Fixing Our Image Problem

Real estate agents often fare poorly when it comes to public perception, but statistics prove that it is an image built on little foundation. All agencies can play a role in raising awareness of an ethical and hard-working industry. John McCormack gives his opinion.

Ever sat next to somebody at a dinner party and felt vaguely uncomfortable when the question comes up, So, what do you do? How can an industry whose employees put in a phenomenal amount of effort to help people meet their property goals, both short and long term, be the subject of negative public image?

In my 22 years in real estate, I have met a lot of people within the industry and I am yet to come across one who acts unethically or puts their own needs above the needs of their clients. It is unfortunate that one bad action can sully the reputation of an entire industry. Realistically, however, “the horror stories are what get the ratings on current affairs shows and it is the one bad experience that gets all the press.”

When interviewing a prospective employee for a sales or property management position, the interviewer is judging them against an exhaustive list. Agents must have a positive attitude, honesty, loyalty, enthusiasm, integrity, people skills, drive and ambition, a high level of organisational skills, dedication, flexibility (including being prepared to work long hours and weekends) and being a team player. Above all, they must be ethical.

Our industry must follow the Property, Stock and Business Agents Act, however, unlike professions such as law or medicine, there is no strict code of ethics that all practitioners must follow. The Real Estate Institute of New South Wales Code of Conduct often used by agencies (including Starr Partners) is a benchmark by which we can measure and maintain high standards of behaviour.

Statistically, the number of people who do not meet industry standards is miniscule. For instance in the full year period between July 2007-June 2008 RP Data recorded over 156,000 property transactions. In the same twelve months, the NSW Consumer, Trade and Tenancy Tribunal (CTTT) received only 70 applications for claims in relation to an agent’s commission. That is, less than 0.5 per cent of all sales were the subject of dispute.

Looking at leasing, the CTTT report for 2007–2008 revealed 8021 tenants made an application for a hearing relating to the behaviour of a property manager or landlord. Allowing for a 10 per cent increase in claims the following year, tenants’ claims would still relate to less than 1.5 per cent of available properties.

So nearly all agents can be said to go to great lengths to meet, and often exceed, clients’ goals. Good agents pay to attend regular external training seminars, have a close network of likeminded contacts and work long hours (a 65 to 80 hour working week is standard for much of the industry). It goes without saying we also know how to listen to a client in order to pinpoint what they are hoping to achieve – then do whatever it takes to exceed these goals.

So, you know what makes a good agent. But what separates the good from the great? You’ll find most top agents work in an office whose principal has a clearly defined staff selection policy, job descriptions, office policies and procedures and weekly staff performance reviews; they provide excellent weekly in house training sessions; have embraced technology in particular the recording of all contacts into a database and regularly market to that database; they have an excellent working environment with very efficient support staff. In addition, the office will have very polished marketing material and a programmed marketing schedule.

At Starr Partners Real Estate we take measures to protect the integrity of our profession. One of these measures is to have all new franchisees sign an agreement, part of which states that we are able to terminate an employee who breaches the REINSW Code of Conduct. This helps to protect the integrity of our industry and ensures Starr Partners has a positive public image, with reciprocal benefits for franchisees.

John McCormack is a General Manager of Starr Partners Real Estate.

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