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They Deserve Better

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Above is the video I shared at Xplode San Antonio today, which was part of the Texas Association of REALTORS conference. This wasn’t a video we had made available to the public, but after my experience today, and a conversation with one of the attendees, we at HearItDirect decided this message needs to get out.

If you are a real estate professional, and you’re not outraged by Raymona’s story… you need to reconsider your career. Seriously. If you’re guilty of some of the stuff Raymona describes, you need to reconsider your career.

Let’s look at this video together a bit.

Raymona

Because of privacy issues, I can’t tell you a whole lot about Raymona. I can share that she is from the Dallas area, and was involved in a short sale within the last year or so. I can tell you that she isn’t a wealthy woman. She isn’t one of the elites of society, not the most educated person in the world, not a real estate investor.

Over the years I’ve been in this industry, I’ve heard from agents who told me that the reason why they love selling real estate is to help people just like Raymona. Yes, it’s satisfying to help that Wall Street hedge fund manager buy a $6 million luxury home (and it pays well). Yes, it’s fun to help that young doctor-lawyer couple buy a starter home in that great school district. But I have heard people tell me time and again that there is no satisfaction like helping a working class family buy a home for the first time in generations. I’ve heard agents tell me that they’ve had clients cry with relief when they got out from under the financial burden of a home they could no longer afford due to layoffs, and that it was moments like that when they knew they really helped another human being that real estate was about more than just money.

If anyone fits the mold of one of those people who really needed a professional’s help to get out of a bad situation, Raymona does.

And she got screwed.

Horrorshow

The  “listing agent” that Raymona ended up with did not serve her well. Rank incompetence is a kind way of putting it.

The agent planted a For Sale sign, told Raymona that she put the listing on the MLS. Raymona expected her agent to do more for her, like help stage the home for sale, advise her on the sale, and market the property. From the story above, because again, I can’t get into all of the details, the agent took two (TWO!) photos, and over the course of six months, claimed to have had “a couple of appointments”. Raymona asked the agent for feedback from these buyers, and the agent couldn’t provide any.

Consider this exchange:

Q: What was your biggest frustration with the selling process?

A: Not knowing what was happening with it, and having to ask questions constantly.

By all measures, the listing agent was almost totally ineffective. She did barely any marketing. She managed “a couple of appointments” over six months. She did not communicate with her client, to the point that Raymona had to pester her for information. But she did get the house sold, right?

This is where things get even worse. I don’t believe that the listing agent was merely incompetent. There’s good reason to believe that the listing agent may have defrauded Raymona. At a minimum, the agent was involved in a massive conflict of interest. She was brought in by “an investor group” that was buying short sales in Raymona’s neighborhood. Wonder of wonders, six months later, the same investor group bought Raymona’s house at a $12,000 discount from the original listing price.

Folks… to someone like Raymona, $12,000 is a huge sum of money. It’s life-changing kind of money.

And sure, you can blame Raymona for not demanding more of the listing agent. You can blame her for not realizing that she has the right under both the law and the NAR Code of Ethics to representation by someone who looks out for her interest. You can blame her for not being smart enough to cut the listing agent loose earlier, or for not bringing a complaint when it should have been obvious that she got played. You can do that, but you’d be a heartless prick.

She’s exactly the consumer who thinks the well-dressed, well-spoken real estate professional knows better. She’s exactly the consumer who trusts real estate agents to do the right thing. Well, she won’t be doing that again anytime soon.

So She Got Screwed. Why You Telling Us?

Raymona got screwed over by a listing agent whose actions were at best incompetent, likely unethical and quite possibly criminal. Why is this something that the rest of the industry, filled with brokers and agents who are not incompetent, not unethical, and would never engage in the kind of behavior Raymona’s “agent” did should care about?

Two reasons.

First, recognize that before Raymona fell in with the investor group and this agent, she contacted a REALTOR through Realtor.com. And she never heard back. Raymona tells us that she thinks two days, 48 hours, is a reasonable amount of time to wait for someone to respond to her inquiry. We’re not talking about superhuman effort here, to get back to a web lead within 30 seconds. We’re talking about responding within two days. I can only wonder if Raymona’s story would have been different, and her opinion of real estate agents not quite so low, if that agent had responded to her inquiry.

Thing is… this lack of responding to leads, lack of returning phone calls and emails, is not exactly uncommon. As Bob Hale, CEO of HAR, shared at the same Xplode conference, the people at Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia and other portals say that anywhere from 50-70% of all leads never get an answer.

I can’t blame the agent who didn’t respond to Raymona. Who knows what was going on in that agent’s life? She may have been swamped with other clients. She may have had an issue at home. So this isn’t about her. But when 70% of leads don’t go answered, perhaps never even get looked at because “Realtor.com leads are garbage”, this isn’t about one agent in Texas. It’s a systemic issue.

The consumers deserve better. They deserve better. Not just the Raymonas of the world, but even the rich hedge fund manager deserves better.

Second, how many of you would be shocked and surprised if you didn’t know about the investor group connection? If the listing agent just took a couple of photos, put up some listing into the MLS, and did nothing else? Could you be when there’s a website actually named BadMLSPhotos?

The lack of effort put forth by some real estate agents — many of whom are REALTORS(r) subject to the Code of Ethics — is not a secret or a mystery to anyone who has spent any time in the industry. That they’re not unethically fronting for an investor group doesn’t excuse the piss-poor “work” done for a client. And you all know at least a couple of examples like that in your own market.

The whole “Raise the Bar” movement can sometimes seem like a circle of hens clucking tut-tut at crappy agents. You’ll sometimes get posts in the Facebook group that negativity sucks, and why can’t we all just encourage best practices instead of mocking or calling out the poor ones.

My answer is that if all that negativity, all that calling out, all that mockery results in one fewer Raymona, it’ll all be worth it. Because she deserved better. The consumers, the buyers and sellers who have to put up with crappy service deserve better. The great agents who are painted with the broad brush of incompetence by disappointed consumers because of the bad agents deserve better.

We all, every one of us connected to real estate, deserve better.

Consumer-Centered Real Estate Starts With Listening to Them

I was one of those people who knew that lack of professionalism was a problem, and that all the broker-centric models and agent-centric models and data-centric models and tech-centric models needed to evolve into a consumer-centric model. But while I knew it intellectually, I didn’t really understand that there are real human stories at the end of the inside-the-industry strategies. You could say I knew it, but I didn’t feel it.

I suspect you may be like me. It’s one thing to know that some buyers and sellers are ill-served by unprofessional real estate agents. It’s another thing to put a face and a voice to “consumer”. You cannot listen to Raymona’s story and not feel outraged. You cannot listen to the stories, both positive and negative, from consumer after consumer that I’ve heard doing HearItDirect without feeling encouraged on the one hand and fired up on the other hand.

You cannot talk about consumer-centric real estate without listening to the consumers first. I understand that HearItDirect, the company I’m involved with, isn’t the only outlet for listening to consumers. I understand that not everyone can make it to one of our consumer panels. I understand that not everyone works for a company that is able to conduct focus groups and put faces and voices and names to buyers and sellers that you all work for.

But everyone can talk to buyers and sellers. Every broker can do surveys, and every agent can simply make phone calls to customers and listen to them. And if you’re in Southern California on October 1, you can come to our event and listen to those men and women who deserve better from all of us.

Whatever it is you do, and however you do it, listen to the consumer. They’re real human beings, and many of them really need the help of a great professional.

They deserve better. Let’s give them that.

-rsh