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Op/Ed

Culling the lazy, bloodsucker real estate agents

Liar. Cheater. Loser. Choker. Incendiary rhetoric seems to be in vogue this year. If we’re going to talk about improving the reputation of real estate agents, let’s stay away from oversimplifications. The answer is more complex than volume or business model.

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Liar. Cheater. Loser. Choker. Incendiary rhetoric seems to be in vogue this year.

“The consultants are like bloodsuckers. They’re ten times worse than a real estate salesman or broker, ten times, which is saying pretty bad stuff.” This was the biting yet confusing commentary from Donald Trump, a real estate salesman himself, at a recent political rally.

Inside the industry

The shots at real estate agents are coming from within the industry as well. Keller Williams’ Chairman Gary Keller recently said that agents who buy leads from Zillow “are lazy and don’t want to do the work.” Surely many of his top agents and teams who effectively use the leads would disagree.

Zillow’s CEO Spencer Rascoff recently told CNBC that the company no longer wanted to work with agents who weren’t “great” (they don’t spend a lot of money on advertising). So they’ll be “culling” those agents who aren’t up to snuff. While a practical business move, avoiding a term associated with slaughtering inferior or surplus animals might be item #1 for the PR team’s next executive media coaching session.

Real estate classism

Before we get self-righteous about these leaders’ word choices, though, it’s worth noting that this kind of language pervades much of the industry’s conversations on the quality of real estate agents.

There’s no shortage of snobbery and classist speech among agents and brokers.

Just ask a high volume agent how we should raise the bar of professionalism in the industry:
“Raise Realtor dues by 1000% and we’ll lose 90% of the deadbeats who bring us down.”

Talk to boutique brokers about their counterparts:
“That head shop will hire anyone who can fog a mirror. Their agents are bottom feeders who don’t sell anything and make us all look bad.”

You hear it from speakers at industry conferences:
“Let’s use the 80/20 rule. We need to get rid of the 80% of crappy agents who are making us look bad, so that the good agents who do 80% of the volume are the only ones left.”

There are some really important conversations to be had about the quality of real estate agents in our industry. We want clear answers as to how we fix them problem. We want the answers to be simple.

Unfortunately, big answers are often necessarily complex. When we group real estate agents into simplistic silos to try to fix our issues, we do a disservice to ourselves.

Volume does not equal quality

We can all agree that there are real estate licensees without the experience, ethics, education, or conscience necessary to serve their clients well. There are bad apples in our midst. They’re a poison on our reputation and should not be allowed to sell real estate.

Let’s not overreach with our reaction, though. This rhetorical journey usually ends with lower producing agents or those with non-traditional business models being given the scarlet letter and pronounced as a scourge on the industry.

Volume does not equal professionalism or quality. We’ve seen sweatshop practitioners become real estate celebrities, only to later lose their businesses and licenses when their practices came under scrutiny.

On the other hand, some of the lowest-volume agents often have the most experience to with which to guide their clients. Agents who are nearing retirement will often shrink their active client base significantly. The buyers and sellers who work with them are afforded all of the benefits of an agent with decades of experience and insight, as well as a greater share of that agent’s attention.

The client who works with an agent who has only one client at the moment may be the client who is receiving the most comprehensive personal service possible.

Then there are those “lazy” agents who buy leads, or pay fees/splits to others who prospect for them.  Since when was specialization of skill and division of labor a sign of laziness?

Selling vs. lead generation

Admittedly, this comes from my position of personal bias. We’ve brought agents on to our team who were low volume producers before they joined. Most had experience, but didn’t want to prospect anymore. They just wanted to work with clients and sell.

Meet “Jane”. She sold for 30 years before joining us. She is one of the smartest, most dependable, respectful, and effective agents we’ve worked with.

By many counts, she should have been tossed from the industry the year before because she only sold two homes. She sold 15 homes last year, a healthy business in a market like Seattle. It still probably wasn’t enough for the sales police to label her volume sufficient. She’s “lazy” because she’s relying on others to generate leads and focusing on her core skills of selling. She might just be “culled” with the other low-rung agents who provide outstanding service and consistently receive raving reviews from their clients.

It’s more complex than that

To be fair, we’re in an industry that has an unhealthy obsession with sales numbers. I’ve stopped counting the number of times someone asked me, “What kind of volume do you do?” within the first two minutes of a conversation (It almost sounds like “How much do you bench, bro?”). So it’s not surprising that an agent’s volume is often the first metric many look to for a frame of reference. Volume makes a big difference in finding out whether or not an agent is good for your team, your office, and your business model.

Let’s just not let it creep so far into the conversation about who deserves to belong within the greater industry. There are a lot of different business models, and different roles that fit within them. Not everyone needs to be a solo, door-knocking, cold-calling top producer to provide great service to clients.

“Jane” isn’t. Her clients will scoff if you tell them that her volume and prospecting system make her a bad agent. If we’re going to talk about improving the reputation of real estate agents, let’s stay away from oversimplifications.

The answer is more complex than volume or business model.

It’s about education, experience, dedication, and professionalism. Those are difficult things to measure, but improving an industry isn’t supposed to be easy.

Let’s skip the simple labels. They’re part of the problem.

This editorial originally published on March 7, 2016.

Sam DeBord is managing broker of Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth, and 2016 president-elect of Seattle King Country REALTORS®. You can find his team at SeattleHome.com and BellevueHomes.com.

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Op/Ed

Your career depends on you, and the mentors you select

(EDITORIAL) Moving up in your career can be dependent on your drive to be better, but improving does depend on who you choose to teach you

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Remember when you were younger and were encouraged to join extra-curricular activities because they would “look good to colleges”? What if the same were true for your career?

While applying to a university may be a thing of the past for you, there are still benefits to having extra-curricular activities that have to do with your career. Networking is a major piece of this, as is finding mentors who will help point you in the right direction.

These out-of-office organizations or clubs differ for every industry, so for the sake of this article, I will use one example that you can then interpret and tailor towards your own career.

The Past President of the national Federal Bar Association, Maria Z. Vathis, is someone who has taken the extra-curricular route throughout her entire career, and it has paid off immensely. Working as an attorney in Chicago, Vathis joined the FBA shortly after beginning her legal career and now is the Past President of the almost 100-year old organization.

She started working her way up the ladder of the Chicago Chapter of the association, and eventually became the president of that chapter. At the same time, she was also becoming involved in the Hellenic Bar Association, and would eventually become national president of that organization, as well.

“Through these organizations, I was fortunate to find mentors and lifelong friends. I was also lucky enough to mentor others and to have opportunities to give back to the community through various outreach projects,” said Vathis. “As a young attorney, it was priceless to gain exposure to successful attorneys and judges and to observe how they conducted themselves. Those judges and attorneys were my role models – whether they knew it or not. I learned how to be a professional and how to work with different personality types through my bar association work.”

Finding people in your industry – not just in your office – can be of great help as you go through the journey of your career. They can help you in the event of a job switch, help collaborate on volunteer-based projects, and help collaborate on career-advancing projects (like writing a book, for example).

And all strong networks often start with the help of a mentor – someone who has once been in your shows and can help you handle the ropes of your new career. Most importantly, they’re someone who you can seek advice from when you’re faced with someone challenging – either good or bad.

“I have been unbelievably fortunate with my mentors, and I cherish those relationships. They are good people, and they have changed my life in positive ways. I still draw on what they taught me to help make important decisions,” said Vathis. “My career success is due in large part to the fact that my mentors took an interest in my career, had faith in my abilities, and supported me while I held various positions in the organizations. Not only is it important to continue having mentors throughout your career, but it is important to recognize that mentors come in all shapes and sizes. You never know who you will learn something from, so it’s important to remain open. Also, after you become seasoned, it is important to give back by mentoring others.”

When asked why it’s important to be part of organizations outside of the office, Vathis explained, “To build a book of business, you need to be visible to others.” She also stresses the importance of putting yourself out there for new affiliations and challenges, because you never know where it may lead.

If you’re unsure of how to start this process, try asking co-workers and other people in your professional life if they have any advice or recommendations of organizations that can help advance your career. Another simple way is to Google “networking events in my area” and see what speaks to you. In addition, never be afraid to reach out to someone with a bit more experience for some advice. Take them out to coffee and pick their brain – you never know what you may learn.

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Op/Ed

Open letter to Realtors: Let your freak flag fly and quit judging each other

Tattoos are more and more acceptable in many fields of business, industry, and service. There still seems to be a gap in places like law, and real estate

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When most people think of Realtors, it’s easy to think of the boring headshot that seems to accompany them. You know the type: Boring suit, smarmy grin, some tagline about how they’re going to find you a house. Some Realtors, however, have set out to break that mold. One example is Justin Mercer.

Hailing from Arizona, Mercer goes by the title “The Tattooed Realtor.” It’s a name he’s definitely earned – Mercer sports tattoos everywhere from his hands to his face. And he looks awesome. Honestly, it’s about time more people start letting themselves live authentically, instead of trying to look like what society says they “should” look like.

Sure, Mercer has gotten plenty of strange looks, but he owns his appearance. In fact, he hands out fake tattoo stickers to kids and has a pen shaped like a tattoo machine for clients and visitors to use. The approach is interesting, but it helps break down the stigma surrounding face tattoos in fun ways.

His tattoos have also provided unique opportunities. For instance, Mercer has begun to land several acting roles! According to Mercer, he’s been in films, television, and even music videos. It’s a pretty neat perk to come from being visible and open.

That’s not to say it’s always easy for Mercer; he’s gotten a lot of pushback for his appearance. Even from within the industry:

Really, this says more about his detractors than Mercer himself. Why should tattoos stop someone from being a good real estate agent? In fact, why should tattoos stop someone from being a good anything?

Frankly, we’ve gone way too long subscribing to the idea that looking professional must mean trying to fit in. Who’s to say someone with pink hair, numerous piercings, or, in Mercer’s case, facial tattoos, isn’t fit to do their job? In fact, one of the great things about standing out is the ability to make like-minded customers feel at ease. There’s less fear of judgement when your Realtor looks like you.

Sure, no industry is going to change overnight – Mercer’s pushback is proof of that. But things are changing for the better. It’ll be an exciting day when everyone, no matter if they’re a doctor, lawyer, or real estate agent, feels comfortable enough to live authentically. And an even more exciting day when fellow Realtors don’t take to Facebook to trash a fellow professional for their appearance (isn’t there a saying about glass houses)?

In the meantime, congratulations to Mercer and those like him –– for pushing ahead in this relatively new frontier.

Here’s an adorable family photo, embracing the look:

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Op/Ed

Why the Millennial money anxiety? Our wealth is shrinking faster than past generations

(EDITORIAL) Boomer bank accounts are next on the list of institutions the millennials will kill! There’s plenty of reasons why but is there a way to avoid a generation war?

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Is ‘We’re hella poor’ the inverse of ‘I walked uphill, both ways, in bread bag shoes’?

Maybe there’s something to that old-time religion ‘death and life are in the power of the tongue’ stuff after all. Because I swear, if I have to read one more accredited, empirical study about how yes everyone who grew up with frosted tips and those weird, tiny sunglasses really is as poor as they say, I’ll be hospitalized with Terminal Sigh Syndrome.

Seems like starting a preemptive GoFundMe might be a good idea, because the stories are going nowhere faster than any given water-treading public school teacher. New data from the U.S. Government indicates that wealth is shrinking faster for the Millennial generation than any other in the past.

We’ve been through this for the past decade. College costs are up. Housing costs are up. Fuel costs are up. Employed experience requirements are up. Yet wages are being held down like employers nationwide are ride or die chicks gone horribly wrong. Bubbles are expanding and thinning every which way you look, and level 0 economics students can suss out how effed we are.

The cry heard through all of age group 23-38 has been rising like our sea levels. Now, with the Federales’ information blast on generational wealth and lack thereof adding to the pile, “inflation porn” just took on a whole new, SFW meaning.

But it’s not safe for work is it? No one’s work is safe. No one’s money is safe. Even The Man® says so.

Think the implications of these volumes upon volumes of findings only spell doom for the young and the fundless? Think again, dear reader.

I’m already seeing it now, and so are you. Fast food places are proudly sticking ‘Start at $10, $12, $15’ per hour next to their hiring signs. Apartments are running move-in specials for years on end, and pushing resident referrals like they were caught in a Scentsy scheme.

Smell that? It’s desperation.

People around my age, people with the dwindling modal income of people around my age, and the poor Gen Z’ers watching my generation yell at their grandparents are getting wise. We know that our apartment complexes aren’t at capacity. We know that no one else can take this demanding job without our skills. Sure, we’re stuck. But the adhesive is beginning to trickle upwards.

This is what’s going to happen to employers:

They will have a workforce of well-off, well-educateds who will leave you after the raises don’t come because they have access to the best financial advice, and a safety cushion.

They will be bereft of admin, cleaning, and maintenance staff, because the younger generation can’t afford to live where you need them.

They will have to accept that this means they’ll either lose time by doing things like booking their own flights, or they’ll have to suck it up and start paying people more.

This is what’s going to happen to landlords:

Their properties are going to stand empty longer.

Non-disparagement lease clauses are going to get ignored just like they ignore busted mailboxes.

They will have to accept that this means they’re losing money as less moneyed people flee the areas they concentrated their buying in, and moneyed people end up not filling the gap because those areas are ‘for poors,’ and their investments will stop making returns.

No matter how you feel about the issues, the fact remains: The combination of degree creep, economic inflation, wage stagnation, rising costs of living, lack of thorough public services, and us ‘snowflakes’ being BLASTED with trustworthy news about all of it on such a regular basis means you either are or are dealing with a generation constantly on the edge, and increasingly collaborating on locating outs instead of competing for crummy ins.

The crabs have stopped trying to climb each other out of the bucket, and we’re daring the cook to put his hand in here and make our claw-clickin’ day.

And unless our elders and richers are reaching out with a good salary/benefits/non-crumbling countertop attached to some tongs, these paranoid pincers are going to nip ‘em up GOOD.

We’ve got all the documentation. The pudding is 100% proofed, and ready for flambéing.

Howsabout we throw a match, and get it off the table already?

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