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I’m sorry… Did you say “Be Honest?”


It starts with an e-mail

Ok, so yesterday I received an e-mail from a blog reader who wanted to help me. They made two points. The first was that I need to stop using “words that normal people don’t know” and the second was they didn’t feel it was possible for me to be “smart and still naive about expectations of agents being more than what they have been” They felt that I needed to be more “honest” with myself that agents will always do the bare minimum.

Today I was reading a newspaper article on-line about the market being down. A reader commented on-line that consumers need to get smarter and we should be “honest” with ourselves that paying REALTORS 6-10% is crazy. They went further to say that data shown in MLS was not fully reflective of the market because it didn’t show FSBO information, etc… In addition, they were bemoaning the fact that agents aren’t trying to price the home correctly or ask the seller to reduce their price.

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For the reader

I don’t feel that I am a lone voice crying in the wilderness when it comes to expecting more quality from a REALTOR, to include a more diligent level of education. If you don’t like the words I am using, than don’t read. Sorry if I challenge your limited vocabulary. If you’re d-u-m-b, then take the word and type it into and enter “define: <word you don’t know>” and hit that enter key. Google is one of those search engines that a couple of people are using. If you don’t want to use Google, then there is probably a dictionary somewhere about, you troglodyte.

(this part was said in jest, and I really have a smile on my face while I write it) See? ==> 🙂

For the “Consumer”

I hear your frustration, but it’s not the sales agent’s fault. They have to get paid for their work, just as you do. There are about 25 people with their hands in their pockets at any given time. They pay way more than professionals from other industries in gas, marketing, TAXES, brokerage fees, association dues, lenders ordering reduction in commissions for short sales (that are twice the work of any other transaction) because YOU didn’t or can’t pay your mortgage. The list goes on an on. The national average is far less than the 6% you think that agents get paid. FSBO information is grossly incorrect, represents less than 6% in our area and typically FSBO’s get about 12% less for their house, than those who are listed by a professional. So, excuse them if they use accurate data to report the condition of the real estate market.

I am not sure what sellers this consumer is talking to, but the agents I know are begging their sellers to list and reduce their prices to a reasonable rate. The problem is that Sellers all think they are better than the competition. They paid too much, or refinanced too much and they can’t lower the price to match the lower prices of other sellers on the market.

To Everyone Else

Why, oh why do people expect real estate information and education to be at the level of the least common denominator?

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Why do consumers think that they can beat up on agents?

The answers are simple. Agents have been catered to for far too long. Pre-licensing educational levels are too low, continuing education is a joke all most everywhere in the country and many Brokers will accept anyone with a license, regardless of capabilities. This is a very litigious industry and agents are handing their clients lawsuits, because they don’t know what they are doing. They begrudge having to take any training, even if it’s designed to save their own butts and to provide better service to their clients. I also will add that the education providers MUST increase their quality, so that agents will actually be educated in the courses being offered.

Clients are getting the information that agents have been controlling for a long time. You’re not the keep of the data, which is why many consumers came to you in the first place. For too many years agents access to controlled data was their only identity and customer service went by the way side. Agents need to improve their consumer advocacy and quality of service to show that this very complicated transaction is best handled by trained and capable hands – otherwise the agent should just turn in their license. For much of the country the days of going into floor duty time and stumbling on a commission are over.

The agents have failed to meet the challenge of angry consumers, like the one mentioned above, because they don’t know their own market place well enough; even though the information is readily available to them. Agents are taking overpriced and unsalable listings and not saying “no, you can’t reasonably sale for this price and in this market.” Instead, the listing is taken without disclosing the reality to the Seller and being “honest” because we are trying to save the seller’s feelings and/or because the agent simply doesn’t know the market.

All of these issues contribute to the lack of perceived “honesty” from the agent. It’s hurting the industry. Better education and a professional frankness with the consumer will go along way to repairing the perceptions held by some consumers. Industry Professionals should not be afraid or ashamed to tell a buyer or seller that their expectations are unreasonable and not care if that consumer finds another agent. That other agent won’t be able to help them either.

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How’s that for being “honest” and using small (and probably misspelled to make the reader feel more comfortable) words?

Written By

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



  1. ines

    April 14, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    Matt – did someone rub you the wrong way or what? 😉 We can agree that our industry needs a change – but we can also agree that the tough market has served as a “clean out” process. “Honesty” is a difficult trait, difficult for the consumer that does not want to hear the truth.

    What I don’t understand are those people that don’t want for Realtors to make money, but they do want to use our services. The consumer has many choices and THAT’s a fact. I turned down 2 listings this past week because both sellers had unreasonable expectations……I even told them to call one of my competitors, they would be happy to take an overpriced listing to add to his “unsold” inventory.

  2. Bob Carney

    April 14, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Sometimes honesty hurts…but it is reality.

  3. Bill Lublin

    April 15, 2008 at 3:43 am

    Matthew – As I sit here with my trusty dictionary next to me so that I can understand your post I find my self once again forced to agree with you – people just want gratification without effort sometimes and that means they skip the part where they need to continually educate themselves – Life really is about the journey

    Am I getting old and irascible or what? – I’m sorry, maybe I meant curmudgeonly, or perhaps just irritable ?

    I do have a better suggestion then google – they can subscribe to Merriam Webster’s Word of the day at and have their vocabulary delivered directly to their inbox or go to for the prettiest philologist on the web or subscribe to her youtube channel at Education doesn’t get any more painless then that 🙂

  4. Annie Maloney

    April 15, 2008 at 6:38 am

    Touche’. I love it. There is sooo much negativity and criticism revolving around Realtors these days and unfortunately there is a large group that help substantiate (oohhh Big Word) these perceptions. The reader that commented about your BIG words could possibly be one of those many people that have been licensed (as a Realtor) and has the common sense and customer service skills of a rock. Not likely though since they apparently read this blog. Enough about that.

    As of late I have been turning down more listings than I take. It is probably more like 5:1. I REFUSE to take on listings that are not competitively priced and/or unique in an area that has many listings. The agents that will irresponsibly take any listing at any price to use as nothing other than an over sized business card (marketing tactic) drive me crazy. I am a Professional Realtor. I continually educate myself and others around me. I spend a good amount of time and energy in marketing and pushing listings I believe in. 99% of the time my commission is non-negotiable for the services that I render. I tell each and every client at the listing presentation that my commission is X% and it is non-negotiable and then I show them why. I never get any objections. The question I ask them is this, what are you willing to pay the buyers agent…..

    The problem with our society is that it is an enabling one. We lower our expectations for just about everything so that everyone can participate. And apparently in the Realtor world everyone has. Maybe if we as a society worried less about hurting people’s feelings and more about what is right and wrong we would all be in a better place. Everyone is NOT created equal, especially Realtors…

  5. Larry Yatkowsky

    April 15, 2008 at 7:58 am


    While you may be getting old, irascible, possibly curmugeonly and even irritable, think more of it as your “Golden Pond” years of reasoned wisdom.


    BIG WORDS are just a different brush stroke on the canvas you are painting.

  6. Larry Yatkowsky

    April 15, 2008 at 8:31 am


    At some point we all feel what Ines describes as the “rub”. In order to survive, we conduct our lives in a protective bubble. What we collectively are experiencing, is the “dumbing down” syndrome of society at large. As we find time we notice that it prickles and makes us want to scratch. It is when reality boldly smacks us as we recognize that our personal and professional lives are not exclusive of the affect. Don’t dismay. There are among us those seeking common spirits who too are feeling that “rub”. They like you, are attempting to improve reality on some yet undetermined level.

  7. Matthew Rathbun

    April 15, 2008 at 9:06 am

    Uh, shucks, all my polysyllabic friends are making me blush.

    Bil – of course I am a word fo the day fan! My problem is that I can recall the word, but never spell it. So, I Google it and hope that I’m close enough for it to come up 🙂

    Ines, yeah, I’ve been irritable about life in general recently. I think “Honesty” isn’t necessarily the trait that is difficult “tactful delivery of Honesty” is. I get your meaning…

    Annie – I think the reader was trying to “help”, but I fully disagree with their stance. The reader did a follow up on the post and was very funny in that they spelled EVERY word of their e-mail wrong. It’s all good and I am sure the reader is a good agent. It’s good to have a business plan and to tell the consumer what you and their expectations are/should be. I just hope that agents who are doing that, are following through in the eyes of the Seller. Too often the agent is working their butt off, but not communicating it with the Seller. I bet you do a great job with that.

    Larry – I think you jokingly hit on one of my big issues. We (as an industry) are loosing the wisdom of people like Bill and replacing it with knowledge. I know at lot about policy and rules; but the approprate allocation of that knowledge is wisdom and with so many expereinced agents leaving he buisness; it’s taking it’s toll.

    My wife and I homeschool our children and constantly are working on their knowledge and critical thinking skills. (no to think negatively) but to apply logic to their knowledge. To foresee consequence and make wise decisions. We’ve McDonalized everything in society to the point that we all want our business to be on the dollar menu and be delivered hot and tasty in 3 minutes. We neglect that this 3 minute dollar burger is killing us, not doing anything more then filling our immediate need.

  8. John Lauber

    April 15, 2008 at 9:12 am

    These are the same people looking for that magic bullet to improve their business. They want the easy fix. The consumer wants the order taker, and too many agents did just that. “I need to see the house at 3pm today.”, comes a floor call. Too many agents play the “Pop-tart” Realtor and rush out in the hope of making a sale. This only exacerbates (that means “makes it bigger”) the problem for the next agent who tries to actually qualify the person calling before showing the listing, or “God forbid”, actually have them sign even the Consumer Notice (in PA).

    Coming from the corporate world, the lack of professionalism on many agents part amazed me when I started. It was very different for me, but I’ve learned to deal with some of the differences. Not that the corporate world is better or more professional, but different. Unfortunately, those of us that treat this as a business run into many consumers that can’t see this. Those of us who try to educate our clients about the market get “rejected” because the consumer read on the internet, or saw on TV, or etc. We’re too honest and they don’t want to hear it. It’s a shame.

    As to using words that are too big, well, enough has been said about that already above.

  9. Danilo Bogdanovic

    April 15, 2008 at 10:50 am

    Wow! You sound like I felt yesterday. A client got pissed off at me because I told him his offer price was way too low and unrealistic because the home was already underpriced and bound to have multiple offers. That’s what I get for being honest. But I did save myself the time and energy of ever dealing with him again.

    Great point about consumers that want our advice and services, but don’t want to pay us for it. I’ve heard consumers mimic the Geico commercial when talking about buying or selling real estate. Well, then go get your license and do it yourself!

  10. Daniel Rothamel

    April 15, 2008 at 11:02 am

    Dumb it down? I think Lani covered that one, already:

    Incidentally, I agree with you, her, and Lupe, too. Although, I have been accused a time or two of using dollar words unnecessarily. I do think there is a difference between “dumbing it down” and speaking someone’s language. I often have to be more aware of not just WHAT I am trying to say, but the WAY in which I am trying to say it. Of course, there is just as much danger in going too far the other direction. No one wants to be perceived as condescending or conceited.

    With regard to the “lowest common denominator,” I am reminded of the old maxim– if you give what you’ve always given, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

    Thank the lord for people like you who are wiling to make a change.

  11. Candy Lynn

    April 15, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    “Pre-licensing educational levels are too low, continuing education is a joke all most everywhere in the country and many Brokers will accept anyone with a license, regardless of capabilities. This is a very litigious industry and agents are handing their clients lawsuits, because they don’t know what they are doing. They begrudge having to take any training, even if it’s designed to save their own butts and to provide better service to their clients. I also will add that the education providers MUST increase their quality, so that agents will actually be educated in the courses being offered.”

    During a recent discussion with a pre-licensing instructor about the purpose of their class & their role as an instructor, the answer of ” my only goal is for student to pass the state test” sums up a root problem of our industry.

    This attitude is not only evident in the Real Estate world but also in the public schools with “teaching to the SOLs”. The measure of a schools & teachers performance has become “how many students pass the test”.

    Teaching to pass a test does not encourage a true desire to learn or improve oneself.
    Even beyond that it does not encourage one to THINK for oneself, IMHO that is the real issue.

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