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Ethics

Are You A Professional?

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What Makes You Professional?

There is a lot of discussion about what makes people professional. We have the Code of Ethics to help us determine the standards that we need to apply to our real estate practices. But in a contact intensive business like ours, the manner in which you interact with others is often the matter of courtesy (or lack of courtesy) that establishes or diminishes your professional reputation.

Etiquette 101

Of course dealing with people politely and appropriately should be second nature for all of us in any situation but sadly that’s not always the case. Many times we aren’t sure what the appropriate thing is, and other times we just don’t realize that the impact of an action might be considered impolite by someone else. As a result of that Emily Post and Miss Manners made a bunch of money writing books about etiquette .

To try to address that need for the real estate professional, NAR, through the Professional Standards Committee developed “Pathways to Professionalism” a guide to professional conduct for real estate agents and brokers. Unlike the code, Pathways is more of an etiquette guide for REALTORS covering issues of professional courtesy. The document, readily available at REALTOR.org is broken down like the code into three sections, Respect for the Public, Respect for the Property, and finally Respect for Peers.

Respect for the Public

In the first section  Respect for the Public  agents are given guidance to how to respond to people in a courteous and professional manner. Agents are told what would be considered as appropriate when dealing with issues that arise during property showings. Pathways talks about how to react when a buyer doesn’t want to see a home that you scheduled an appointment for, or when you are simply delayed (quick clue – call the seller’s agent and explain the situation), and the need to be respectful of people’s cultural differences .

Respect for Property

In the section entitled Respect for the Property, the practical aspects of showing either an occupied or vacant property is discussed, from leaving lights on or turning them off to adjusting thermostats.

Respect for Peers

And in the third Section Respect for Peers, we talk about those things that annoy all of us- the need for agents to identify themselves when they contact other REALTORS, or the need to return phone calls promptly and courteously. It even talks about avoiding faxing or emailing tons of documents because they might be a burden on the recipient.

So Value Your Reputation!

Actually, the most important line in the document comes at the end – and is one of the things REALTORS need to remember wherever they are in the business. And its really something every good business people knows right away – so I though I would l finish the post by quoting it – “Real estate is a reputation business. What you do today may affect your reputation – and business – for years to come”

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Mack

    January 21, 2009 at 8:16 am

    Showing a little respect for your peers certainly goes a long way especially when it come to negotiating with that agent. I have seen agent be so adversarial that there is probably no way the coop agent even want to deal with them.

  2. teresa boardman

    January 21, 2009 at 10:21 am

    How we treat our peers is important. The co broke relationship should not be adversarial but it often is. We serve our clients best when we think about their best interests and work well with the other agent.

  3. Bill Lublin

    January 21, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Mack & Teresa – You guys get what so many people seem to forget today – that cooperation is a privilege, not a right – and like any other privilege, it should be cherished and maintained properly to avoid deterioration/
    Thanks for visiting and sharing

  4. Suzanne Gantner

    January 21, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    I firmly believe when you are courteous, kind and pay it forward, you will receive the world back. You should be nice to everyone you meet and see. It pays off in the end tenfold!!

  5. Danilo Bogdanovic

    January 21, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    What you give is what you get. If you want to be regarded and treated as a “professional”, act and treat others like one.

    It’s really that simple.

  6. Brandie Young

    January 21, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Thanks, Bill. Nice post.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if one day there would be absolutely no need to remind someone of this? I think “mean people suck” pretty much sums it up, and that can include rude at times.

    It seems we see an uptick in good behavior following cataclysmic events, i.e. September 11th. It’s a shame it doesn’t stick for a greater length of time. I think the current economy and it’s humbling effect is also bringing courtesy back into vogue, but for how long remains to be seen.

    Cheers!

    Brandie

  7. Vicki Moore

    January 22, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    I don’t like being treated like a punching bag though. Some think that because I’m a professional I’m going to tolerate anything they say with a smile. That really bugs me.

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Ethics

The problem with a self-policing industry: you have to be a narc

Ethics violations in the real estate industry can make or break a Realtor’s career, depending on the severity, so it would stand to reason that all would be mindful of the rules, but there are always individuals in the field that act as if the Code of Ethics is irrelevant.

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An animated discussion on ethics training

“Does anyone else find it ironic that NAR – the trade association for Realtors – has to mandate that members take an ethics class every four years?” An agent who attended one of my company’s broker opens yesterday posed that question to the wine and cheese grazing attendees. Of course, that opened up an animated discussion on the value of etchics training and the lack of enforcement when the rules are violated.

One agent volunteered that the guy sitting next to her in her last ethics class played games on his cell phone and then cheated during the test at the end of the class. Seriously, dude? You cannot even pay attention long enough to pass what should be the easiest test you’ll ever have to take in your career? Perhaps he was just seeing how far he could push it by cheating during an ethics test, to see if anyone else around him caught the extreme irony there. None of the other agents around him – including the agent he cheated off – turned him in and the instructor didn’t notice.

This same agent later called one of my sellers and tried to convince him to break a listing contract with me, because he had a “guaranteed buyer” in the wings. The seller was an attorney, and this bozo tried to get me cut out of the deal, offering the seller a reduced fee to dump me. The seller held firm and directed the agent to call me, then the seller called to let me know about the conversation.

“But you know if you file something the other agent will know.”

It gets better. After the deal closed, I requested paperwork from our local Board of Realtors to file an ethics complaint. The person in charge said, “But you know if you file something the other agent will know.” Gee. Really? I asked her to send the paperwork over anyway.

I called the seller/attorney and asked him to repeat the conversation to me, because I was documenting it to file a complaint. He turned wishy washy on me at that point and his story changed from “The other agent tried to get me to dump you as the listing agent to cut you out” to “Well he really only asked a few questions and I told him to call you. He probably didn’t mean any harm by it.” So there goes my star witness, who doesn’t want to rock the boat.

I didn’t file the complaint. I resorted to the “turn the blind eye but never trust the sleazeball again” path. And that is what happens to almost all ethics issues I hear about / see in person.

That’s what happens when you have a self-policing group of “professionals” who would rather not “narc” on a fellow agent. After all you’re probably going to end up on the other side of a deal from this guy some day, right? The guy in my example has sold two of my houses since that run-in. Why tick him off by filing a complaint and going through all that hassle? If he stops bringing buyers to my properties then my sellers ultimately lose, right?

Boiling down the CoE

The NAR Code of Ethics takes up pages and pages of tiny print, and it runs each year in their trade magazine (I think it’s the January issue). Does anybody read that? Probably not many. I’d argue none of us ever should have to read it again. Simply follow this advice instead. The thousands of words in the Code boil down to one thing: Do unto other agents, and consumers, and clients, what you would have them do unto you. It’s the Golden Rule. Simple. Well, obviously not, for many agents and brokers.

The sad part is the agent in my example had no clue how close I was to filing that compaint, and if he did know he’d probably scratch his head and wonder why his actions were “wrong.” Making us take a one-day class every few years won’t “make” the unethical agents suddenly operate ethically. Most of them just don’t get it.

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Ethics

Ethics hearings in private a disservice to consumers?

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Fight Club and real estate

For those of you that saw the movie ‘Fight Club’ you’ll remember that Rule #1 is “You do not talk about fight club,” followed closely by Rule #2, “You DO NOT talk about fight club.” Which, believe it or not, brings me to today’s topic: The Real Estate Code of Ethics and Arbitration. Article 17 obligates Realtors to resolve fights disputes with another Realtor through arbitration (not litigation). Arbitration is conducted at the local board level, and I am not aware of a local board that doesn’t require arbitration to be confidential.

I respect that public internecine warfare amongst Realtors isn’t in the interest of our industry, and doesn’t belong in the public spotlight. I’m not here to advocate the collective airing of our dirty laundry. That said, I wonder if our collective agreement to keep our concerns confidential can inadvertently harm the consumer and ultimately makes all of us look a little shoddier?

To find the first arbitration guidelines created by NAR and distributed as a set of suggested rules for boards to follow, we have to travel all the way back in time to 1929. NAR’s first Code of Ethics & Arbitration Manual wasn’t created until 1973, and it credited a 1965 California Association of Realtors version as its model.

Appalling conduct

I can think of two instances in the past year where I was so appalled by the conduct of a fellow Realtor that I went to the trouble to inquire about how to lodge a Code of Ethics complaint with my local board. After weighing the time required to make a competent complaint and comparing it with the best case outcome (a closed-to-the-public hearing in which they were found to have violated the code of ethics), I decided not to pursue a complaint in both cases. My association’s bylaws (and probably yours) give it the power to discipline any member based on the results of a Code of Ethics hearing, “provided that the discipline imposed is consistent with the discipline authorized by the Professional Standards Committee of the National Association of REALTORS® as set forth in the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual of the National Association.”

“Sanctioning Guidelines” – (Appendix VII of Part 4 of the 2011 manual for the very curious), guides member boards to impose disciplinary consequences that are progressive and fair, taking all considerations into account. Sample first-time disciplinary actions include suggestions of a letter of warning, a fine (amounts range from $200 to $5,000 depending on the severity of the violation), and attendance at relevant education sessions. Not to sound defeatist, but a confidential letter of warning and a fine of around $200 doesn’t seem like an outcome worth investing much of my time in.

Practicing in the internet era

Given that we live and work in the internet era, and review sites like Yelp abound, it seems a bit odd to me that a local board might know of an agent with problem behavior that is documented yet choose to make that information unavailable to consumers. My understanding is that the results of a code of ethics hearing are confidential with disclosure authorized in a few situations, none of which deal with informing the public.

Many of my fellow colleagues feel that the best response to a bad agent is to be patient and give them enough time to work themselves out of business. I can respect and understand their hands-off approach. But what about the damage that individual does to our industry as a whole? While we whisper, warn in confidence and know amongst ourselves how awful they are, the public doesn’t get the benefit of our perspective. Deprived of it, they turn to consumer review sites like Yelp.

How do you think we, as an industry, can help consumers in their quest to find a trustworthy agent?

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Ethics

Realtors, we really need to get over ourselves already

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A letter from the child of a Realtor.

Real estate now vs. 1987

In Real Estate, some things are always changing, like financing, education, laws, rules and technology. The two that will always remain constant, as long as they are within the law, are following our clients’ directions, and working with their best interests in mind.  I’m not sure we always follow through with this, though.

Some of us knowingly take over priced listings.  Some of us take listings that are out of our area of expertise.  Some of us won’t show short sales or REOs.  Some of us won’t show homes with low co-op splits.  Some of us don’t have Supra/e-Keys, and miss out on those listings entirely.

Putting our interests first

When these things occur we are putting our own interests first, not our clients’.  We may think that by having as many listings as possible is a good thing, that’s what we’re taught after all, isn’t it?  It may not matter that some are overpriced, eventually, whether one month or four months down the line, the price will be reduced.  It’s just a matter of time and money, for our clients, after all.  The same can be said when we take listings outside our area of expertise, just to add on to our inventory.  If we don’t know what we’re doing, on a short sale listing, for example, it will only cost our clients a lot of time and money.  A lot.

By eliminating certain houses our clients see, that may already fit their criteria, we’re taking away their choices.  Distressed sales account for close to 40% of the market.  This is probably higher in some local markets.  There is no legitimate way to ignore roughly 1/3 of the homes being sold.  Co-op fees are often a touchy subject, especially when they are, not “enough.”  If everyone utilized a Buyer Broker Agreement that stipulated what their fee was, the issue would take care of itself.  Not being able to access listings with the use of Supra/e-Keys is a choice.   Choosing not purchase one will mean agents will not be able to access Fannie Mae (and eventually, probably additional Gov REO homes) along with the listings that are already using them.

Our priorities versus theirs

We totally need to get over ourselves already.  We are not bigger than our clients.  Our priorities are not more important than theirs when it comes to the actual listing and selling of homes.

Recently, my awesome parents dug through a few boxes and rounded up one of my first art projects. About 25 years ago I did the poster featured above about my Mom, and her Real Estate career.  It was for an Open House (no pun, honest!!!) for the elementary school where I attended first grade.  It was just, what she did according to me way back then.  Things are way more complicated now, than when I was six.  There’s a heck of a lot more paperwork for one.  But the same basic principle still applies.

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