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Ethics

The Blog or the Newspaper?

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The Daily Spin


Reporters looking for drama

Some of the posts on my business blog get the attention of local media and the reporters call.  What I find fascinating is that they often already have their story and they call people until they find someone who will corroborate it. I think it has something to do with needing two sources.

As a Realtor I know what is going on in the local housing market long before it is on the radar of the local or national news media. They report on it, I live it every day as an industry insider. I know my city and I know the market.

Just the facts

I publish numbers on my blog. They come from our MLS and as a responsible journalist I site my sources and I keep my numbers and am willing to explain them to anyone who asks. I double and triple check everything before I post.

Recently I wrote a post about home prices by neighborhood.  I put it in draft form and set it to post a few days later.  The day before I posted a local newspaper had a story about home prices in one of the neighborhoods and stated that property values had gone up in that neighborhood.

The numbers I posted the next day indicated that values had gone down.  My own experience indicates that values have gone down. Most of my listings are in the same neighborhood and I have been tracking prices for years.

A few of my readers commented on my post and others sent email asking me if I had read the story in the paper. I had read the story but I read it after I wrote my own post. I explained my numbers to my readers and I am standing by them.

Reporters can be wrong

Working for a newspaper does not make a reporter right. They don’t own the news.  The newspaper article had commentary by local agents.  They call and the agent likes the idea of having their name in the paper so they run with it. I tend to be a bit more cautious. I am comfortable with skipping the free publicity and keeping my integrity.

I have a background in statistics and I excel at MS Excel. I used to work for the government and creating reports from data was a large part of my job. I stand behind my numbers and am used to the idea of defending them. I am not intimidated by the publications that don’t agree with the numbers on my blog.

We are the media too

There really isn’t any need for damage control either.  Like I wrote in my post I just publish numbers I don’t put any spin on them and I don’t include much commentary other than to explain where the numbers came from and to point out obvious trends. For some I have become the “source” for St. Paul housing stats.  I leave the spin and the drama to the media and the local board of Realtors.

Bloggers are also the media; ideally they report on or write about their area of expertise. While the local newspapers and radio stations are laying people off while citizen journalism is growing daily.

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Full time REALTOR and licensed broker with Saint Paul Home Realty Realty in St. Paul, Minnesota. Author of StPaulRealEstateBlog.com, Columnist for Inman News and an avid photographer.

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Lisa Sanderson

    January 28, 2009 at 8:51 am

    There is something about the printed word that mesmerizes some people. I wonder when the digital word will surpass the built-in credibility of print media?

    I often have people quote & manipulate statistics from our community newsletter, statistic that they don’t remember I published, in an attempt to make their *case* for a higher price (or lower if they are on the buying side). I stand by my numbers too but it seems people often read what they want to see in the words and numbers.

  2. Bob

    January 28, 2009 at 9:01 am

    I wouldnt go as far as to say bloggers are part of the media. With the media, there are generally accepted standards when it comes to publishing. Whether or not they are adhered to is akin to Realtors and the COE, but the fact remains that most bloggers dont have a clue about responsible publishing.

  3. Jim Duncan

    January 28, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    Teresa – You and I share a similar position in our respective communities in that the print/radio/etc seek us out because we provide consistently credible information. In the same vein, a lot of Realtor associations have developed and earned reputations for producing consistently spun information.

    Another benefit of blogging about the market is that your numbers are there for everyone to see – transparency brings power.

    Bob –

    Some bloggers are part of the media, just as some members of the “old-school” media abide by generally accepted standards of publishing. Many bloggers I know are more accountable, sometimes far more accountable, to their readers than are the disinterested and disconnected publishers.

  4. Carson Coots

    January 28, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    I agree – you don’t need to own a newspaper or have a staff to be credible. You just need to be consistently accurate (or you may eventually be called out.) I think that the quality of the story and information will drive the perception. Besides, when you have your personal good name on the line, you wouldn’t throw information around haphazardly (and I think the public knows this) We assume accuracy. I can count the real hyper local news content producers in my part of Houston on one hand.

    Local bloggers could look for the drama too… and probably will as competition increases and ‘just the facts’ is not enough to gain readers. Consistent drama is what drives old school media, and it creeps into blogs.

    We are most definitely the new school of reporting. Anyone who chooses to can participate.

  5. Laura Cannon

    January 28, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    I love the term “citizen journalism.” As a citizen journalist, I take my work very seriously, double and triple check my facts, and am slowly gaining a reputation in my neighborhood for being a good source of information.

    I am not sure that “most bloggers don’t have a clue about responsible publishing” (Bob) is a fair observation. Probably some do, some don’t. I find that intelligent people tend to track down the intelligent and responsible blogs. The public is a little more savvy than they’re given credit for.

  6. Bill Lublin

    January 29, 2009 at 3:47 am

    Teresa;
    You are so right – bloggers are “citizen journalists” and if we maintain the appropriate standards and print the facts as reporters, our position in the media world is no different than any other credible journalist –

  7. Bob

    January 29, 2009 at 10:07 am

    You are telling me that the majority of bloggers verify sources and check facts before hitting the submit button? The reason for the suit in Miami was for that very reason – facts were not checked. Did any of the RE blogging community bother to bring that up?

    Most of what RE bloggers publish are more like letters to the editor – opinion – not objective reporting.

    Citizen journalist is a catchy phrase, but it doesn’t apply when you what you are reporting about impacts your business and income. That is a clear cut conflict of interest and doesnt qualify as journalism. Real estate bloggers have been among the worst when it comes to being objective because there is a vested interest in the outcome.

    There is a huge difference between being a writer and being a journalist.

    — Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.

    from the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.

  8. Jay Thompson

    January 29, 2009 at 11:59 pm

    I’m not a journalist. Heck, I barely qualify as a writer. I’m a real estate broker who writes a blog.

    That said, I do check every fact I publish. I do cite my sources. That’s more than I can say for a LOT of the mainstream media.

    Am I always right? Of course not. And if I’m wrong, I’ll freely admit it (something the MSM seems loathe to do).

    But the bulk of what I post on my blog is my opinion. But I try to back that up with verifiable data.

    I know for a fact that local television and print reporters regularly read my blog and others for story ideas. They call frequently. Many times they won’t print or televise what I say. I think that T nailed that — it’s because what I say doesn’t jive with what they want to print. I also know which reporters are prone to misquoting and/or manipulating what I say and simply don’t talk to them. I’ve got a cool feature on my phone where I can just send their calls straight to voice mail which I delete.

    To their credit though, there are some local reporters here who do a great job. They never misquote and they present both sides of a story.

    I think newspaper and television get instant (and often misplaced) credibility due to their longevity. They were once the only source of news and for many, despite what us blogger types would like to believe, they are still the only source of news.

  9. Jenn Giraldi

    January 30, 2009 at 8:24 am

    Lets face it, the days of newspapers are done. Online blogging is the future and it looks like we are already in it. In terms of crediblity, it is up to the author. Nice Post and thanks for sharing this thought with us!

  10. Jim Duncan

    February 1, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Bob – furthering this part of the discussion … for the most part, real estate blogs are transparent with their biases; not so much with traditional media platforms.

    Read this post from the Wikinomics blog, specifically this comment that was pulled from this blog:

    “Look at your own newspaper some time with the eyes of a reader who does not receive a paycheck from the NYT – opinion disguised as fact, ‘news analysis’ (contrary to the views of your editors, your readers are capable of assessing information and drawing our own conclusions), constant editorializing and, sad to say, bias in what is or is not “fit” to print based on ideology.”

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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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