“Face the facts, you are now viewed as a ‘Profession’ and therefore required to act like one”… were Michael’s opening words as over 50 real estate salespeople shuffled in their seats. He was presenting a 10-hour verified training course on agents’ obligations under the Real Estate Agents Act 2008. The topic and focus was: Professional competence and ethics.
It was the best two days training for raising the professionalism of the real estate industry I’ve attended for many years. The ‘Real Estate Agents Act’ and the the ‘Real Estate Agents Authority’ (REAA) is to be commended. Our legislation really is world leading in regards to elevating our industry into a true profession.
However, the legislation is fighting a losing battle. Simply because agents are stuck in a primal conflict between two powerful but opposing forces. Ethics versus survival.
‘Ethics’ is about the higher good. Doing what is legally and morally right. In a professional capacity, it’s all about our ‘duty of care’ to our clients and customers.
For sellers, our clients, this is called a ‘Fiduciary’ duty. Which basically means we have an obligation to at all times act in your best interests. This duty recognises that as agents we have knowledge, expertise and skills in relation to our client. We are in a ‘position of trust’. Effectively, you are relying upon us to do the right thing by you. It’s no different than the relationship between a Doctor and their Patient or a Solicitor and their client. It covers such things as confidentiality, transparency, disclosure, removing conflicts of interest etc.
‘Ethics’ is also a higher calling. As humans we inherently want to do the right thing. We gain a sense of pride and satisfaction from doing so. It helps us feel good about ourselves so we can sleep well at night – knowing we are making a positive contribution to those we serve and the world in general. I believe that most real estate agents fall into this category. They genuinely want to do the right thing by their client.
But here’s the thing, upon leaving the two days of training on Professionalism and Ethics, those agents go back to their office. They go back to the reality of earning a living in the commission-only industry. They go back to sales training (prospecting, scripts, dialogues, and manipulative closing techniques). They go back to being taught about “profile and self promotion”. They go back to a competitive environment where you only “eat what you catch”. Back to the forces of survival.
Survival is of course our most basic instinct. It’s psychology 101 – Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When in a situation where one must choose between “self actualisation” (doing the right thing) and ‘survival’, our primal instinct is to survive first. It’s not right or wrong. It’s simply the way it is.
Agents are constantly put in the situation where doing the ethical thing means they risk their commission. Which means their family’s survival is at stake.
So is it really any wonder why the real estate industry has such a bad reputation? Is it really any surprise that we need legislation like the ‘Real Estate Agents Act’ to try and force us to be more professional?
When agents are confronted about unethical behaviour in our industry they tend to point the finger at everybody else. Because we all like to think that we are ethical. As author Terry Pratchett puts it
“It was so much easier to blame it on them. It was bleakly depressing to think that they were us. If it was them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was us, what did that make me? After all, I’m one of us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of them. We’re always one of us. It’s them that do the bad things.”
But think about this. It’s not us or them that’s to blame. It’s the system. It’s the ‘commission-only’ business model and ‘sales culture’ that puts agents in this conflicted position. That, on a daily basis, leaves agents having to choose between doing the right thing by you or survival.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Agents don’t have to continue to be stuck in this battle. And you as clients don’t need to be the pawns amongst it. We all have the power to rise above it. But we must first recognise and root out the true enemy, it’s not ‘them’, it’s not the other agents. It’s the system – the ‘commission-only’ model, the ‘sales culture’ and the thinking it preaches that keeps us stuck… “Real estate is a sales industry”.
No. Real estate should be a ‘Professional Service’ industry. Like other professions (Medical, Legal) it’s an industry that requires specialist knowledge and expertise. It’s an industry where those serving you have a duty to protect your interests and uphold the highest standards of ethics and professionalism. It’s an industry that can make a significant positive difference to those it serves.
So stand up, fight the system. Sellers – don’t let it rob your trust and equity. Agents – don’t let it hold you down in survival mode. Renounce the sales culture and replace it with a professional consultive one.
This is the journey we have started at Restate and it’s proving to be better for our clients and us.