“Does anyone have success with open houses? What should I do to increase attendance?”
“I’m just getting my real estate license and wondering which brokerage firm is best?”
“My buyer didn’t get his mortgage because he lost his job and he didn’t tell anyone. How do I get his deposit back?”
These are the kinds of questions you’ll find every day posted on Facebook pages and in groups. There are hundreds of real estate-related groups for networking, tech advice, mastermind discussions and just for fun or venting. Wherever real estate professionals gather — online or in person — you’re sure to hear similar requests for help.
“Crowdsourcing” the answer to questions is not new. Long before the internet, agents gathered around the water cooler or for adult beverages after hours and compared notes and war stories. Agents gave each other advice on all sorts of problems then, and they still do now.
Crowdsourcing can get you excellent answers — in certain situations. The simpler the question, the better it works. “What is the deadline for NAR’s next Code of Ethics cycle?” should get you the right reply from someone. “What are the current monthly dues at Lake Wynonah?” Pretty cut and dried.
But the questions asked in many of these groups are far from simple. Legal, ethical and contract-related questions fill the real estate group, and these are not easily answered. Some might go so far as say that these questions have no business being asked on Facebook.
There are questions only your broker can and should answer. Although the agent is acting as an independent contractor in most cases, the broker is ultimately responsible for the activities of his or her agents.
The broker must supervise each agent, and thus all serious questions should be run past the broker, not the masses on social media.
Why agents turn elsewhere for advice
Let’s look at why agents turn to crowdsourcing rather than their own broker.
In the world of instant everything — 24/7 access to movies, media, banking and even our office files — we have grown to expect fast answers. Consumers do it to us.
They call from a sign or portal ad and expect an agent to pop up and show them the house.
And agents expect nothing less. Deb Madey, broker at Peninsula Realty Group, said, “Just as some buyers will forego loyalty for instant attention and answers, so do agents. An agent posts online and gets answers instantly.”
Not only is Facebook faster, but it’s also easier. Tap out the question in a few lines, then sit back and wait for the replies. Simply press return, and your question goes out to hundreds or thousands of agents across the country.
You don’t have to drive to the office to track down the broker in person or wait for his return call. Century 21 Advantage Gold CEO and Founder Bill Lublin said the dynamic is different when agents ask questions online.
“The group is easy; there is no judgment, and they don’t have to feel they are a bother. They don’t even have to make a phone call. Easy doesn’t translate to right, but it is easy,” he said.
Being behind a computer screen allows for a layer of anonymity and safety. Talking to the broker face-to-face might seem intimidating to some. You don’t have to look the broker in the eye and admit you don’t know what the right thing to do is. It’s safer and less threatening to the ego to ask the group.
Alyssa Hellman, director at Go School, said, “I think it is about feeling a safe space online when, in reality, social media is the worst place to ask some of the questions I see asked.”
Hellman feels so strongly about this that her company created a place on their Go School website so that agents could ask questions.
“We even make the point that if we aren’t best-suited to answer the question that we will point them to someone who is. We find that folks like to ask us because it is a sort of anonymous system versus the idea of the ever-scary, ‘I don’t know’ that they would have to say to their broker.”
Laurie Weston Davis, CEO/broker at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Lifestyle Property Partners, said, “People who don’t want to ask their broker — that makes me think that the relationship with their broker is poor to begin with.”
The broker-agent relationship
This hints at a problem that might originate with the broker-agent relationship. The broker bears the legal responsibility for the agent’s actions, so obviously should be the go-to resource for questions.
In reality, it’s more complicated than that — as is evidenced by the number of agents who prefer to consult the wisdom of crowds rather than their broker’s advice.
I read a number of the popular real estate Facebook groups and regularly cringe at the questions posed — and answers given — online.
Sometimes I post “This is not the appropriate place to ask that question. Ask your broker.” I am shocked by the replies, which include “My broker is too busy,” “I cannot find him” and even “I did ask her, and I don’t agree with her reply, so I’m asking the group what would you do?”
Those answers outright scare me.
If your broker is too busy to answer your questions — find another broker. Simple. Your license is portable.
If someone cannot give you the time of day to answer your questions, you need to find a broker who will. Period. If you wanted a quick and easy answer, this is it.
If you say you cannot find your broker — pause for a minute. How long have you been trying to ask him for help — 30 minutes or a week?
If the answer is “this is a long-term problem,” see the above. Move to another firm, to a broker who can and will help you.
If the answer is a few hours — breathe and wait a little bit. Brokers are human, too, and they are not always available instantly. Leave a message. Type out an email. Then wait for a reply.
If your situation is you asked your broker a question, and you don’t like the reply, ask yourself why. Are you posting to Facebook anyway, looking for validation of your personal opinion of what to do?
If you think that getting a group answer that supports your view somehow trumps your broker’s ruling, you might be wrong. If the broker is right, getting a second and third and 99th opinion on it makes no difference.
And if the broker is indeed wrong (and it can happen), then why are you with this broker? Angela Gilbert Raab, director of agent development/technology at F.C. Tucker Company, said, “I would guess that many agents are looking for justification that they are right rather than getting the correct answer. ‘See. These 10 people agree with what I did.’”
Finding social validation, not quality answers
There’s another element at play here. People looking for answers on social media also find comfort in validation and empathy from the group. The poster feels like he or she is not alone in this if the group chimes in with suggestions and support. He or she connects with members who post answers, which reinforces the feeling of camaraderie as solutions and suggestions pour in.
Likewise, those who respond to questions online gain satisfaction as well. Requests for help might be answered quickly by numerous people. The posters might feel they are helping the agent gain a better understanding of the real estate business.
In general, people join groups because they want to be part of the community. Replying with an answer feeds their egos by demonstrating knowledge of the business, and it shows they are “good people” by helping others.
That said, speed and volume of replies does not guarantee the quality of the answers. Someone might post “I am in Texas, and the gas company removed the propane tank after closing on a property. What is the buyer’s recourse against the seller?”
All real estate is local, and yet reply after reply might say “I am not in Texas, but here in (insert state x), we would do this … ”
That reply might be interesting in terms of comparing how we do things across state lines, but it is of no value to the Texas agent in that situation — which, again, points back to the broker as the final source of information.
That Texas agent’s best resource is his or her own broker, as the hundreds of agents who might reply on this topic probably have no knowledge of Texas law — or what is customary in that particular part of Texas.
Finally, even if another local agent responds to that particular post — how do you know how knowledgeable the poster is? Widening the pool to fish from does not mean you have a better pool of answers.
You might get dozens or hundreds of replies to your question — many of which are unhelpful at best. Some will say “do this,” and others will argue “no, do that.” Too many replies can lead to analysis paralysis — the phenomenon that too many options lead to the inability to make any decision at all.
Facebook is not going away. The groups do help build camaraderie and community, and as long as agents are gathering at the well at the end of the day, they will ask each other for advice and help.
We do need to be conscious, however, what questions are appropriate for crowdsourcing and which ones are best left discussed with the broker.
Relying on a national (even international) group to guide our business practices is naive at best and dangerous at worst.
As a broker, my hope is that I don’t log on and see any of my agents posting “what would you do” in public forums when it comes to legal, ethical and contract-related advice. Ask your broker. Please.