Rebuilding trust in the real estate industry – is it possible?

4 Nov 2020
Estate Agents Co-operative
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CEO mini discussion piece

Recently, I was at a barbeque, when a friend, beer in hand and smile on his face, took the time to ask me if I know real estate sales is one of the top three least trusted professions in Australia.

“In fact,” he continued. “Sales agents were only just pipped at the post by advertisers and car salespeople. That’s the type of industry you work in!”

As agents, I’m sure you’ve heard this before.

Research companies regularly survey Australians on their sentiment towards certain industries, and every year, for as long as I can remember, real estate agents have been in the top five for being least trusted.

Seeing those stats over-and-over again is frustrating.

It’s frustrating because I know and have worked with some brilliant agents.

It’s frustrating because I have a good idea of just how small (tiny!) the portion of agents is who do the wrong thing.

It’s also frustrating because there are still agents who choose to do the wrong thing.

It is their actions, and the actions of those who perhaps aren’t up-to-date with compliance, that have a negative impact on the reputation of the entire industry.

Last year, I published a mini-discussion piece that started to scratch the surface of this topic, ‘Why do some real estate agents break the law?’.

Now, as we head into 2021 and beyond, it’s time for action!

It’s time to really look at our industry, recognise how much more successful you could be if ‘the good guys’ didn’t have to overcome ‘the bad guys’, and make a plan for building a more trusted profession.

Let’s put real estate in the top three trusted, rather than untrusted professions in years to come!

A recap: why are there ‘bad guys’?

In writing this article, I deliberately decided to use the term ‘bad guys’ (guys being non-gender-specific in this instance).

I heard it in a story from a friend-of-a-friend, in which a selling agent tried to set himself apart from poor agents, by self-labelling as ‘a good guy’.

This friend and her husband were looking to purchase their first home. After laughing off some of their concerns about ‘shonky agents’, the selling agent proceeded to repeatedly let them know he is ‘one of the good guys’.

He then immediately tried to talk them out a much-needed building inspection and suggested he couldn’t pass on their offer if its wasn’t on a signed contract.

In my earlier articles, I discussed the possibility that agents (a very small number) may break the law or do the wrong thing partly because of some flaws in our industry.

Perhaps they haven’t received a good or comprehensive enough education; they haven’t had positive mentors; or possibly, we have just recruited some of the wrong people or caused them to intensely fear failure.

But even after all of those factors are considered and agents to which they apply are removed from the equation, bad eggs still do exist (just as they do in any industry).

So how do we overcome it? How do we stop penalising truly ‘good guys’ with the reputation of the very few ‘bad guys’?

First, we need to define ‘the good guys’

This is perhaps one of the toughest aspects of improving the reputation of our industry – defining ‘the good guys’.

Over the last few years, sites have popped up all over the internet, within which members of the public can leave star ratings for agents.

This kind of initiative is a good concept. It’s a way for our industry to really highlight those people who are doing great work.

The challenge is, the criteria for ‘great work’ on these sites is often centered only a little on service, and a lot on results. Rarely, does it have any focus at all on the ethical or compliant conduct of the agent to achieve those results.

Further, many of these sites only include agents that have paid to be promoted on their pages, so some very good agents may not ever even be known to sellers.

What this means, is that consumers reading reviews can possibly find an agent that has a history of solid results, but they still don’t know if they can ‘trust’ this agent; if that agent truly stands for ethical practices.

And consumers do care. If they didn’t, agents wouldn’t even cross their minds when voting on untrustworthy professions.

As an industry, we need to enlist the help of consumers and determine exactly how an agent should behave to be considered trustworthy, reliable and ‘one of the good guys’

Then we need to make ‘being good’ worth it

At the EAC, we have always been more carrot than stick.

That being said, we know penalties are a crucial way of managing behavior in our industry.

But something perhaps more powerful than any fine, is consumer opinion and word-of-mouth.

We all know, from case studies of larger companies that have suffered PR or reputational nightmares, that what consumers think can really make or break a business.

And in the future, as agents, if we are not careful, it could make or break our industry.

We know the expertise and experience agents bring to any real estate transaction is vital in getting the best result.

But, as time goes by, more platforms will be introduced that allow consumers to buy and sell without an agent.

As this happens, reputation of the agent/agency and of the industry as-a-whole will be a deciding factor in whether consumers continue trusting agents with the sale of their most valuable asset, or if they go it alone.

In addition to bringing superior negotiation skills, and excellent service, we need to convince them that our industry deserves that trust.

This makes being ‘a good guy’ and working on our industry reputation worth it. It makes it a priority for us, to boost up trustworthy, reliable, ethical AND high performance agents, to drown out the news about agents that tarnish the reputation of the industry.

Finally, we need to invite consumers on board

After we have defined what a truly ‘good guy’ agent is, and ensured our entire industry understands the value of promoting them (and being one of them!), we then need to communicate this to consumers.

We need consumers to actively seek out and select agents who won’t just deliver an excellent service and performance, but will do so in a way that is unquestionably ethical and driven by a strong moral compass.

We need consumers to be able to identify good agents, work with them, know how to see the ‘bad guys’ and go around them.

We need consumers to talk about their amazing agent experiences, to rebuild (earned) trust in our industry, and tell their friends, families and social network contacts about the agent who looked after them.

We need them to do this so consistently that bad agents have no ability to thrive, and rather, become extinct – a distant memory of an industry that once sat in the top three of the most untrusted professions.

The bottom line

This article is not about dissing agents. In fact, it’s the opposite.

At EAC, we represent members who are truly good and ethical people; who serve their clients and their communities to their best of their abilities.

After a year within which auctions were banned, open homes were banned… our industry, in some areas, was essentially put on hold, we don’t want our ‘good guys’ to have to fight a negative reputation caused by a few ‘bad eggs’. We want you to thrive.

We invite you to send your ideas for how the EAC can help build a more trusted real estate industry, directly to our CEO at ceo@eac.com.au

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