Leslie McDonnell still fumes when she talks about the time when two potential buyers found their way into one of her listings without their agent accompanying them.
Another agent had taken buyers into one of McDonnell’s listings in Vernon Hills last year. The house was perfect for these buyers. But when the agent and buyers opened the door? They found another pair of potential buyers checking out the home’s updated kitchen and master bedroom.
Problem was, the buyers’ agent wasn’t with them. That agent instead had given the buyers the combination to the residence’s lockbox. He then told his clients to explore the home on their own; the agent worked in Chicago and wasn’t able to – or didn’t want to – make the drive to Vernon Hills that day.
McDonnell, an agent with RE/MAX Suburban in Libertyville, couldn’t believe it when the first agent called her and explained the situation.
“What if the seller would have walked into their home only to see these buyers, with no agent, walking around?” McDonnell said. “That was my listing, and that agent showed no professional respect when he gave his clients the combination to the lockbox.”
Worst of all, the first two buyers never even made an offer on the residence.
McDonnell understands that this is a rare occurrence. The vast majority of real estate agents with whom she works are professional, she said. They respect other agents and do whatever they can to make sure deals close. This is important in today’s challenging residential real estate market.
But in any profession that has as many practitioners as does residential real estate, there are bound to be some agents who lack the basic professionalism required to make the home-buying and selling process proceed smoothly.
These agents display a wide range of unprofessional behaviors: they may return phone calls four days late; they may show up to showings in jeans and a sweatshirt. Others bring clients to homes without first making appointments, and still others miss their appointments and only call when they’re already 15 minutes late.
Some of these infractions are worse than others. But all of them make life more difficult for the vast majority of agents who practice professional behavior at all times.
Those agents who are sticklers for doing things the right way, leading by example and not letting unprofessional behavior pass without pointing it out to the offending agents are the best ways to combat this behavior.
“Having a license is not all there is to being a Realtor,” said Craig Hogan, managing broker for Keller Williams Gold Coast in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. “Having a license does not equip you by any means to be a professional in our industry today. It gets you in the door. But it is incumbent on individual agents to realize that they are professionals and that they should be held to a higher standard. If you want your clients and customers to view you as an expert and professional, you need to act like one and to perform like one.”
There’s a reason why customers view real estate agents as being slightly more professional than used-car salesmen, Hogan said: too few display the market knowledge, manners and skills of high-level professionals.
Real estate agents handle the biggest financial transaction of most customers’ lives, Hogan said. Because of this, they need to conduct themselves as true professionals.
Those who don’t will struggle. That’s especially true in today’s challenging residential housing market, Hogan said.
“I’m the managing broker of a 115-agent firm after having been an agent for 16 years. Now that I’m on the other side of the desk, I see some of the most unprofessional behavior that you could ever imagine,” Hogan said. “Professionalism has always been important in this business. But today’s climate is a little dicey. Agents need to be on their game. And so many of them, quite frankly, are not.”
It’s not that Hogan sees many agents acting unethically. It’s more the little things that bother him. And he sees many of them. He’s a member of the Grievance Committee of the Chicago Association of Realtors. This means that he hears firsthand the complaints from members of the public and the association about real estate agents who are acting unprofessionally.
Even small things, though, can make a big difference, Hogan said. For instance, what if an agent waits a week to return the phone call from another agent who is working with a couple interested in touring a listing? What would this agent’s seller client think about the Realtors’ level of professionalism?
And what if an agent showed up to a first meeting with a potential customer wearing blue jeans and gym shoes? It’s unlikely that this possible client would generate a good first impression of the agent.
Then there is Hogan’s pet peeve: Those agents who show up late for appointments. Professional agents, Hogan says, don’t just show up on time; they show up early. This is why Hogan only gives his fellow agents 15 minutes before he calls a scheduled meeting off. If the agents don’t show up within those 15 minutes, the onus is on them to reschedule, Hogan said.
“I may be a stickler for professionalism, but it is so important,” Hogan said. “If you ever wonder why your buyers and sellers won’t follow your lead and instead ask their buddies at the gym for real estate advice, take a look at yourself. What are you doing wrong? Are you doing something that gives the impression that you’re not a professional?”
Acting professionally extends to the way agents treat other Realtors, Hogan says. In some ways, it’s even more important for agents to treat their fellow professionals with respect, he said.
After all, agents are far more likely to bump into the same Realtors day after day, he said.
“A lot of agents think that everything rises on the seller and buyer,” Hogan said. “The truth is, if you are out in the marketplace, you will come face to face with the agents repeatedly. There is a small pool of agents who sell most of the houses out there. If they don’t view you as a professional, you might struggle in this industry.”
The power of professionalism
Maria Perez, an agent with Century 21 Lullo in Addison, says she follows simple rules when it comes to acting professionally: she’s always on time for meetings; she’s unfailingly polite; she listens attentively to her clients and fellow agents; and she’s always honest.
Perez tries to be professional in her appearance at all times, too. She always dresses appropriately, and she makes sure to wear her office logo pin whenever she meets buyers, sellers or her fellow agents.
“You want to always look like a businessperson,” Perez said. “A transaction will go smoothly if everyone acts professionally. If they don’t, that’s when you run into problems.”
Perez said that most of the agents with whom she’s worked have been professional. But there are times when agents slip up, she said.
For example, an agent once showed her buyers one of Perez’s listings in Bolingbrook without first contacting Perez. The agent did this even though the listing sheet clearly spelled out that the seller required 24-hour notice before showings.
The offending agent, though, was working with a buyer who needed to purchase a home in less than a week. Facing that pressure, the agent bypassed the 24-hour request and showed the home. Unfortunately for the seller, the home wasn’t in showing condition. Dishes weren’t cleaned. Clothes weren’t put away. Beds weren’t made. To no one’s surprise, this clutter and disarray turned off the potential buyer, and a possible sale was lost.
“I talked to the agent about it, and she was sorry,” Perez said. “But the damage was done. The house wasn’t ready to be shown. It was very specific: the listing sheet said that we needed at least a 24-hour notice before showing the house.”
Other times, mistakes aren’t so much the result of unprofessional behavior but rather happen because agent’s today are working so hard to close sales in a difficult market.
There was the time, for instance, when the lockbox key to one of Perez’s listings went missing. After checking the box, Perez tracked down the last agent to show the property. That agent had mistakenly left the residence without returning the lockbox key.
Perez fortunately had a spare key.
“Sometimes these things happen,” Perez said. “When agents are busy they can rush things. Sometimes they forget things. It’s hard to always be on top of everything when you’re trying to do so much at one time.”
Perez has also encountered agents who show her listings but don’t leave their business cards behind to let Perez know that they’ve been there.
“When they do that, how do you know if they even came to see the listing?” Perez said.
When Perez does run into unprofessional behavior, she makes sure to not overreact. Most times, she’ll meet with her broker to discuss the issue. She’ll also call the other agent if that agent’s behavior somehow upset her clients.
But Perez will always discuss the issue calmly with the offending agents. Most times, she said, those agents were either having an off day or simply were rushing and made a mistake.
Perez said that she rarely encounters agents who act unprofessionally on purpose.
“Most of the agents I see are extremely professional,” Perez said. “Even in this market, most agents do things the right way.”
Much of the lack of professionalism that RE/MAX’s McDonnell says she sees stems from a lack of education on how to handle today’s tough housing market.
This often shows up in short sales. Many agents are dealing with these transactions for the first time, and McDonnell says that she can always tell when she’s dealing with an agent who has little experience with these complicated transactions.
“The agents today have to be more educated. That goes hand-in-hand with professionalism,” she said. “If you don’t have the education needed to deal with this kind of market, the transaction will suffer. The most professional agents are always taking the time to educate themselves. They are taking classes to learn how to deal with this new market. Today, continuing education and professionalism are linked.”
McDonnell often sees agents putting short-sale homes on the market for 40 percent of market value. This, of course, is no way to close a short sale. The odds are sky-high that the banks won’t accept a sales price that low.
“You see this every day,” McDonnell said. “You know the odds of an offer like that getting accepted are almost nil. It’s not in the realm of possibility that the bank will ever take 40 percent or 50 percent of market value. It just won’t happen.”
What usually happens in such situations? The house goes under contract, briefly. When the banks reject the offer, they go back on the market, this time with a more reasonable sale price.
In essence, the uneducated, and unprofessional, agent has discovered a more realistic asking price, but has done so at the expense of both the buyers who thought they were going to land a house and the sellers who thought they were going to move one. Both parties in the failed transaction will now be disappointed.
“They’ve used the first-time buyer one to come up with a price that is acceptable,” McDonnell said. “That’s simply not a professional way to handle a short sale transaction.”
Like Perez and Hogan, though, McDonnell said that most of the agents with whom she works are professional. They’re working through a tough market and are unwilling to take shortcuts.
Unfortunately, those agents who don’t act professionally taint the entire real estate business, McDonnell said.
“It’s true that 90 percent of the agents out there are very professional. But the unprofessional ones really hurt our reputations and our relationships with each other,” McDonnell said.
That’s the one positive of today’s tough market, McDonnell said: it’s weeded out many of the agents who weren’t committed to the industry, who didn’t want to invest their time in continuing their education. Those agents who are still selling homes in today’s challenging market are far more likely to be the most professional.
“The people who weren’t interested in being at the top of their game are largely gone now,” she said. “There is less competition now and a better quality of agent. The industry isn’t as diluted with all these part-time people who got into real estate so that they could make a quick buck.” C.A.
Century 21 Lullo