A new survey commissioned by flat-fee brokerage Purplebricks found that real estate agents and journalists are among the least trustworthy professions in American consumers’ minds.

Only 11 percent of the survey’s 1,028 respondents said that Realtors can be trusted. Car salespeople (6 percent) and politicians (4 percent) were the only vocations to receive lower votes of confidence.

The survey, conducted by Kelton Global (with a 3 percent plus-or-minus margin of error), found that the most reputable job titles in the U.S. were teachers (91 percent) and doctors (90 percent). Even bankers, at just 14 percent (despite a recession in recent memory), fared better than Realtors and journalists.

Purplebricks does not release the entire 200-page study. Rather, it plans to release other findings and trends over time. According to a spokesperson from Purplebricks, the trust and transparency issue was one of several themes that emerged from the consumer survey.

“The fact that the public places more trust in financial institutions than their local real estate experts is quite telling,” Chief Marketing Officer Jonathan Adler said in the survey’s press release.

The poll also looked at how men and women, various age groups and geographic regions view trust differently.

Millennials turned out to be more trusting of professions across the board than their older counterparts.

Of the geographical regions, consumers in the West are the most likely to distrust Realtors (27 percent), followed by the East (25 percent), South (22 percent) and Mid West (17 percent).

“We’ve seen a huge cultural shift favoring total transparency as Americans’ faith in a number of professions — including real estate agents — has dwindled,” Eric Eckardt, the U.S. chief executive of Purplebricks said in a released statement about the company expanding in Florida.

“The fact is that before Purplebricks, there was little to no visibility into the home buying and selling process – the agents had all the control, which allowed them to hike up commission fees and dole out information as they saw fit,” he added.

As Inman reported last week, Eckardt’s claims of no visibility into the homebuying and selling process before Purplebricks is bold, to say the least.

The company has come under fire in the past in the U.K. over its lack of transparency for fees buried in small print and gotten into public spats over the veracity of its home selling stats.

NAR’s response

Bob Goldberg

In response to Purplebricks’ survey, National Association of Realtors CEO Bob Goldberg pointed to the Code of Ethics as a reason consumers should trust Realtors.

“Members of the National Association of Realtors subscribe to NAR’s strict Code of Ethics, which governs their dealings with clients and customers, the public and with each other,” Goldberg said.

“Consumers can feel confident that the Realtor they choose to work with has taken the voluntary step of agreeing to abide by a code of ethics developed with public protection and trust in mind. Realtors are subject to disciplinary action should a local association of Realtors find him or her in violation of the Code of Ethics.”

Consider the source

Because the survey was commissioned by the Purplebricks Group, the self-proclaimed “next-generation real estate agency” that entered the U.S. marketplace just over a year ago after becoming one of the leading real estate startups in the U.K. and Australia, it can’t go unmentioned that the results fall neatly in the interest of the surveyors.

When asked about the possibility that critics might say the study is biased, a Purplebricks spokesperson said that the company is only the messenger.

The “completely objective” survey was taken by a respected third-party consulting firm which works with more than 100 of the Fortune 500 companies and thousands of smaller concerns and organizations, she said.

It was also pointed out that the sample size guarantees a very small margin of error compared to larger groups, and Kelton set quotas based on age, gender and ethnicity using the latest Census data available to ensure the sample was truly representative.

The survey purposely excluded anyone who works in the real estate industry to ensure that any bias was eliminated, the spokesperson said.

According to the press release, the study results “point to a growing need among consumers for transparent and honest interactions with people who deliver their news, make their laws, teach their children and sell their homes, but don’t feel as though those in key positions are always delivering on that expectation.”

And then came the inevitable commercial: “By providing a clearer way of doing business, even going so far as allowing buyers and sellers to communicate directly to aid in transparency with local real estate experts available every step of the way, we’re aiming to usher in a new era of openness and honesty in the industry.”

“The fact is that before Purplebricks, there was little to no visibility into the home buying and selling process – the agents had all the control, which allowed them to hike up commission fees and dole out information as they saw fit,” added Eckardt.

In the U.S., the brokerage has homesellers pay a flat fee of $3,600 to list their home instead of paying a commission to a real estate agent. Sellers pay that fee upfront, before a home lists, and don’t get it refunded if the home doesn’t sell.

Purplebricks raised the cost of the listing fee from $3,200 to $3,600 earlier this year. Purplebricks customers in the United States still also pay the buyer’s agent commission in those situations where a buyer’s agent is present.

Lew Sichelman’s weekly column, “The Housing Scene,” is syndicated to newspapers throughout the country.

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