The standard for appropriate business attire is always a moving target, especially in real estate. How should residential real estate brokers navigate this ever-shifting playing field, one full of landmines in every direction?

In this monthly column, Anthony Askowitz explores a hypothetical real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic. Anthony is the broker-owner of South Florida’s largest RE/MAX office, and a working agent who sells more than 100 homes each year.

This month’s situation: The standard for appropriate business attire is always a moving target, especially in real estate. The traditional suit and red power tie for men and nylons with closed-toe shoes for women are rarely seen, as a more casual sense of style has become the norm.

But perhaps the line has shifted too far in that direction, with a growing disregard for any semblance of a professional dress code. How should residential real estate brokers navigate this ever-shifting playing field, one full of landmines in every direction?

Agent perspective

After five years of struggling on our own, my new partner and I have decided to form a team, leave our old-school brokerage, and join a national company that has the tools and support we need to maximize our abilities. We are excited by the possibilities of this new direction, and to proving our former colleagues wrong.

Our market is a major US city noted for its youthful energy, international flair and diversity of culture — hardly the place for formal, boring dress codes. But that’s exactly the kind of vibe our former broker and co-workers tried to instill in our office, never missing an opportunity to chastise us for making modern, stylish, yet professional fashion choices.

More often than not, we would reflect the style of our customers and prospects, while these agents would present themselves like every other cookie-cutter wannabe out there. Our style differences intentionally set us apart, and follow the new principles about creating a brand for yourself.

We have every confidence that forward-thinking brokers from the major national offices will agree with our philosophy and eagerly recruit us to join their offices.

Broker perspective

While our market is certainly style-conscious and modern, there is a line between professional and casual attire that newer agents often cross with reckless abandon. Blame it on the pandemic, social media, hyped-up real estate reality shows, poor mentoring or all of the above, but the lack of dress code standards has gotten way out of control.

I was excited to interview this new team, comprised of two agents with five years of individual experience. Both presented themselves professionally and were well-groomed, clearly knew the market, and had a good plan for reaching the next level of production.

But if I’m being honest, I had a hard time getting past their garish fashion and accessory choices, which seemed better suited for a local nightclub than showing property (much less a “first-impression” interview).

At this point in their careers, no one should need to be told that this look does not inspire trust and respect in a business where they will be dealing with a customer’s most valuable asset. I’m sure the hairstyles were the latest trends and took hours at a salon to create, their designer-name clothes cost hundreds of dollars, and their jewelry and make-up choices would be perfect in certain settings – but a real estate office is not one of them.

Don’t get me wrong – I realize professional fashion has become much more casual in recent years. I have grown perfectly comfortable with style choices from both genders that would have made me blush 10 years ago. But there is a line of appropriateness, and unfortunately this team didn’t even realize that they had crossed it.

This is truly a shame, because – in those fleeting moments when I could get past their style choices — I really loved their attitudes, their experience and their confidence. How can I consider hiring agents lacking this degree of self-awareness?

How to resolve 

The disconnect between the broker and these prospective new members of his team may not be as far apart as he thinks. On the one hand, the broker is correct about an agent’s appearance and dress needing to inspire trust and confidence, and about professional attire moving in a  generally more casual direction.

But there are other factors to consider regarding appropriateness, and different markets and situations do warrant different dress codes – even within one region. Looking at South Florida (where this column is produced), for example, style in the Palm Beaches tends to be “country club chic,” leaning traditional and colorful; greater Ft. Lauderdale is a little more conservative and buttoned-down; Miami sees a wide variety of modern, cutting-edge and body-conscious choices, while the Florida Keys adopts a very casual, resort-based look.

In-house sales representatives for pre-construction condos, who work in glamorous and ultra-chic sales galleries, are going to dress much differently than agents who specialize in suburban single-family homes, who put function ahead of form.

Instead of dismissing these potentially productive agents, the broker could instead decide to have a frank, direct and judgment-free conversation about the typical customer of his office and their expectations of how an agent presents themselves. If the agents feel strongly that their style choices reflect an untapped client base that could open new doors for the office, they can respond just as directly and try to convince the broker of their decisions.

With this conversation being held in a respectful and collaborative environment, it is very possible that the two sides could find a happy medium, with the agents continuing to dress in a stylish manner within the confines of the office’s professional guidelines.

Anthony Askowitz is the broker-owner of RE/MAX Advance Realty, with offices in Hollywood Beach, Davie, Miramar, North Miami, South Miami, Kendall, and the Florida Keys, and where he leads the activities of more than 190 agents. Follow him on Instagram.

NOTE: Anthony Askowitz is not an attorney and does not give legal advice. Please consult a licensed attorney regarding matters discussed in this column.

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