A Virginia Association of Realtors campaign, which calls attention to the Realtors’ Code of Ethics, gives Ted Truitt a bad name.
Truitt is a sort of ethical nightmare — a real estate guru who celebrates questionable behavior and mocks the best practices.
Decked out in a white suit, orange shirt and bad tie, Truitt offers a humorous, highly animated and totally interactive online training session in ethics at the TedTruitt.com Web site.
The spoiler: He’s a fictional character portrayed by an actor.
While real estate professionals may have encountered Ted Truitt-like personalities in the industry, the intent here is to teach Realtors not to be a Ted. Real estate professionals do suffer from a very real image problem — real estate brokers are regarded by the public as among the lowest-ranked in prestige, according to a Harris Interactive poll released in July 2006.
The highest-ranked professions in the poll included firefighters, doctors, nurses, scientists, teachers and military officers, with more than 50 percent of the survey participants rating those professions as having “very great” prestige.
An opening photo montage at the TedTruitt.com Web site introduces him as “real estate’s greatest sales legend,” “the king of close,” “the archduke of acreage,” and “the dean of the deal.”
Ted says, “So you want to make more money? So you want to sell more real estate? Well, you need the Ted. I’ve got systems. I’ve got strategies. My ‘Whatever it Takes’ system is proven to take you from sales chump to sales champ.”
He then prompts the user to take the “Tedst,” a series of questions related to the Code of Ethics. Or users have the option to pose questions at a “Talk to the Ted” chat screen.
Ted asks what you should tell your prospect if you find out your new listing is built on top of a Civil War graveyard. The options are to tell them: A. Poltergeists are an amenity; B. The foundation’s “man-made”; or Tell them the rotten truth. Ted has a quick and sometimes loud retort when users point to a letter. If the answer is correct, Ted gets slimed — he is doused from above by a bucket of thick green goop.
“It took awhile for the joke to sort of unfold for members. Some people got it right away and others took longer to catch on,” said Lisa G. Noon, vice president of marketing and communications for the Virginia Realtors group. “There is definitely a buzz about it.”
Scott Brunner, CEO for the Virginia association, said in a statement that Truitt “is just plain slimy. He’s every imaginable negative stereotype of a Realtor. He was created to get our members’ attention. We knew he was so over the top that our members either would find him offensive or hilarious, either of which would make them want to explore his Web site.”
The actor portraying Ted Truitt has traveled around to some Realtor functions and will continue to pop up at these functions to raise awareness about the code, Noon said. “He’s hysterically funny and he gets their attention.”
As a part of the campaign, the association mailed out a kit to brokers that included a notebook with 16 lessons and a plastic egg filled with green slime. The Ted Truitt hoax is reminiscent of the “Don’t-It-Yourself” Web site launched last year by the Orlando Regional Realtor Association that promoted the use of a Realtor rather than going it alone in a real estate transaction.
The Ted Truitt campaign, like the Orlando effort, offers memorabilia for sale, including “Trust the Ted” coffee mugs, “I Slimed the Ted” T-shirts and “The Code is Good” golf shirts.
TheCodeIsGoodBusiness.com, a companion Web site to the TedTruitt.com site, features interviews with Virginia Realtors and information about the Code of Ethics, a National Association of Realtors code that Realtors agree to follow as a condition of membership.
Marshall Toney, a Realtor for GSH Real Estate in Williamsburg, Va., is featured in a series of audio interviews with Virginia Realtors at the Web site promoting the code.
A seven-year real estate veteran, Toney said, “I think (the campaign) couldn’t have come at a better time. There are quite a few new members who have joined the association, and education has to be on the forefront for the association.”
Toney said that it’s important for agents to build their reputations by representing themselves well in transactions. “All I have is my name, and once that’s gone I might as well hang up my license. It’s my goal every single day to live up to my customer’s expectations.”
The Ted Truitt character could help to steer agents on the right track when it comes to ethics, he said.
Mary Dykstra, a Realtor for RE/MAX Valley Realtors in Roanoke, Va., who is also featured at the code-related Web site, said the campaign will be effective if even one real estate professional is swayed by the message.
The Ted Truitt campaign “is a little edgy, perhaps, for some of the staid people” in the industry, Dykstra said. “There was some, ‘Wow — is that for real?’ Edgy’s good.” She said she is glad to see the industry taking proactive steps to address problems with unethical professionals in the business. It’s hard to admit to weaknesses in your own industry sometimes, she said. “We better get in there and realize that sometimes we do get ranked with car salesmen.”
She added, “I do hope it has a long shelf life in the real message — not the gimmicky part.”