Bad communication practices in transactions lead to misunderstandings and can mask unethical and unprofessional behavior. They can also diminish goodwill, undermine trust and lead to a build up of resentments that could derail your transaction. Here’s how to avoid all of this.

One of my biggest frustrations as a Realtor and as a principal broker is when I cannot reach the cooperating agent or, if necessary, their principal broker. This drives me crazy! To this day, I still get frustrated when someone does not get back to me in a timely manner.

Yet real estate is one of the few industries that relies on communicating and cooperating with other competitors in the profession to earn a living. A cooperative spirit is at the heart of what it means to be a professional real estate agent. And a key element of cooperation is open lines of communications

However, the number one complaint that consumers lodge against real estate agents is the relative radio silence at pivotal moments during their real estate transactions. Common grievances among clients include poor communication during the inspection and repair and replacement resolution periods, and before the property closes.

Sometimes the news at these critical points in the transaction is not always good news, but agents must communicate with one another, no matter what the issue might be. The problem with not addressing these issues upfront, and with bad and ineffective communications practices in general is that it leads to misunderstandings, and it can mask unethical and unprofessional behavior. It can also diminish goodwill, undermine trust, and lead to a build up of resentments that could derail your transaction.

To help to avoid all of this, and to change our industry for the better, here are five helpful reminders to make sure you’re doing your part as a communicative and cooperative real estate agent.

Get comfortable with doing things that make you uncomfortable

There is no question we dislike giving bad news or providing information to the other side of a transaction that may result in confrontation. No one likes confrontation. We want to avoid it. We want it to go away. But it’s an inevitable bogey monster lurking in the background during negotiation processes that we must wrangle gracefully. It’s part of our professional process.

By avoiding an important issue, a difficult subject, or complaint with the cooperating agent in your transaction, you are guaranteed to provoke that bogey monster. Instead, you must openly address the issue sooner rather than later in order to clear the path to closing.

When I can’t get in touch with the cooperating agent, I use the following script. I also shared it with my agents so that they can use it with the cooperating principal broker when they can’t reach the other agent:

“Mr. (or Ms.) Broker, I’ve been trying to reach Betty Agent to present an offer we have on her listing at 123 Elm Street. I was wondering how to proceed. I’ve tried reaching Betty on her cell via voice mail and text, as well as leaving multiple messages at her office. I’m wondering if she is O.K. My buyers are eager to have their offer presented. What do you recommend?”

I’ve had great results with this approach. It is non-threatening and will make the other broker track the agent down.

To reinforce my point: Agents should always respond to others’ calls and e-mails promptly and courteously.

Don’t assume the other agent is doing their job

Never assume that the cooperating agent is doing everything that they should be doing. Many times, when we assume that someone else is handling an issue that needs to be addressed for the transaction to move forward, nothing is, in fact, being handled. You must always follow-up with the other agent to make sure that they’re on the ball. 

But that doesn’t mean demeaning them or bossing them around. The top leaders and negotiators in this and other businesses are firm, polite (often witty) and respectful. Show professional respect for your peers. To last in this business, agents must have mutual respect for one another.

Article 15 of the Realtor Code of Ethics states: “REALTORS® shall not knowingly or recklessly make false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals, their businesses, or their business practices.”

Article 15 is probably the most violated article in the entire Code.

We tend to speak ill of another agent when something goes wrong, or they do something that affects our client, our transaction, or us.

Bad-mouthing another person has become a common problem in society, but it does not have to be in our industry.

The professionalism we espouse through the Code and within our real estate practice depends on managing the words and actions towards each other.

Hold your tongue and keep your personal feelings about another agent to yourself when they have caused issues or problems. 

Don’t poach another agent’s clients 

I once fired an agent from our firm when I learned she was prospecting at other agents’ open houses. She was trying to get information about the sellers, so she could contact the seller to try to steal the listing from the listing agent.

Agents need to realize there is enough business out there for everyone. Real estate agents need to be creative and innovative, but they still need to land clients through legal and ethical means.

Article 16 of the Code provides several standards of practice outlining the importance of not encroaching on signed exclusive agency agreements.

Don’t shift the goalposts

One of the most frequent complaints I hear about other agents involves altering compensation before or after a contract is signed. A listing agent will enter the cooperating broker compensation in the MLS as “X,” but when that agent discusses compensation at the time of the offer, the compensation is “Y.”

Most MLS systems have established detailed rules on commissions and compensation. Changes to compensation get messy and sometimes ends up in an arbitration hearing at the local Realtor association. You should submit a cooperative compensation agreement to the listing broker before submitting an offer to purchase so there are no questions about how much you will be paid at closing.

Change your mindset

When there is an uncooperative agent on the other side of the deal who is not doing what they should be doing, you will end up doing most of the work in the transaction.

Why? The reason is pretty simple: you must always protect  your client and work in their best interest. Remember, they need to sell or purchase a home. If the other side is not cooperating or doing their part in the transaction, you will have to do it.

You will need to change your mindset and take control of the situation. The other agent has dropped the ball, and now you need to pick it up and possibly carry it to the finish line. The bottom line is you cannot let your client down.

We must always remember we are working in an industry that requires cooperation. Most of the homes listed in this country are sold not by the listing agent, but by a cooperating buyer’s agent. 

We all are working toward one goal — taking care of the parties in the transaction so the seller sells their house and the buyer purchases their dream home. Good communication practices and professional and ethical behavior will make this happen quickly.

John Giffen is Director of Broker Operations for Benchmark Realty, LLC in Tennessee. He is the author of “Do You Have a Minute? An Award-Winning Real Estate Managing Broker Reveals Keys for Industry Success.”

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