- Taking the high road, diplomatic phone calls, 'informal dispute resolution' and ethics complaints are among the ways Realtors can respond after discovering that a competitor has bad-mouthed them to clients.
Another agent, who had never met Thompson, had “so vociferously denounced” Thompson that the client “felt they had to meet me,” he said.
In the fast-paced world of real estate, some agents bad-mouth others in an attempt (perhaps a misguided one) to win business. While Thompson’s case shows that putting down competitors can backfire, it’s also possible that agents may be able to plant seeds of doubt about the fitness of their competitors.
From ignoring criticism and making a stern phone call to being snarky and filing an ethics complaint (scroll to the bottom for details on this last option), agents who discover that a competitor has been putting them down can respond in a number of ways. Read on to learn seven tactics for dealing with trash talk from competitors.
1. Ignore it
“When you have HATERS, you know you are kicking butt,” said Houston, Texas-based Renae Gibson, voicing a belief shared by many successful agents in the Facebook group Lab Coat Agents.
Taking that to heart may help ease any irritation you may feel upon discovering that someone else is trying to injure your reputation. It could also give you enough confidence to take an approach recommended by many agents: ignore the criticism.
“I just act really nice when I see them, like I don’t know,” said Carmen Parker, an Allen, Texas-based Realtor. “Makes them look like an idiot.”
Fussing over what other people say about you can be distracting. Better to focus all your attention on your clients, some agents say. And after all, you never know when you might find yourself across the negotiating table from your detractor.
“Kill him with kindness,” said Livermore, California-based Realtor. “You may have a buyer for his listing one day.”
2. Make a ‘friendly’ call
If you feel like it’s necessary to confront the agent who’s been taking cheap shots, consider making a diplomatic phone call. Broach the issue in a non-confrontational manner, and express your desire to get along.
“I got all jacked up for the phone call thinking it was going to be an argument and was not excited for it but handled it in a non-accusatory way and the other agent apologized and it was totally fine,” said Boston broker-owner Justin Rollo, recalling his experience contacting a competitor who had made negative remarks about him.
Here’s how Salt Lake City-based agent Rodney Moser took the friendly-call route.
David Serpa, a Winchester, California-based broker, advises calling and “very kindly” asking the competitor for her side of the story.
“After you hear him out tell him that you would appreciate him not talking to your clients again and would like it if he would talk to you in the future,” he said. “Then wish the agent the best and tell him that you’re sure he’ll beat you on the next one.”
3. Make a stern call
Too wishy-washy? You can also take a sterner approach.
Make your displeasure known, and perhaps even allude to the possibility that less level-headed agents than yourself might have felt compelled to answer their comments with more than just a phone call, some agents suggest.
“I’d at least call them up… and express surprise at their unethical behavior towards your clients…… Let them know, you ‘won’t pursue any other action,’ but again, you are surprised……” said Leavenworth, Kansas-based broker Mike Nielsen.
“I would want to be snarky too, but I would very professionally remind him that there is an ethics board that this could be brought to if he thinks this is acceptable practice,” said Gaithersburg, Maryland brokerage CEO Vilas Wright.
4. Have your broker call
If you’re a sales agent, you might also ask your broker for some back up.
When Plantation, Florida-based Realtor Crystal McElhaney learned that a broker had texted her client saying McElhaney had overpriced her client’s listing, her detractor later “got to be the recipient of a nice call from my broker,” McElhaney said.
“He never bothered me or my client after that,” she said, adding that the home later sold for only $5,000 less than the listing price and appraised at just $600 less then the listing price.
5. Be snarky
Not what you’d learn in manners class, and not endorsed by Inman.
But for some agents, responding snarkily could be cathartic and send the message that you’re not pushover, some agents might say.
If you’re going to flout the self-help books, you might want to first close a transaction with the client who was told of your alleged shortcomings. Then you might creatively bring the sale to the attention of your would-be saboteur.
Likely commenting in half-jest, agents floated ideas including sending the competitor a “just sold” card, tagging the competitor in a “just sold” Facebook photo of the home or directly texting such a photo to the competitor.
6. Seek ‘informal dispute resolution’
If both the agent taking cheap shots and the agent targeted by them are Realtors, the aggrieved Realtor — should she feel the situation merits aggressive action – can seek informal dispute resolution from her local Realtor board or association.
Many boards and associations offer dispute resolution services, including ombudsmen — an intermediary who communicates via phone the concerns of one party to another to restore a relationship — and mediation, which typically involves meeting face to face with a mediator who “encourages both parties to come to a mutually satisfactory resolution,” according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
But before going this route, at least try to bury the hatchet through direction contact with the other Realtor first, NAR says.
Mending fences through informal dispute resolution is often preferable to formally filing an ethics complaint, as informal resolution is “quicker, less costly and often help repair damaged relationships,” NAR says.
7. File an ethics complaint
Many agents say this is going overboard, but if all else fails, the aggrieved Realtor could file an ethics complaint that — depending on the nature of the remarks in question — could conceivably result in disciplinary action against the competitor.
Article 15 of the Realtors Code of Ethics states that Realtors “shall not knowingly or recklessly make false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals, their businesses, or their business practices.”
Kevin Milligan, vice president of NAR, said that, “while the Code of Ethics doesn’t mandate good manners or civility, truthfulness is required.”
Realtors don’t violate Article 15 merely by “disparaging” another Realtor unless the statement is either, “knowingly false,” “recklessly false,” “knowingly misleading,” or “recklessly misleading,” clarifies real estate attorney Russ Cofano.
But at the same time, “a true statement that is misleading could still be a violation,” he said. “That is the tricky part. Truth or falsity is binary. Misleading would depend on the context of the statement.”
Jason Peebles, a director of the Austin Board of Realtors of Austin, Texas, said in the Facebook group Inman Coast to Coast, said he’s sat on some ethics hearings panels where Realtors have been found in violation of article 15 “because it was argued that the respondent was reckless when making statements” — “regardless of whether the statement was true or not, it was the fact that the agent(s) was/were reckless and the statements could have been interpreted by others as misleading.”