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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

Popular opinion: Unemployment in a pandemic sucks [EDITORIAL]

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) I got laid off during the pandemic, and I think I can speak for all of us to say that unemployment – especially now – really, really sucks.

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Stressed man thinking over laptop about unemployment.

Despite not being in an office for what feels like an eternity, losing my job stung. Holding onto work during The Worst Timeline was rough, considering Rome was burning all around. My job was the boat of sanity I could sit in while the waves of bullshit crashed all around. Pre-pandemic, I had just separated from my wife, so my emotional health wasn’t in tip-top shape. But then millions of people go and get sick, the economy took a nosedive, and well, the world changed. When everything around you sucks, and people are on the news crying about unemployment and potential homelessness, you’re thankful as hell that you’re not with them – until you are.

I was writing for a startup, one that came with a litany of headaches thanks to fluctuating budgets and constant directional pivots, but it was steady work. When the Coronavirus hit, it was a scenario of “we’re going to get through this,” but as we switched gears again and again, I started to get an unsettling feeling: I’ve seen this story before. When you live in Austin and are in the creative field, you’ve worked with startups. And there are always trappings on when something lingers in the air – hierarchy shuffles, people aren’t as optimistic, and senior folks start quietly bailing out. Those are the obvious moves that make your unemployment-related Spidey sense tingle, but with COVID, everything is remote. There aren’t the office vibes, the shortened conversations that make you, “I know what’s happening here.” Instead, you’re checking Slack or email and surviving like everyone else.

We were happy to be working, to see the direct deposit hit every two weeks and sigh, knowing you were still in the fight, that you might see this thing through.

We saw our entire business change overnight. Leadership rose to meet the challenges of an old model rooted in hospitality, restaurants, and events, which died with a viral disease shotgun blast. Because the infrastructure was there, we managed to help out workers, and grocery stores work together to keep people fed across the nation. It was legitimately a point of pride. Like all things, though, the market settled. We bought time.

In July, I had a full-blown depressive episode. The weight of the divorce, the lack of human interaction, my work having less value, my career stalled felt like a Terminator robot foot on my skull. I couldn’t get out of bed, and everything I wrote were the smatterings of a broken man. And to my ex-bosses’ credit, my breakdown was NOT my best work, I could barely look at a computer, let alone forge thoughts on an entirely new industry with any authority, or even a fake it till you make it scenario.

When the CEO put time on my calendar, I knew it was a wrap. Startup CEOs don’t make house calls; they swing the ax. When you’re the lone creative in a company trying to survive a nearly company-killing event, you’re the head on the block. Creatives are expensive, and we’re expendable. Site copy, content, media placements, all that can kick rocks when developers need to keep the business moving, even if it’s at a glacial pace. When I was given my walking papers, it was an exhale, on one hand, I’d been professionally empty, but at the same time, I needed consistent money. My personal life was a minefield and I’ve got kids.

I got severance. Unemployment took forever to hit. The state of Texas authorized amount makes me cringe. Punishing Americans for losing their jobs during a crisis is appalling. Millions are without safety nets, and it’s totally ok with elected leaders.

There are deferments available. I had to get them on my credit cards, which I jacked up thanks to spending $8,500 on an amicable divorce, along with a new MacBook Pro that was the price of a used Nissan. I got a deferment on my car note, too.

I’ve applied to over 100 jobs, both remote and local. I’ve applied for jobs I’m overqualified for in hopes they’ll hire me as a freelancer. There are lots of rejection letters. I get to round two interviews. References or the round three interviews haven’t happened yet. I get told I’m too experienced or too expensive. Sometimes, recruiters won’t even show up. And then there are the Zoom meetings. Can we all agree we’re over Zoom? Sometimes, you don’t want to comb your hair.

I’ll get promised the much needed “next steps” and then a rejection email, “thanks but no thanks.” Could you at least tell me what the X-Factor for this decision was? Was there a typo? Did you check my Facebook? The ambiguity kills me. Being a broke senior creative person kills me. I interviewed President Obama and have written for Apple, but ask myself: Can I afford that falafel wrap for lunch? Do you think springing for the fries is worth that extra $3? You’ve got soup at home, you know.

I’m not unique. This is the American Experience. We’re stuck in this self-perpetuating hell. We keep looking for jobs. We want to work. There are only so many gigs to fill when there’s constant rollercoaster news on unemployment recovery. And as long as unemployment sucks, there’s going to be a lot of people bracing for impact come Christmas. Hopefully, the brass in Washington can pass a few bills and get us back to work. At least get Americans out of the breadline by pumping up what we’re surviving off of – across the board. Working people shouldn’t have to face getting sick to bring in an income, while casualties of the Corona War should be able to look at their bills and not feel like the assistant on the knife throwers wheel.

I’m about to be a line cook to make extra cash till an intrepid manager hires me. Who doesn’t want a writer working the grill who reads French existentialist essays for enjoyment? I’d rather sit on park benches and day dream, but that ain’t reality. I’ve got bills to pay in a broken America. Who wants a burger? Deep thoughts come free but an extra slice of cheese is extra.

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Opinion Editorials

7 ways to carve out me time while working from home

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It can be easy to forget about self-care when you’re working from home, but it’s critical for your mental health, and your work quality.

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Woman in hijab sitting on couch, working from home on a laptop

We are all familiar with the syndrome, getting caught up in work, chores, and taking care of others, and neglecting to take care of ourselves in the meantime. This has always been the case, but now, with more people working from home and a seemingly endless lineup of chores, thanks to the pandemic. There is simply so much to do.

The line is thinly drawn between personal and professional time already, with emails, cell phones, and devices relentlessly reaching out around the clock, pulling at us like zombie arms reaching up from the grave. Working from home makes this tendency to always be “on” worse, as living and working take place in such close proximity. We have to turn it off, though.

Our brains and bodies need down time, me-time, self-care. Carving out this time is one of the kindest and most important things you can do for yourself. If we can begin to honor ourselves like this, the outcome with not only our mental and physical health, but also our productivity at work, will be beneficial. When we make the time to do things we love, our body untenses, our mind’s gears slow down that constant grinding. Burnout behooves nobody.

Our work will also benefit. Healthier, happier, more well rested, and well treated minds and bodies can work wonders! Our immune systems also need this, and we need our immune systems to be at their peak performance this intense season.

I wanted to write this article, because I have such a struggle with this in my own life. I need to print it out and put it in my workspace. Last week, I posted something on my social media pages that so many people shared. It is clear we all need these reminders, so I am paying it forward here. The graphic was a quote from Devyn W.

“If you are reading this, release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”

There now, isn’t that remarkable? It is a great first step. Let go of the tension in your body, and check out these ways to make yourself some healing me-time.

  1. Set aside strict no-work times. This could be any time of day, but set the times and adhere to them strictly. This may look like taking a full hour for lunch, not checking email after a certain hour, or committing to spending that time outdoors, reading, exercising, or enjoying the company of your loved ones. Make this a daily routine, because we need these boundaries. Every. Single. Day.
  2. Remember not to apologize to anyone for taking this me-time. Mentally and physically you need this, and everyone will be better off if you do. It is nothing to apologize for! Building these work-free hours into your daily schedule will feel more normal as time goes on. This giving of time and space to your joy, health, and even basic human needs is what should be the norm, not the other way around.
  3. Give yourself a device-free hour or two every day, especially before bedtime. The pinging, dinging, and blinging keeps us on edge. Restful sleep is one of the wonderful ways our bodies and brains heal, and putting devices away before bedtime is one of the quick tips for getting better sleep.
  4. Of course, make time for the things you absolutely love. If this is a hot bath, getting a massage, reading books, working out, cooking or eating an extravagant meal, or talking and laughing with a loved one, you have to find a way to get this serotonin boost!
  5. Use the sunshine shortcut. It isn’t a cure-all, but sunlight and Vitamin D are mood boosters. At least when it’s not 107 degrees, like in a Texas summer. But as a general rule, taking in at least a good 10-15 minutes of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D provided by the sun is good for us.
  6. Spend time with animals! Walk your dog, shake that feathery thing at your cat, or snuggle either one. Whatever animals make you smile, spend time with them. If you don’t have pets of your own, you could volunteer to walk them at a local shelter or even watch a cute animal video online. They are shown to reduce stress. Best case scenario is in person if you are able, but thankfully the internet is bursting with adorable animal videos, as a backup.
  7. Give in to a bit of planning or daydreaming about a big future trip. Spending time looking at all the places you will go in the future and even plotting out an itinerary are usually excellent mood-boosters. It’s a bit different in 2020, as most of us aren’t sure when we will be able to go, but even deciding where you want to go when we are free to travel again can put a positive spin on things.

I hope we can all improve our lives while working from home by making time for regenerating, healing, and having fun! Gotta run—the sun is out, and my dog is begging for a walk.

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Opinion Editorials

Improve UX design by tracking your users’ eye movements

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Research shows that the fastest way to determine user behavior and predict their response is by watching their eyesight. Use this data to improve your UX design.

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UX design being created by a designer on a laptop.

By design, an ice cream truck is meant to entice. It is colorful, stupidly loud with two whole songs from the 30s (usually off key because no one is left alive who can service those bells), and lots of colorful stickers that depict delicious frozen treats that look nothing like reality. If you need an off model Disney character that already looks a little melted even when frozen, look no further.

This is design in action – the use of clever techniques to drive engagement. Brightly colored decor and the Pavlovian association of hearing The Sting in chirpy little ding dings is all working together to encourage sales and interaction.

These principles work in all industries, and the tech sector has devoted entire teams, agencies, companies, groups, and departments to the study of User Experience (UX) explicitly to help create slick, usable applications and websites that are immediately understandable by users. Tools to improve utility exist by measuring user behavior, with style guides and accepted theories preached and sang and TED-talked all over.

The best way to check behavior is to observe it directly, and options to check where someone clicks has proven invaluable in determining how to improve layouts and designs. These applications are able to draw a heat map that shows intensified red color in areas where clicks congregate the most. An evolution of this concept is to watch eyesight itself, allowing developers a quicker avenue to determining where a user will most likely go. Arguably the shortest path between predicting response, this is one of the holy grails of behavioral measurement. If your eyes can be tracked, your cursor is likely to follow.

UX design can benefit greatly from this research as this article shows. Here’s some highlights:

Techwyse completed a case study that shows conversion on landing pages is improved with clear call-to-action elements. Users will focus on objects that stand out based on position, size, bright colors, or exaggerated fonts. If these design choices are placed on a static, non-interactive component, a business will lose a customer’s interest quickly, as their click is meant with no response. This quickly leads to confusion or abandonment. Finding where a person is immediately drawn to means you should capitalize on that particular piece with executable code. Want it boiled down? Grocery stores put Cheetos front and center, because everyone want them thangs.

Going along with this, Moz found that search results with attractive elements – pictures and video – are given much more attention than simple text. We are visually inclined creatures, and should never undervalue that part of our primal minds. Adding some visual flair will bring attention, which in turn can be leveraged usefully to guide users.

Here’s an interesting study – being that we are social animals, follow the gaze of others. If you’ve ever seen kittens watching a game of ping pong, they are in sync and drawn to the action. Similarly, if we notice someone look to the left, we instinctively want to look left as well. While this sounds very specific, the idea is simple – visual cues can be optimized to direct users where to focus.

The Nielsen Group says we look at things in an F pattern. I just think that’s funny, or at least a funny way to describe it. We follow from left-to-right (just like we read, and as websites are laid out using techniques first developed for newspapers, it naturally makes sense that we’d do the same). Of course, cultural or national differences arise here – right-to-left readers need the opposite. Always be sure to keep your target audience in mind.

Of course, there are several other findings and studies that can further promote idealistic layout and design, and it should always be the goal of designers to look to the future and evaluate trends. (Interestingly, eye tracking is the first option on this list!)

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