When it comes to real estate standards, there are really great agents and really lousy agents at all experience levels in the real estate industry. And most consumers don’t know what to look for in an agent.

My early days in the industry were hard on me — traumatic, in a way. I had worked in corporate America for many years and had reached the very top of my field. I was respected and well compensated in that career.

It was a humbling experience to start all over at the very bottom with a new career in real estate, and the uncertainty of wondering when and if I would ever make any money.

When it comes to real estate standards, there are really great agents and really lousy agents at all experience levels in the real estate industry. And most consumers don’t know what to look for in an agent.

My early days in the industry were hard on me — traumatic, in a way. I had worked in corporate America for many years and had reached the very top of my field. I was respected and well compensated in that career.

It was a humbling experience to start all over at the very bottom with a new career in real estate, and the uncertainty of wondering when and if I would ever make any money.

About three months after my fresh start, I got my first listing. I remember it like it was yesterday. I met the couple at an open house that I was handling for another agent.

I was beginning to feel like a failure because I didn’t have any listings. In real estate school I got the impression that I would get my first sale during my first week in the business. I had one sale under my belt, but it hadn’t yet closed.

The sellers were a young couple and they had two small children and needed more space. I ended up going home with them and looking at their house after the open house. I really wanted the listing. I completed a comparative market analysis.

It was easy for me because I was using a computer program, and I understood the logic behind it and the simple math for a comparative analysis of most anything.

We were taught that we were worth "X" percent when it comes to charging a commission, so when I got the listing — even though I had never sold a home before — I charged top dollar. That is what I was taught to do.

I got the listing by selling the couple on the company that I was with. I used the marketing materials that were all about what a great company it is and about what a big market share it had, just like they taught me during orientation.

My manager at the time told me that if anyone asked how long I had been in the business I could answer the question by saying I was just finishing up my first year.

And if they pressed me I could explain that being new meant that I had more current training and more time for clients and worked with a really top-notch company. …CONTINUED

My first sellers never asked me if I had ever sold a home before, and I never volunteered that information. I wanted the business. I wouldn’t lie to get it, but I didn’t want to volunteer any information that might cost me the listing.

I had no income at the time and would have to give 50 percent of what I made to the brokerage. Also, I was running a tab with them and owed them some money.

I did take reasonable care with them and asked my broker a lot of questions and got some help. I wanted to do a good job. I didn’t always ask the right questions because I didn’t have enough experience to know what to ask.

I sold the home quickly, but I made some small mistakes here and there that my clients never noticed because they didn’t know enough about the process.

The mistakes didn’t cost them any money, but did cause the transaction to proceed less smoothly than it would have if they had been working with someone who was either more experienced or more closely supervised.

What I did is not outside the Realtor Code of Ethics, and I did not break any laws, yet some how it didn’t feel right. I wasn’t supervised, but if I had questions they were answered. I am not sure to this day if my clients got the kind of service they deserved or what they paid for.

I have copies of my old real estate contracts and there are missing dates and even missing signatures, making me wonder if those contracts were ever reviewed. If another agent sent me those same contracts today I would send them back with a list of blanks that needed to be filled in.

It is our ability to sell ourselves to consumers that keeps us in business, and it doesn’t matter what our standards are if consumers don’t know about them or even know what questions to ask.

In this age of transparency and new laws, consumers are still the same and they don’t all do their homework before hiring an agent, or even ask the agent for identification.

This week I have met with three new clients. None of them know me and none have asked for references. My conversations with these new clients indicate that they trust me completely. I am either one hell of a good salesperson or I am a good agent — I guess they will all find out soon enough.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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