Based on any reasonable accounting method, I am what you would call a good driver. In fact, according to public records, I am not just good — I am awesome!
Check the Carfax of my last five chariots, and you will find nary a blemish on my record. In 34 years of navigating my way from here to there and back, I have been in just one moving collision, involving a time-pressed commuter who, believing the hype about the shortest distance between two points, decided to pass me by driving over me.
Here’s the thing, though. I am not really what you would call a terrific driver, at least not judging by the countless inanimate objects I have killed over the years. I have sideswiped gas pumps, taken out parked cars, and backed through the garage door (twice).
I have nailed the curbside cars of my own children while coming and going so many times that my headshot is framed in the lobby of the auto body shop. Once, I even ran over my own purse. (I’ll leave you to visualize the events leading up to that one.)
Fortunately for me, these things are not formally documented, so my insurance company thinks I rock.
The latest rage is this notion that we need a transparent, consumer-facing rating system for real estate agents. Good luck with that. I see so many problems with the idea of rating the performance and prowess of agents that I don’t know where to start.
Let’s try starting with the facts. How do you define "good"? I have been licensed to drive the real estate transaction for a long time, but that doesn’t make me inherently better at representing buyers and sellers than the agent who is still waiting for their first batch of business cards.
Sure, experience is important, but I know of a dozen "Top Producers" who, through time spent or number of transactions closed, are driving under the influence of their own "success" but have no business being behind the wheel.
Does it really matter to the customer what the average sale price of my listings is? It shouldn’t, as that is largely dependent on the market in which I work, or just the market. Days on market? I can give you a dozen reasons why that might be irrelevant.
If my listings are flying off the shelf in hours, it could be that I am uniquely skilled at this real estate thing, or one could argue that I tend to underprice. Longer market times may not mean that I am a bad agent, but could mean that I make bad decisions in the clients I elect to represent.
I’ve logged a lot of driving miles over the years and have yet to personally meet my own airbag, but so what? I suspect at times I have left a path of destruction in my wake — innocent people sharing the same road, careening into ravines and each other trying to get out of my way. …CONTINUED
Broker Bob may have logged a few transactions over the years, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a bit of damage done during his travels. Lately, I have been the one on the other side of his transactions, crouched in the center lane picking up the remnants — pieces of the side panel and the rear bumper — and generally trying to keep things moving while he is off designing his next "Another One Sold by Bob!" neighborhood mailer.
His clients, none the wiser, are probably back at the homestead writing his glowing testimonial between their happy high-fives.
You can’t measure performance strictly with analytics. Only the consumer riding shotgun can do this, which brings us to the bigger issue.
It is the highly charged emotional nature of our work that makes rating agents a challenge. We deal with people, not products, and this despite the fact that there is often a big thing of stucco and drywall involved.
Our clients have multiple personalities, and each has a different system for grading the accomplishment of the same task. We are selling a service with a definable goal — closing the transaction — and often our performance will be considered in the context of the outcome.
More often, though, it is our client’s perception of the ride that got them there that will be our legacy.
I am currently representing a couple in the sale of their home where almost everything that could possibly go wrong has. And each time I make another call to share some new development (involving a low appraisal, a rejected loan, or another buyer cancellation), they thank me.
None of it is my fault, of course, but it is crazy that they get that. Usually, the agent is blamed for every unpleasant moment during the transaction, from the discovery of termites in the attic to the Chargers’ loss in overtime.
And through it all, these clients have become my biggest fans. If I called tomorrow to tell them that their home (in escrow for the third time now) was just leveled by a largish incoming meteor, they would probably send me a fruit basket — just after asking how soon I can change the property type in the multiple listing service to "vacant land." They are threatening to adopt me.
Then there was the client who wanted only to see my picture in the post office. My crime, I learned, was that he never saw me sweat. After a one-week marketing period, a full-price offer, and a seamless 30-day closing, he called to tell me how disappointed he was.
I hadn’t worked hard enough, apparently. If I had been decent, he explained, I would have offered to cut him a check for part of my commission, seeing that it had been so easy and all. Consequently, there would be no fruit basket for me. …CONTINUED
These are examples of people who grade us based on their perceptions — their perceptions of what the transaction should feel like. Knowing my clients, I try to match their cadence. But sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I won’t ultimately meet expectations.
I have clients who, having hired me, don’t want to hear from me again until the moving truck has backed out. "Just get it done" is their message. They are bottom-line people, but that doesn’t mean I will please them all.
Some understand the limits of my omnipotence. Others expect me to both market and make the market, and if the market doesn’t get just how special their home is, I will have failed.
Others want updates every 13 minutes — a play-by-play in real time. "I am calling to tell you I am reaching for the two-hole punch now … to punch holes in something," I might say.
For every one of these hands-on clients who appreciates the update, another will be talking smack about me with their neighbors. "We suspect the holes were crooked. We’ll never know, she never followed up."
The thing about all this performance transparency talk is that we already have a rating system in place, and it is the only one that matters. It is the guy talking to his friend about his real estate experience at the mailbox or the soccer game.
And if you believe the buzz about social media and social search, this rating system, fair or not, will be fully online soon enough. What our clients are rating, though, is an experience. They assign our marks based on emotions and feelings, and they are all coming from different baselines of expectation.
Numbers of homes sold, average sale price, and even years in business — those things are science — and science has no home in our world, where pleasing the customer is an art form.
What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor.