I was recently asked to write a consumer article for another site on loan modifications. This was an assignment which should have easily have been knocked out with five fingers over a cup of coffee while I used my other hand to clear my feed reader and finish a crossword puzzle.

Instead, my 600 unwritten words haunted me. For three weeks and with the deadline looming, I was a tormented soul in full procrastination mode who suddenly found she had more pressing priorities — like waxing the cat.

The problem is that I am not an expert on loan modifications.

I was recently asked to write a consumer article for another site on loan modifications. This was an assignment which should have easily have been knocked out with five fingers over a cup of coffee while I used my other hand to clear my feed reader and finish a crossword puzzle.

Instead, my 600 unwritten words haunted me. For three weeks and with the deadline looming, I was a tormented soul in full procrastination mode who suddenly found she had more pressing priorities — like waxing the cat.

The problem is that I am not an expert on loan modifications.

We are all enjoying a little notoriety these days. Call it our 15 minutes. Whether through blogging or commenting online, or, yes, writing here, we see our names in lights. It’s food for the ego. It’s empowering. And it’s dangerous.

Dear Abby, what’s an agent to do? There is so much advice out there. The experts are everywhere. They are on group blogs and on their own, and these platforms have spawned camps and conferences, and camps in conferences, where all of the experts join forces to give us a big, collective dose of wisdom.

The problem is that while we are all enjoying our own varying degrees of fame, we aren’t all experts. And the problem is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to make the distinction. Knowing how to write well does not make one a great agent; knowing where to put the semicolon does not make me a loan workout expert.

While an agent may be the most insanely brilliant professional to ever erect a yard sign, simply having a platform of visibility and a rock star-worthy following does not in itself qualify him to tell me how to take my business to the next level.

I continue to see the lines between journalism and opinion blurred. And just so we’re clear, this is an op-ed piece. In fact, all of my articles here are. I have a Web site, but I am not a Web designer. I rank well on Google for certain keywords, yet what I know about search-engine optimization could be delivered in a text message. …CONTINUED

I close a few dozen transactions a year (some years more and some fewer), which is enough to give me perspective on a variety of issues but falls far short of qualifying me to tell you how to run a 12-office brokerage or dominate in your tri-city area.

When you consider how difficult it is for the agent thirsting for ways to survive and thrive in lean times to make the distinction between those who know what they are talking about and those who just talk, imagine the consumer. What’s a customer to do?

It is one thing that we have spent our existences plastering our business cards and print pieces with "No. 1 Top-selling Neighborhood Specialist and Recipient of the Chairman’s Gold Legend Order of the Centurion Award."

Now we have taken the show on the road. Unique hits are becoming confused with unique skills and, if we are lucky, we will create enough noise that our name will appear in the local paper or we will get some air time on the 10 o’clock news. Even the mainstream media is confused.

Does that mean that we should all be required to publish our gross production alongside our license numbers each time we assume the role of real estate sage? Probably not. Number of units, much like a degree in English literature, does not necessarily mean you are an expert in your field. But it is something.

Before I take someone’s advice on delivering a killer listing presentation, it would help to know that they have actually taken a listing or two. Before I shell out hundreds of dollars to attend a camp or conference to learn how to be a better agent, I might find comfort in knowing that the organizers and presenters themselves aren’t living off of a line of credit and my registration fees.

And before the customer facing foreclosure puts his name at the bottom of a listing contract — or doesn’t, because he read that a loan modification was a "fait accompli," a French phrase for "something accomplished and considered irreversible"  — I would hope that the advice he was given came from an expert, not someone playing the part. …CONTINUED

This leads me back to my little predicament. I wrote the article, and I will sleep nights, because I approached it from an honest angle. I researched it, I referenced sources with the information and insight which I lacked, I avoided too much depth, and I raised questions rather than dispensing advice like I was just on my way down from Mount Sinai. What worries me is that too many others in my market are using their platforms to deliver their own stone tablets hastily carved more out of a sense of panic born of tough times than from the wisdom of real experience.

I worry about consumer protection, whether the consumer is a homebuyer or seller or just a real estate agent trying to find a cure for the uncommon market. Then again, I suppose marketing, even in the old days and using the old ways, was fraught with misinformation and false promises, and it was up to the consumer to filter the message. Maybe I worry too much.

But that’s just my opinion.

***

What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor.

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