The homebuyer: "Sadly, for the seller’s agent, there is no legislating against the corrupting power of a comedic little homeowner who appears to inhabit an alternate reality. This kind of thing is bound to happen when the delusional are enabled by sycophants."
In this case, the "comedic little homeowner" the buyer was referring to was my client. The "sycophant"? I’m thinking that would be me. And, best I could tell, the alternate reality to which the buyer alluded was a termite report.
I was both honored and confused.
I was honored that a self-seeking, servile flatterer, a fawning parasite (I had to look up the definition for "sycophant," by the way), was even considered worthy of inclusion on the distribution list of this day’s nasty-gram.
I remained confused, however, about why the buyer was threatening to report me on ethics violations over a Wood Destroying Pests and Organisms Report Section 2 finding of faulty grade.
Whatever. I’ll get over it. That’s what sycophants do. We get over it — when we aren’t banished to the second pit of the eighth circle of the underworld. (I found that one on Wikipedia. It apparently has something to do with Botticelli’s depiction of "Dante’s Inferno," but I must have been out being all servile and stuff the day we covered that in art history class.)
Ah, the day in the life of a real estate agent! I was chatting with a fellow broker recently about the wackiness that is our line of work and, more specifically, about how non-agents really don’t have a clue about what it takes to make a living in this business.
This broker conceded that the bulk of our work is related to "dysfunction management." In other words, it’s a people business.
The problem is that there are simply too many vocal "experts" out there, on the outside looking in, who profess to know us and to know the business of real estate better than even we might.
They are both civilians and the "support" players in the industry, but they are on the periphery of the real work taking place; they are people who have never had a single, real-life interaction with a homebuyer or seller.
Unless you have taken a few roundtrips from customer engagement to the county recorder’s office, you don’t know me. I understand. You have never walked in my shoes. So I can’t expect you to really know what it’s like to be me — a working real estate agent.
To be fair, I don’t even truly know what it’s going to be like to be me on any given day. With each sounding of the opening bell, I am greeted with a veritable surprise package of uncertainty:
- Will the escrow close on time?
- Will the buyer perform?
- Will the seller accept the offer?
- And what about those potential buyers and sellers in our stable?
Any agent who has been in business since Tuesday knows the first rule of our business: Never count the pipeline before it hatches.
There is a company I apparently elected to follow on Twitter some time ago. I don’t remember why, but I’m sure it was back in the early days when returning a "follow" was part of the social contract — back before I realized that "socializing" with random corporate logos was neither fun nor profitable.
Like so many others, this company, a referral network, is in business to make money off of the likes of me. They don’t understand what I do, but I suppose they know enough that they have determined it is far easier to sell little chunks of opportunity than it would be to actually do the work.
"Referred listing in Gila Bend, N.M. Estimated earnings: $4,350," read the latest tweet.
This tweet could have just as easily read, "Possible earnings: $4,350. Average house payout: 14 percent."
This week, I read a comment on an online article published by our local newspaper. The topic was third-party listing syndication sites.
"Of course, real estate agents are going to come on here and claim these free sites have errors," the gentleman wrote. "How else can they convince customers to fork over 6 percent for something an Internet search can do for free?"
He clearly doesn’t understand what I do.
The thing is, I am not a repository for data. That would be my multiple listing service (and, now, the countless other sites that attempt to republish, repurpose, and profit from that data). My lockbox key does not define my value, nor does the fuel level in my vehicle, although there is a cost to me associated with both.
And, while there is a certain charm in chauffeuring the same couple and their toddlers around a 20-mile radius for 13 months while being pelted by incoming Cheez Doodles, only to find that the family has decided to stay put for a while, there is much more to this real estate thing than data-mining and door-opening.
I am the plankton of the industry ecosystem. Fair enough. The companies that would sell me "leads" and productivity tools, or provide me with websites, search engine optimization, coaching and mentoring, marketing opportunities, and ancillary services outnumber even my ranks. My email inbox tells me so.
They would have me think that I need them; really, it’s the other way around.
But the curious thing about our ecosystem is that I am the only one who isn’t paid upfront. When I pay the supporting characters, they make money; when I pay them, I have spent money so that I may make money some day. For the agent, ours is a pay-to-play sport.
This is all fine. It’s the system, and it represents the capitalistic spirit that made America great. Just don’t trivialize what I do. At least feign an understanding of the risks I take, the costs and effort involved, and the liability I assume on a daily basis.
Maybe we should require certification before anyone is allowed to attempt to sell an agent anything — a sort of "Shadow an Agent" program. I think a week would be sufficient.
I can pretty much guarantee that one week living alongside an agent who is feeding himself in this market would bring a new perspective to your own business and to your approach.
Each morning would be pretty much the same, of course. We will hit our first pot of coffee at 5 a.m. and spend the next two hours clearing our inbox of the solicitations. It’s mundane work worthy of an unskilled intern, I know, but it has to be done.
The real glamour starts at 9 a.m., when the escrow and title offices have opened, and, more importantly, the clients and customers have completed their first online home searches of the day.
We will field dozens of calls requesting more information on properties that are currently under contract or that sold last June. We will spend an hour or so preparing free market evaluations for homeowners who have no intention of selling but are appealing their property taxes or need an estimate of value for their divorce attorneys.
On some days, we will take a call from a "live one." This would-be buyer will tell us he is not working with an agent. We will take the casserole out of the oven and dash out the door, because time is of the essence.
And when we have concluded our showing, the buyer will suddenly remember that his brother has a real estate license and will be representing him when he does get a job and decides to purchase.
We will fill our down time by making calls to our selling clients. During these calls we will have to explain that their 17-day-old transaction is canceling because the buyer lost his job or changed his mind — or didn’t trust our termite report.
Our client will assure us that he doesn’t blame us, but he does. Thanks to circumstances beyond our control, we will be the unspoken fall guy for the remainder of our relationship.
There will be offers to write and counteroffers to respond to. You never know when the call to action will come in, but it is always after 6 p.m. and usually on a Sunday or while you are attending a loved one’s funeral.
The contracts are complex, and each time will require at least an hour of discussion with our clients.
During this time, we will carefully explain mediation/arbitration clauses, contingency removal periods, and the fact that the refrigerator and draperies convey.
Approximately seven minutes after executing the contracts, our clients will forget everything we told them and blame us at the walk-through when the refrigerator and draperies are on a 48-foot moving truck headed toward Toledo. We will go to Home Depot.
We will attend listing appointments, of course. We will spend hours preparing, and more time at various homes presenting our unique value proposition. The sellers will assure us that they will "be in touch by Wednesday." We will never hear from them again.
We will spend all weekend showing "clients" homes. This is our third such weekend, and we have been in and out of the car so many times we have a rash. On Monday they will stop returning our calls.
In the meantime, we will deal with failed appraisals, previously approved loans that are now unapproved through the miracles of underwriter review; inspections; mold remediation; repair negotiations; unplotted easements; leases where the seller remains in possession; leases where the buyer occupies early; and sundry other transactional details.
We will play many games of "Find the Loan Docs," and we will spend countless hours listening to the musical stylings of Les Brown and His Band of Renown while we attempt to find out if the bank received our short-sale package this time … the fourth time we faxed it.
Circumstances change. Buyers will decide to not buy, and sellers will decide to not sell. The reasons are many: marriage, divorce, birth, death, job loss, or change of heart. These clients will thank us all for our hard work, and we will go back to clearing our inbox of the emails offering tools and services guaranteed to take our business to the next level.
And then we will get that one special call. The sale recorded. It was a fairly easy sale, as these things go. Both parties performed, there was little drama, and we closed on time. The seller will make a little joke about what an easy commission that was for us, the underlying message being that we might just be a little overpaid.
I am replaceable. We all know that. Consumers do not have a stake in my success. If I fail, there will be thousands more like me tomorrow who can sustain the business model.
Even so, tomorrow I will start this week all over again. And to the buyer who wrote that note I referenced earlier: Hopefully, now, you will start your week with a better appreciation for what it is I do.