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It’s the Strong That Survive – Right?



It’s been an odd few weeks in the real estate biz for me, and honestly, it’s been disappointing.

Only the Best Survive – Right?

Several years ago, I attended a seminar hosted by Tom Ferry of At the time, I was a coach for him and I remember him asking an audience of several hundred active agents if they were noticing the change in the industry and the housing market.   He also pointed out that some agents might not survive the upcoming shift.

I remember hearing the hoots and hollers. There was a collective thrill that those of us not serious about the business, would move on. And, I remember consciously wondering how many of those cheering the upcoming change, would still be in real estate in 2 or 3 years.

Today, I know that some of them are not. I watched excellent professionals leave the business. It wasn’t just that we lost those that weren’t committed to the industry, we lost those that were reliant on a consistent real estate income and simply could not sustain themselves in a stagnant market. Thankfully the market has improved, but we did loose some GOOD agents along the way.

The Bad Behavior

Sadly, in recent weeks, I’ve been disappointed with some of my fellow agents. I’ve submitted offers to agents that don’t return calls (even to confirm receipt of an offer), and I’ve had offers submitted on my own listings only to find the agent go dark on us.

Last week I submitted an offer on a property in excellent condition.  My buyer had 10% down, FHA financing, $35,000 over asking, fully underwritten loan approval subject to appraisal, and they were non-contingent.

Sadly, we were not the only offer.  My clients lost it to a cash buyer whose offer was less.  While I understand the rationale and potential concerns with FHA financing, what I found baffling was the interaction with the agent.

She did not take any phone calls – only emails.  Her email is also blocked until you go through a spam clearance.  When I finally did have the brief opportunity to speak to her, 24 hours after submitting my offer, I tried to share with her my client’s excitement about the property and my long standing experience with their lender.  She quickly cut me off, “This is why I don’t take phone calls.  I’m not interested in any of that.”

This agent clearly does not care about her rapport with me.  She certainly isn’t moved by the emotional purchase of a home by an enthusiastic and hopeful buyer.

Real Estate is More than Numbers

I realize we are dealing with banks.  Numbers will dictate a transaction, which is fair.  But it’s imperative to treat these transactions with the dignity they deserve.  There is a family, a couple, an individual that often is impacted in dramatic ways by what we do. It’s a responsibility that we each should hold dear to us.

For an agent to submit an offer and then simply not return phone calls is astonishing to me.  For an agent to be given an offer (regardless of how many one has) and to act cavalierly as a recipient of those offers is a shame.

A Story to Remember

I once heard Steve Games speak (he used to be one of the owners of Prudential California Realty which he subsequently sold to a Warren Buffet company a few years ago).  In a moving and eloquent speech, he shared with us the first sale he ever made as an agent.  (Forgive me Mr. Games for paraphrasing this story.)

His first sale was to a first time buyer.  When they were settled into their modest new home, they invited Games over for a BBQ.  As he looked down at the grill, he noticed a few hamburgers and one steak.  As the client served him that steak, the magnitude of his deeper meaning to this family set in – he had facilitated the accomplishment of a dream for this family.  He was so moved by that simple expression of gratitude that Games has shared that story with countless agents many years later.

Lest we forget…

I hope that the change in real estate ultimately leaves us with professionals – full or part time – but those that really see the heart behind each and every transaction.  Each city is a small town community of agents.  It’s about the clients we represent.

It’s about the relationships to one another.

Linsey Planeta is the Broker Owner of Belterra Fine Homes in Orange County, California. Linsey rants regularly on her blog, OC Real Estate Voice. She also provides sellers with tips on how to get their home sold on Why Didn't My Home Sell? She has been an active Real Estate Coach and Instructor and loves working with agents so that they may look at their business with fresh eyes, renewed purpose, and defined systems. Linsey can be found in her office or you can also find her on Twitter@Linsey.

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  1. Patrick Harfst

    June 17, 2009 at 5:53 am

    Thanks for putting into words the very essence of what this profession is all about – helping families! So sad that some do not get it, and rather than leaving the business, they stay and foul the nest for the rest of us…

  2. Thomas Johnson

    June 17, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Consider this: The banks couldn’t enter Real Estate via Congress, so they are now entering Real Estate by owning the inventory. If a third of the inventory is REO, the banks are as big as all the Realogy brokers. How long before they create a new outsource brokerage REOlogy and sell franchises? I could suggest some brand names like Cemetery 21…

  3. Benn Rosales

    June 17, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    @agent21 lol now that’s a power move!

  4. Paula Henry

    June 18, 2009 at 3:25 am

    Linsey – We have agents here representing REO companies who will only accept an offer by email along with all the downloaded disclosures, then tell you they will call you when they know anything. You do not receive an answer if you call; only instructions for submitting an offer.

    If people have no passion, they should leave the business; unfortunately as the industry has changed, so has the behavior of those who have never represented a first time home buyer.

    I recently submitted an offer for a first time home buyer and the first thing the agent said was, tell me it’s a cash offer; I need a cash offer. And that seems to be the norm.

  5. Claude Labbe

    June 19, 2009 at 2:52 am

    It does seem the bar has been reset lower in the recent past; that only makes it easier for the true professional to be even more different. Some clients will notice over time that their Realtor has a better approach than others, some won’t notice as much. And yes, other agents will notice also.

    It’s the way to be, and over time, reputations will be made. In the meantime, I need to go send a few more emails to those agents who aren’t returning calls.

  6. Ruthmarie Hicks

    June 19, 2009 at 6:19 am

    Interesting about the preamble regarding the hoots and hollers of those hoping for a “cleaning out” of non-serious agents. I’ve seen a lot of that on Active Rain. Long time agents looking forward to scarfing up more business after these “losers” had been forced out of the business. Careful what you wish – you just might get it! I wrote a couple of blogs on that forum that if you are saluting the failure of other agents then YOU are the failure. I was laughed out, ridiculed and because I was relatively new – told to pretty much “step aside” and let the “true professionals” do the work. Many of these agents have disappeared. Maybe to their own blogs – but my guess is that quite a few of them ended up leaving the business. They made an assumption: that because they were long time agents with deep roots in the business that THEY would survive and newbies like me would soon be history.

    As for quality surviving – cream tends to rise to the top – but so does sludge. Assuming that the “clear out” would be totally meritorious is extremely naive – if not downright foolish. Some were just cunning enough to survive – they were always about the money and never about the client. They survive because they are always thinking about “number 1.” Others simply had more resources ($$$) to ride out the downturn. Some had alternative careers with flexible hours to help them through the storm. I’ve been very disappointed in the quality of many of the survivors in my market.

  7. tomferry

    June 30, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Linsey … I hope you can hear me clapping for this post from my office!

    This is great what you wrote, “I hope that the change in real estate ultimately leaves us with professionals – full or part time – but those that really see the heart behind each and every transaction. Each city is a small town community of agents. It’s about the clients we represent.

    It’s about the relationships to one another.”

    You nailed it with this one! We are directly responsible for impacting our local community and economy by the work we do as PROFESSIONALS!

    Thank you!

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The problem with a self-policing industry: you have to be a narc

Ethics violations in the real estate industry can make or break a Realtor’s career, depending on the severity, so it would stand to reason that all would be mindful of the rules, but there are always individuals in the field that act as if the Code of Ethics is irrelevant.



An animated discussion on ethics training

“Does anyone else find it ironic that NAR – the trade association for Realtors – has to mandate that members take an ethics class every four years?” An agent who attended one of my company’s broker opens yesterday posed that question to the wine and cheese grazing attendees. Of course, that opened up an animated discussion on the value of etchics training and the lack of enforcement when the rules are violated.

One agent volunteered that the guy sitting next to her in her last ethics class played games on his cell phone and then cheated during the test at the end of the class. Seriously, dude? You cannot even pay attention long enough to pass what should be the easiest test you’ll ever have to take in your career? Perhaps he was just seeing how far he could push it by cheating during an ethics test, to see if anyone else around him caught the extreme irony there. None of the other agents around him – including the agent he cheated off – turned him in and the instructor didn’t notice.

This same agent later called one of my sellers and tried to convince him to break a listing contract with me, because he had a “guaranteed buyer” in the wings. The seller was an attorney, and this bozo tried to get me cut out of the deal, offering the seller a reduced fee to dump me. The seller held firm and directed the agent to call me, then the seller called to let me know about the conversation.

“But you know if you file something the other agent will know.”

It gets better. After the deal closed, I requested paperwork from our local Board of Realtors to file an ethics complaint. The person in charge said, “But you know if you file something the other agent will know.” Gee. Really? I asked her to send the paperwork over anyway.

I called the seller/attorney and asked him to repeat the conversation to me, because I was documenting it to file a complaint. He turned wishy washy on me at that point and his story changed from “The other agent tried to get me to dump you as the listing agent to cut you out” to “Well he really only asked a few questions and I told him to call you. He probably didn’t mean any harm by it.” So there goes my star witness, who doesn’t want to rock the boat.

I didn’t file the complaint. I resorted to the “turn the blind eye but never trust the sleazeball again” path. And that is what happens to almost all ethics issues I hear about / see in person.

That’s what happens when you have a self-policing group of “professionals” who would rather not “narc” on a fellow agent. After all you’re probably going to end up on the other side of a deal from this guy some day, right? The guy in my example has sold two of my houses since that run-in. Why tick him off by filing a complaint and going through all that hassle? If he stops bringing buyers to my properties then my sellers ultimately lose, right?

Boiling down the CoE

The NAR Code of Ethics takes up pages and pages of tiny print, and it runs each year in their trade magazine (I think it’s the January issue). Does anybody read that? Probably not many. I’d argue none of us ever should have to read it again. Simply follow this advice instead. The thousands of words in the Code boil down to one thing: Do unto other agents, and consumers, and clients, what you would have them do unto you. It’s the Golden Rule. Simple. Well, obviously not, for many agents and brokers.

The sad part is the agent in my example had no clue how close I was to filing that compaint, and if he did know he’d probably scratch his head and wonder why his actions were “wrong.” Making us take a one-day class every few years won’t “make” the unethical agents suddenly operate ethically. Most of them just don’t get it.

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Ethics hearings in private a disservice to consumers?



Fight Club and real estate

For those of you that saw the movie ‘Fight Club’ you’ll remember that Rule #1 is “You do not talk about fight club,” followed closely by Rule #2, “You DO NOT talk about fight club.” Which, believe it or not, brings me to today’s topic: The Real Estate Code of Ethics and Arbitration. Article 17 obligates Realtors to resolve fights disputes with another Realtor through arbitration (not litigation). Arbitration is conducted at the local board level, and I am not aware of a local board that doesn’t require arbitration to be confidential.

I respect that public internecine warfare amongst Realtors isn’t in the interest of our industry, and doesn’t belong in the public spotlight. I’m not here to advocate the collective airing of our dirty laundry. That said, I wonder if our collective agreement to keep our concerns confidential can inadvertently harm the consumer and ultimately makes all of us look a little shoddier?

To find the first arbitration guidelines created by NAR and distributed as a set of suggested rules for boards to follow, we have to travel all the way back in time to 1929. NAR’s first Code of Ethics & Arbitration Manual wasn’t created until 1973, and it credited a 1965 California Association of Realtors version as its model.

Appalling conduct

I can think of two instances in the past year where I was so appalled by the conduct of a fellow Realtor that I went to the trouble to inquire about how to lodge a Code of Ethics complaint with my local board. After weighing the time required to make a competent complaint and comparing it with the best case outcome (a closed-to-the-public hearing in which they were found to have violated the code of ethics), I decided not to pursue a complaint in both cases. My association’s bylaws (and probably yours) give it the power to discipline any member based on the results of a Code of Ethics hearing, “provided that the discipline imposed is consistent with the discipline authorized by the Professional Standards Committee of the National Association of REALTORS® as set forth in the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual of the National Association.”

“Sanctioning Guidelines” – (Appendix VII of Part 4 of the 2011 manual for the very curious), guides member boards to impose disciplinary consequences that are progressive and fair, taking all considerations into account. Sample first-time disciplinary actions include suggestions of a letter of warning, a fine (amounts range from $200 to $5,000 depending on the severity of the violation), and attendance at relevant education sessions. Not to sound defeatist, but a confidential letter of warning and a fine of around $200 doesn’t seem like an outcome worth investing much of my time in.

Practicing in the internet era

Given that we live and work in the internet era, and review sites like Yelp abound, it seems a bit odd to me that a local board might know of an agent with problem behavior that is documented yet choose to make that information unavailable to consumers. My understanding is that the results of a code of ethics hearing are confidential with disclosure authorized in a few situations, none of which deal with informing the public.

Many of my fellow colleagues feel that the best response to a bad agent is to be patient and give them enough time to work themselves out of business. I can respect and understand their hands-off approach. But what about the damage that individual does to our industry as a whole? While we whisper, warn in confidence and know amongst ourselves how awful they are, the public doesn’t get the benefit of our perspective. Deprived of it, they turn to consumer review sites like Yelp.

How do you think we, as an industry, can help consumers in their quest to find a trustworthy agent?

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Realtors, we really need to get over ourselves already



A letter from the child of a Realtor.

Real estate now vs. 1987

In Real Estate, some things are always changing, like financing, education, laws, rules and technology. The two that will always remain constant, as long as they are within the law, are following our clients’ directions, and working with their best interests in mind.  I’m not sure we always follow through with this, though.

Some of us knowingly take over priced listings.  Some of us take listings that are out of our area of expertise.  Some of us won’t show short sales or REOs.  Some of us won’t show homes with low co-op splits.  Some of us don’t have Supra/e-Keys, and miss out on those listings entirely.

Putting our interests first

When these things occur we are putting our own interests first, not our clients’.  We may think that by having as many listings as possible is a good thing, that’s what we’re taught after all, isn’t it?  It may not matter that some are overpriced, eventually, whether one month or four months down the line, the price will be reduced.  It’s just a matter of time and money, for our clients, after all.  The same can be said when we take listings outside our area of expertise, just to add on to our inventory.  If we don’t know what we’re doing, on a short sale listing, for example, it will only cost our clients a lot of time and money.  A lot.

By eliminating certain houses our clients see, that may already fit their criteria, we’re taking away their choices.  Distressed sales account for close to 40% of the market.  This is probably higher in some local markets.  There is no legitimate way to ignore roughly 1/3 of the homes being sold.  Co-op fees are often a touchy subject, especially when they are, not “enough.”  If everyone utilized a Buyer Broker Agreement that stipulated what their fee was, the issue would take care of itself.  Not being able to access listings with the use of Supra/e-Keys is a choice.   Choosing not purchase one will mean agents will not be able to access Fannie Mae (and eventually, probably additional Gov REO homes) along with the listings that are already using them.

Our priorities versus theirs

We totally need to get over ourselves already.  We are not bigger than our clients.  Our priorities are not more important than theirs when it comes to the actual listing and selling of homes.

Recently, my awesome parents dug through a few boxes and rounded up one of my first art projects. About 25 years ago I did the poster featured above about my Mom, and her Real Estate career.  It was for an Open House (no pun, honest!!!) for the elementary school where I attended first grade.  It was just, what she did according to me way back then.  Things are way more complicated now, than when I was six.  There’s a heck of a lot more paperwork for one.  But the same basic principle still applies.

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