other, or bond over a shared event. You could also host virtual game nights, or provide team lunches to celebrate wins. Any excuse to engage with each other in a non-work context can help employees feel more connected and part of the team, and there are plenty of options to make it work virtually.
  • Streamlining communication. Good communication is both a constituent factor and a byproduct of effective company culture. If you want your culture to thrive, you have to set good standards for communication, and encourage your employees to communicate with each other consistently and openly. People need to feel heard when they speak, and feel comfortable voicing their opinions—even if they don’t agree with their superiors. There should also be easily accessible channels for communication at all levels. Over time, this foundation will help your employee communication improve.
  • Improving transparency. Workplace transparency is important for any employer, but it’s especially important for remote businesses trying to build or maintain a strong culture—and it’s challenging if you’re operating remotely. If you’re open and honest about your goals and how you operate, employees will feel more trusted and more engaged with their work. Strive to answer questions honestly and disclose your motivations.
  • Publishing and reiterating company core values. One of the biggest factors responsible for making a company culture unique is its set of core values. Spend some time developing and refining your list of core values. Once finished, publish them for all employees to read, and make time to reiterate them regularly so employees remember them.
  • Making employees feel valued. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make your employees feel valued. Take the time to show your appreciation however you can, whether it’s through a simple thank-you message or an occasional cash bonus, and be sure to listen to employee feedback when you get it.

Building a work culture in a remote environment is more challenging, and requires consideration of more variables, but it’s certainly possible with the right mentality. Spend time setting your priorities, and make sure you’re consistent in your execution.

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