Special report: Why and how real estate needs to clean house

Survey respondents mixed on whether NAR would take on low-quality agents
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A recent Inman survey designed to gauge challenges and opportunities in the industry had real estate pros take a long look in the mirror. The results weren’t pretty. The survey found that while there are several new initiatives coming down the pike to address control of listing data, real estate professionals consider the industry’s biggest challenge to be, well, themselves.


  • Survey respondents consider “low-quality agents” the industry’s biggest challenge.
  • Real estate pros are worried about the public’s perception of agent value.
  • Respondents were mixed on whether NAR would help or hinder the industry in the years to come, either praising the trade group’s size and political clout or accusing it of being slow-moving and self-serving.

A recent Inman survey designed to gauge challenges and opportunities in the industry had real estate pros take a long look in the mirror. The results weren’t pretty.

The survey found that while there are several new initiatives coming down the pike to address control of listing data, real estate professionals consider the industry’s biggest challenge to be, well, themselves. Or, rather, that incompetent agent on the other side of the table from them.

And they were mixed on whether the organization many of them pay to represent them — the 1 million-member National Association of Realtors — would help or hinder efforts to tackle that challenge.

Read the full survey report with all the results.

Many survey respondents also didn’t think much of the entities that offer them their most important business tool: the MLS, or the third-party portals that advertise their listings.

The survey results highlighted a key worry among agents and brokers: that the public’s perception of their value was on the decline and would only get worse.

Nearly two-thirds of Inman survey respondents — 65 percent — had at least 11 years of experience in the industry. Nearly 4 in 10 had more than 15.

Nearly 4 in 10 were agents, and about the same share were brokers. The rest were other industry pros, including execs from MLSs, associations and tech companies.

Just over half of the agent and broker respondents — 56 percent — were affiliated with a franchised brokerage.


When asked to tick off the challenges facing the real estate industry today, respondents’ top picks were “low-quality agents” and “MLSs that don’t adapt to broker or market needs,” followed by “a broken overall consumer real estate experience” and “entry by non-industry companies.”


The results were in line with findings from the “DANGER Report” commissioned and released by NAR in May, which found that “masses of marginal agents” were the No. 1 threat to the industry.

Some respondents placed the problem of low-quality agents squarely on the shoulders of the agents themselves.

“A great many agents are part-time. Other than the few transactions they finagle out of their family/friends yearly, they have very little to do with the industry and don’t care to educate themselves or increase their skills. This is a disservice to their clients and gives real estate professionals a bad name,” said one agent with three to five years’ experience.

“Another issue is with some agents who have been in the business a long time. They have done business the same way since the 1980s and refuse to make any concessions in terms of adopting new technologies or systems that could facilitate smooth transactions for all the other parties involved.”

Another agent with similar experience said: “Agents get in easily, don’t know what they are doing and don’t ask questions to learn. I hate agents who don’t return calls when you want to show properties, aren’t managing client expectations, ask for crazy concessions, miss deadlines, aren’t familiar with contracts and generally act like spoiled children. If you are above showing your listing, you shouldn’t be listing the property!”

But others believed the National Association of Realtors or state regulatory agencies should make it harder to enter the business.

“The state is too easy. People [who] guessed the exam and pass and cannot even really read the legal forms are Realtors,” one broker said.

“To become a Realtor, a person should have a college degree,” she added.

“Make the test a bit harder. The consumer has no respect for Realtors because their friend who did not graduate high school is also a Realtor.”

Regardless of who is responsible, the results are detrimental to the industry as a whole, some respondents noted.

“Inexperienced and uneducated agents intentionally or unintentionally commit ethics violations and give the industry a bad reputation,” said a broker with 11-15 years’ experience.

An MLS executive with more than 15 years in the business remarked that lack of professionalism hurts agents’ credibility and perception of value.

“While the level of professionalism remains low, consumers and brokerages will continue to look for a technology fix or promise thereof,” he said.

“Buyers and sellers continuing to feel like the ‘expert’ helping them through what is usually the single largest financial transaction in their lives is not the ‘expert,’ not wanting to pay ‘traditional’ commissions because of the poor quality of service and the general public’s perception that they don’t really earn the size of the ‘traditional’ commission.

“The different business models that are emerging will in many cases disintermediate agents from buyers and sellers unless the bar is raised and the public’s confidence restored that they are getting true value for their money!”

One veteran broker tied this challenge and others in the industry — including the entry of non-industry companies — to MLSs refusing to adapt to broker or market needs.

“If the MLSs weren’t trying to protect their separate interests, they would have put the consumer and the agents’/brokers’ experience first, which would have not opened the door for all the syndicators and now the additional non-real estate companies jumping into the mix,” she said.

“It is the first place for radical reformation.”

A technology provider noted, “There are simply too many MLSs and associations. It’s ridiculous when one city has multiple organizations that lack size and resources — it only causes for petty fighting and politics. Everyone would benefit if they merged together to become larger, stronger, better-funded organizations.”

When asked to name the single biggest challenge facing the industry, the biggest share of respondents — 36 percent — continued to choose low-quality agents. But concerns about recalcitrant MLSs fell compared to “entry by non-industry companies” and “a broken overall consumer real estate experience.”


Several respondents felt that non-industry companies fed a negative public perception of agents and their value.

“Tech companies and brokers trying to get an edge are publishing sales [and] listing data in formats on websites that are very user-friendly and attractive compared to industry websites that are not intuitive and frustrating for users,” said a broker associate with six to 10 years in the business.

“Websites like Trulia and Zillow make it easy for sellers to post their listings without an agent and easy for buyers to get all the information they think they need without using an agent.”

A broker with 11-15 years’ experience said, “[T]hey also deliver a perception to the agent community that we need them to get leads. As long as brokers release data and agents pay for leads, this model will continue to be successful and the agent/broker will help someone make a lot of money.”

Some respondents fretted about the quality of data found on non-industry websites.

“Clients have been fed so much bad info that they think they know our business,” said one agent.

“Lack of quality control for data (translates) to potential legal issues with buyers,” said a veteran broker.

Worries about the overall consumer experience hinged on the role of technology.

“As technology becomes better and faster, the relevance of agents in the next three to five years could be in trouble,” said one new Realtor.

“Customers are already finding homes without agents, can process a loan online. The next phase is title search, inspections, closings, etc., without leaving your desk.”

Technology can help boost production, but there’s a downside for consumers, said one veteran agent.

“Technology is watering down the personal touch consumers need to feel confident the agent is taking care of their need,” the agent said.

“We rarely meet with sellers again after the first listing presentation until closing. Once buyers are under contract, we don’t see them again until closing. I rarely meet the agent I am working with.”

Not all respondents were fixated on agents’ relevance. One broker who has been in the business for more than 15 years said “denial” was the industry’s biggest challenge because “while they see themselves as playing a central role in the real estate transaction, I’ve had strangers say they’d pay a fee NOT to have Realtors involved in transactions!”

Who will meet the challenges?

When asked which entities will help the real estate industry face these challenges, respondents’ top pick was the National Association of Realtors.

Respondents’ second pick was “Other” with several respondents saying agents or brokers themselves or consumers would be most helpful. Some said none of the entities listed in the survey would be helpful.

Slightly more than a fifth each put their faith in state regulatory agencies or the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO).


A broker with 11-15 years’ experience said low-quality agents were the result of poor broker training.

“It is too easy to become a part-time agent. These agents lack supervision and training. There needs to be a minimum standard of production,” he said.

“I think this problem stems from lack of BIC [broker-in-charge] attention to new agents. A lot of brokerages hire agents and then administer hardly any supervision or training. I speak to new agents and experienced agents also who say they can never get their BIC on the phone to answer their questions.”

He believed regulators would keep BICs and agents accountable.

“Poor training from BIC and it’s too easy to be licensed. Continuing ed needs to be tougher. Fees need to be raised so only committed agents will keep their licenses active,” he said.

Several respondents said NAR would be the industry’s biggest asset in coming years due to its size, strength and lobbying power.

“They have a large voice and significant power to effect change when needed,” one agent said.

“I think they have our best interests at heart and can assemble the movers and shakers of the industry together to plan for the future,” said another.

“NAR is always there to lobby for property rights and Realtors,” said a veteran broker.

“It is the only combined organization that holds ethical standards, has political clout and is run by it’s members,” said a broker with 11-15 years’ experience.

Some of the items respondents would like NAR to tackle include:

“[T]ake a serious look at what it takes to make great Realtors instead of filling the seats.”

“If NAR gets serious about change, they could influence the states to adopt new standards.”

“Raise the barrier for entry and educate the consumer.”

“[K]eeping up with technologies for agents and the changing ways buyers want to purchase property. ”

“The MLSs are never going to change their ways. The only hope we have is with the national organization actually demanding change.”

“Elevating the professionalism of our industry is going to be key to our existence. People would not have used a physician who is not associated with the AMA [American Medical Association] because they believe that those members are more educated and more trustworthy. We need to project that same level of consumer experience expectation.”

What opportunities exist in the industry and who could thwart them?

When asked to check off which opportunities exist in the industry, respondents’ top choices were “High-quality agents become the norm,” “Consumers routinely have smooth real estate experiences facilitated by agent knowledge and efficient technology,” and “How listing data is handled becomes streamlined.”


When asked which entities they believe are a hindrance to the industry when considering these opportunities, the top selection was “Third-party portals such as Zillow and realtor.com,” followed by state regulatory agencies and NAR.


When respondents were asked to pick only one such entity, third-party portals were the biggest concern for 4 in 10 respondents, followed by 2 in 10 respondents worried about NAR.


One agent took issue with portals because “the information and data relayed are not verified. The marketing and advertising tactics create a mistrust between the agent and consumer.”

“It gives consumers a feeling they know as much their agent,” said another.

“They have brainwashed our sellers that the agents have to do this to sell their house. People sell houses, not ZTR,” a broker said, referring to Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com.

One agent noted that there need to be more resources to help buyers and sellers determine which agent is a best fit for them, rather than connecting them to whomever opened his or her wallet.

“Just because you are the agent who paid to be next to all the listings doesn’t mean you are the one who would take the best care of that potential homebuyer,” the agent said.

Dissatisfaction with NAR

While many respondents considered NAR to be the industry’s biggest asset, many also considered the trade group to be the industry’s biggest hindrance.

Respondents complained that the trade group was slow-moving, self-serving, “bloated,” and “devoted to the status quo, mediocrity [and] keeping money where it now is.”

An MLS executive with more than 15 years’ experience said NAR will become the industry’s biggest hindrance “[b]ecause they are an organization that is steeped in tradition that is run by committee and an ever-changing group of volunteers that must keep the number of members high for the dollars they need and the perception that they have so many members that politicians really listen to them.”

“NAR is a dinosaur,” said one veteran broker. “It should devolve into a pure lobbying group. They are good at that. Otherwise, they provide zero value.”

NAR’s leadership structure needs to change, according to some respondents.

“They need new, younger and dynamic leadership that they have lacked for too long. Change has to be drastic at the top,” said a broker with more than 15 years in the business.

“Typically, the people who serve as association officers and committee chairs are not leaders,” said a broker who chose “poor industry leadership” as the industry’s biggest challenge.

“This has always been the case in the more than 44 years that I have been a broker.”

NAR’s corporate hierarchy makes it “very difficult to effect widespread change quickly enough,” said another veteran broker.

The trade group’s apparent inability or reluctance to move quickly will be a detriment to its members, some said.

“NAR will move too slow to control data and make an impact on entry requirements for new agents,” a broker said.

A technologist with more than 15 years’ experience noted, “While there are many wonderful, smart, dedicated people associated with NAR, as an organization, it unfortunately seems to pursue policies which entrench barriers, create inertia, and fight progressive thought and policies.”

Other respondents were more blunt.

An MLS executive with more than 15 years’ experience accused the trade group of “poor governance, bad policymaking and spending money like a drunken sailor.”

“[T]hose who are involved only care about their own paychecks,” said a portal owner.

A broker who worried about non-industry companies pulling focus away from Realtors as experts said NAR would not help and indicated a lack of trust in the trade group.

“NAR has a reputation of talking out of both sides of their mouth, and even though the majority of members do not believe in programs like RPR, the [NAR] board pushed forward because NAR has an agenda that does not include local MLSs or associations or for that matter any of its members,” the broker said, referring to NAR’s national property database and subsidiary Realtors Property Resource.

“Agents are beginning to realize we don’t need the self-serving structures and regulations [of NAR]. A national MLS will evolve, and release both consumer and qualified agent from this archaic structure,” another broker said, alluding to the fact that, in many markets, agents and brokers are required to join NAR in order to access the local MLS.

Another broker said it was up to NAR whether it was the biggest hindrance or biggest asset for the industry.

“[R]educing their membership cuts at their bottom line, but they must do so to improve the industry’s reputation, or their lack of initiative will open the door to consumer tech companies disintermediating the traditional buy/sell process,” the broker said.

Read the full survey report with all the results.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.