I received an invitation in the mail yesterday to apply for a credit card. So, what’s the big deal? Who doesn’t get 47 of those every week? And at my house, these invitations are summarily hastened to a meeting with my other "important" mail in the big blue recycle bin.
Something about this one, though, caught my eye.
This offer was for the most prestigious and versatile credit card in the world, according to the very elegant and expensive-looking trifold. "Wow," I thought. "What have I been missing? I want some of that prestige and versatility!"
So, what constitutes prestige? Well, in this case, there is the limited membership. Apparently, this card "is not for everyone." Versatility? There is the 24-hour concierge service, which I am assuming will come in handy when I discover at 2 a.m. that some evil-doer (who is not everyone) has just charged a rather large Omaha Steaks shipment to my account. Best of all, my ticket to the A-list, "the ultimate buying tool," comes on a patent-pending carbon card. That’s right — carbon!
Finally, there was something about a $495 annual fee. Thinking that for $495 my new card would certainly come with something special, like a fruit basket or a pony, I read the fine print. The ultimate buying tool, it turns out, would come with a minimum $250 credit line.
Now, I don’t know about you, but given my own family of four and the attendant expenses, a $250 credit line would not get me beyond my driveway apron on any given morning. But then I am reminded that this card, which proudly derives from the periodic table, is "limited to only 1 percent of U.S. residents." It’s not the utility that is being sold but the image.
How stupid am I? Well, a little, I suppose. I had to Google "U.S. population" (but only in a fact-check sort of way). At any rate, it seems that only 3 million or so of us are going to be accepted into the exclusive crowd.
This had me wondering: Are we that desperate for status? Are we so hungry for validation that we would buy into something that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense? I fear the answer is yes.
This week, an agent joined our office. She is an experienced, veteran agent who is coming from a large franchise firm. Before her license had fully changed hands, she received a series of text messages from another agent in our market in which he chastised her for taking a "step down." Did he say a step down?
Are we not as smart as the agents at Carbon Card Brokerage? Do we do a poorer job for our clients? Are we a less experienced, less educated, and less capable collective of professionals? One could argue that the opposite is true. (Rest assured that "one" is not me — that would just be mean.) What this was really about was status. …CONTINUED
If we are honest, no one cares what our card looks like. If my own sense of self-worth is somehow dependent on the envy of the woman ringing up my laundry detergent and kitty litter, I’ve got bigger problems than paper vs. plastic. And if we think the size and shape of our business cards define who we are and what we truly offer our customers then we are kidding ourselves.
You will find great agents and crummy ones in both large and small brokerages. It’s just that the big shops continue to sell their agents and agent recruits on the idea that the shinier card brings status. The implication is that status magically brings success, with happiness in tow. Agents need to read the fine print.
As we sat in a listing interview this past weekend, our potential client asked how we were going to sell the potential buyers. Finding this a curious question, we asked for clarification. He explained. "How are you going to promote our home to the buyers who come through with agents who are part-time, agents who don’t know what they are doing, and agents who don’t know anything about our neighborhood? We trust you; we don’t trust them."
He wasn’t worried about "all of the incompetent agents with small brokerages," he was just worried about incompetent agents in general. Not once did the subject of the card come up. Status, for him, had everything to do with utility and absolutely nothing to do with slick imagery.
It comes back to the food chain. Brokerages court the agents, and agents court the customers. For those of us stuck in the middle, it is imperative to remember that we are in business for ourselves, each our own little corporation, and there is no one size fits all.
Brokerages big and small have something to offer. But we get to pick only one card, and when the time comes to make that all-important decision, we need to be sure that we know what it represents.
In society, honor and prestige — status — is either ascribed or achieved. In our new real estate society, true status can only be achieved, and it is awarded not by your brokerage but by the customer. In other words, it’s not what the card looks like but the benefits it carries and how you use it that matter.
Brokers provide tools; agents are responsible for using those tools to achieve their own status and success. Your customers today get this, even if a lot of agents don’t, so shop responsibly.
What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor.