Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent over six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
A few weeks ago, Teresa Boardman’s column, “Listing feedback doesn’t matter. Stop worrying about it,” garnered quite a bit of, well, feedback. It is one of the few columns published anywhere that I nodded my head in agreement with everything written. Well, not everything.
She’s right: Listing feedback doesn’t matter. You have far bigger things to worry about than whether every buyer’s agent provides feedback. As Boardman pointed out, you’re not getting feedback from everyone, so get over it, and help your clients get over it through education.
Fully realizing there will be many readers who will think, “Whoa, that’s crazy talk!” I’m going to take, “Listing feedback doesn’t matter,” one step further.
Listing feedback is a bad idea, and agents should consider abandoning it.
In a perfect world, listing agents wouldn’t pursue feedback, and sellers wouldn’t demand it. Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world, far from it. But we can, and should, strive to make it better, make our jobs easier, serve our clients in the best way possible, and execute our fiduciary duty to them.
As a buyer’s agent, I never provided feedback on a listing. As a listing agent, I never asked for it. If you wade into an online discussion about listing feedback, you’ll see countless agents that would label me as “lazy,” and even “worthless,” because of my complete lack of adoration for providing or gathering feedback.
Ask my clients, though, and I’m sure no one would describe me as either lazy, worthless or any other negative superlative tossed about by agents in their endless pursuit of feedback.
But hey, if you want to judge an agent based only on the feedback or lack thereof they provide, knock yourself out. The list of things to be concerned about in a real estate transaction is lengthy; that judgement falls way down the list.
Why listing feedback is a bad idea
Providing listing feedback is a bad idea because of the fiduciary duties required by law that states place on an agent.
(Yes, some states have transaction brokerage that eliminates fiduciary requirements. Folks in those states should continue reading, as there are situations beyond fiduciary duty that make providing listing feedback a bad idea.)
A real estate broker who becomes an agent of a seller or buyer, either intentionally through the execution of a written agreement, or unintentionally by a course of conduct, will be deemed to be a fiduciary. Fiduciary duties are the highest duties known to the law. As a fiduciary, a real estate broker will be held under the law to owe certain specific duties to his principal, in addition to any duties or obligations set forth in a listing agreement or other contract of employment. These specific fiduciary duties include: loyalty, confidentiality, disclosure, obedience, reasonable care and diligence, and accounting.
There are reasonable arguments that providing listing feedback could violate the duties of loyalty, confidentiality, reasonable care and diligence, and possibly disclosure. Breaking one of the six fiduciary duties is bad. Violating three or four is unconscionable.
A look at ShowingTime feedback
Let’s take a look at the automated feedback questions on one of the most popular showing tech providers, ShowingTime. Seemingly, the options are to leave false or conflicting feedback in an attempt to keep your negotiating power, give too much information or say nothing at all. Here are several reasons not to leave listing feedback.
Weakens negotiation position
The first default question in ShowingTime (arguably the most widely used feedback tool) asks, “Is your client interested in this listing?”
It’s easy to understand why the answer would interest the seller. Why a buyer would disclose this on a feedback form is beyond me. Want to show your interest in a listing? Submit an offer; that’s a crystal clear sign of interest.
Not interested enough to submit an offer? Totally understandable. In that case, why would an agent or buyer disclose potential interest and possibly compromise their negotiating position?
That leads us to the third question in ShowingTime, “Your (and your client’s) opinion of price.” I’ve seen feedback responses that say the buyer is “very” interested in the listing, and their opinion is that the price is “just right.” Well, good luck negotiating the price with a seller armed with that feedback.
As buyer’s agents, we remind our clients all the time not to fall in love with a listing. Then we’re going to turn around and tell the seller they love the home and find it priced perfectly? Really?
“So just give feedback that the price is too high!” says someone. What if it’s not? Should we just lie? How about simply not giving the feedback? Sure seems better than lying about it.
NAR’s info on the confidentiality duty states, “An agent is obligated to safeguard his principal’s confidence and secrets. A real estate broker, therefore, must keep confidential any information that might weaken his principal’s bargaining position if it were revealed.”
“Keep confidential,” not lie about it. The best way to keep interest level and thoughts on price confidential is to simply not provide it in some form that pops up on your phone or email.
“But Jay, us Realtors are all in this together. We owe it to listing agents to provide feedback.”
No, you don’t. Your duty is to your client, not the listing agent or seller. The only thing a buyer’s agent “owes” a listing agent or their client is fairness and disclosure of material defects.
The NAR’s Code of Ethics does not state, “thou shall provide their buyers opinion of property or price.”
In fact, what it says right there in the Preamble is this:
Realizing that cooperation with other real estate professionals promotes the best interests of those who utilize their services, Realtors urge exclusive representation of clients; do not attempt to gain any unfair advantage over their competitors; and they refrain from making unsolicited comments about other practitioners. In instances where their opinion is sought, or where Realtors believe that comment is necessary, their opinion is offered in an objective, professional manner, uninfluenced by any personal motivation or potential advantage or gain.
Huh. “Do not attempt to gain any unfair advantage over their competitors …” Perhaps one should stop and ponder whether a listing agent asking a buyer’s agent and their clients about interest and price would be an “unfair advantage.” After all, listing feedback can clearly compromise a buyer’s negotiating position.
It doesn’t help your fellow agent
You’re probably thinking, “OK, Jay, we get it. Showing a level of interest and thoughts on price might compromise our buyer’s negotiating position. But I’m still a fan of helping my fellow professionals. I want their help too. So I won’t submit feedback if my client is even remotely interested in a listing. But if they aren’t interested, I’m giving feedback. Why not?”
Sure. No buyers have ever changed their minds, right?
Buyers change their minds all the time. You’ve never had a buyer ask, “Why isn’t this home on our list to see?”
You want to say, “Because you said absolutely no two-story homes, and you said it must have a pool and must be built after 1995. And this home has two stories, no pool, and was built in 1972.”
Next thing you know, you’re submitting an offer on a multistory, no pool almost 40-year-old home that meets precisely zero of your client’s “must haves.”
The last thing a buyer’s agent should do is compromise their clients’ negotiating position in the slightest bit. Listing feedback makes it easy to do exactly that. Sure, you can just make up answers, but what’s the point? Doesn’t that defeat your admirable goal of helping out a fellow agent?
Why potentially violate the fiduciary duty you are required to obey? Or potentially compromise your clients’ negotiating position? Why potentially anger a seller with a comment like, “that wallpaper is atrocious,” when you might just want to come back and make an offer?
The listing agent represents the sellers and has a fiduciary responsibility to them. You represent your buyers and have the same responsibility to your clients. No one “owes” feedback, and providing it does nothing good for your client. In fact, it might harm them.
Listing feedback doesn’t matter, and it’s a bad idea.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree who lives in the Texas Coastal Bend, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.