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.