Ever-changing contracts. Misread and misunderstood terms and conditions. Missed appointments. Unreturned phone calls. Incorrect product descriptions. Ask real estate agents or brokers about the sometimes unprofessional conduct – intentional or not – of their colleagues in the field, and watch them squirm, roll their eyes or just plain get mad. Like most industries, the real estate market is not without its share of horror stories regarding agent professionalism. Some agents fall short of conducting business in a respectable manner, let alone above board.
By Michael J. Pallerino
In her 30-plus years as a real estate agent, Hazel Goldman has seen it all. She remembers a recent situation involving a Realtor in Miami Beach who presented himself as not only the nicest agent in the business, but also one of the most knowledgeable. Let’s just say he was nice, and one out of two ain’t bad.
Midway through the deal, the terms and conditions of the contract he pulled together started randomly changing. To say that nothing added up was the mother of all contract negotiation understatements. To make matters even more complicated – and frustrating – the agent had no idea what Goldman meant when she pointed out the discrepancies. In fact, he thought the whole situation was outrageous.
“At one point, I told him it was painfully obvious to me that he had never, ever, sold a home before,” says Goldman, a Realtor associate with RE/MAX Advance Realty and a member of the Miami Master Brokers Forum (MBF). (The organization, which was created after Hurricane Andrew because the region was in shambles, is comprised of South Florida’s elite real estate professionals who have committed themselves to the profession’s highest ethical values. The invitation-only membership is limited to the top 250 professionals in Miami Beach, Broward and Palm Beach counties, masterbrokersforum.com.)
“In fact, I called the broker at his firm and told him that, while his agent was polite and courteous, he didn’t know what he was doing,” Goldman says. “I said, ‘Listen, you look bad when something like this happens. It is a reflection on your inability to train or control your agent.’”
During the most recent surge in the always evolving, never boring real estate game, the market, especially in South Florida, has been flooded with agents whose only experiences and qualifications are that they may have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night. And, if you don’t think that’s funny (but somewhat accurate), you’re not alone. Goldman says the softening of the market actually has its upside.
“[The more established agents] are hoping that, because things are slowing down a bit, all those agents who entered the game when it was hot will go back to their day jobs,” she says. Now you can laugh.
UP TO CODE
A paragraph in the “Code of Ethics and Standard of Practice of the National Association of Realtors” should be committed to memory by every real estate agent and broker. It reads: “The term REALTOR has come to connote competency, fairness, and high integrity resulting from adherence to a lofty ideal of moral conduct in business relations. No inducement of profit and no instruction from clients ever can justify departure from this ideal.”
Florida’s Save Our Homes Amendment used to provide protection to homeowners by capping property tax increases from year to year. Under the premise of the new tax bill, property taxes can, in some cases, double. The challenge is whether every agent is going to explain (or understand) the new law to prospective homebuyers.
According to a recent article in the Miami Herald, the jury is still out on that question. The story tracks the plight of a couple who received sticker shock when their annual tax bill arrived more than double, from $3,500 to $8,600. To note, their new home was not only smaller, but the same price as their other home.
“Realtors know about this new law, but are they going to pass the information along to the customer?” Goldman asks. “Yes, they have to, but are they willing to tip a potential sale in the other direction?”
Goldman and other agents we interviewed, some of whom either declined to discuss the topic of agent professionalism or spoke off the record, say that, overall, the Miami market is defined by hardworking, professional agents who are dedicated to their craft. “If you have been in this market for a while, you know who the professionals are and those who are not,” says Jo Sumberg, a broker associate with Avatar Real Estate Services and member of the Miami MBF. “There are agents out there who I would gladly help if they needed me. And there are those I wouldn’t.”
SHOW ME THE WAY
Bert Oliva, a renowned public speaker, author and corporate trainer, says a Realtor cannot help anybody if he cannot help himself. In almost every misstep and miscommunication, there’s a method behind the madness.
“You cannot change the situation, you can only change yourself,” he says. “[When you look at why you have uneducated agents in the field] money is not the root of all evil, but the love of money is. It’s time that agents team up and work together. It’s all about relationships and finding the answers to questions that you don’t have. It’s about mentoring. Everybody has [a mentor].”
Goldman has served as a mentor for two real estate professionals who, she says, continue to make their new marks on the South Florida market. Her husband, Walter, and son, Evan, both have benefited under her wing. After 23 years as an administrator with Dade County Schools, Walter redirected his career into real estate in 2000, while Evan, a licensed Realtor who is fluent in Spanish and speaks intermediate Japanese, has been in the business since 2005.
Sumberg says no agent is beyond mentoring of some kind. “If I were to move to California tomorrow, I would have to work with a local agent out there for at least a year to understand the market,” she says. “Mentoring is hard, but it’s critical.”
DO WHAT YOU SAY
A few years ago, Nicolas Torrent headed out to show a house that he had a good feeling about. Unfortunately, the Realtor who presented the offer had the only key to the property, which meant Torrent, along with other agents, was blocked from showing the listing.
“It took weeks to open the property because the owners were out of the country,” says Torrent, broker and owner of NET Real Estate Inc. “It was a nightmare. After the listing sold, we discovered that the agent who had the key was holding on to it to improve her chances of making the sale. In my opinion, anyone who acts in this unethical manner should have her licensed revoked.”
In the real estate business, nothing is worse than an agent who vanishes from the face of the earth. “If you have a listing, be available to service it,” Torrent says. “[That means] make proper arrangements if on vacation or unavailable. Nothing is more irritating than waiting five or six days to hear back to schedule a showing. Most of the time, customers cannot wait that long. We have a strict policy in our office. If we ever get a complaint, I personally make sure it does not happen again, even if it means assigning an assistant to that listing.”
Torrent says agents must understand how crucial their professionalism and overall knowledge of the business are to their customers. “Buyers and sellers are depending on your expertise and overall education in order to make one of the single largest investments they will ever make,” he says. “It must be taken very seriously.”
“Do unto others.” Lisa Almy, a Realtor-associate with World Real Estate Exchange, believes this age-old adage is the best advice any real estate professional can adhere to. “All agents should put themselves in their clients’ shoes, whether it’s a listing or a buyer, and provide the service you would expect,” she says. “Keep cool and be organized. Always remember that we need each other to make the deal work, so be cooperative and considerate of the other agent.”
Almy says she always gives another agent the benefit of the doubt. “[You must] have the attitude that everything happens for a reason,” she says. “I am flexible. It’s important to stay positive. When the time is right, I will mention a criticism to a colleague, if I must. In some cases, I will not work with someone who is unprofessional.”
THE SKILL FACTOR
Jo Sumberg remembers showing an old home in Coral Gables that her clients actually fell in love with. After moving from room to room, the only downside they saw was size. The next day, when the agent asked if the couple wanted to move on the house, Sumberg told her that it just wasn’t big enough.
The agent asked if Sumberg showed them the additional storage room the previous owner built into the home. Sumberg asked, “What storage room?” When she took the couple back the next day and showed them the storage room, the deal was done.
“Some agents fail to realize that there is a skill involved in selling an item,” Sumberg says. “As a general rule, this profession is misunderstood by the general public, as well as the newbies who come into the business expecting to strike it big. It’s a lot of work and very time consuming. From the outside, it looks easy. There is a lot of personal time and money spent on trying to sell somebody else’s home.”
Sumberg says there’s an influx of new agents who believe they have what it takes to move homes. “It is more than the schooling and getting a license,” she says. “You have to put in the time. You have to be able to have 20 homes in inventory and be able to market each of them. There are agents out there who don’t have the skill to look at an inventory and pull out which product is right for their client. [You have to be able to discuss] lighting, alarm systems, air conditioning units or just the way it is situated on a property to market. I’ve seen plenty of agents who don’t know how to discuss these issues [intelligently], much less read or write a contract.”
“It’s a complicated business,” she says. “You have to take each product from beginning to end, discuss each intelligently, deal with brokers, other agents, appraisers and your clients. And, all the while, you must have a standard of excellence and a standard of ethics to adhere to. I have always done what I thought was right. And, I sleep good at night knowing that. I look at it this way: For every 50 agents out there who do a great job, there are 150 who don’t. That’s the challenge for each of us.”
World Real Estate Exchange
RE/MAX Advance Realty
Bert Oliva Enterprises
Avatar Real Estate Services
Nicolas E. Torrent
NET Real Estate Inc.