This morning I feel like I am unknowingly wearing a "kick me" sign on my Realtor backside. The jeers are coming from all corners of my professional playground. Would someone please steal my lunch money and put me out of my misery?
As parents, we take great care to teach our children the social graces. Say please and thank you. Kiss your grandmother. Don’t chew on that power cord with your mouth open. Then, in the blink of an eye, they grow up to be buyers and sellers and agents.
Everyone has just gotten so grumpy lately. Sellers are unhappy that their homes are not worth nearly what they were several years ago. These are the lucky ones. Many others involuntarily ceded their homes. Buyers are unhappy, also. Stories of homes selling for pennies on the dollar, they are finding, are greatly exaggerated. Still freaked out about future prices, they are anxious — anxious about buying too soon, yet anxious that they may wait too long. And finally, there are the agents. Many of us are having a really bad day. Even if our income hasn’t measurably suffered at the hands of this current market, the level of effort required to close a transaction has multiplied tenfold.
Admittedly, we are all operating in a pressure cooker. But, have we forgotten everything our parents taught us? Lately, slingshots of contempt and frustration are aimed at me from every direction. While the majority of people I find myself working with are genuinely good, kind and courteous, too many others are tending to channel the schoolyard bully, and I am an easy target. The market is my fault. Escrow fees are my fault. Long market times are my doing. When they are really feeling blue or angry or boxed in, I am most certainly complicit in the whole global-warming fiasco. And I will be hearing about it.
This morning, for instance, I have an entire set of disclosures and escrow instructions residing in a dumpster in another state. I was severely reprimanded because the paperwork was too personal and too extensive, and the recipient was far too busy. Under no circumstances am I to send any more contracts! Bad agent. Last week, I was read the riot act because someone during a showing had by all appearances opened a dresser drawer. I was nowhere near the crime scene, of course, but as the omnipotent, omnipresent listing agent, I was held responsible for this heinous act of rudeness. Accordingly, yelling at me was entirely justified.
I am uncomfortable being on the receiving end of mean, and not just because sticks and stones hurt like a son of a gun. My generation was a generation of Eddie Haskells. We were taught to feign niceness even when we were ornery to the core. Now we seem to think nothing of confrontation; it is simply a communicative tool, one used to reinforce a pecking order. Except, I personally have never felt better for having made another feel worse.
Now, as an agent being called to the Berber carpet, I have to keep the hop in my step and continue to wear the big, happy face. But sometimes I think we are at least partially to blame for the culture of disrespect within which we sometimes find ourselves operating. As agents, we don’t always treat each other much better. Too many consumers continue to see us as the clowns in a traveling circus. The big difference is that in the real circus, even the mean clowns pretend to like each other. And our performers are independent contractors. At the listing interview, they are all professing to have a vast network to which they will be promoting your home. In practice, too many are plotting to stuff their "vast network" in the bathroom trash can at the first opportunity. This undercurrent of competition versus cooperation really comes to the surface when the going gets tough, and absent a traditional boss, a lunchroom monitor or principal to demand that we behave ourselves it is incumbent on each of us to play nice.
A client recently informed me that she received an e-mail from a fellow agent questioning her intelligence, this because she hired me over him. So heavy-handed and emotional was his outburst that it both confirmed her decision and left some doubt. Both of our images suffered as a result. Bad agent.
We teach our children not to publicly argue, criticize, gossip or taunt. That’s just rude. Then we grow up and fail to return our phone calls, ignore our feedback requests, and talk smack about our colleagues to our clients and each other. We preach ethics to our little likenesses yet we cheat on our homework through our refusal to learn new skills and even master the old ones. We want our allowance but we see it as a divine right rather than compensation for a task accomplished. We tell our children that their friends’ successes do not diminish their own, and that their worth is not a relative thing — that their only competition is in the mirror. As adults, as agents, we feed on the office production board, on our company rankings, on our Top Producer plaques and, too often, on each other. We work not with one another but at odds. Maybe that is why our customers sometimes think it acceptable behavior to speak to us as if we were naughty children — because too many agents behave badly.
After each closing, I have always made it a habit to send a note to the agent on the other side of the transaction thanking them for their efforts. Sometimes, my note of appreciation is necessarily a work of fiction, but I send it nonetheless. Recently my partner suggested that I should stop doing this, as it is a nonessential and my time could be better spent on other tasks. He’s wrong. It is my one-girl stand, a refusal to relegate this one remaining act of common courtesy to the shredder. I may work with these agents again and, when I do, I would like to think that we will be working together rather than at odds.
Maybe I am just having an off week. Maybe it is the nature of a million independent contractor arms on the real estate industry body, today each seemingly flipping the other the proverbial bird. Maybe it is the market and we, the buyers, the sellers and the agents are all a little too hungry and a little too afraid of tomorrow’s bottom line. Whatever the reason, I like to think we are all better than this.
If one more person yells at me this week, I am taking my ball and going home.
Kris Berg is a real estate broker associate for Prudential California Realty in San Diego. She also writes a consumer-focused real estate blog, The San Diego Home Blog.
Berg will speak at Real Estate Connect in San Francisco, July 23-25, 2008. Register today.
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