One of the things I struggle with as a real estate blogger is finding the balance between positive, upbeat stories and dreary negative truths about the real estate industry and the people in it.
My sweet wife/Broker Sylvia has reprimanded me in the past for being too negative. So did my former “big name” Broker, multiple times, for crossing the line of polite decorum and calling out what I see as gross incompetence, not only with other Realtors, but the lenders, inspectors and various others who are part of every real estate transaction. I’ve mellowed somewhat, but things have become worse, not better.
This is going to be another of those “negative” writings because, frankly, I’ve had it. I’m sick and tired. I’m wondering if I even want to remain a part of an industry so plagued with completely useless idiots masquerading as real estate “professionals”.
I think it’s important, as a consumer, for you to know how truly terrible so many Realtors are, and how truly stupid you are for hiring them. You research your purchase of a car for months online before making a decision. You scour the internet travel sites looking for even the smallest of savings on your airline flight. You wander in and out of Best Buy, Fries Electronics, Office Depot, etc, plus review websites, investing hours of research, before purchasing that next laptop or refrigerator. I could go on.
But, when hiring your Realtor, according to NAR consumer surveys, 70% of you hire the first one to return your call. Stop that. It’s dumb. You, the consumer, are part of the problem, if not the problem.
Let’s look at some real life examples of the consequences of having lousy agents out in the field, who would vanish were it not for the “first return call” hiring practices of the real estate consumer.
Here is an email message I received from the tenant occupant of a home I had listed earlier year.
Just wanted to let you know that someone just came by to see the house unannounced. They rang the doorbell at about 7:45 tonight and I didn’t answer because I never open the door to people I don’t know when my husband isn’t home. He proceeded to get the key from the drop box and tried to open the front door. But the top lock was locked. So he went around back and tried to open the back door. I think he saw me then through the window so he started walking away. I then opened the door and he apologized, saying that he thought the house was unoccupied. Which doesn’t make sense because my car was out front.
I know showing the house is part of the deal and i dont mind at all showing the house at anytime before 8pm, but I don’t appreciate him just showing up unannounced. I know it’s not your fault at all but just wanted to let you know. I don’t know if he put the key back which now makes me nervous as I’m here with the kids all night while my husband is at work until 7am.
If you get this tonight, is there a way to check if he put the key back?”
This should NEVER happen. We put up with this sort of idiot Realtor behavior daily, especially with lease listings.
So, here in this example, we had a woman home alone with kids in a house that is not yet even listed in the MLS. It had a sign and lockbox in advance of being listed in MLS. The agent simply saw the sign and the lockbox on the porch and took it upon himself to do what is described above. Unprofessional to say the least. Then the terrified tenant had to worry and wonder what happened to the key in the box. I determined by having her shake it that it was returned to the box, but how ridiculous is this entire episode? What does it say about the real estate “profession” and the agent who did this?
Since our electronic lockboxes report to us which key was used to open the box and when, I called the female agent to whom the MLS key that opened the box is registered and tore her a new one. She was contrite and apologetic, but still. I didn’t even get into it with her as to why a man was using her key, instead of her herself.
One can only wonder whether it was an agent “borrowing” her key (strictly prohibited by MLS rules) or if she simply let her client go out looking with the key (also prohibited by MLS rules). Unfortunately, as completely insane as the latter sounds, nothing would surprise me anymore in what has become an industry of thoughtless, useless idiots. What other definition can we give to an event such as this? And this is just one example, not even the worst one I could have used.
This is just a continuation of the astonishment I felt when I wrote recently that most Austin Realtors don’t even know how to show a home. I also see increasing frustration on Facebook among my Realtor friends. A recent poster shared “Just had one of the weirdest, somewhat troubling experiences of my 20 years in real estate. Astounding incompetence”. I hear you, brother. I hear you. “Astounding” isn’t strong enough a word for it. We are flat overrun by stupid Realtors, daily. And that’s putting it politely, and it’s getting worse every year.
I said to Sylvia the other day, “I don’t know, I think I may only have a couple of years of this left in me“. She agrees, and may not even last that long given some of her phone conversations I’ve overheard lately. The problem has become that chronic. The frustration factor that high. And that makes me sad, because we care deeply about the people we help.
Sylvia and I receive immense gratification and joy from helping our clients. Immense gratification. Whether buyers, sellers or investors. It’s not at all about “doing deals” or making money for us. We love helping people, we take it seriously, and we always try our hardest to be the best professionals we can be. We’ve been at it a long time, her for 25 years, me for over 20. We love what we do. We love the people we meet, the friends we’ve made and, to be fair, the many other excellent Realtors we do encounter on a regular basis during our transactions. There are a great many excellent professionals out there. Don’t get me wrong while reading this article. There are many experienced, excellent Austin Realtors, and those are the ones you should be interviewing and hiring, not the dummies I’m griping about.
But the Conehead agents have become so numerous and pervasive, i has become the norm to encounter them rather than the exception. That changes the dynamics of the profession for us. It’s a different business now. It would be as if you were a serious, trained musician forced to share the stage with lousy musicians who can’t carry their part, and who don’t even seem to care that they suck. It would not be fun to be in the orchestra anymore. You would start feeling dismayed.
And it’s not just Newbie Agents causing problems. Many Newbie agents are actually very good, because they have good communication skills, manners and common sense. Sometimes it’s “veteran” agents who don’t have their heart in it anymore, or who simply can’t keep up with the new technical realities of what it takes to execute good transactions in this business. Many agents don’t even know how to scan and email a document, change the orientation of a photo, or save and rename an email attachment. Basic stuff, skills not needed 10 or 15 years ago, but is absolutely required today. Some veteran agents have serious trouble getting a signed offer to the listing agent by any means other than faxing or dropping off as a “hard copy”.
And you, the consumer, keep hiring them. Stop it. Instead, research the Realtor you hire with even a fraction of time you invest in researching a new toaster oven or coffee grinder, and this pool of dimwits would dry up and wash out of the business instead of remaining to torment our industry by screwing up their deals and giving the rest of us a bad rap. Ask a few questions about the processes involved and the systems the Realtor has in place for communicating and handling the transaction process.
Is there a solution? Will real estate consumers start using a more careful selection process before hiring a Realtor? Probably not. I’m not hopeful. This is what happens when an industry is disrespected and denigrated to the degree that the real estate industry has been. It’s what happens when consumers don’t realize what actually goes into a real estate purchase or sale, and instead think that their buyer agent can be any stupid bloke willing to drive them around and open doors, or that their listing agent can be any hapless order taker who can put up a sign and enter a listing into the MLS.
As we who have been doing this a long time know, as well as any frustrated (or successful) Austin buyer has recently learned, this isn’t an order taking business for sellers, nor a home tour business for buyers. It’s a consultative sales business that requires a myriad of skills, knowledge and experience. A set of skills not possessed by the majority of “professionals” currently representing our industry. Many don’t even know which tools are available to help them, much less how to effectively use those tools.
And our industry itself is to blame. We were caught flat footed. Even today as I write, we have been grossly behind on technology trends and slow to react to both the threats and opportunities that the internet presented starting in the late 1990s. The leadership of our industry dropped the ball on the internet and online listings. That cow left the barn long ago because of clueless industry leadership. The leadership today is still 5 years behind where we need to be.
Syndication of listings has made things worse for everyone – Realtors and consumers – leaving the media companies who sell advertising around listing content as the only “winners” in the “listings everywhere online” outcome we now have. And few Brokers or Realtors have an clear enough understanding of the issue, or the courage to do anything about it, to take back their own industry by stopping the madness of sending their listings everywhere online for free.
Finally, with the average Realtor being 57 years old and the average buyer in their 30s, we have an odd disconnect. The Realtors are behind on technology and the buyers too far ahead. Young tech savvy Buyers confuse “information” with “knowledge”, and still haven’t figured out that the internet, in many cases, actually impairs their ability to make a smart decision more than it helps it. A buyer with no internet and a good Realtor is much better prepared to succeed than an internet-obsessed buyer with a lousy Realtor. That’s a different topic for a different article, but it’s true, and the reality of it leaks out when talking to lousy agents who are being directed by their internet-obsessed clients rather that advising them.
So, is retirement near for Steve and Sylvia? I think so. Our youngest child has two years of high school remaining. College is already covered. We have to decide whether to remain in an industry that has lost so much of its professionalism, manners and common sense that we’re almost embarrassed to belong to it. I try to be part of the solution, try to stay positive and patient with the dummies, but it seems like an uphill battle at times, and it’s not what I want to spend my time doing.
Maybe I’ll just open up a little BBQ joint in South Austin in our old office building on Manchaca Rd. “Steve’s BBQ and Real Estate Advice”.