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Op/Ed

Realtor Safety Month kicks off today; how we must change safety protocols

Realtor Safety Month begins today, begging the question: What are we doing as an industry to secure agent safety, and what more can we do?

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September is Realtor Safety Month and one year since the Beverly Carter tragedy. It is time to reflect, to see how our industry has fared in instigating changes to safety protocols.

We do seem to have made some progress in our attitude to safety. I’ve noticed on various Facebook groups that agents are now much more likely to agree we should NOT meet strange prospects at homes. Most now suggest CITO – “come into the office” and request ID before showing.

A conversation on what to do next got heated

A recent poster to a Facebook group elicited over 90 comments and replies after suggesting a National Safety Policy for meeting with internet leads or strangers. The suggestion was that a prospect could not move on to the next agent if they felt disinclined to submit their photo ID; an enforceable policy industry-wide.

It was a spirited discussion with some very interesting and varied responses (this time only one suggesting all agents should be armed!) with, at one point, Seattle Broker, Sam DeBord insightfully breaking down the different dynamics affecting change in our industry:

“Brokers don’t want NAR telling them what to do. Agents don’t want their brokers telling them how to do business. State licensing agencies don’t want brokers telling their agents to do too much. Committees want to vet everyone’s opinion.”

On reviewing all the comments about who should be responsible for implementing a policy (or not), these were the tallies:

NAR 6
Associations 0
Broker 8
Agent 16
Nobody 3

Interesting that no one suggested Associations, because a couple of them have been responsible for instigated the most meaningful changes in our industry in the past year, with the Des Moines Area Association of Realtors announcing its new safety protocol and The Arkansas Realtors Association implemented some new safety protocols, including the Beverly Carter Certified Safety Office Program.

How change is actually instigated

Change is often instigated by traumatic events and/or by those inspired to make a difference. Both these factors played a part in making important changes in Arkansas and in Des Moines in particular:

  1. Ashley Okland, a 27-year-old Iowa Realty agent, was shot twice and killed April 8, 2011 while working inside a West Des Moines model townhouse. Despite a reward that has reached $150,000, West Des Moines police have said they have no suspects.
  2. In October 2014, shortly after Beverly Carter’s murder, Justin DeBruin, previous employer and personal friend of Ashley and Joe Schafbuch, the broker-owners of Century 21 Signature Real Estate in central Iowa created the “Realtor Safety Pledge”. Over 1260 Agents and Brokers have so far promised to limit certain behaviors that could potentially put them in harm’s way.

“Ashley was our ‘one too many,’ and we don’t want another one,” said Robin Polder, president of the Des Moines Area Association of Realtors, who announced its new safety protocol last July.

The protocol is a three-pronged plan to protect real estate agents, as they often find themselves alone in empty houses, with prospective buyers they have never met.

  • A safety pledge for real estate companies and brokers. Most of the city’s largest real estate firms have already signed.
  • A commitment for agents not to show a stranger a home, unless they have met the prospective buyer in a public place and asked them to submit identification.
  • An optional contract for the seller’s which declares that no real estate agent is allowed to show the home to anyone the agent has not previously met and identified.

“We are not in any way trying to hinder a buyer’s capacity to get in a house,” said DeBruin, who helped create the seller contract, “but we do have to take some steps to retrain the public to understand some safety protocols.”

Putting policies into action

California can get everybody to reduce water consumption instantaneously, yet our whole industry can’t seem to work together to keep our agents safe, by implementing a policy of screening and verifying prospects photo IDs?

Changing the consumer’s expectations and our industries standards can happen – the apartment rental for instance, is a perfect example of one that made it so:

Vicky Chrisner, a Realtor from Virginia reported “I was a leasing consultant at an apartment community and I remember when we first implemented the photo ID checking policy, before we would show a home. It was weird, I felt weird, and yes some people got offended. Once I became comfortable, it’s funny how easily the consumer did.”

From Vicky’s observations, what it actually takes to implement change in an industry is a common consensus and the confidence to put policy into practice.

Ask questions, start a dialogue

If you are concerned about safety in our industry, please use Realtor Safety Month as an opportunity to ask questions, open up a dialog at your local and State Association level, because looking at the Arkansas and Des Moines initiatives, it seems like that might be the place to make things happen.

But I solemnly hope that it is not your own local “one too many” that spurs change in your town or state.

(Disclosure – Peter Toner if founder and developer of the safety app Verify Photo ID)

#RealtorSafety

Peter Toner is a third generation real estate agent who has been practicing for nearly two decades. He is the Founder of Verify Photo ID - a safety app that verifies the identity of strange prospects before you meet - in three simple steps; it includes a Safety Monitor with panic alerts.

Op/Ed

4 red-flags to see if you (or your boss) may be an ineffective leader

(EDITORIAL) Leadership is hard as is, there’s no need to make it harder on yourself. Avoid these bad-leader habits and you’ll be golden.

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Being a leader can be tough

Whether you are heading a soccer team, a choir, or a team of young realtors, being a leader is tough. Even the best leaders have character flaws. Under pressure, these peccadilloes are often exacerbated. If you find yourself in a position of influence, your flaws may magnify into strategic disasters.

To prevent such scenarios, it is critical that we dissect our own behavior, not only for the sake of our professional careers, but also for our own conscience and sense of self-worth.

Tips for success

Use the following 4 red-flag-raising behaviors as a blueprint, making sure you refrain from (or rectify) these mistakes as you evolve into a better leader.

1. Wavering on tough calls

Bad leadership 101 is an indecisive leader. A pitiful half-panicked state of ‘I cannot make up my mind’ hesitation. Nothing frustrates a team more.

More poignantly, nothing destroys an employee’s respect in a leader quicker.

Decisions, especially the big ones, need a steadying, confident hand. Buying yourself time, by demanding more research from the team, or hiding behind the excuse of another round of “brainstorming” shall only delay the inevitable. Rise to the occasion; do not be dragged to it by your circumstances. Dignify a problem with a decision!

2. Inefficient communication

This problem is more nuanced than simply bad communication. It may mean three things: under-communication, obfuscation, or over-communication. Try to avoid each like the black plague.
Nothing makes a project stall quicker than an unclear path forward. Make time to explain things to the team, clearly and precisely. Lay down a path. After all, that is your job! No one can be a “leader whisperer” or thought interpreter.

A team should not have to second-guess the direction of an assignment.

Obfuscation stems from the leader’s own lack of direction. Do not call a meeting where there is nothing definitive to announce. What is the operational plan? How should it be implemented? Do not assume that a plan shall present itself during a meeting.

Then there’s the sin of over-explaining.

This is a behavior where the leader drones on and on, wasting vital time, in order to elicit tacit or verbal endorsement of his/her idea. This is the control-freak micro-manager. Efficient communication does not mean more time in the conference room. Efficient communication is more productive in less time.

3. Abusing power privileges

Leaders enjoy considerable leeway to enforce their decisions. However, it is easy to forget that this “power” exists not for the leader to bask in its glory, but to deploy as necessary for the team to operate more efficiently. The possibilities in which a leader can abuse power are countless, and varies wildly, but here are some of the usual suspects:

Humiliating an employee publicly: constructive criticism is an art, delivered with compassion. It requires restraint and strength. Weak leaders have “outbursts”, aspire to be feared by others, and work hard on creating an air of intimidation and un-approachability.

Breaking your own word: Leaders may also make casual promises to a client during a meeting, without owning up to the promise. The leader may then avoid to the agreed upon request entirely, or worse, hand it off to subordinates to deal with. Empty promises make for empty leaders.

Rewarding loyalty: Leaders often play favoritism by distributing assignments and workloads unevenly.

Feigning neutrality: This may seem contradictory to the previous point, but it is not. A leader should take clear sides on arguments (not people) put forward. Not committing to opposing views leaves everyone directionless and confused. There are good ideas, less good ideas, great ideas, and terrible ideas. Which one do you like? Whose is it? Point it out. Give direction and move forward.

Insubordination: Weak leaders often bad-mouth their bosses, behind their back, in order to win cookie points with the team. It shows a lack of dependability, trust, and character.

4. Evading feedback at all costs

If your team cannot express grievances, complaints, and concerns freely, your leadership is off the mark. The most likely cause: YOUR unwillingness to take responsibility for failure. Shifting blame to others for what has gone wrong, attributing harsh decisions (like letting someone go) to “the company” and not yourself, bemoaning lack of resources as an unfortunate scenario where your hands are tied— these are all ways to clamp down on criticism. Seeking revenge on, or appeasing your critics is worse.

If you do not like employees to ask you questions, you should reevaluate your own position immediately. Feedback is essential to growth. To dismiss them as “whining” is going to kill your effectiveness as a true leader. In times of true crisis, you will find it impossible to rally the troops to your cause.

Leader to the core

Keeping these common leadership flaws in mind shall help you become “self-aware,” your best guard against becoming a horrible boss. In the process, it will take you much further—it will inspire you to inspire others, the very essence of great leadership.

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Op/Ed

8 lessons on how to keep work-life balance in your real estate career

(EDITORIAL) Your real estate practice can be overly consuming if you let it. With discipline, you can have a good work/life balance.

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Real estate agent shaking hands with clients over a For Sale sign marked sold.

8In your real estate practice, you have a plate, and you can only put so much onto that plate before things begin to fall off into the cracks. These cracks are what I call “fires” – you know, those things that become emergencies because simply put, you let them.

What I am about to share with you at first glance may come off as cold, however, I believe that with a little thought, some practice, and your own tweaks, you can realize the income you want and afford time with your family – all while elevating the respect you deserve from your real estate clients.

Balancing work and life in real estate is no easy feat.

At no point in my real estate career have I ever allowed myself to appear too eager or desperate for a client, and my clients always felt special and cared for, even though I observed a strict daily schedule. The following is how this can be accomplished:

Lesson one: You know your threshold of how many clients you can handle at once. Your pipeline should be full, and the next client in line for your services should know you’re worth waiting for, and be assured that the same care and attention will be shown to them as soon as they are “next” (never answer a client call while with another client, or this will not work for you). A client became “next” when an offer was accepted on one of my existing transactions. My threshold was originally four clients. If my pipeline was expanding quickly, I brought on agent assistants. As they waited their turn, my assistant held their hand and kept them busy with pre-qualification, buyers agreements, and the like.

Lesson two: When I took on the next client, clear rules of the road were established. I do not leave the house (home office) until 10. I have better things to do with my time than to sit in rush hour needlessly. Some like this time for phone time, however, your undivided attention is not always given, and the possibility of missing vital details while driving and negotiating grows exponentially (as do safety risks). My phone calls were made from 8am to 10am before I left my office.

Lesson three: All of my appointments were set on the half-hour – I’m not sure why, but it worked and I was always on time, as were my clients. The same went for phone calls. Schedule them on the half-hour. You will find, for example, that if you grab lunch at noon, you’re ready for business again at 12:30.

Lesson four: Be home either before or after rush hour. I preferred before. The implied impression of my work hours with my clients worked in my favor nearly 100% of the time. Why? Because I skipped the salesman b.s. of showing them more expensive homes first – I actually took them to the home described in the range they wanted. I set the proper expectations in the first place. I listened to my clients, and they appreciated it. The day they may have waited for my undivided attention gave them immediate results, and they loved it.

Lesson five: If you cannot show your buyers their next home within five showings, either you’re deaf to their needs and wants, or they don’t intend to buy – if you’re experienced, you know it when you see it, and they’re wasting time for the next customer in your pipeline. Place them on a drip campaign with a buyer’s agreement in place, or refer them.

Lesson six: Decide when your workday ends. Mine was at 5:30. However, from 8:30pm to 10pm I would work on offers, faxes, enter listings, answer texts, and emails.

Lesson seven: Not every client was right for me. For example, I have a zone of travel. The markets I work in. Working outside of that zone takes up time from my clients in travel, and time from my family. Refer them, or if you’ve tapped into a further away zone, build your team. Teams can grow and shrink as needed.

Lesson eight: You are a business. Real estate is a business. You have business hours, and you have you time. My you time was with my family, but I love marketing, so I added a 6th half-day for my marketing, blogging, and the like.

As my business grew, my referral network grew. I utilized an assistant until an indie brokerage was established. We had a clear code of how we conducted business, encouraged our buyer’s agents to adapt their business model as I’ve described, and never allowed an unseasoned agent to handle more transactions than their limit. Inevitably my threshold grew to six, but it took time.

With the technologies we have today with instantaneous communication, it’s very easy to allow things to creep onto your plate. So my final lesson is to utilize an assistant frequently.

It is possible to work and live but it takes discipline and a set of business rules for yourself that you’re accountable to besides just the Code of Ethics. It’s about being honest with yourself, and never being so desperate that something can’t wait a minute.

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Op/Ed

Tips to become one of those people who is good with their money

(EDITORIAL) In real estate, it’s difficult to anticipate which years will be the busy ones and which will be eerily empty. So how do you manage money?

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I’m a firm believer in making mistakes. Specifically, the all-out, crash-and-burn kind. You know those people who say “own it” – yeah, that’s definitely me. That’s the sort of high-risk, high-reward mentality that leads to really thrilling moments onstage and in life. And when the reward is that intense, so is the loss. It’s the same with money.

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My formal background is as a professional opera singer. The level of training for a full-time career in the field includes Olympic-level physical, emotional, and intellectual training. Opera singers don’t use microphones, which means they must use their bodies in a perfect, practiced physiological balance to become a human megaphone.

They learn several languages, with enough facility to jump into rehearsals with colleagues who are relative strangers, singing about passionate love, and infuriating politics while maintaining that physical balance in a foreign tongue.

Unlike the Olympics, regular opera singers don’t get endorsement deals. (Okay, famous tenor Plácido Domingo is sponsored by Rolex, but that’s a particularly singular example.) So despite its extreme training, opera is a medium that requires its artists to manage themselves as freelancers. Freelancers and be-your-own-boss types, I know you feel me:

It’s difficult to anticipate which years will be the busy ones and which will be eerily empty.

Preparing for financial uncertainty

So how do you manage finances with so much up and down?

Invest time instead of money. I rethink how I’m approaching my everyday needs. I’m talking about what methods of transportation I use and how often; I’m talking about regular doctor’s visits or self-care; I’m talking about any payments that you owe regularly. Is there any way to reassess seemingly non-negotiable expenses? Can you refinance a mortgage? Can you drop the gym altogether and commit to really learning and developing an exercise routine? Find something convenient you can replace with a free education; the Internet is an insanely abundant resource and should be milked for information.

Develop multiple interests and invest in them. I am a professional singer, but I also love to cook and am serious about it. I write frequently and across a wide spectrum of interests. I read avidly. When you invest in other ideas and interests, you make yourself a more powerful candidate for the workforce, and you give yourself more ability to seize opportunities. Who knows – you might find yourself pivoting careers.

Design a financial contingency plan before you need it (but go broke at least once). Do you have a place to crash if you can’t afford your own place? How much money do you really need to get through the month? How far can you stretch $50? If you can’t define your limits, you’ll never be able to develop a plan with thoughtful security.

What’s life without risk?

The freelancers who truly succeed are the ones who failed. It’s that Oscar Wilde quote, right? “Experience is merely the name men give to their mistakes.” And so have I before, and so will I again. The only way forward is up. I’m going to take my experience along with me for the next chapter. I hope mine will help color yours a little, even if with a passing thought. Dare to lose it all — and see where it leads.

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