People who are in sales are taught to be positive at all times. There is a car salesperson at the local dealership who is always positive. When asked how things are going he will say, "Great!" or "Fantastic!" If asked some specific questions, like, "Did you sell any cars this weekend?" he will give an honest answer. If car sales are up — or down — for the month, he will recite the numbers. I like dealing with him, and enjoy talking to him, and I trust him. I have just learned not to ask how things are going, because the answer will always be the same: "Great!" or "Fantastic!"
It is the same in the real estate industry. Some of the local offices give real estate agents a kind of pep talk, and put a positive spin on the current real estate market, which is "craptastic" in my area. I hear a lot of sad stories, too, from people who are in danger of losing their homes, and deal with sellers who are in a panic because there are no offers. If asked how it is going, most agents will give a positive response. My favorite is: "Business is unbelievable." That phrase can mean anything, so I am comfortable with it.
Some will admit that the market has been better and that it isn’t going so well for some but they are doing just fine. The reasons they are doing just fine usually have to do with how they run their business. They are special, and current market conditions are not having an impact on their bottom line. Meanwhile, I keep running into real estate agents in the strangest places — like the former colleague who helped me find a battery at the local battery store where he now works full-time, and the other agent who helped with the part I needed for my Blackberry at the phone store where he now works part-time.
Being positive is a good thing. It can’t hurt even in a down market, but we need to be honest, too. Some agents in my market don’t bother to look at the numbers and just go with the propaganda that is handed to them at their weekly sales meeting, or the spin put on the real estate market by the local and national boards of Realtors.
I recently posted some numbers on my blog that some in the industry did not want published: the actual number of foreclosures and short-sale homes on the market. The local boards of Realtors have the ability to get the same numbers. In fact, one of the boards did get and eventually publish the numbers in a responsible, thorough way. The hesitation is probably because they don’t want the general public to get the bad news. The boards exist to help Realtors, and they may have feared that bad news would be bad for business.
Foreclosures are already having a negative impact, and consumers need only to drive down the street or turn on the news. The news media tend to take the real estate news and make it as dramatic as possible. Reporting real numbers can’t do any more damage than the vague generalities and sweeping, inaccurate, sensational statements made by some in the media. Facts might just be more helpful at this point.
As real estate professionals I think we need to remain positive to be professional, but I also think that we need to give consumers as much information as possible, even if it is negative. We each have a unique opportunity to educate consumers and to become a trusted source of information. We have information before the news media do. It is possible to be honest and positive at the same time, just like the car salesmen.
Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.
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