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Just 10 Good Agents?

There’s a Biblical story of Abraham and God fighting over God’s wrath against a city.  In the story God has had enough with a particular city’s disregard for morality.  He tells Abraham to get his hommies and get out, so that they won’t incur the wrath.  Abraham attempts to barter with God and asks that He spare the city, if Abraham can find just 50 good men. When God recants and says that He will not destroy the city, Abraham realizes that he cannot think of 50 good guys.  Abraham then starts to push his luck (impressive when you’re arguing with God) and says how’z about just 45, 30, 20, and finally he whittles God down to 10 good men.  To no one’s surprise Abraham cannot find even 10 good men.   ….I am starting to think Real Estate is much like this story and I am having a hard time finding 10 good agents.

Now, understand – I am not talking about 10 agents who use technology (being “tech savvy” works against many agents and not for them), I’m not talking about 10 who write a lot of blogs or even know the rules.  I am talking about 10 people who will study to know their craft and put the CLIENT FIRST.  Ok, ok….maybe I’d just be happy if they would put one photo in MLS and answer the phone/email at least every other call.

An Industry Lost

I sit and listen to experienced agents, about how the industry used to be; where everyone knew each other.  When agents would sit with you and your clients to present an offer, where people took the profession more seriously and they were working collaboratively to bring a better name to the industry.  Now, we have stopped looking toward improving the industry and just to alienating those who don’t do it as we do.  I’m starting to feel like we’re on the LOST island and it’s a few stranded folks; and those folks are surrounded by the “Others.”

I want to run around to all the listings in my neighborhood and say “Here, go buy a lock box at Home Depot and put your listing on Postlets and Trulia; because no one will protect your best interest better than yourself!”  (I don’t usually feel that way, but this week I am starting to wonder…)

Lowering My Expectations

Perhaps it’s because my role is varied that I have become so jaded this past week.  I am a licensed Broker, I have a wife that still deals with clients one on one, I teach almost weekly and I am the center point of contact for people with complaints in our Realtor Association.  This week alone, I’ve just about given up any hope for our industry.  I’m now just looking for a few good Brokers and Agents who can convince me that my expectations aren’t too high.  To me, raising the bar, is not just a matter of holding new agents to a higher standard.  It applies even more so to the current culture of practitioners.

I hear so much from people who want to “raise the bar” in real estate – but do you really?  I mean if all the people who say this really wanted to, couldn’t it be done?  Would you succumb to raising the bar?  I address the Brokers, because they are the actual authorities in their offices, they create the culture and frankly most of Association leadership is far more concerned with Brokers, than agents.

Brokers, how about if I told you that raising the bar means that we would have to change some things:

  • Would you agree to disallow online education?  It’s been proven time and again, that online education is less that 20% the effectiveness of a classroom.
  • Would you take 50 hours of CE a year, as opposed to 10 or none?
  • Would you train, develop and pay good mentors who were assigned to new agents for a ONE YEAR internship, before releasing them to the unsuspecting consumer?
  • Would you limit yourself to no more than 20 agents to oversee, as some business consultants will tell us that a manager / executive can not oversee more than 20 people at a time, in this type of setting? (I’ve read as little as 8 in most traditional office settings)
  • Would you really staple the little license to the agents forehead and shove them out the first open window upon finding they have neglected to properly protect the client?
  • Would you agree to stop pampering “top producers” and turning a blind eye to their non-sense just because they bring in more money than the rest?
  • Would you agree to stop “nurturing” an agent who can’t seem to get it, or make money for years at a time?
  • Would you agree to stop allowing dual-career agents to work in your office, unless their second career allowed them the flexibility to serve the client as any full-time agent would?
  • Would you boot an agent who professes to be a full time agent, but simply doesn’t behave as one?
  • Would you agree that agents who witnessed a violation of a rule or regulation be held responsible for reporting it?  How about if I said that if they declined to report it, they would fined $5,000 per instance of neglect?

The Wild West

I’ve seen some of the dumbest decisions this past month and frankly the insane market is just making it worse.  I was in a conversation recently (not at my office) with a Broker who manages an office, has agents and SERIOUSLY didn’t know what a Shortsale was or what REO meant.  I’ve been told a story of an agent who withheld a offer that was 30,000 higher than the first; because he didn’t like the second agent and hated presenting multiple offers.  We’ve got listings in our MLS that have been on the market for 120 days with no photos and listed in the wrong cities.  Homes with $20 combo boxes’ listed by agents 2 hours away from the market area are prevalent.  There are agents who are working two jobs and can only work on their various listings after 5pm and “need to take Sunday off.”  The list goes on and on…  We get frustrated while discussing these things, we love to blog about it (although I’ve caught a few “bloggers” being the agent they rant against), talk about it in the office (when actually working would be far more productive) and calling the broker to complain.

Are you Culpable?

Here’s a higher standard issue.  For all the people who spew rhetoric about how ethical they are and how disgusted they are with the behavior of some agents, how many have reduced their grievance to writing and submitted it to someone who can actually do something about it?  Every state has a regulatory board (to the best of my knowledge).  Are you not culpable for being negligent to take action when wrong is committed?  Some of you have seen things so egregious that it qualifies as a mugging of the client, behind the guise of representation.  How many of you who actually saw a mugging in the alley would intervene or at least call 911?

I’ve heard all the arguments before.  “I don’t want to write a complaint, because they’ll only get a slap on the wrist….it’ll take too much time….nothing will happen”  Yes, they may (in your eyes) get a slap on the wrist, but most people deserve a second chance.  Many people only need a fine or to have to encounter discipline in order to set them on the right path.  And yes, first offenses are typically treated lightly; but the subsequent time they are typically not treated as benevolently.  Yes it takes time, but I will submit that it takes equal or less than to sit around, gossip and complain about it.  Lastly, if “nothing happens” it may mean that you weren’t right in the first place… so, be right!

I honestly feel that Real Estate Boards should hold liable those agents who knew of wrong doing, yet took no appropriate action.  Appropriate action is not rumors, gossip and ranting online.  Appropriate action is utilizing the self-policing options available.  If I can’t compel the ill-behaved agents to represents their clients well; perhaps we can compel the self appointed “ethical” agents to step up to the plate.

Matthew Rathbun is a Virginia Licensed Broker and Director of Professional Development for Coldwell Banker Elite, in Fredericksburg Virginia. He has opened and managed real estate firms, as well as coached and mentored agents and Brokers. As a Residential REALTOR®, Matthew was a high volume agent and past REALTOR® Rookie of the Year & Virginia Association Instructor of the Year. You can follow him on Twitter as "MattRathbun" and on Facebook. Matthew's blog is TheAgentTrainer.com.

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29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Brian Block

    May 10, 2009 at 7:10 am

    Matt,

    I think if you look hard, you can definitely find at least 10! Perhaps even just in Virginia…

    Anyways, I’m pretty new to the whole Broker role, but I’ll take a crack at a few of your questions.

    Online education vs. classroom education —

    7+ years ago I took my pre-licensing class online Having graduated law school just a few years earlier, the pre-licensing class with its emphasis on contract and property law was pretty much an easy review so I didn’t see an issue with going through the material this way.

    Fast forward to GRI, CRS, and Broker’s classes — I took these classes in the classroom, and I’m convinced that there’s no substitute for the interaction between students and teacher and the new ideas and questions that flow during the discussions in the classroom setting. I can’t imagine that I would have been half as prepared or learned half as much had I not been in the classroom for these courses.

    Next month, I’ll be starting to teach the pre-licensing classes for potential agents and hope to not only help people pass the salesperson exam but also to inspire them towards a career in real estate.

    So, while there are certain short courses that may lend themselves well to online reading, or a webinar, overall the meatier subjects should be completed in a classroom!

    50 Hours of CE!:

    Matt, I’d have to disagree with a requirement to take this much continuing education. The best education in real estate comes from the learning that happens during transactions — not from sitting in a classroom. Sure, everybody needs those yearly reminders of ethics and Fair Housing, but we learn best by doing. Agents will make mistakes, mess up deals, lose deals, etc. and have questions — and it’s the job of the broker to help out with those questions and help the agents learn from these mistakes.

    Besides, between real estate CE (both VA and DC) and legal CE requirements, I already spend enough time in the classroom.

    Mentors: Excellent idea. Anyone in their early years of real estate needs and probably wants a mentor and what better way to ensure that your rookie agents are not out there screwing everything up. We’re establishing a mentoring program at our brokerage that will be in force for new agents until they complete a set number of transactions. I think setting it up on a transaction basis is a better system rather than a time system. An agent who completes 20 transactions in 6 months will have learned infinitely more than one who’s been selling real estate for 2 years but only completed 8 deals!

    Overseeing 20 agents: I see no reason to impose this limit. If each of these 20 agents were producing significant numbers, okay, but we know that most offices are not like that. The 80/20 rule applies almost everywhere. I’ve got double the number at about 42 agents in my office.

    I’d go on and on with some ideas on your other questions, but I’ll leave those for some others to answer. Besides, I expect to see you later this week and we can continue the discussion offline if you’d like.

    Some thought-provoking stuff. I don’t think the situation in our industry is as dire as you might see it, but then again you might be more jaded than I am. Maybe I just need to remove my rose-colored glasses.

  2. Matthew Rathbun

    May 10, 2009 at 7:28 am

    In reference to being jaded… My entire day is surrounded by complaints against and interactions with agents who simply don’t understand the regulations….or worse yet – don’t care.

    As far as “on the job training”, this would be an effective use, if the agent was learning the right stuff. Or if they knew when to ask for help, or even knew when they were in trouble. They don’t and the rules change all the time…

    As an instructor, it is truly sad how little the majority of agents know about how to handle issues or how to use critical thinking skills. Heck, I’d be happy if they could enter stuff into MLS correctly!

    There is a reason why a majority of blog posts and Twitter updates (regarding other Realtors) are negative and a sound of frustration from other practitioners.

    Brian, you’re a really good guy with a really good Brokerage, but even you probably get frustrated when dealing with certain agents…

  3. Brian Block

    May 10, 2009 at 9:11 am

    One of the biggest problems (and I know this is not unique to our brokerage) is agents broadcasting questions on our intranet and asking for brokerage advice from their fellow agents who are most often equally clueless. From time to time, we have to send out reminders that brokerage questions need to be addressed to the broker.

    There are probably many agents who wouldn’t recognize an ethical violation if it slapped them in the face, let alone would they go and actually file a complaint. It’s that fear of paperwork… Like the cops who don’t arrest someone for a minor violation because they don’t want to fill out paperwork.

    I’m certain I’ll have my frustrations with particular agents — just haven’t been at the helm long enough yet to have many problems arise. I sometimes joke that instead of just dealing with my own problems in my sales, now as a broker I’m dealing with everyone’s problems. Though, of course, the reality is that the attraction of the job is that it allows me to deal with problems and use critical thinking and my repertoire of skills that are sometimes underutilized in just driving clients around neighborhoods to see various homes.

  4. Jim

    May 10, 2009 at 10:13 am

    I know their are good agents and brokers out here but not as many as there should be. I started a few years ago and signed up with a company that offered in house training. I asked for it to be more intense but was rebuffed. I took it on my own to learn what i need to know. most class could be passed by my 11 year old.

    I found a crotchety old time realtor and asked question and learned the old school methods.

    I think one of the biggest problem we do not demand a separation of representation.
    When the objective is to charge the most possible for the least amount of work is the norm how can we look good. When someone calls big realty, it like a box of chocolate you never know what you are going to get. an agent with 20 years experience or a rookie with instruction to call when he gets into trouble.

  5. rob aubrey

    May 10, 2009 at 10:22 am

    I agree with trying to find a good agent.

    The problem as I see it is that the large broker houses cater to mediocrity. It is more profitable for a company to have 100 agents doing 4 deals and a bigger split for the house than to to have 10 agents doing 40 deals. Until that changes we are kind of stuck. There are some merits to larger shops, economy of scales, but they come with a price.

    I think technology has created some leveling of the field. But it seems eventually large companies figure out an advantage.

    I tell clients whether they are a buyer or a seller, 10% of what I do is protect you from people that know what they are doing and the other 90% is protect you from people that have no idea what they are doing. It is usually 2/3rds of the way through a transaction that they understand what I mean.

  6. Matt Stigliano

    May 10, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Matthew – I know you’ve often spoken out about online education, so I thought I’d tell you my experience with it. I took all my licensing classes in a classroom. I got my license. In my first year, I was required to take 60 more hours of SAE (2 30 hour classes). I took one when I did my licensing, so I really only had one class to take. I wound up taking it online. I regret my decision.

    It was a joke. A 30 hour class reduced to a few hours of me reading some material online, taking a few quizzes, and then taking my test. I passed no problem (I was familiar with the concepts in the material, so it helped me to go through it quicker than many I’m sure). A 30 hour class reduced to me sitting at home for a couple of hours? Not acceptable. I feel guilty about it to be honest with you.

    I took 18 credit hours worth of MCE classes though…18 hours that I wasn’t required to take. Why did I take them? To learn. To figure out things I didn’t know enough about. I intend to take many more now that I’ve passed that first year and I do back the theory that the education needs to be looked at. I feel slightly ok in the knowledge that although I made the mistake of taking that online class, I am still working on my education.

    I wouldn’t be against mentoring for a year. Shame of it is that most agents could be mentored for free by people who care. I have several of those agents in my office. And my broker as well. I go over concepts, theories, and practice with them all the time. Sometimes I ask a question that doesn’t even apply to what I’m doing at the moment. Why? To learn.

    I actually like the challenge of real estate, it’s why I got into it. I didn’t dive in to “make millions” – I wanted to do something that was interesting, challenging, and rewarding. I think I found it.

  7. Will

    May 10, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    You are missing one very important point to much of your piece here. That is the consumer.

    The consumer chose that agent from two hours away who put on a $20 combo-lock. The consumer failed to check their listing for accuracy. The consumer did not care (could they not be aware, as well) that their agent was working another job. The consumer failed to educate themselves on what makes a good agent, what qualifications to look for, and what ethics should be brought to the table. The consumer is the boss hiring their agent (an employee for the duration of the listing by any other words) and some consumers/bosses just look to “save” money. They work off their own net sheet and try to find the cheapest product that meets their truly uneducated needs.

    My bet is that if you asked those vendors who were “victims” of poor service you would find that they are the same types who toss away the instructions before assembling anything. They thought it was easy. They have learned their lesson.

    We don’t need more regulation. We need more consumer education. Instead of educating to use a realtor NAR and CREA need to educate (with their vast advertising budgets) what good qualities to look for in a realtor.

    I’ve also been thinking about how we, as an industry, put up this united front in the public space but are, in fact, so incredibly fractured and diverse in our practices.

    I doubt we’d find much disagreement, however, amongst those who visit this site. I’d wager you could find a whole new national-brokerage-yet-to-be-launched worth of good agents here.

    Oh… and there’s nothing wrong with taking Sundays off. Just make sure that representation can be covered or the vendor is aware that that will be happening. I mean, can whatever is so pressing on Sunday not be done on Saturday or Monday? We agents really need to stop giving our entire lives (and family time) to this business.

  8. Matt Stigliano

    May 11, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Will – I see what you’re getting at, but I don’t quite agree (but, sort of do). Here’s why. I know you mean no ill will, but if I were a consumer reading those first few paragraphs, I would be immediately turned off. You just shifted the blame onto me. Whether you’re right or wrong, there is the matter of perception. The consumer that has a bad taste, now has a few paragraphs of reasons to not trust you, choose you, or think that there is any culpability in real estate circles.

    I have to say that I do think Matthew’s suggestion (and it’s one that’s been made many times) of raising the bar for education would certainly help bring us to the right place. Read my comment about the online course I took. You know what I “learned” in that “30 hour” course? That if you kill a Pharaoh Ant and he doesn’t return home from hunting for food, the queen injects other ants to make them queens, so by killing one – you’re only increasing their numbers. Worst part about that fact? It was an aside by the author. Everything else was something I a) already knew or b) learned by asking a few simple questions (the class was on inspections).

    I think consumer education only works if people want it. We as agents constantly espouse the idea of educating our clients, but when a client wants to just hurriedly sign the contract, they want to sign. You can read every word to them and explain every nuance of every word – it won’t matter. They’re already hanging curtains in their head. Not everyone is like this of course, but I have come across many with that pattern of thinking. They don’t want or need the education – that’s why they hired us. I still work to help everyone of them understand what it is I’m doing, but I know it falls on some deaf ears. And I can’t say I blame them. There are plenty of times in my own daily life where I don’t want to be educated about why something is being done, I just want it done.

    I like your “new national-brokerage-yet-to-be-launched” thought. You’re probably right.

  9. Ken Montville - The MD Suburbs of DC

    May 11, 2009 at 10:19 am

    Your rant points to two fundamental issues: 1) training new agents “the right way” (i.e. the Matt Rathbun way) as soon as they get licensed and 2) the “bar” new agents must clear to become licensed.

    I want to run around to all the listings in my neighborhood and say “Here, go buy a lock box at Home Depot and put your listing on Postlets and Trulia; because no one will protect your best interest better than yourself!” – your words. This points up the fact that anyone, literally, can sell real estate. You don’t need training, a license or anything else. You just need the deed that says you own the place. Are we going to require home owners to pass a test to sell their own place? I think not.

    Certainly, it would be better for the profession (alternately called an industry) if new entrants had more expertise and a better personal code of conduct but, let’s be clear, no matter what profession you’re in there are going to be incompetent or corrupt members — shady lawyers, Dr. Feelgood physicians, accountants that manipulate the numbers. Why should real estate be any different?

    As much as we like to say “we care” about our clients or anything else, we know in our heart of hearts that it’s about the money. It’s that way for individual agents and it’s that way for Brokers. No one I know does this for free (with a tip of the hat to Sellsius, who is always pushing for pro bono real estate). I want to represent my clients with professional competence and some empathy. I also want to get paid. My Broker wants to get paid and even tacks on a little fee to the transaction to make sure the lights stay on.

    Unfortunately, for Brokers, real estate ain’t as easy as it looks and agents leave quickly if they don’t think they can hack it. State and local Associations are losing membership and cutting costs (when will education see the ax in deference to political action?).

    So, as mean as this may sound, Matt — “Get over it.”

    Oh, by the way, some more reasons not to file a grievance: 1) I may have to work with that agent in a transaction and I don’t want him holding my offer back, 2) grievance, arbitration and professional standards committees are often very “chummy” and cliquish, 3) the rules for these committees and State regulatory bodies are very narrowly defined with very little room for movement, 4) a slap on the wrist is hardly worth the time and trouble…and don’t even get me started on procuring cause. Brokers don’t even go there anymore.

  10. Robin Taylor Roth

    May 11, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Hey, Matt!

    We both know that, if done right, online education can be extremely effective. There are stats to show that, too.

    So, rather than wipe out an affordable, efficient option, focus instead on the careful selection of online education providers and online education programs.

    Self-paced training and education programs could be very effective, if everything we know about interactivity & testing-adaptive learning paths were built into them. Unfortunately, even after 40+ years, most self-paced computer-based training still consists of “turning pages.”

    We get better results from live online training, provided that all of the interactive capabilities of the virtual classroom system are used. A conference-style “presentation” doesn’t do it; participants must be involved & required to think and act.

    So, by all means, choose affordable online education, but choose it carefully. Ensure that it is live, interactive, objectives-based, and cost-effective.

    … Robin

  11. BawldGuy

    May 11, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Education of any sort is valuable based upon the actual knowledge, expertise, and experience of the teacher. Online, in a classroom? Doesn’t much matter, and is more a product of personal preference.

    I’d rather learn how to hit from Tony Gwynn giving an interactive webinar than a ‘never was’ on the field, one on one.

  12. Matt Stigliano

    May 12, 2009 at 9:25 am

    I want to run around to all the listings in my neighborhood and say “Here, go buy a lock box at Home Depot and put your listing on Postlets and Trulia; because no one will protect your best interest better than yourself!” – your words. This points up the fact that anyone, literally, can sell real estate. You don’t need training, a license or anything else. You just need the deed that says you own the place. Are we going to require home owners to pass a test to sell their own place? I think not.

    I can’t speak for Matthew, but since I share his name, I’ll give my thoughts anyway.

    I don’t think this was the intention of the quote. I think the point is that if we are no more educated than the consumer, they might as well save the cash and go with themselves. If we as a profession think it just takes a sign in the yard and a few postings to Trulia to sell a house, then we might as well not bother with licenses, training, legal and ethics updates, E&O insurance, etc. We should just sell our own houses and be happy with it.

  13. Joe Loomer

    May 12, 2009 at 11:24 am

    Matt,

    Please God don’t let the bottom feeders get you down!

    As a leader in my market center (I am not the broker, but I am on our Associate Leadership Council), I routinely assist other agents with contracts, listing presentations, statistics, anything they need to be the best possible agent for their clients.

    Your issues, and your recent experiences – seem to have driven your entry, and may I apologize for those of us in this industry that simply refuse to act in the fashion of those agents you decry.

    At the end of the day, most of how we handle our interpersonal relationships – business or otherwise – can typically be traced to to the old “Everything I Ever Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” adage.

    Our focus in our market center (in which you will find well over the 50 good men and women required to save us from His wrath) is always looking forward, being proactive in being our area’s leader in agent eductation (mostly in classroom settings). I am proud to bellow a hearty “You Bet You Can!” when I’m asked by newer agents if they can tag along on a listing presentation or with my Buyers.

    Every single day in our market center calendar typically has at least two training events – including studies of Gary Keller’s MREA, Facebook strategies, Mentoring groups, how to compile relevant statistics for listing presentations, and much, much more.

    Please Matt – come back to the light – we are out there, and we are legion.

    A Good Man

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  14. Joe Loomer

    May 12, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Hindsight got the better of me – I meant to focus that post on the culture we’ve created here to fight off the negativism and bad practices that indeed exist in our area as much as in Matt’s. Came across as a “welcome to the Joe show.” My apologies!

  15. Matthew Rathbun

    May 12, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    All…. When I wrote this post, it was to center on two primary points. One, I had; had a particular bad week of “Wild West” issues and agents complaining verbally but not wishing to do anything.

    Two, is the fact that with all the lip-service regarding “raising the standards / bar” I feel that too many agents / brokers focus on other people changing, instead of themselves.

    I appreciate all the feedback and great comments here.

    Ken – We’ll just have to agree to disagree on all accounts…

  16. Marvin Jensen

    May 20, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    Matt, Right on! As soon as we stop giving real estate licenses like they were in cereal boxes, I think we will get better quality agents. We have been working on better licensing standards in Utah, this year we increased classroom hours to get a license by 40%. We also increased the renewal requirements from 12 to 18 hours per renewal, still low, but getting better. Since these had to be approved by the state legislature, it was quite an accomplishment. This is why a strong RPAC is good in your local areas.

  17. Kay Wood, Broker Associate

    September 3, 2009 at 2:43 am

    Education – YES more

    Mentoring – Can’t believe the industry doesn’t require – look at appraisers, nail techs, massage
    therapists, etc.

    Professionalism/raising the bar — quit being like an organization of corporate flunkies and be business oriented vs pay check oriented. If you build a business vs earn a vacation check and work the business full-time then you can call yourself an agent (if belong to NAR then REALTOR). If not, just stick to your full-time job and let the REAL REALTORS step up. As an agent who has sold over 800 homes in 9 years it is difficult to explain to a prospect that we aren’t all alike because the industry doesn’t promote full-time workers…instead it is like Mary Kay or Amway —- work part time and become a gazillonaire…not!

  18. Michelle Carter

    September 25, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    Matt, I’m seeing more posts like yours from thinkers, movers, and shakers from the real estate industry. I subscribe to many blogs, facebook updates, and twitter feeds and it’s a constantly scrolling stream of frustration. I also leave my desk at the end of the day and listen to my husband (who I consider to be one of those good agents) talk about all the ridiculousness he has to deal with each day, just trying to work with agents who don’t understand the basic real estate contract, the process, and/or choose not to for their own benefit. Let’s also not forget to mention the completely unprofessional emotional meltdowns I’ve personally seen many an agent have when something doesn’t go their way! It’s hardly surprising the public perception of REALTORS is in the toilet, and now it seems that the industry’s perception of itself (at least amongst those who really care) is following suit.

    All of this is a shame because being a REALTOR, when done WELL, is not an easy job – particularly in this market. The foreclosure market has changed the game, partly because banks don’t play by the rules and partly because foreclosures turn what is perceived to be a buyer’s market a seller’s market in many market segments. Agents are working with asset managers instead of home-owners and listing agents with large books of REO listings have turned into nothing more than systematic zombies, going through the motions as best as they can. Short-sales are a crap shoot – agents can work months for a deal that has a 1 in 3 chance of closing. Sellers are often in financial and therefore emotional distress. Buyers are either searching for the seller’s blood in the water that the media has told them is there or are too timid to jump off the fence. Meanwhile, tighter credit standards make it harder for buyers to qualify for loans. When they do qualify, and if they’re in the bottom end of the market, they’re jumping into multiple offer situations that leave them exhausted and disheartened – after a lot of work, many buyers just give up. On top of all of this, agents are being told they should be blogging, tweeting, facebooking, and LinkingIn!

    The reason you’re not finding too many people who are good at it, is because it’s a lot harder than most people think (and I’m sure you know this from personal experience.) The problem, therefore, as you said, is how easy it is to get a license and how little experience you need to actually start practicing (as in… none!) I think there are many, many things that brokers and state boards should be doing to fix this and you’ve listed some of them here, but steering a ship this large is tough, especially when the passengers are all independent contractors who cannot be directed in any meaningful way by their brokers. (Maybe that’s where we should start?)

    Finally, I have always found that the good agents aren’t the ones who appear on your radar because they’re out there busy doing their job. My husband’s mantra is to not engage in much of the silliness he encounters; he just moves it along and gets on with the job of helping his clients. So, when you’re in our positions, the squeaky wheels are all we see and this can definitely make you jaded.

  19. Jacci

    January 6, 2010 at 12:06 am

    I would agree, agents should be required to have more training. There is nothing worse then having to deal with another agent who has no clue what is going on. I’m not just talking about new agents, this is becoming more of a problem with agents that have been in the business for 4 to 5 years. I’ve been a realtor in the Austin area for over 15 years and it has been getting worse year after year.

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Ways to socialize safely during quarantine

(EDITORIAL) Months of isolation due to quarantine is causing loneliness for many, but joining virtual social groups from home may help fill the need for interaction.

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quarantine

Quarantining, sheltering in place, staying home. We’re tired of hearing it; we’re tired of doing it. Yet, it’s what we still need to be doing to stay safe for a while longer. All of this can be lonesome. As the days turn into weeks and weeks into months, the alone time is getting to even the most introverted among us.

Solitary confinement is considered one of the most psychologically damaging punishments a human can endure. The New Yorker reported on this in a 1992 study of prisoners in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, as well as Vietnam veterans who experienced isolation. These studies showed that prisoners who had experienced solitary confinement demonstrated similar brain activity to those who’d suffered a severe head injury, noting that “Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.”

We aren’t meant to be solitary creatures. Your “pandemic brain” is real. That fogginess, the lack of productivity, can be attributed to many things, including anxiety, but being kept apart from other humans is a big part of it too. Be kind to yourself, give yourself grace, and join others virtually. Be it an app, a class, a Facebook group, a chat room, or a livestream, someone somewhere is out there waiting to connect with you too.

The good news? We are lucky enough to live in an era of near limitless ways to interact socially online. Sure, it is different, but it is something. It’s important. The best thing about this type of social interaction is being able to hone in on your specific interests, though I’d caution you against getting caught in an online echo chamber. Diversity of interests, personality, and opinion make for a richer experience, with opportunities for connecting and expanding your worldview.

Here are a few suggestions on ways to socialize while staying home and staying safe. Communicating with other humans is good for you, physically and mentally.

Interactive Livestreams on Twitch:

Twitch is best known as a streaming service for video game fans, but it offers multiple streams appealing to different interests. This is more than passive watching (although that is an option, too) as Twitch livestream channels also have chat rooms. Twitch is fun for people who like multi-tasking because the chat rooms for popular livestream channels can get busy with chatter.

While people watch the Twitch hosts play a video game, film a live podcast, make music or art, mix cocktails, or dance, they can comment on what they’re watching, make suggestions, ask questions, crack jokes, and get to know each other (by Twitch handle, so it is still as anonymous as you want it to be) in the chat room. The best hosts take time every so often to interact directly with the chat room questions and comments.

Many Twitch channels develop loyal followers who get to know each other, thus forming communities. I have participated in the Alamo Drafthouse Master Pancake movie mocks a few times because they are fun and local to Austin, where I live. Plus, in my non-quarantine life, I would go to Master Pancake shows live sometimes. The chat room feels familiar in a nice way. While watching online is free, you can (and totally should) tip them.

Online trivia in real time:

There are some good options for real-time online trivia, but I’m impressed with the NYC Trivia League’s model. They have trivia games online on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The NYC Trivia League seems to have figured out a good way to run the game live while keeping answers private from the other teams. They run games on Instagram Live with a live video of the host, and participants answer via the question feature. Clever!

Online book club:

First I have to shout out my Austin local independent bookstore, BookPeople, because they are fantastic. They run book clubs throughout the year, along with readings, book signings, and all things book-related. BookPeople hosts several online book clubs during these lockdown days, and most people will find something that appeals to them.

I’m also impressed with this list from Hugo House, a writer’s resource based out of Seattle. This list includes Instagram and Goodread book clubs, book clubs for Black women, rebels, and poetry lovers. The Financial Diet recommends the Reddit book club, if you are comfortable with the Reddit format. Please note that it’s a busy place, but if you like Reddit, you already know this.

Cooking class or virtual tasting:

This is doubly satisfying because you can follow these chefs in real time, and you end up with a meal. There are a couple on Instagram Live, such as The Culinistas or Chef Massimo Bottura.

You can also participate in virtual tastings for wine, whiskey, or chocolate, though you will have to buy the product to participate in the classes (usually held over Zoom or Facebook Live). If you are in Austin, Dallas, or Houston, I recommend BeenThere Locals. The cost of the course includes the wine, spirits, or cooking kit in most cases, and all of the money goes to the business and expert hosting the class.

Look for your favorite wine, spirits, cheese, chocolate makers, and chefs that are local to you to find a similar experience. Most either prepare the class kit for pickup or delivery within a local area.

Quarantine chat:

To interact with another quarantined person seeking social interaction, there’s Quarantine Chat. Quarantine chat is one of the ways to connect through the Dialup app, available on iOS and Android devices. Sign up to make and receive calls when you want to speak with someone. The Dialup app pairs you randomly with another person for a phone conversation, at a scheduled time, either with anyone or with someone with shared interests.

Quarantine chat takes it a step further with calls at random times. When your quarantine chat caller calls, you will not see their number (or they yours), only the “Quarantine Chat” caller ID. If you are unable to pick up when they call, they will be connected with someone else, so there is no pressure to answer. It’s nice to hear someone else’s voice, merely to talk about what you’ve been cooking or what hilarious thing your pet is doing.

Play Uno:

Uno Freak lets people set up games and play Uno online with friends or strangers. Players do not need to register or download anything to play. Uno Freak is web-based.

Talk to mental health professionals:

If your state of loneliness starts sliding toward depression, call someone you can speak to right away to talk over your concerns. When in doubt, call a trained professional! Here are a few resources:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET, 800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org.
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to this text line 24/7 for someone to text with who will also be able to refer you to other resources: U.S. and Canada: 74174, U.K. 85258, Ireland: 50808.
  • Psych Central has put together this comprehensive list of crisis intervention specialists and ways to contact them immediately.

There are many ways to connect even though we are physically apart. These are just a few real time ways to interact with others online. If you want something a little more flesh and blood, take a walk around the block or even sit in a chair in front of where you live.

Wave at people from afar, and remember that we have lots of brilliant doctors and scientists working on a way out of this. Hang in there, buddy. I’m rooting for you. I’m rooting for all of us.

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Opinion Editorials

Working remotely: Will we ever go back? (Probably not)

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Now that the pandemic has opened the door on working remotely, there’s no way we’ll put the genie back in the bottle. But, here’s some ways you can adapt.

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Woman working remotely on her couch with a laptop on her lap.

When it comes to working remotely, will the toothpaste ever go back in the tube?

Mark Zuckerberg recently said, “We are going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale…” By 2030, Zuckerberg anticipates that over half of Facebook’s workforce will be remote. Many other companies are jumping on the work from home bandwagon. Working remotely has helped many businesses manage the pandemic crisis, but it’s unsure what form remote working will take over the next 10 years.

We know that employees are responding positively to WFH, as reported in this article – Employers: Lacking remote work options may cause you to lose employees. As offices transition to a post-COVID normal, here are some things to consider about your office and remote work.

What does your business gain from allowing workers to WFH?
The future of remote work depends on a conscious application of WFH. It’s not just as easy as moving employees out of the office to home. You have to set up a system to manage workers, wherever they are working. The companies with good WFH cultures have set up rules and metrics to know whether it’s working for their business. You’ll need to have technology and resources that let your teams work remotely.

Can your business achieve its goals through remote work?
The pandemic may have proved the WFH model, but is this model sustainable? There are dozens of benefits to remote work. You can hire a more diverse workforce. You may save money on office space. Employees respond well to remote work. You reduce your carbon emissions.

But that can’t be your only measure of whether remote work fits into your vision for your organization. You should be looking at how employees will work remotely, but you need to consider why employees work remotely.

The work paradigm is shifting – how will you adapt?
The work environment has shifted over the past century. Remote work is here to stay, but how it fits into your company should be based on more than what employees want. You will have to work closely with managers and HR to build the WFH infrastructure that grows with your organization to support your teams.

We don’t know exactly how remote work will change over the next decade, but we do know that the workplace is being reinvented. Don’t just jump in because everyone is doing it. Make an investment in developing your WFH plan.

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Opinion Editorials

The truth about unemployment from someone who’s been through it

(EDITORIAL) Unemployment benefits aren’t what you thought they were. Here’s a first-hand experience and what you need to know.

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unemployment

Have I ever told you how I owed the government over two grand because of unemployment in 2019, and only just finished paying it back this year?

This isn’t exactly the forum for memoirs, but this is relevant to everyone. So I’ll tell y’all anyway.

It all started back in 2018 when I came into work early, microwaved my breakfast, poured coffee, and got pulled into a collaboration room to hear, “We love you and your work, April, but we’ve been bought out and you’re being laid off.”

It was kind of awkward carrying my stuff out to the car with that Jimmy Dean sandwich in my mouth.

More awkward still was the nine months of unemployment I went through afterwards. Between the fully clothed shower crying, the stream of job denial, catering to people who carried rocks in their nostrils at my part-time job (yes, ew, yes, really), and almost dying of no-health-insurance-itis, I learned a lot!

The bigger lesson though, came in the spring of the following year when I filed my taxes. I should back up for a moment and take the time to let those of you unfamiliar with unemployment in Texas in on a few things that aren’t common knowledge.

1: You’re only eligible if you were laid off. Not if you had quit. Not fired. Your former company can also choose to challenge your eligibility for benefits if they didn’t like your face on the way out. So the only way you’re 100% guaranteed to get paid in (what the state calls) “a timely manner”, is a completely amicable split.

2: Overpayments have to go back. Immediately. If there’s an error, like several thousand of Texans found out this week, the government needs that cash back before you can access any more. If you’re not watching your bank account to make sure you’re getting the exact same check each time and you have an overpayment, rest assured that mistake isn’t going to take long to correct. Unfortunately, if you spent that money unknowingly–thought you got an ‘in these uncertain times’ kinder and gentler adjustment and have 0 income, you have a problem. Tying into Coronavirus nonsense is point three!

3: There are no sick days. If ever you’re unable to work for any reason, be it a car accident, childbirth, horrible internal infection (see also no-health-insurance-itis), you are legally required to report it, and you will not be paid for any days you were incapacitated. Personally, my no-health-insurance-itis came with a bad fever and bedrest order that axed me out of my part time job AND killed my unemployment benefits for the week I spent getting my internal organs to like me again. But as it turned out, the payment denial came at the right time because–

4: Unemployment benefits are finite. Even if you choose to lie on your request forms about how hard you’re searching for work, coasting is ill-advised because once the number the state allots you runs out…it’s out. Don’t lie on your request forms, by the way. In my case, since I got cut from my part-time gig, I got a call from the Texas Workforce Commission about why my hours were short. I was able to point out where I’d reported my sickness to them and to my employer, so my unpaid week rolled over to a later request date. I continued to get paid right up until my hiring date which was also EXACTLY when my benefits ran out.

Unemployment isn’t a career, which is odd considering the fact that unemployment payments are qualified by the government as income.

Ergo, fact number five…

5: Your benefits? They’re taxed.

That’s right, you will be TAXED for not having a job.

The stereotype of the ‘lazy unemployment collector burdening society’ should be fading pretty quickly for the hitherto uninformed about now.

To bring it back to my story, I’d completely forgotten that when I filed for unemployment in the first place, I’d asked for my taxes NOT to be withheld from it–assuming that I wasn’t going to be searching for full time work for very long. I figured “Well, I’ll have a tax refund coming since I’ll get work again no problem, it’ll cancel out.”

Except, it was a problem. Because of the nine month situation.

I’d completely forgotten about it by the time I threw myself into my new job, but after doing my taxes, triple checking the laws and what I’d signed, it was clear. Somehow…despite being at my lowest point in life, I owed the highest amount in taxes, somewhere around the 2k mark.

Despite being based on a system that’s tied to how much income you were getting before, and all the frustrating “safeguards” put in place to keep payments as low and infrequent as possible, Uncle Sam still wants a bite out of the gas-station Hostess pie that is your unemployment check. And as I’m writing this, more and more people are finding that out. And even as we enter 2021, there is still more to be aware of – we’re not out of the woods yet.

I’d like to end this on a more positive note… So let’s say we’ve all been positively educated! That’s a net gain, surely.

Keep your heads up, and masked.

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