Let’s talk about ethics for a moment. It’s time for some confessions. I’m going to be honest. Hold on to your seats. OK, are you ready? This is it: I swear. I mean to say, I have a potty mouth, and sometimes I swear like a sailor. But that’s not all. I know, what else could there be?

  • We are real estate agents, and we have our ethics -- not just our commissions -- to worry about.
  • Your reputation will outlive that referral fee you are paying.
  • Be the bigger agent. Even if it’s not in writing, do what is right.
  • A super agent moves on to the next deal, even if it didn’t end the way he or she had hoped, so hold your head high, and be proud.

Let’s talk about ethics for a moment. It’s time for some confessions. I’m going to be honest. Hold on to your seats. OK, are you ready? This is it: I swear. I mean to say, I have a potty mouth, and sometimes I swear like a sailor. But that’s not all. I know, what else could there be?

Well, here it is: I try to, but I don’t go to church every Sunday. That said I do still believe in God, and try to do right by him. I might not be able to quote the Bible, but I get the gist, and I try hard to live my life by it.

Even with my flaws, I try to be the best mom and role model to my children, but sometimes I screw up (usually it’s because of my swearing). So how does this all play into my day job as a real estate agent?

You see, I’m an agent who, well how do I say this? I have ethics. Does that sound like an oxymoron? So many times we get this rep as a used car salesperson, and I start to wonder why. I think the answer might be in our ethics, or in some cases, our lack of ethics.

Does having ethics and being an agent sound like an oxymoron?

Just like when we pull comps to do a home value estimate, our comps and our ethics can be subjective to the way we, or others, look at them. And maybe it’s my background before real estate that has me jaded. I used to be a journalist, and I still am at heart, so ethics and seeing things from both sides of every story is the heartbeat of my life. Which leads me to why I’m writing this today.

Recently, a good friend of mine and fellow Realtor was given what I see as the raw end of the ethical stick. I think we can all relate to this, so I thought I’d share the story.

You take out buyers, more than once — OK, more than a dozen times. You write up offers that are rejected, and then on one night, when you’re tied up and can’t help them, they do the worst thing imaginable — they call another agent. (Oh, no they didn’t @#$%!)

OK, so you’re going to tell me that’s why we need to make our buyer’s sign a buyer’s agreement. Sure I get that, but honestly, they are a hard sell.

These days you can barely get buyers to get themselves pre-approved before you go looking for homes. (They don’t want too many hits on their credit reports.) And now you think you’re going to get them to commit to you by signing on a dotted line? Right.

And by the way, those buyer’s agreements rarely stand up in a court of law, so cuddle with them all you like.

The best bet? We all know what it is: the conversation. The one you have where you tell your buyers you can show them any and all houses listed and not to call other agents because you are dedicated to them.

And I’m sure they heard you — until they dialed the other agent’s number. (Don’t get me started on their ethics.) But right now, in this moment, in this scenario, it’s the other agent I take issue with.

Your best bet is to have the conversation with your buyers

We’ve all been that agent on the other end of the line, “Hi, this is Joe Billy, and I need to see this house tonight. I’ve got cash. I’m ready to go, and I have to see it!”

Bingo; pay dirt — let’s do this.

Hey, wait — stop. Did you ask, “Do you have an agent already?” I do. (Insert your goody-two-shoes comments here.) And I explain right then and there, this an ethical issue for me, and I’m happy to help. But if he or she has an agent whom they are not happy with, (it happens — shocker, right?) that’s fine. But please tell that agent you will be using someone else.

I know it can be a hard pill to swallow. You’ve got bills to pay, mouths to feed, and it’s not your fault if their agent is too busy and didn’t have them sign a buyer’s agreement. Sorry, but yes, I do think it’s your fault.

Because as much as you’ve been this agent getting the call, I know you’ve been the agent on the other end as well. The agent who’s given up dinners with family, answered phone calls and texts at all hours of the day and filled up your tank with gas so many times that you don’t want to see the bill. You have been the other agent.

This is an ethical dilemma. I know, it’s hard — especially, if it’s a friend or family member calling for your help to see said house because the current agent is too busy. Quick question: why is he or she calling you now instead of in the beginning? #ThingsThatMakeYouGoHMMM

But, OK, it happens. And you swoop in as super agent and save the day. You show the house — and boom! You write the contract, and it’s off to the closing table.

Only, you get a call from another agent. The agent who the buyers were using to see the dozens of homes around town for the past three months, and she nicely says, “Hey, I’m really hurt this couple did that, and I’m wondering if you’d work with me on a referral at least.”

What to do? You know from your customers that they were using this agent previously, and you now have spoken to this agent, who seems like a hard-working individual who took the time out of her day to discuss the situation with you, and you know what’s right in the situation. Don’t you? Maybe, you don’t.

Technically, there’s no buyer’s agreement, Technically, this isn’t a procuring cause because this agent never showed the home to your buyers. So yes, technically, legally, you owe this agent nothing.

But what about your reputation? Do you care about that? Because I feel like no matter what the commission is, it’s not worth my reputation. (Oops, there go my ethics again.) What’s a percent referral going to do for you? Is it going to make a big difference in your life? It’s not going to make or break you financially, especially if you’re in this business to stay.

But it can — and it will — make a big difference in your relationship with other agents, not to mention the universe. Haven’t you ever heard what you put out there is what you get back? And it will, also, help stop this perception that we real estate agents are just used car salespeople in better clothes! (Sorry used car guys and gals, we can work on your reputation and fashion later.)

Oh, it just makes me want to — well, swear. OK, you get it, but I’m not the only one. During a round table discussion with other real estate agents on the topic, I found most of my co-workers were equally outraged. (Perhaps that’s why we are friends in the first place.)

But do you know what all of them said? That they would keep this in mind if they ever work with that agent. How about them apples? So you see, I’m not the only goody-two=shoes real estate agent out there.

It’s OK to be the goody-two-shoes agent

In the end, my friend isn’t getting a well-deserved referral, but you know what’s great about her? She’s a superstar. She’s the real super agent because she sucks it up and doesn’t let the bad vibes that other people put out there get to her.

She moves on to the next deal and the next buyer, which inspires me. Although it also inspired me to drop a few curse words here and there for her sake as well.

But it should inspire you, hopefully, to do the right thing next time. It’s never too late to be the better, more ethical agent in the future. I believe in you. You know the difference between right and wrong. And, yes, there is a gray line, and we all walk it from time to time. But if you do what’s right, and you own what you do wrong, I believe you can be a great real estate agent and person.


Sue Benson is the Pink Lady of real estate. Find her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @sueispinky.

Email Sue Benson.

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