How Professional Are You?
When it comes to being a respected professional, you have a reputation to protect. Bad behaviors by other agents can spoil the way you are perceived by your potential clients. Act unprofessional to another agent or sales associate, and your name might be smeared forever. By Michael J. Pallerino
Dorrie Freiman still thinks about the conversation. No matter how many times she replays it in her head, the comment made by a Realtor on the other end of the phone line doesn’t change: “You better pay me my commission.”
Paying a commission was never the issue. The real issue was that Freiman, director of marketing and sales at the Waterview Tower and Shangri-La Hotel in Chicago, couldn’t remember having ever met the Realtor. In fact, she never did. As it turned out, he mentioned the Waterview to a prospective client who had shown some interest in the property, and he wanted to make sure he was going to get his due.
“I couldn’t believe he said it,” she recalls. “He didn’t take his client to visit us. He recommended us. We get Realtors all the time that call, ask what the commission is and then hang up. At some point, you have to ask, ‘what’s driving you, your client or the money?’ We’re finding that more buyers are starting to research properties online or visit places themselves (including the aforementioned Realtor’s client), because they don’t feel they’re getting the help they need. We’re hearing this from the buyers. You have to add value to what you are doing.”
In the ever-changing world of real estate, value can be translated into myriad definitions. But there may not be a more important value than that professionalism, an area many agents and brokers agree needs improvement.
Ever-changing contracts. Misread and misunderstood terms and conditions. Missed appointments. Unreturned phone calls. Incorrect product descriptions. Ask real estate agents or brokers about the sometimes unprofessional conduct – intentional or not – of their colleagues in the field, and watch them squirm, roll their eyes or just plain get mad. Like most industries, the real estate market is not without its share of horror stories regarding agent professionalism. Some agents fall short of conducting business in a respectable manner, let alone above board.
A Miami agent with 30 years in the business tells a story of when she once worked on a contract involving a Realtor who presented himself as not only the nicest agent in the business, but one of the most knowledgeable. Well, let’s just say he was only nice. Midway through the deal, the terms and conditions of the contract he pulled together started to randomly change. To say that nothing added up was the mother of all contract negotiation understatements. To make matters even more complicated and frustrating, the Realtor had no idea what the veteran agent was talking about when she pointed out the discrepancies. In fact, he thought the whole situation was outrageous. When she told him that it appeared that he had never sold a home before, he simply nodded in approval, as if the situation wasn’t uncomfortable enough.
“At risk of sounding cliché, [agents should] following the golden rule,” says Connie Abels, owner and broker of RE/MAX NorthCoast. “[There must be an] understanding that to all of us, time is money. There are several things agents can do to treat each other more professionally. First, it’s respect. Respect that we all have schedules to be met, clients that are late, clients that call at the last minute, keys that don’t work, etc. Understand that anyone can make a mistake. It’s how the Realtor handles the mistake that determines a professional.”
Abel says the little things, and how you deal with them, right or wrong, are how your colleagues and clients will judge you. Take being late or blowing off an appointment, for instance. Most agents or brokers who have been in the business for a reasonable length of time have had this happen. You’d think a simple phone call explaining why you are running late or why you need to reschedule would be in order. Think again.
“I have been stood up by agents on several occasions,” says Ruby M. Ramsey, the Illinois State President of the Women’s Council of Realtors (Chicago Chapter) and owner of RG Ramsey & Associates. “Even after expressing to the agent that you will meet them at the property, if for any reason you can’t make it, just call. Needless to say, the agent doesn’t show up and doesn’t call. This happens often. I make sure I notify an agent in a timely manner, if I find the appointment needs to be cancelled. It’s the professional thing to do.”
Up to code
A paragraph in the “Code of Ethics and Standard of Practice of the National Association of Realtors” should be committed to memory by every real estate agent and broker. It reads: “The term REALTOR has come to connote competency, fairness, and high integrity resulting from adherence to a lofty ideal of moral conduct in business relations. No inducement of profit and no instruction from clients ever can justify departure from this ideal.”
Mabel Guzman, a director with the Chicago Association of Realtors, says all agents know what is ethical and unethical. “It’s that some have been able to get away with it and find it’s not that bad,” she says. “Until they get caught. I think a combination of lack of experience, lack of education and a lack of accountability are some of the reasons. But, the individual Realtor does not see how their actions impact the industry overall. Good experiences infrequently are communicated. One bad experience is communicated frequently over and over.
Show me the way
Bert Oliva, a renowned public speaker, author and corporate trainer, says a real estate agent cannot help anybody if he cannot help himself first. In almost every misstep and miscommunication, there is a method behind the madness.
“You cannot change the situation, you can only change yourself,” he says. “[When you look at why you have uneducated agents in the field] money is not the root of all evil, the love of money is. It’s time that agents team up and work together. It’s all about relationships and finding the answers to questions that you don’t have. It’s about mentoring. Everybody has one.”
RE/MAX’s Abels says professionalism comes down to understanding your respective role and how it plays into the big picture. “The roles of the buyer agent, the listing agent and, sometimes, how they get defined varies in different areas,” she says. “In the ‘burbs, the listing agent puts a lock box on the property and sometimes never interacts with the buyer agent at all. In the city, it’s more common for the listing agent to meet the buyer’s agent and their buyer for all inspections, the listing agent meets the appraiser, and the listing agent meets the buyer’s agent for the final walk-through.”
For many agents, and especially their clients and colleagues, the bottom line is respect. This is a major factor when it comes to the number of inexperienced agents in the field. “The very first thing a new agent should do is to offer to take a lender to lunch under the premise that the lender needs to give a mortgage lesson 101,” Abels says. “And then, the new agent should take a different lender to lunch, to learn from that lender. I tell my new recruits that if they don’t understand how to finance the buyers, they will not succeed. Understanding the loan is as critical to our business.”
Guzman says the easiest step – asking for advice – is usually the toughest for new agents to do. “They should pull the other agent aside and say, ‘I’m new and I may ask you a lot of questions,’ or ‘I may not do everything right, so please let me know if I screw up.’ Cooperation doesn’t only apply to compensation.”
The steps to being professional are not complicated. In the end, it’s just about using common sense and decency. Freiman believes professionalism should be the code to which all Realtors and brokers adhere, first and foremost. “We set a very high standard for ourselves in our building,” she says. “Our architects, our designers…we except and demand the best from everybody. That’s the way it should be for everybody. We need the brokerage community. They are the heart and soul.” C.A.
Director, Marketing and Sales
Waterview Tower &
Shangri-La Hotel, Chicago
312.558.9100, ext. 13
Chicago Association of REALTORS
Bert Oliva Enterprises
Ruby M. Ramsey
Illinois State President, Women’s Council of Realtors (Chicago Chapter)
Broker-Owner, RG Ramsey & Associates