Who You Gonna Call, Part 2: What it Means

I have a 4BR/3BA Colonial... I'd like you to list it for me.

An incredibly busy week of planning and preparation for REBarCamp NY as well as actual paying work piling up prevented me from getting to this Part 2 earlier.  Sorry!

But in Part 1 of this series, I asked real estate agents who they would use to sell their own homes if they could not do it themselves for some reason.  The answers were interesting, but so were some of the emails and DM’s I got in response.

Now, here’s why I asked the question, after my late-night discussion with Kelley Koehler, and what I think this question ultimately means.

First, A True Story

A few years ago, I had a potentially serious legal issue that came up (and no, I’m not going to get into it, except to say it wasn’t a house closing).  I’m a lawyer, a former member of the NY Bar, and many of my friends are practicing attorneys.  But one of the first things you learn in law school is that a lawyer who represents himself has an idiot for a client.  So I started thinking about all of my friends, classmates, and others I knew from over the years and went through each of them wondering who I would call when faced with the legal issue.

I picked one, but that exercise left a deep impression on me as to what it was that I was looking for from an attorney.

Now, I’m not a practicing lawyer, and my background isn’t litigation — it’s international bankruptcy.  But even so, as someone with legal training, I ended up looking for different things from the people I would potentially hire to represent me in a serious case.

Professionals Evaluating Other Professionals

Would you call me if you needed this surgery done on yourself, doctor?

Turns out, professionals evaluate other professionals all the time.  Doctors — especially surgeons — are perhaps the best example.  If you want to know who the best heart surgeon in America is, go ask all of the heart surgeons in America who they would choose to perform heart surgery on themselves.

The layman, lacking the insider knowledge of a trained medical doctor, may rely on things like credentials, Board certification, years of practice, hospital affiliation, website ratings and testimonials.  The other doctors, however, look for whatever it is that they look for.  They have a much better sense of the craft of medicine and would pick accordingly.

Lawyers do the same thing.  It isn’t often that a criminal defense attorney is accused of a crime — but when she is, she’d know who the other great criminal defense attorneys are, what qualities she’d look for, think about their courtroom advocacy skills, look at their motion practice, look at their judgment, aggression, wisdom, whatever, and pick the one she believes is the best.

Real Estate and Professionalism

The subject of “what makes a realtor good” has been a favorite one of mine on this blog for quite some time.  And within the real estate industry, there is an overwhelming sense that there are too many crappy realtors, that the standards of licensing are too low, that designations mean nothing, etc.  Previous attempts to understand how to evaluate a realtor have usually descended into “Well, it’s all personal, you see… and no one but the client can really say” type of relativism.

Hey realtors! Let me be your realtor baby!

I think the question of “Who You Gonna Call” actually gets past all of that.  Unfortunately, since virtually every realtor represents himself when selling his own property, the question remains mostly hypothetical.  At the same time, the question does (if confronted honestly) force each realtor to think about what qualities, what skills, what personal traits he himself thinks makes for a “good” real estate professional.

Even for professional realtors, the sale of a home is a major financial transaction.  For most real estate agents, their primary home probably represents their largest asset and liability.  So who they would select to sell their home — at least in their own minds, even if they won’t speak it out loud — and why they would select that particular individual represents, I think, the clearest indicator of “professional excellence”.

Some of the emails I’ve got over that first question were revealing.  One person wrote to say that she ended up completely re-examining what she thought were important in a real estate professional when she started thinking about who she would actually hire to list her own home.

Interestingly enough, most of what we in the RE.net spend our time talking about — the marketing, superior technology, social media awareness, etc. — do not appear at the top of the list for realtors who select other realtors to sell their own homes.  What does? Trustworthiness.  In that sense, professional realtors are no different than layman consumers.

Interesting Corollaries

One interesting corollary to this whole line of reasoning is this: If you want to know who the best realtor in a market is, do a survey (probably anonymous survey) and find out who would be chosen by his or her peers to represent them in a transaction.

Another interesting corollary: If you would pick Agent Smith to represent you in a real estate transaction, but fail to refer Agent Smith to a prospect you cannot represent for some reason (conflict, perhaps), then your own ethics need to be examined.

-rsh

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11 Comments

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  1. Rob,

    Timely post and good follow up to our conversation the other night. I asked a similar question in a seminar we did the other day. Here is the exercise that I asked about 140 of our agents to participate in:

    Close your eyes
    Imagine you are a 26 year old renter right now
    You work for a large company that has experienced a number of layoffs as of late
    You have worked very hard to save up a “nest egg” of close to 30K
    You are reading headlines in the news that say:
    “If you don't buyer now you're either stupid or broke”
    “1 in 4 home owners are currently under water”
    “2nd wave of foreclosures to hit market next year”
    “Interest rates at all time low – sure to spike in 2010”
    You're incredibly confused about what to do.

    Now I asked them to open your eyes and answer the question, “Are you the agent YOU would choose to work with if you were this individual?”

    There was a huge look of concern that crossed a number of their faces at this point. My thoughts are that it's one thing to send out positive spin articles to your clients and let the <Insert new source here> “sell” your clients on the benefits of buying right now. It's quite another to be able to answer questions knowledgeably and in depth such as:

    If housing prices continue to decline why wouldn't I wait to purchase?
    If I have to bring 30K to the closing table PLUS sacrifice my downpayment, why would I sell?
    If mortgage rates climb as expected, how much to they have to increase to affect my buying power?
    How does the Tax Buyer credit EXACTLY work for buyers/sellers?
    etc.

    As I said in a post a while ago, “Real Estate is becoming a profession again – one that demands intelligence, research, market/data knowledge, and yes… empathy.”

    I don't think that a majority of our Realtor population has focused on KNOWING the market/etc. and becoming GREAT agents. With all of the whiz-bang social media and marketing for MORE business emphasis that's out there, the emphasis has gone away from “product/service” development of yourself and services – and that's what this market demands right now.

    Just my 2 cents.

  2. ruckus-maker. marketing and social media and whatnot is how they find me. i need them to find me first, to gain awareness. and then they learn i'm trustworthy from my actions thereafter, from what i say, how i behave, how i present myself. talking about those things gets me over hurdle #1 – awareness.

  3. Rob,

    I don't know how you define “best realtor in a market,” but in light of your reference here to *professional* excellence and your previous comprehensive post on “Evaluating Professionals” (11/28/09), would you agree that who local Realtors® would hire to handle their own transaction is but a piece of the puzzle for consumers contemplating who to hire?

    Also, care to share what Realtors® listed as second, third, etc. most important when hypothetically considering which area colleague to hire?

    Thanks for the post. By the way, some time ago your friend Matt Dollinger suggested I contact you … I hope to do so after the New Year.

    Best,

    Michael Erdman
    President & Founder
    AgentsCompared.com

  4. Can we look forward to a Who You Gonna Call, Part 3: What Are You Gonna Do About It?

  5. tell us more about your legal problems!!

  6. Rob,
    I have been working on a blog post in response to this, but it has been “stuck in Editorial review” since Monday so whatever, I will just bring up a few points I have.

    First, REALTOR is a higher standard than Real Estate Sales Person, in my State you can be both, or just a Sales person, REALTORS are held to a higher Professional standard, as we all know. (Many also know I got my backside handed to my for an AR post recently that was swarmed, so I am VERY carefully editing myself here).

    I think you analogy of Heart Surgeon is a weak one. If you are going to use any analogy to the Medical profession you need to compare Physicians as a whole to Real Estate Sales People, beyond that you do have sub-specialities within both field, so if you want to hold firm to the Heart Surgeon you may want to then refer specifically to the Celebrity Manhattan Condo Real Estate Agent (or LA, or wherever they may be), Truly a niche market.

    To assess and rate Real Estate Agents is nearly impossible, standards, markets, laws, practice, vary by town/county/region/state, etc. In theory it would be nice to do so, but the best way to rate them at current is look at the top earners in a market, and that say nothing about service, and even then you need to go beyond earnings and look at actual units (for instance if an Agent in my market did 5 transactions of $5 mil each, and another agent did 25 totaling $25mil, how would we determine if one were superior to the other?). A local company in my market does Customer Surveys after each settlement – then they present (much like MBNA used to) their Consumer response rate, of course I doubt anyone shows their warts. But I am not permitted to discuss warts (why does the movie “The Insider” come to mind…), so any company would of course present the positive spin, no one wants to say “Hey! This client thinks we really messed up!!” quite often a negative feedback from a client is because they didn't understand the process or ask the question.

    I learned a long time ago – Real Estate professionals speak a different language, just like any profession. I used to translate Tech to Business when I worked in a corporate environment, to help the Execs understand the development process and reasons behind what we could/could not implement. The same needs to be done in Real Estate. Most negative experiences consumers have with Real Estate professionals (this is my opinion and theory) are rooted in miscommunication – in the Consumer not understanding a part of the process, and the Real Estate Agent thinking they communicated clearly and effectively. It is truly just a failure to communicate.

    And I could not, would not, respond to the first part, as I would use myself as my own Real Estate Agent, choosing not to travel or whatever, until after I handled the sale myself, asking a fellow Real Estate Agent or my Broker to step in and work on the negotiations to keep that clean.

    FYI – Standards of Licensing in Delaware: 99 course hours, then 3 chances to pass the state/national exam, if you fail 3 times, you have to repeat the course. Then Continuing Education every two years including mandatory subjects like Legislative Updates.

    Thanks for making us think Rob!
    Maya =)

  7. Hey Maya –

    I've heard this before many, many, many times: “To assess and rate Real Estate Agents is nearly impossible, standards, markets, laws, practice, vary by town/county/region/state, etc.” I say, okay, that's fine. Let's ask the other realtors in the market — if they're honest in answering, then the person who gets the most nods as the real estate agent to other real estate agents is the best in that market, period, end of story.

    -rsh

  8. So you have heard it many, many, many times before, and you will hear it many, many, many times again I am certain, unless you can provide a blind and honest method of ratings, and it would have to be transaction based via the MLS, as in when a sale is reported the Agent rates their experience with the co-broke. Even then I doubt it would be scientific, as emotions often get in the way of true opinion and assessment, as is human nature. So how do you suggest this be done anonymously? It is against the COE to even make a comment about another REALTOR that may be deemed inappropriate, and that is such a very gray area. I would welcome such a system as I am sure I would get good ratings from most of me peers and my clients. It could only benefit my business, so bring forth the magic pill and make it happen. =)

  9. So you have heard it many, many, many times before, and you will hear it many, many, many times again I am certain, unless you can provide a blind and honest method of ratings, and it would have to be transaction based via the MLS, as in when a sale is reported the Agent rates their experience with the co-broke. Even then I doubt it would be scientific, as emotions often get in the way of true opinion and assessment, as is human nature. So how do you suggest this be done anonymously? It is against the COE to even make a comment about another REALTOR that may be deemed inappropriate, and that is such a very gray area. I would welcome such a system as I am sure I would get good ratings from most of me peers and my clients. It could only benefit my business, so bring forth the magic pill and make it happen. =)

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