I took the call from a woman from our local Realtor association. "We need your help," she began. "Wow!" I thought. "They need my help!"
Before she could explain, my thoughts had drifted, and I became increasingly puffed with pride that someone in a position of authority had fingered me as an emerging thought leader, a respected and influential business woman, or maybe just a broker of some relevance.
"She tweets and writes about Lady Gaga!" she was probably thinking.
"We are in a competition," she soon continued. "Our goal is to have more members than (that other Southern California) association. We only need 400 more agents to join us!"
Then what, I thought. We win?
It turns out that the woman at the call center was on a membership drive. As a broker, she told me, she was certain I was talking to a dozen or more "recruits" right now. Maybe I could just slot ’em in before the contest ended.
True, I am a broker, but I am not that kind of broker. Our company is small by choice and selective by design. Ours is a quality-over-quantity model. And I also happen to be a working agent, one with that second X chromosome, which means that by my very nature I shun unnecessary confrontation.
So even as I was thinking that asking a real estate agent to rustle up some more licensee prospects is a lot like asking Drew Brees to go on a quarterback scouting mission, I found myself saying stupid things like: "I’ll keep it in mind," "Thank you," and "Best of luck."
"Why didn’t you tell her that we don’t need more agents?" barked my partner, the one who is not nearly as nice to telemarketers (although he did save money once on our long-distance service). "How does that help us?"
"I guess we would win," I muttered. And the problem, I realized, is that our industry is fragmented into too many coalitions of "we," all seemingly working at cross-purposes. And I watch it all from my front-row seat at the bottom of the food chain.
The associations purport to serve the agent-members, and through political action committees, our multiple listing service affiliations and a host of member services, they do just that.
But they are ultimately big business — the traditional kind where profits are inextricably linked to quantity and quality tends to get only lip service as it is thrown under the bus.
Next in the hierarchy are the brokerages. The familiar industry model we have created over the years equates bigger with better, because power comes in size and numbers. The big brokers have the influence because they represent the largest voting blocs.
It’s a one-stop-shopping nirvana for those whose bottom line is driven by bed count, not thread count. So, it is the big brokers who are the power-wielding intermediaries, and decisions tend to get made based only on pleasing these largest agent aggregates, drowning out a lot of equally important, albeit smaller, voices in the process.
And at the bottom of the scrimmage pileup, competing in a world of Agent Emporiums, is me — the small broker and the working agent.
"If I asked you for a free CMA (comparative market analysis), how would yours be different?" challenged the man who stopped by our sponsorship booth at the community fair this past weekend.
And as I handed him his balloon, my partner, realizing I had spent too many hours too close to the helium tank, jumped in with the save.
"Well, it’s not the data that is important, but your agent’s ability to interpret it. The most knowledgeable agents have superior knowledge of local and national market trends, buyer behavior and desires, the lending environment, inventory, market times and … Here’s my card if I can ever help," he closed.
"Uh-huh," murmured our skeptic as he headed for the exit, but only after he scored the coveted, branded beach ball.
And that is what we have become — just another purveyor of the price list and the free giveaways.
Having laughed in the face of the laws of supply and demand for a little too long, having overstayed our welcome in a business model dangerously near the end of its useful life, we are just another face on the shopping cart, with our value buried somewhere beneath the frozen foods.
It’s there — our value is — but few can see it anymore. So the "logical" response would be to recruit some more.
Our member associations will always be hunters and gatherers. Dues are dues, and there is no sliding scale to make the distinction between producing and nonproducing, good and bad, success or failure.
So, it is ultimately up to the brokers to move this mountain, but that same sliding scale — which does exist in their case — serves as a serious disincentive to quality control. Some are sincerely trying to reinvent and rehabilitate our industry and image, while too many others appear to be continuing down the same, time-worn path.
The nice lady from my association called me back this week. After my husband’s pep talk, I should have been loaded for bear, but I was preparing a "free" CMA at the time, my head in a different place. She caught me off guard.
"So how’s it going? Have you had any luck?" she pressed.
"Sorry," I apologized. "We don’t have anyone coming on board in the near future, but thank you for the call. Best of luck!"
And while you are out trying to find more agents to add to the inventory, I thought, I will be desperately trying to restock the shelves with a quality product and a brand that matters.
Or put another way, it is like my father-in-law used to say: "Don’t worry about who didn’t come to the party; it’s who is there that matters."
Give me an MLS that is cross-browser compatible, market data that is easily downloaded and customizable for my business, and resources and tools that are conceived not as best for the lowest common denominator but simply superior given available technology.
While you are out trying to grow your business, remember me. I am here already, and your business is, first, to support me in growing mine.
My own corollary to my father-in-law’s party advice is that we need to make sure our guest list is purposeful and our invitations more selective. Only the brokers can do this, and it will take more than the consumer demanding it to make it so. The agents must also.
Will they? That is a question that remains.
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