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Ethics

There is No “I” in “Team”

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Photo Courtesy of Tom Leuntjens Photography via Creativecommons.org

Photo Courtesy of Tom Leuntjens Photography via Creativecommons.org

But it Seems There is a “Me”

The concept of teams in real estate is not a new one, but it is open to lots of interpretation. Some teams are agents working together under a single names. Some teams are comprised of an agent who employs some “buyer agents” under their employment contract with their Broker In Charge. And still other teams are lose confederations of agents who share a name and have little economic interplay.

Some of the teams are informal arrangements and yet some are defined by contractual agreements in their brokerages. But they all have one thing in common – they are often viewed less than positively by the single agent practitioner.

Who’s Number One?

Part of the reason for this contention is the way we market services in the real estate community or achieve recognition. Our fascination with awards, and sales volume, and being number one in our marketplaces causes some friction when a team advertises as if they were a single individual. or when the team leader claims the total production for themselves and applies those numbers to advertising, marketing, and awards programs.

Since teams come in a wide variety of sizes and flavors, the idea of there being a comparison between them as teams , or comparing them with a single agent can obviously cause some confusion for the consumer.

Should a husband-wife team be measured by the same yard stick we use to measure the agent who works with a team of three listing agents and 5 buyer agents? Should any of them be compared with a single agent? In many instances the only thing some of these groups have in common is the use of the word ‘team’. So if  they claim to be number one without qualifying that they are a team or explaining the group in which they are number one, are they meeting the “true picture” requirement of our Code of Ethics? Obviously it would be a little silly to list the type of team in every ad . You would have to have ads that read “The Number One 5 person Team”  or “The Number One Left Handed Sales Agent Team”, and yet it is easy to understand how a single top producing agent, might feel perturbed about a 4 person team that has only the name of the Team leader in its ad where he claims to be the Number One salesperson in their market.

So What Can We do?

I realize that this brings to mind a lot of questions, and I wish I had an easy answer for them. To me , nominally there should to be the disclaimed that there is a team in any advertising to begin to reach a true picture. And I’m the type of person who would probably want to advertise the size of my team (though maybe that’s just a guy thing). But what do you think as an active practitioner?

So I would ask your help in answering some questions starting with the first and most obvious question – is this an issue for you or in your marketplace? Do you think its OK for an agent who operates a team to advertise under their name without the word “team”?  Do you have a team? How do you advertise?What kind of disclaimers do you think are appropriate? Is there team in your area that advertises in a manner you think is inaccurate?  What do you think is the right way to inform the consumer?

I look forward to hearing your answers…

Bill is an unusual blend of Old & New - The CEO Century 21 Advantage Gold (Philadelphia's Largest Century 21 company and BuzzBuilderz (a Social Media Marketing Company), He is a Ninja CEO, blending the Web 1 and 2.0 world together in a fashion that stretches the fabric of the universe. You can follow him on twitter @Billlublin or Facebook or LinkedIn.

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13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. BawldGuy

    April 15, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Hey Bill — My first thought was, could the public find a way to care any less about this issue?

    Especially as a seller in this market, I’m looking for results, which means I don’t care if you’re plain ol’ Bill Lublin or Russell Shaw’s team. Do you consistently get the job done?

    The rest, in my judgment, is a bunch of 8th graders whining about whether the guy was safe or out in an intramural softball game.

    When I was at a large brokerage I once lost out to a couple teams for production awards. I netted six figures more than the heads of both teams.

    Nice trophy Big Guy. 🙂

  2. Bill Lublin

    April 15, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Jeff; I love that you always boil things down to their most practical issues – the cash we earn for doing the job properly! And that is a tough point to argue.

    But I wonder how the seller feels if they thought they were getting the top gun in town, and instead end up with a team member, who might not be the same stellar quality….

  3. BawldGuy

    April 15, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    Bill — Some teams would indeed bring that reality to sellers. But if a relatively big time producer is unhappy because his 87 deals a year was eclipsed by the eight man team’s 249 deals, the seller is probably not gonna get inferior results from the team.

    That brings us to wonder who’re really the major whiners here. My nomination goes to those who’ve just moved from a deal a month to two deals monthly. Their mindset remains in ‘recognition’ mode, when increasing their batting average is what matters.

    This falls under what Grandma taught me shortly after she learned I was to be married.

    “There’s only two people who you should always ensure are happy to see you coming — your wife and your banker.” That’s funny, and I laughed at the time, but over the years I’ve found it to be unerringly true.

    Trophies are cool, I like ’em too, but in the end they sit on the mantle collecting dust. Besides, I’ve yet to get a banker to accept them as a deposit.

    Make sense?

  4. Stacey Harmon

    April 15, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    This issue became basically a non-issue when the brokerage I worked with decided to not have awards (they had the benefit of starting fresh after an NRT buyout and they could set the culture at a new independent brokerage). Problem solved. Another great side benefit was that the coordination of the monthly, or quarterly, or annual awards no longer needed to be done – we gained back almost a whole half an employee who no longer had to worry about printing certificates and getting crystal engraved (and then re-engraved because it was really a team award instead of an individual award)- stunning how time consuming this is. Most of the independent brokers in my area have adopted the same “no award” policy. In fact, I don’t even see it much in the franchise brokers either (used to be pages of accolades in the paper years ago…all but gone now). Instead, now the brokerages just fight over how market share is calculated and which brokerage says they are #1.

  5. BawldGuy

    April 15, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    Stacey — As the owner of my firm, all of our awards carry the likenesses of dead presidents. 🙂

  6. Missy Caulk

    April 16, 2009 at 10:27 am

    I think some agents are more wowed my awards than others. Mine are all in a bankers box in my basement. Seriously

    I remember the first time I made Platinum at Remax it meant nothing to me until I made it alone not counting my teams volumn.

    Yes I advertise Missy Caulk & Team on all my stuff except Twitter and FB.

    Teams always evolve and I am in the process of evolving mine. I might be wrong in who but I think Brian Buffini did a study a few years ago and divided the types of teams up. It was interesting.

    I love my team it affords me the opportunity to do what I love and them what they love to do.

  7. Matthew Rathbun

    April 19, 2009 at 9:12 am

    The single best thing our Association has done was to distance themselves of production awards.

    Here’s my thing about teams – I love them. I liked them even when I was a single agent practitioner. I like them because that means (hopefully) when I called the team, the agent I spoke to was the best suited for that transaction.

    I like them know, as my mindset about real estate practice expands, because it “can” allow an agent with 25 years of wisdom and experience partner with a new agent who may be more inventive and technically proficient. They “could” learn from each other and be a power house.

    Unfortunately, the teams I typically see are either family teams -or- people of similar demographics partnering. I really think teams will be the prevailing mindset in the future. I just hope the do so to encourage diversity.

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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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