It’s obvious that the real estate industry is changing. And it’s changing more rapidly than ever before. But where is it going? And where does it need to go?
Those questions are at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds – consumers, agents, brokers, regulators and even Inman.
So here’s what I envision (this is part one of a three part series)…
Barrier To Entry
The barrier to entry for agents will be dramatically increased. A full semester if not year of real estate school including real-world projects and exercises will be mandatory. Passing a hard test and doing well on the real-life projects and exercises will be mandatory in order to get a real estate license. The schools and curriculum will be developed by regulators outside of the real estate industry with some input from the real estate industry.
Note: If all or most of the input comes from the RE industry, then the same people who just want a large number of bodies to fill up their office cubicles and the organizations that are more focused on member count than member quality will just try and squash this type of change. That’s why I think that there should be heavy involvement by those outside the industry who have no affiliation, direct or indirect, with anyone/any organization within the RE industry.
Once you’ve earned your real estate license, you must work underneath a broker who closely supervises you for one year. Much like an appraiser’s apprenticeship, you can do the ministerial acts, but you are closely supervised and everything must be signed off on by your supervisor – the broker in this case.
Once you’ve completed that one year of apprenticeship, you can go out on your own. But you’re still supervised by your broker. During the next year (we’ll call it “Year 3”), you must start working on your broker’s license. By the end of Year 3, you must have completed your broker’s license training and passed the broker’s test. If you do not have your broker’s license by the end of Year 3, your license will be suspended. If your license is suspended and you don’t get your broker’s license within 12 months of your license being suspended, you have to start the entire process (school and apprenticeship) from scratch.
If you think this is too much, consider this…it takes one full year of full time school and approximately $15K to get your cosmetology license in order to merely cut hair.
The current level of continuing education is a joke for a number of reasons. For one, there’s way too little of it. It’s needs to be more comprehensive and harder. Increase its scope, number of hours and how hard the test is. And make it a yearly thing. And if you don’t do it in time or pass, there’s no “grace period” – your license is suspended. If there’s a medical reason or certain hardship, that could be an exception to the rule, but “I forgot” or “my dog ate my keyboard” won’t cut it.
Secondly, it’s needs to be more relevant. There are continuing education courses here in VA that are outdated by 2, 5 even 9 years. That’s right…some of them are from 1999. (I can hear the Prince song now) That’s ridiculous. Real estate has changed dramatically in the last 6 months to a year, let alone in almost a decade. There’s nothing about short-sales, foreclosures, bank-addendum, “as is” clauses, BPOs, etc., not to mention technology including laws and ethics involved with that, anywhere in the curriculum.
The continuing education should also be created and administered by the schools responsible for the initial real estate licensure. Should NAR and/or local REALTOR associations wish to have their own continuining education in addition to the state continuing education for REALTORS only, by all means, go for it!
We’ve got to get out of this “once you’re in, you’re in” mentality and get to a “yes, you got in…but you have to earn your stay” mindset.
Oversight and Enforcement
It’s embarassing for the real estate industry how much you can get away and not lose your license. Aside from doing something so over the top and wrong that a criminal would say “OH yeah…THAT’S wrong”, all you get is a slap on the wrist and possibly have to pay a small fine, but you get to keep your license. This goes for the state real estate boards when it comes to licensing regulation and enforecement as well as REALTOR Code of Ethics enforcement.
This has to must change if we as an industry are to hold ourselves in a higher regard and be seen by others as “professionals”. With the barrier of entry being “so easy that a caveman could do it” and no CoE or state law enforcement, there’s no reason for the majority of agents and brokers to hold themselves to a higher standard. For some of us, we do hold ourselves to a higher standard because that’s where our moral compass points. But not everyone is like that and not everyone’s moral compass points north.
I suggest that if you get an ethics violation (different from an ethics complaint) or are convicted of breaking the law (Fair Housing, etc), your license be suspended for one year. If you get a second ethics violation or conviction, your license if permanently revoked. The exception to the first part (one year license suspension) is that if the violation is premeditated and so severe (similar to murder in the first degree vs. involuntary manslaughter), your license would be permanently revoked.
If NAR would to try and put themselves and REALTORS above just regular licensees, they would have even more strict CoE enforcement and even have an “Internal Affairs” division that policed its member anonymously. Why? Because I know for a fact that there are brokers that tell their agents to NOT report other agents for fear of retribution and revenge on the part of the agent that violated a CoE or broke a law and/or their broker and other agents in the local market.
I’m not saying we should all start accusing agents we don’t like of CoE violations, but I am saying that those who break the law or violate the CoE should be dealt with and reprimanded without fear of retribution on the part of the agent or broker who “blew the whistle”.
Conflict of Interest, Quality vs. Quantity
One of the problems is that there is a conflict of interest – organizations such as NAR find strength in numbers and they don’t want to admit that REALTORS ever do wrong because it may make us “look bad”. NAR needs money in the form of dues and their current business model is keep the dues at “$X” and get the most amount of members in the association as possible.
Here’s my suggestion…double, triple even quadruple the yearly dues. You probably gasped, but hear me out…
If you up the dues and continuing education requirements, the agents who do 2, 1 or even no deals per year who treat this as a “hobby” or “part time gig so they can sell a home to their brother or save commission when selling/buying their own” will drop off.
The producing agents that actually do real estate full time and make the money to pay for those dues will stickaround. Those agents will understand the value of continuing education and they’re the ones that treat real estate as a profession and a career. These are the agents out in the front lines every day busting their ____ and doing 90+ percent of the total volume.
Their current business model focuses on the former, not the latter. That’s insulting… NAR claims “call a REALTOR professional today”, but how can you use the word “professional” when describing someone who only sells a few homes per year or does real estate part-time?
By raising the dues, level of standards and requirements to be a REALTOR, NAR would take in the same, if not more money in dues and turn the association into what it should be – an association of REALTOR “professionals”. This will elevate the “REALTOR” status and help bring some credibility to the association, the trademark and us, the members.
(Stay tuned for Part Two)
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.
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.
Ethics hearings in private a disservice to consumers?
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.
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?
Realtors, we really need to get over ourselves already
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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