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The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations: The Inman Person of the Year Edition

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Blogging, social media, and work activities have been at an all time low. Big part of the reason is that the above is my view right now, except that you can’t see the turquoise waters of the Caribbean glistening like a carpet of gems…. So yeah, getting on the ye olde laptop is not real high on my list of priorities. Plus, I’m procrastinating from Big Picture Think stuff I have to do… I’ll get around to those at some point.

But the recent Inman News feature naming the Person of the Year is not something I can just wait a week to talk about. So let’s do that.

A few notes before we begin:

  1. I love Brad for all that he does, for his insights, for his commitment to the industry. He’s definitely one of the good guys, and I’m proud to be a part of his media empire from time to time.
  2. Brad’s people at Inman, from Amber Taufen on down, are all good people with good intentions and good judgment (most of the time) and I respect the hell out of all of them.
  3. As a sign I saw recently said, drinking rum before noon doesn’t make you an alcoholic; it makes you a pirate. Nonetheless, the three or four rum punches that went down the hatch making me a pirate may be in full effect right this minute.
  4. There may also be a real question about sunstroke at play here given my activities for the past three hours or so.

Having said that, let’s get into it.

I get where Brad is coming from. He wants to acknowledge the “unwavering optimism, fortitude and determination” of the average REALTOR. He wants to let his readers in the industry recognize their importance. I get that.

But by naming the average REALTOR as the Person of the Year, Brad and Inman News exacerbate one of the great problems of the real estate industry: the soft bigotry of low expectations. It is clear now, and becoming clearer by the day, that until and unless we address this problem, all other problems cannot actually be solved adequately.

The Panegyric to the Everyday REALTOR

Brad opens his piece by describing a conversation with his wife, Yaz, in which she explained that her more-than-usual perkiness was her channeling the “REALTOR confidence” persona of charm and engagement. He then goes on:

It was a well-deserved compliment to the average Realtor who must constantly remain vibrant and present to make it in a tough and evolving business.

Despite the changes wreaking havoc on other parts of the industry, the everyday agent has remained central to the transaction. Nearly 90 percent of consumers rely on one when buying or selling a house, and despite robots, mega-portals and new software, they will be around for a long time to come.

In part, their persistence and determination has saved them from disruption.

That’s why Inman wants to honor the Everyday Realtor as our Person of the Year.

He continues, perhaps thinking of Yours Truly:

Oddly, cynical consultants, associations execs, tech entrepreneurs and brokers will often poke fun at the characters in the real estate agent community. Incredulous. Consider, it is agents who indirectly fund most of the corporate salaries, their perks, business travels and excesses.

The fat cats should be on their knees with gratitude.  The paid staffers are not working weekends, nights and even, at times, holidays. Eight days a week with a smile.

Perhaps the fat cats should be on their knees with gratitude. And speaking as a “cynical consultant”, I can say that I’m quite often on my knees with gratitude… but not to the Everyday REALTOR. In fact, this particular cynical consultant is of the opinion that the fat cats ought to be cloistered with their priest, rabbi, or other spiritual advisor begging for forgiveness from God, Allah, Buddha, Mother Gaea, St. Hillary, or whoever their personal deity is, for their role in the continuing Original Sin of real estate: the soft bigotry of low expectations.

The Truth About the Average REALTOR

It is now going on 19 months since NAR published the DANGER Report. The A1 problem identified in that report:

danger-a1

This isn’t my cynical ass being cynical. This is the national trade group of all REALTORS, made up of REALTORS, being honest about the single biggest problem in the industry.

Further facts to chew on, from the 2015 NAR Member Profile:

I’m not a mathematician, but that means the average REALTOR made $16.95 per hour assuming a 40-hour workweek and 50 weeks of work. That’s better than minimum wage, unless you live in Seattle, but for your reference, here’s a list of jobs that pay $17-20 per hour, which includes:

  • Benefits Specialist
  • Seasonal Electronic Sales
  • House Cleaners & Maids
  • Supervisor, Front Desk/Guest Services; and
  • Nanny

Then we have this fun fact: the response rate to Calls for Action for members of an Association whose core mission is political advocacy to protect private property rights and homeownership was 18.3% in 2015, 5.5% in 2014, and 12.8% in 2013.

Do we need to rehash again how many a REALTOR today would be a hairdresser, except that they couldn’t deal with the education requirements and the much higher continuing education requirements of that industry, so they picked the one with the lowest possible barrier to entry that nonetheless requires a license?

Brad is factually incorrect that Association Execs and Brokers, nevermind cynical consultant types, “poke fun” at the characters in the real estate agent ranks. One cannot honestly describe what they do as poking fun. It is closer to a combination of weeping while drinking rage-filled tequila shots through tightly clenched teeth in order to forget the soul-wrenching pain of having to deal with the sheer stupidity, ignorance, corruption, unvarnished greed, and resistance to learning among the characters in the real estate agent ranks. We should recognize the strength of human spirit in the fact that more brokers and managers and Association Executives are not full-blown alcoholics and meth addicts given what their daily lives are actually like.

The idea that the “average” real estate agent is occasionally being pushy or cheesy because of their dedication to helping people buy and sell homes is laughable on its face for anyone who has any experience with the “average” real estate agent. Those unfortunate souls on the front line of the war against incompetence recognize that the average, everyday agent cares nothing whatsoever about helping anyone buy and sell homes: they only care about the commission check, which they believe should fall from the sky like manna with no work on their part.

Fuck that. In fact, fuck the average real estate agent. They are nothing more than parasites on the most important transaction of a family’s life.

Who we should be praising, recognizing, and acknowledging for their dedication are not the average REALTORS but the superior REALTOR. They are the men and women who actually give a shit and show it every single day, swimming against the current that rewards quantity over quality, rewards shortcuts over conscientiousness, and unethical bullshit over abiding by both the spirit and the letter of the Code of Ethics.

In Praise of Elitism in the Real Estate Industry

I have been fortunate enough in my career to associate mostly with these superior REALTORS. Their superiority doesn’t come from the numbers-game of production figures, although many are top producers. It doesn’t come from the size of their commission checks, though many earn incredible amounts of money. And some of them are occasionally pushy and cheesy.

But every single one of these individuals I have met share one thing in common: a genuine, heartfelt concern for their clients and their communities.

Their charm, liveliness and engagement are rooted in that core concern for other human beings… quite unlike the fake used-car salesman charm and “engagement” based around commission checks of the “average” REALTOR.

These are the REALTORS who would advise a client not to buy, because the timing isn’t right, even though they could use the $30,000 commission check. They’re the ones who would risk losing a listing by telling the client the truth about the market, instead of making inflated promises just to get yet-another-yard-sign with their name on it. They’re the ones who show up at Association committee meetings, suffering through hours upon hours of boredom, because they genuinely give a shit about the mission of the Association: advocacy for homeowners and professionalism of the industry. They’re the ones who choose to write a check to RPAC, instead of buying a new flatscreen TV for their den.

They’re not always right, they make mistakes, and they have their prejudices and misconceptions. But they really, really give a shit. And that makes all the difference.

They don’t sit back and say, “I already know everything there is to know about real estate.” They are constantly learning, constantly seeking to improve, not just for a bigger paycheck but because they know that properly serving their clients is impossible with continual improvement. They don’t reflexively resist change saying “that’s the way we’ve always done it” because they recognize that they need to investigate everything that helps them serve their clients. They might not know every single jot and tittle of the Code of Ethics with all of the Standards of Practice, but they have internalized the spirit of the Code: fair play, transparency, duty to consumers, duty to one another. And they live it every day, with every transaction, every interaction, every communication.

These superior REALTORS are the ones who aren’t satisfied with just churning out some automated CMA for a client. They know and want to know and want to keep learning what’s special about their neighborhoods, their markets, their cities so their clients have the very best advice they can offer. They use technology to make their operations more efficient, but they do not use technology as a crutch to avoid learning and polishing the core skills and knowledge they need as an advisor, a confidant, a project manager, and a psychologist.

They bring value every day, to every transaction, that no computer algorithm ever could. They don’t worry about being replaced by some bot, some AI, by Zillow, by whatever-else-is-coming because they recognize that real estate isn’t about homes and properties and data and analytics but about families and human beings wanting to achieve a better life.

These are the elites of the real estate agent community. And they have their counterparts in the brokerage space. Although it would be far easier to just become a headcount-pimp turning a blind eye to incompetence, lack of ethics, lack of standards just to get that monthly desk fee, there are those brokers and managers who let go of top producers who don’t measure up. There are those who choose to demand excellence, demand ethical behavior, demand that agents give a crap about their clients — then back up the demands with training, guidance, coaching, encouragement, and discipline. Those brokers leave money on the table every single day, but they do it anyhow because they realize their profession isn’t to warehouse average agents, but to produce superior REALTORS.

These men and women are the ones the fat cats ought to be down on their knees thanking every day. They are the reason I continue to work in this crazy industry; it sure ain’t the average REALTOR, I’ll tell you that.

The expectations are high to join the ranks of these individuals. Sure, the state will give you a license with minimal education and preparation. Sure, the REALTOR Associations will make you a “member” if you can fog a mirror and pay the dues. But to be one of these Elite REALTORS requires far, far more.

Let us praise these extraordinary men and women, not the average, everyday real estate agent who we know to be a problem, not a solution, to the woes of our industry. If we’re going to name anyone as a Person of the Year, let it be those that the average can look up to for inspiration, not the masses of marginal agents who threaten the credibility of the industry.

Guess some of you might hate me for these opinions. I’m cool with that, because that puts you on the side of the crappy average REALTOR who bring shame on the industry. I’ll side with the elites, the superior real estate agent and broker, the ones who give a damn about the consumer, about their clients, about their communities, about the industry. It is only when their example of excellence becomes the expectation for everyone in the real estate industry that we’ll start to find solutions to some of our thorniest problems.

The soft bigotry of low expectations is a sickness. We must fight it. And the first step to solving any problem is to recognize that we have a problem. Let it begin.

-rsh

42 COMMENTS

  1. As always, brilliant Rob! Labor is labor. We tried to honor that. Plus, maybe our expectations can be elevated if we elevated how we value and compensate for that labor. Have a shot on me pal. Safe travels.

  2. Rob, I have never appreciated you more than I do right this very minute. I just stood up and gave you a standing ovation. I actually referred to myself as an “average agent” in my comment to Brad’s piece…and I am not an average agent at all.
    Just had my hair cut in Ohio yesterday. I always ask what they had to do in order to be able to stand there and cut my hair. (Ohio requires 1800 hours of prep for licensing!) and then I always tell them what real estate agents have to to in order to guide and facilitate one of the most major decisions in life…buying or selling homes.
    I tell them about my admiration for their industry as they are obviously WAY MORE CONCERNED about consumers’ hair, faces and nails…than the real estate industry is about what (for most) is the biggest financial/life decision.
    Merry Christmas, Rob!
    Thanks for taking the time away from the sun to share this brilliance!

  3. Nailed it! Quality over quantity!! Superiority defined by a commitment to humans scrambling to make sense of local real estate markets that don’t match what the media reports. I applaud both you and Brad for calling attention to the plight of our industry and acknowledging those who work hard at this gig to do right through superior knowledge, superior fortitude, and superior character!

  4. I run a small company. 70 agents. I push EVERY DAY that we exist for customer service. I never award the top sales person, nor the most production. We us Real Satisfied and award customer service, and (actually) the lowest price sell (treat clients with dignity and service regardless price point). I get what you’re saying.
    HOWEVER, I not you say you’ve rarely met a marginal agent, that most of your dealings have been with superior agents. It would seem to me that if the world is full of mediocre agents, you would’ve had more dealings? I agree we have too many part time agents, those looking for a quick buck, and those who don’t know their craft. TOO many, but I’m not sure I think we are dominated by those agents.
    As for Education, we spend 10 times as much for Annual Dues as needed to renew our license with Continuing Ed. And the offered classes are a joke with little educational value. Or, maybe I’m just an above average broker he studies our craft all the time, so the CE is just too basic for me?
    BTW – I agree with your premise….

    • Hi Greg –

      I said I was fortunate to associate mostly with superior agents; I have met a few, both personally and professionally, of the average no-good REALTOR. 🙂

      My feeling is that the industry is dominated by the less-than-stellar, but that’s not just my feeling. Steve Murray of Real Trends has been speaking about “facilitators” vs. “counselors” for years now. Most brokers and AE’s will tell you (privately, in secret, maybe) that I’m not far off the mark.

      I love what you’re doing and applaud it; to me, that’s the standard that should be the expectation at least for REALTORS if not for all real estate agents.

  5. I can’t resist … so I will start with the apology (I’m sorry) … I don’t consider myself a superstar or way ahead of the curve and while my wife thinks I’m special (well, most of the time) I guess I would qualify as an “average REALTOR” … so as soon as I can get to the guy who does all my marketing materials and the other guy who keeps my web site current, I am splashing those with the wonderful news that I have been named Person of the Year by Inman … I will hopefully be able to enjoy that for a little while before I go out viewing property with my clients the day before Christmas … Happy and health holidays to all the people who keep us honest (and a special tip of the hat to you, Robb).

  6. In one word, amen Rob. In many words, the demise of this industry will result from what has been defined as a Realtor by organizations whose success is measured only by the sale of yet more memberships to yet more “licensed real estate people.” Their clear objective? To have a Realtor in every home. The obvious lack of measured agent performance standards is nicely hidden away and locked-up by my all-time fave, the MLS. Why? In order to encourage and feed the attraction of yet more inexperienced novices that have been welcomed into the industry by another big fave of mine, the NAR. Why? You guessed it, to collect yet more membership fees. The seemingly total disregard and level of care for the consumer real estate experience is perpetuated by these greedy membership-driven entities and it does not appear that anything will change anytime soon. What would we do with the roughly 700,000 agents this industry doesn’t need nor does the consumer want? I have an idea. So as a result of this Holiday rant, I am now pouring a tall rum and fresh pineapple juice over crushed ice, and thank you very much.

  7. Out Standing! Required reading for any/every Realtor member regardless of “ranking”.

    Whatever the equivalent of Blog Mic Drop is, you’ve earned it.

  8. Now that you have gotten pass the preamble…

    … Tell us how you really feel.

    What’s the solution?

    You’ve acknowledged that we have a problem.

    What’s next?

    I enjoy the “average agent” being in the industry. It’s one of the gifts of the market. How else would I know who to prospect if the “average agent” doesn’t mess up a relationship through their inexperience.

    I hope you have a great holiday season.

    Godspeed,

    AW

    • I don’t know if I have THE solution; I can only propose multiple attempts at solutions and hope that one or more will stick, you know? Having said that, I’m working on a few. 🙂

      The general thrust, however, is this: while I may not be 100% certain what the solution is, I am 100% confident that the organization whose core founding document (Preamble to the Code of Ethics) contains the words, “go beyond ordinary commerce” ought to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. That’s a huge focus of my practice: in helping REALTORS be what they’re meant to be — superior examples of professionalism.

      Stay tuned to these pages. 🙂 We’ll get to those issues, again and again and again and again and… you get the idea. Nothing moves that fast in our industry, as you know. 😉

  9. L’chiam Rob. If I drank I would have one with you. This is probably one of your best blogs ever. You and I have had debated the mediocrity before and I think we both agree that nothing will change unless there is a total revision of the expectations, requirements and standards that the public, NAR and we as brokers demand!!

  10. Great post Rob – this is not just a problem in our industry, it is a problem in a lot of areas in our country. Our country wasn’t built on “average”. It was built on innovation, hard work, and a desire to succeed or at the very least better ones circumstances. It would be great if we could recognize and admit this problem in all areas of our lives. Merry Christmas and Happy (and thought provoking) New Year to you. Pam

  11. Boom! That was the sound of a shot being fired across the bow of the enemy ship “Average Agent” by the good ship USS Hahn. Better get your Phalnax anti-missle platforms tuned Rob! ;D

    Great post sir!

  12. F*** your elites and this bs post, everything you said is subjective. Elites my ass, any one can sell a fucken house that’s why its so easy to get a license. Brad is right and you are wrong you little prick. Who made you the judge of the average agent? Can you honestly say all average agents are parasites? no so stfu. The shit you spewed is wack…. You’re a good writer but this is caca at its finest. Try posting this online with a bigger audience and you’ll be ripped a new one boy.

    • Here, let me fix that for you, Mr. Average Agent Advocate:

      “F*** your elites and this BS post! Everything you said is subjective. Elites my ass! Anyone can sell a fucking house. That’s why it’s so easy to get a license. Brad is right and you are wrong, you little prick. Who made you the judge of the average agent? Can you honestly say all average agents are parasites? No! So shut the fuck up. The shit you spewed is wack…. You’re a good writer, but this is caca at its finest. Try posting this online with a bigger audience and you’ll be ripped a new one, boy.”

      I can only imagine what your listing advertising copy is like. With advocates like you, average agents across America can rest easy knowing YOU are on the case!

      And the prosecution rests, your honor.

      • You dropped the F-Bomb first, you said F*** that and F*** average agents and likened them to parasites and worse… I only spoke as you did as I was following your style…

        All bs aside, the average agent is not a parasite, the majority are good people like most human beings, sure there are bad apples everywhere but that’s life. Have a great 2017!

        The defense rests….

  13. Rob, simply…bravo!!

    While I agree, Inman’s intentions were well meaning, the bigger issue of what you raise is one that seems to be less addressed as a whole, every day. We see little movement on a grand scale to take the average REALTOR and make them great (better yet, require it)….yet, we hear so many within the industry that say that is their intentions….but is it? Large brokerage groups that advertise training and mentorship and the such, yet the industry still seems to remain status quo…what gives?
    With that said, there are indeed outstanding people in the industry that proactively do their part as an individual and along with the collective others that “give a shit”….and with you, I stand along side them and applaud. The efforts of few are overshadowed by the mass that are “average”, and while there may be suggestions to change that, I am (unfortunately) not the most optimistic that we will see much change in the near future.

  14. AAA-
    You may not understand the use of “parasite” in this post. It isn’t implying they are bad people.
    noun
    a person who habitually relies on or exploits others and gives nothing in return.
    Think of it as hangers on, or riders of coat tails.
    Now … about your career as a defense attorney ?

  15. Amen, Rob! I’m excited about the Commitment to Excellence program that NAR is working on. It’s not a complete or immediate solution but definitely a step in the right direction.

  16. Rob, thank you for taking the time to address these issues and illustrate the depths of your perspectives and critical thinking. Hopefully, through your thoughtful remarks, you will turn a few heads, bend a few minds, and bring some deeper discussions to the boardrooms, conference tables, lunch meetings, and peer-to-peer conversations within our industry, whereby, smarter solutions are raised, change for better is formulated and adopted – a push to revise the criteria for entry and expectations on all levels within our industry. It should never have been about pushing heads through the threshold with low requirements, driving memberships for volume, and charging more and higher fees for building profitability for a select few. Was this ever to benefit the agent and the industry, making us better, stronger, more polished and professional? There lies much of the issue of the average agent and the “parasites” who lack training, critical thinking, and care. Without advocacy, passion, consultative approaches, and support in re-defining a higher expectation, there will always exist average.

    Keep up the great work, Rob!

  17. As always, what a great discussion. Raising the bar, never been more important for the industry. We call it “raising the real estate IQ”, but it more than that. Thinning out the ranks, consolidation. The market works in some ways to do that, but the barriers are low and there is no policing, so the unqualified, the lazy, the unscrupulous and the hustlers can work their way in. Feeling like I am beating a dead horse, but this work is never done. Onward

  18. Oh, Rob … I just love this post.

    For many years I researched Berkeley agent productivity using MLS listing/selling agent data. Each transaction had 2 sides – representing a seller or buyer.

    Over a 1 year period, 40% of the agents who sold a home in Berkeley through the MLS represented 1 side. 80% represented 4 or few sides.

    I simply stopped doing it.

    While there was only one Mozart, the real estate industry seems to have many Salieris … and too many consumers think that all agents basically do the same thing.

    Here’s to a particularly notorious 2017 to you and yours.

    Ira

  19. Fist pump, Rob. In many of the countries in Europe, the bar is HIGH; a university degree in real estate; three international internships; one year as an apprentice before you are able to receive a license. Somewhere between this example of setting an entrance bar into our industry and what we currently have is critical. However, if that happened, for example, the ripple effect with Boards of Realtors would be BIG – having one third or less of the membership; State licensing fees; and on and on. There are lots of spoons in the soup that want to keep it as it is. I welcome any suggestions on how this current system can be dramatically changed. ( Enjoy the rum, and don’t forget the sunscreen.)

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