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Increasing Realtor Professionalism or Tilting at Windmills?

I for one, have reasonably high expectations for what the Group will accomplish and much more tempered expectations for what will come of the Group’s efforts, once they have completed their charge. Some of the ideas bandied about over the years to raise the bar of entry have been to require higher levels of education, apprenticeships, increasing dues – for all levels of Association membership, production requirements (there may be some anti-trust implications here), more ethics training (although I don’t believe one can learn ethics or honor through a class) … the list goes on.

I for one, have reasonably high expectations for what the Group will accomplish and much more tempered expectations for what will come of the Group's efforts, once they have completed their charge. Some of the ideas bandied about over the years to raise the bar of entry have been to require higher levels of education, apprenticeships, increasing dues - for all levels of Association membership, production requirements (there may be some anti-trust implications here), more ethics training (although I don't believe one can learn ethics or honor through a class) ... the list goes on.

Tilting at Windmills?

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Please set aside your understandable and well founded and frequently reinforced cynicism, doubt and thoughts of futility for a moment. The NAR is apparently seeking ways to increase Realtor Professionalism.

(Dick Gaylord) recently appointed a new Presidential Advisory Group to consider how we can raise the professional standards for membership in NAR.

Like NAR or not, they are at least putting on the facade that they are trying. In fact, they may actually be trying, and I’m hopeful. My limited experience with the NAR is that the individuals fundamentally believe that what they are doing is right – and on an individual, even group or committee level, they often are right. The breakdown and disconnect happens once the bureaucracy – the machine if you will – takes hold. I for one, have reasonably high expectations for what the Group will accomplish and much more tempered expectations for what will come of the Group’s efforts, once they have completed their charge.

Some of the ideas bandied about over the years to raise the bar of entry have been to require higher levels of education, apprenticeships, increasing dues – for all levels of Association membership, production requirements (there may be some anti-trust implications here), more ethics training (although I don’t believe one can learn ethics or honor through a class) … the list goes on.

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The NAR does, for better or worse, have some say in how we do our business; working from within may have its advantages. If you could implement one (or two or three) policies/requirements/whatever that would help our collective profession to increase its professionalism, what would it be?

*Full disclosure – I have been selected to sit on this PAG, and having looked at the list of those who comprise the group, see a lot of Big Broker and CEO representation; I’d have liked to have seen more “grunts” like myself.

Written By

Dad, Husband, Charlottesville Realtor, real estate Blogger, occasional speaker - Inman Connects, NAR Conferences - based in Charlottesville, Virginia. A native Virginian, I graduated from VMI in 1998, am a third generation Realtor (since 2001) and have been "publishing" as a real estate blogger since January 2005. I've chosen to get involved in Realtor Associations on the local, state & national levels, having served on the NAR's RPR & MLS groups. Find me in Charlottesville, Crozet and Twitter.

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Lisa Sanderson

    August 20, 2008 at 6:51 am

    We should also educate our members about the importance of policing ourselves through professional standards and ethics complaints. Perhaps this system needs to be overhauled to make it more user friendly. Like you said, addressing it internally has its advantages.

    However, like it or not, state licensing laws have to change and NAR needs to leverage its political power, through the state Associations, to effect changes. Education & training requirements should be beefed up, and the real estate Commissions should have the tools & rules they need to go after offenders instead of sweating the small stuff. In my state, it seems the real estate commission is too busy worrying about how big our logos are to look in to the really important stuff.

  2. Greg Swann

    August 20, 2008 at 8:36 am

    > how we can raise the professional standards for membership in NAR.

    The single most decisive action the NAR could take would be to advocate the elimination of the co-broke, thus permitting buyers to finance the buyer’s broker’s commission with the other costs of obtaining a home. In other words: Divorce the commissions.

    If the NAR will not do this — and it will not — this is proof positive it has no interest whatever in reform — and this is nicely illustrated by the completely corrupt MLS 5.0 proposal.

    The NAR’s actual objective is to seem to be doing something while it absorbs and neutralizes yet another generation of earnest, ethical activists like you, Jim.

    If inlookers actually want to raise standards for real estate professionals — raise them in your own practice. People will eat garbage if it’s the only food available, but no one eats garbage by choice. If you want for your clients to experience a better real estate agent, be that agent. When enough of us raise our standards, there will be no room left in the marketplace for the bums — nor for the NAR.

  3. Bob

    August 20, 2008 at 9:50 am

    Try as you may, you can’t police ethics via the local board. A slap on the wrist from the local board doesn’t cut it and brokers tend to not cut loose unethical producing agents.

  4. Mark Eibner

    August 20, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    we’re at it again Increasing Realtor Professionalism or Tilting at Windmills?: I for on.. https://tinyurl.com/57rrum

  5. rorysiems

    August 20, 2008 at 11:50 am

    its the task for every real estate comapny to educate their team members about the importance of policing themselves through professional standards and ethics complaints.

  6. Jim Duncan

    August 20, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    Lisa – Absolutely. The ability to define priorities is something associations and commissions seem to be lacking, as is the system of reporting/punishing.

    Greg – I agree wholeheartedly.

    Bob – Then we need to make those slaps harder.

    Rory – Companies have been negligent for so long and now are in survival mode; what can we do now to get them to recognize the importance of ethics?

  7. Ruthmarie Hicks

    August 20, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    NAR isn’t interested in doing what is necessary – because that would mean raising the bar to entry which in turn means fewer agent and less in fees for them. I also agree with Bob. We all know there are some very bad apples out there. Unfortunately, they are PRODUCTIVE bad apples. They squeeze out honest agents becuase their lack of scruples lands them business. They generally wreck havoc with the reputation of the industry in general. But will brokers cut them loose when they produce….Noooooooo wwwwwaaaaaaaayyyyy.

  8. Russell Shaw

    August 20, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Three things in response:

    1. If a fellow agent does do something “bad” getting anything done about it is usually so much trouble that once the transaction is over and everyone is paid the only time anyone will take the time to file (huge paperwork) a complaint is if they are still angry. Otherwise it is easier to just forget it.

    I believe there should be a way to “complain” about agents, lenders, vendors, etc., that is as easy as it is for me to call 911 if I see something wrong. And for those who are found “guilty” their offense is made public.

    2. There ARE things that NAR could do to make life better for agents. Messing with commissions isn’t one of them. Taking Realtor.com completely back and making everything about it a member benefit, included with the usual dues *would* be a big one.

    3. I believe that you and Greg are both WAY off base in your thinking on divorcing commissions. For NAR to allow that to happen would be one of the most destructive things they could do.

    If either (or both) of you are game and would care to have your “logic” on this subject exposed to the light of day – I am totally willing to have a *moderated* debate on divorcing commissions. I propose the back and forth be posted on BHB and AG and consist of opening arguments and then on a point by point volley with the responses first emailed to the moderators, to ensure that the response is just on that point.

  9. Jon Strum

    August 20, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    I don’t know if you can raise professional standards until we can first clearly define them. It seems that ethical conduct is part of that definition, but it isn’t the entire definition. Do “professional standards” mean returning calls in a timely manner? I bet our clients would think so. Do “professional standards” mean following up on the online leads that so many agents seem to ignore because they may not be “right now business”?

    Once we can agree on what it is we’re looking for as the profile for a “real estate professional who embraces and exhibits high standards of conduct” then the easiest way to begin the transition is to hire better people. That means moving away from the stereotypical model of the broker who hires anyone who can fog a mirror because “everyone has at least a couple a’ deals in ’em.”

    If we want an industry that displays a higher level of professionalism, simply begin hiring only those people who seem as if they can attain that level. Learn how to identify excellence in the interview process. Maintain high standards throughout the office. Fire agents when it’s necessary.

    But raising the bar happens one office at a time. It isn’t an “industry-wide event” because you’ll never get the requisite buy-in. But once you have offices enforcing standards, refusing to use the “funnel method” of recruiting and “walking the talk” in everything they do, their results will ultimately determine how widespread this higher level of professionalism actually becomes.

  10. Gerry Davidson

    August 20, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Jim,

    Good luck on the PAG. On the subject of the NAR and professionalism, I would like to see the educational courses for designations carry some weight. I spent 6 days last year in two classes for a designation and in both classes the Realtors were given the answers to the test. Comments like “Mark this, you will see it again” and then a review of the barely concealed test material prior to the test. In a 1031 Exchange course ithe material was more challenging so the answers were actually spoon fed to the students. I was so disgusted with the thinly veiled practice I never went back for the third course to obtain a meaningless designation. It seems that if a Realtor pays the class fee they will be coaxed to the finish line along with those who really know and understand the material.

    Again good luck; it will be interesting to hear about your experiences within the inner circles of NAR.

  11. Jim Duncan

    August 20, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Russell –

    1 & 2 – I’ll take those with me and see what happens. Regarding the divorcing commissions – I think that’s probably a battle left for another time, and likely will come from the outside rather than the inside.

    Regarding the debate – I’m game. Not in September though – my schedule is out of control.

    Jon – Absolutely. Defining professionalism would be an excellent start. 🙂

    Gerry – thanks, and those are excellent points.

  12. Bob

    August 20, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    I don’t know if you can raise professional standards until we can first clearly define them. It seems that ethical conduct is part of that definition, but it isn’t the entire definition.

    Therein lies much of the problem. Ethical doesn’t equate across the board to legal, so you can’t depend on a code for anything, unless you are talking about a Marine. There is also the slippery slope of situational ethics.

    The only way to raise standards is via legislation and bring licensing under Fed law and an SEC type body where the slap on the wrist is followed closely by the sound of a jail cell clanging closed. The alternative is to do away with licensing altogether, although I’m not a fan of that idea.

    You certainly can’t rely on companies to adhere to ethics over profit:

    https://www.ocregister.com/articles/osborn-ryancarz-koslovic-2125949-money-loan
    https://www.ocregister.com/articles/osborn-rackley-case-2126104-department-victims

  13. Jeremy Hart

    August 21, 2008 at 7:15 am

    Jim, you’re ideally suited for this type of seat … thank you for accepting the appointment.

    I don’t have a 3-step process for you, but I think Greg got it right on when he said that it’s up to the individual practitioner and brokerage to raise their own standards. it’s a wildfire – if we each raise our own expectations of ourselves, it begins to catch on. I don’t agree that NAR is bad for our profession, but standards are truly set by the people on the ground, not the tower in the sky. It starts with us …

  14. Jim Duncan

    August 21, 2008 at 7:20 am

    Jeremy –

    but standards are truly set by the people on the ground, not the tower in the sky. It starts with us …

    And that’s the issue with which I/we struggle – the ones who recognize the value of professionalism and struggle to proselytize said value already practicing and many are part of the discussion already. It’s the ones who find profit in poor standards who don’t try to improve; how do we reach them if not from a combined effort of the tower and the ground?

  15. Jeremy Hart

    August 21, 2008 at 7:32 am

    Jim, it seems to me that if enough of the membership – and fully recognizing that perhaps this is a pipe dream – begin to demand that the standards required by NAR match their own expectations of standards, then that’s the combined effort you’re speaking of. Until enough of the membership demands it, NAR is going to leave the minimum expectations as vanilla as possible.

    That’s why I think it starts with us. You, me, the readers here, practitioners across the country … we have to require more of ourselves, and our colleagues. When that shift occurs, NAR will finally react, and those “who find profit in poor standards” will be either forced out or forced to change.

    Too much of a Hollywood ending?

  16. Jim Duncan

    August 21, 2008 at 7:59 am

    Jeremy –

    Honestly, I think it starts here, goes to the NAR with a sense of urgency befitting this cause, and with the understanding that unless they do something, Realtors’ credibility will continue to be damaged.

    Now – where’s that sunset?

  17. Ines

    August 21, 2008 at 9:55 am

    We all agree standards must be raised, the question is how and why has it taken so long. The fact that it takes a high-school diploma and a week’s course to become a Realtor is huge in my book. Most professionals will start looking down at our industry just because of that single factor. How about at least a college AA degree which takes a mere 1.5 years?

    The battle does follow with each one of us doing our part to improve the industry – but I agree with Russel about the policing system being too long and complicated and once the transaction is closed, people forget about the problem. The issue I had last month with the lady with Alzheimer’s that was taken advantage of by some viper of an agent is already forgotten and I find it extremely sad.

    Realtor.com has to be taken back and brought back to us – it’s a huge joke and our hands are tied.

    As for ethics….you either have them or you don’t – I don’t think there’s a gray line there. A Scarlet Letter would be ideal (but I’ll keep dreaming)

  18. Brad Nix

    August 21, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Twice in the last 30 days I have had agents of mine call to complain about the actions of a Realtor on the other end of a transaction. We represented the Buyer in both situations and both were purchasing REO property. I am not saying that REO agents have less scruples than other agents, but the degree of apathy to correcting their behavior is astounding. When I spoke with one broker, she tried to blame my agent for complicating the transaction and that we should just ‘work to get the deal done.’ We don’t work to get deals done, we work to service our clients needs and goals with professionalism.

    With NAR being an optional membership, I don’t see them having any real power to make a difference. The state laws are our only hope to raise the barrier to entry and standards of performance. But that reminds me of Lisa’s statement “it seems the real estate commission is too busy worrying about how big our logos are to look in to the really important stuff.” And ultimately this can be resolved by Greg’s idea “If you want for your clients to experience a better real estate agent, be that agent. When enough of us raise our standards, there will be no room left in the marketplace for the bums — nor for the NAR.”

  19. Greg Swann

    August 22, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    Russell Shaw: > If either (or both) of you are game and would care to have your “logic” on this subject exposed to the light of day – I am totally willing to have a *moderated* debate on divorcing commissions.

    I have written more on the subject of divorcing real estate commissions than anyone on earth. That link will lead you to a comprehensive, five-part series of posts on the subject. If you can offer a reasoned ethical argument why consumers are better served by our current climate of de facto sub-agency, have at it. I don’t believe you can — given that that series of posts has been extant for nearly ten months and no one has laid so much as a glove on it — but give it your best shot. If you want to tell the world that the co-broke is better for brokers, for agents or for the NAR, I’m not interested. It is obvious to even the most casual observer that our current system of secrets and lies is designed to be of benefit to brokers, agents and the NAR — and is a complete betrayal of the interests of consumers. No only would divorcing the commissions result in much better representation for both buyers and sellers, it would immediately do away with the reasons-for-being of MLS secrecy and the entire NAR anti-consumer conspiracy. In other words, not only would doing away with the co-broke remove the endemic agency violations occasioned by de facto sub-agency, it would drive a stake through the heart of the two worst vampires in the real estate industry. All of this would be hugely beneficial to consumers.

    If you intend for me to know that you have posted an argument on this subject, let me know by email. I don’t come here very often. If I think you argument is worth a response, I will respond. If I think you’re saying all the self-serving white noise I hear all the time on this subject, you will at least have the joy of appealing to the appetites of the audience.

  20. Thomas Johnson

    August 22, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    Saddle up Rocinante the giant awaits….

  21. Daniel Bates

    August 26, 2008 at 4:37 am

    I like Lisa’s comments about self-policing, but NAR should also step up the steps they take when they are faced with a problem. Realtor plagiarism is a huge problem (maybe it doesn’t effect the consumer directly, but if they think they are reading original work from an actual thief than it does though) but NAR and local branches do nothing about it. There needs to be more swift and punitive steps taken when Realtors continue to go off-track and as you have pointed out in earlier steps, if found to be guilty, the public should be made known instead of sweeping the problems under the rug and pretending that we’re all honest and great…The public sees right through that and THAT is where they lose faith in all of use.

  22. Daniel Bates

    August 26, 2008 at 4:52 am

    I’d like to see more responsibility put on the broker. When an agent commits a violation, the broker should be punished too if it can be proven that he/she knew or should have known what was going on or improper/lack of training can be shown. Brokers managing offices with hundred/thousands of agents say that it’s impossible to keep track of what everyone is doing, well then they shouldn’t have gotten that big. I work in an office with 3 other people, my broker may not know what I’m doing at all times, but he’s able to keep an eye on me and would guide me if I was doing something unethical or even bad for the business. I know there are people he has not allowed to join the company because of their questionable ethics and liability. If all brokers took this high road instead of the one paved in gold than we’d be much better off.

  23. Karen Rice

    September 11, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    I really think it should be more difficult to become an agent in the first place. It should require at least an associates degree, with more substantial education than merely being able to pass the exam.

    Future agents should learn how to serve their customers – they should be required to know the difference between a bungalow and a ranch; between an A-frame and a chalet. They should take and pass real estate photography courses, and basic English/grammar. They should learn more about contracts and keeping things on track while a house is under contract.

    If an agency offers their agents anything at all, it is often little more than lead generation. My office offers more training than I can take advantage of, but it’s obvious that many agents fly by the seat of their pants, year after year. And the customers suffer.

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