The State of Professionalism Among Austin Realtors is Poor

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.

“Hi Steve

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, it 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 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 than advising them in a fiduciary capacity.

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”.

12 thoughts on “The State of Professionalism Among Austin Realtors is Poor”

  1. Steve,
    I thought my wife and I were the only ones noticing the ineptitude of most real estate agents nowadays. It seems as if common sense and manners are no longer a requirement for a Realtor in the State of Texas. Here are two real live stories that my wife (a Realtor) has encountered while selling our investment properties in just the last 3 months:

    1. We received an offer on our investment property where we quickly submitted a counter offer. First of all, the email that had the offer attached mentioned a completely different property address though the address was correct on the offer. We instantly knew we were dealing with “one of them”. The next day my wife called to make sure the agent received our counter. She had to leave a voice mail. My wife sent a text and another email to cover her basis. She followed up for nearly a week and NEVER received a call, email, or text back to this very day! Astounded was a nice way to describe how we felt.

    2. On a different investment property, we received an offer, in which the agent had clearly not read our “guidelines to submitting an offer” attachment that was referred to in the agents remarks. My wife asked the agent to please read the instructions and re-submit the offer. This agent did and we received a good offer and off we went to title. Well, in these guidelines we make it very clear that the amount of time we have held this property is short and if the buyer’s lender has a seasoning clause beyond 60 days that they may want to reconsider and that the seller (us) will NOT supply a copy of the HUD-1 from our purchase. Low and behold, the week of the closing I (not my wife, the agent) receive a call from the buyer’s lender asking for the HUD-1. I said no. My wife (the agent) did not receive a call from the buyer’s agent which was proper protocol. It gets better. This agent contacts our escrow agent and asks for the previous HUD. She tells them that she can not do that. So, this agent contacts a “friend” at the same title company after hours on her cell phone asking to track down the HUD. This escrow agent tells her that that was unlawful and would not do it. FINALLY, the agent contacts my wife and tells her the dilemma. My wife reminds her that this is why we have those “guidelines” and miraculously the buyer’s lender figures it out and we close. Can I tell you that this buyer’s agent is often on the front page of the ABOR website?!? She is a veteran and she is a despicable agent. Her buyers lost money because of her carelessness.

    Steve, we are with you on this subject and we appreciate you sounding the alarm. We are passionate about real estate and helping people as well, but agents oftentimes unnecessarily ruin the pleasure in our business.

    Thanks for the article.

  2. Bravo Steve! Bravo for this post!
    I, too, have been in real estate a long time (over a decade, hope to make it to 2 like you and Sylvia) but most of my professional experience has been in WA State. I noticed a distinct decline in the quality of other Realtors when I arrived here in Austin. Is it the low barrier of entry to the profession? Well, could be, but it’s not significantly different in WA. Is it the “hotness” of the Austin market? Again, it could be, but when Seattle boomed and people played musical chairs for homes I didn’t experience this consistent level of nonsense. I’m trying on the hypothesis that perhaps it’s a few big-name, big-box brokerages here whose brokers do not mandate ethical and legal behavior from their (unfortunately, many many many) associates. I should probably stop there. But you get the idea. Hope to meet you and Sylvia someday soon. My partner Rodney and I adore straight-shooters.
    Take care,

  3. So behind you on this one! Working a transaction now where the buyers agent took 4 days to deliver option fee. Said her broker said it was ok since she told me in an email it would be delayed because the buyer was out of state. My seller agreed to allow the option period but the repair amendment wasn’t executed by the buyer until a day after the option period ended. Seriously???

    This is a challenging business because so much emotion is involved in residential transactions. We do not need the complication of imbeciles calling themselves “professionals”!

  4. Steve

    You could have written this article about any profession and it could have been written in just about any decade. Think lawyers, contractors, mechanics, etc.

    I too grit my teeth on a daily basis when I deal (or don’t deal) with agents who don’t answer their phone, don’t return calls or simply do dumb things. But I don’t believe this is anything new to real estate or any other profession. It’s the same observation that parents of any generation make of their kids generation which is basically, the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

    The solution to this problem, like with children, is to show how it ought to be done and hope that your example wears off on enough folks to make a difference. As with children, explaining things and forcing them to do what’s right, seldom has the impact of a good example.

    I hope this doesn’t come across as “pie in the sky” stuff, but what is the alternative, get government involved? We have more rules and regulations about how to do our job than we’ve every had and it hasn’t made agents any better.

    Real estate is a market driven industry and like other markets the cream rises to the top and there’s always plenty of residue at the bottom. This is an age old problem, not a new one.

    Larry Allen

  5. hi, Steve:
    I look forward to reading the comments on this one.

    There are quite a few stories I could tell, including one REALTOR who would not let me remove inventory until after closing – it seems he was worried the buyers would not complete the transaction. Which would not have been a problem if he was willing to get the buyers to just sign a simple document that would have allowed me entrance to the property to pick the items up. But he “didn’t want to bother” the buyers. So, basically, I destaged with the threat of my inventory being damaged or disappearing or someone calling the police for breaking and entering the entire time the day after closing.

    It is these same Agents that pushed me to stop providing full furnishing stagings to callers (only do it for existing clients when asked). Even if I explain the minimum charge, 99 out of 100 times, I never hear from them after taking the time to visit the property, pick the inventory and draft the proposal. They are time burglars and cost too much money to deal with.

    I will say this though – I do not believe your experiences with incompetence are limited to the REALTOR profession. Having worked on gaining business with both Agents and the general public, every thing you are saying really holds true for the public. The 80-20 rule applies across the board: 80% of work is done by 20% of the people. Is 80% of the public incompetent? You decide.

  6. Thanks for all your comments.

    @Larry, true to some degree but part of the problem is structural and different from past decades. For example, when I started in 1991, Leasing was segregated from Sales. There was a separate MLS box for leasing, separate MLS 9called LMS) key, and separate dues.

    So agents had to make a decision about whether or not they wanted to practice leasing as well as sales. Most didn’t. Today, for an extra $15 dues, you have full leasing access and the boxes and keys are all the same, so almost every Austin Realtor just goes ahead and pays the extra fee because it’s so small. And those of us who lease and manage do notice the difference between then and now. It’s stark.

    @Theresa. Texas has the highest educational requirements of any state. Problem is, the type of education provided (such as how to calculate the sqft of an irregular shaped acre of land) is completely disconnected from what makes someone a good practitioner. It’s a bunch of contract law and math.

    The training that is supposed to be layered onto the education is the responsibility of the Broker under whom the agent operates. Some Brokers have good training, some have no training. But I question whether some of those we encounter are even trainable at all, as they seem pretty dumb. For example, I’m still stunned at how many agents can’t properly calculate the last day of an Option Period. It’s so easy, yet so many don’t know how to count to 7 or 10 because they are unclear on which day is the first day of the contract.


  7. @Mamacita, good point. That would be an entirely ‘nother article topic. Any set of questions would be better than what most consumers currently do when hiring an agent.

    Experience and knowledge of the market are the two most important things to seek out in an agent. Questions should be oriented toward determining that. Also, technological capabilities. Can the agent perform the tech tasks needed in order to handle the massive amount of communication and paperwork involved. Then there are “fit” questions. Not every agent is good with slow, plodding buyers. Not every agent is good with analytical engineer types.

    Ultimately, you want an agent who is a good match for you in all of these areas.


  8. I can relate and am personally guilty of blindly selecting a realtor for the sell of my first home. Being young and uneducated is my excuse and I’m sticking too it. After almost 7 months of no activity pertaining to interest in potential home buyers, with the original realtor, I started educating myself on how to find a motivated real estate “professional” and asking around for positive referrals (introductions) to a realtor with clout. Well, I found that realtor and sold my home within a month’s time. Needless to say I have since used that realtor, with exacting success, for every home buy, lease and even a commercial lease for a company I was working for. I now utilize him in my own business and have become more friends than professional acquaintance.

    Thanks for this article and I hope you continue to help educate us.

  9. Hi Steve,
    Maybe your next career should be as an author. Real Estate Practice as It Should Be: for buyers, sellers and the dimwit realtors they hire to advise them by Steve Crossland. (You really do write well; you have “voice” if I have term right from my kids’ writing assignments.) I would buy it; I’ve learned a lot of stuff reading your blog.

  10. There’s a whole lot of “blame the consumer” in this post that ostensibly concerns unethical or incompetent realtor behavior. There’s a real disconnect between your exhortations for consumers to do more research, while complaining about consumers who do research on the internet. A good consumer is researching both his potential agent as well as all of the aspects to consider they buy or sell (location, pricing, features, etc) and they’re doing this on the internet.


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