This afternoon, while listening to the beautiful Tchaikovsky E-flat minor quartet in a converted barn in Falls Village, CT, my mind wandered to the question of why I want to run a residential real estate company. There are of course a number of reasons: the money isn’t bad (especially when we are on top of our market), the satisfaction is considerable. But considering that I work much of every day all week all year (and yes, I am writing this blog post on Sunday night, now listening to Schubert piano sonatas on CD) there has to be something more to it than that. And what I came up with, in addition to the pleasure I have written about before in this column advising people regarding such an important life decision, is my acute desire to rehabilitate our reputation. The best agents combine the many skills of a trained therapist, a top notch investment banker, and a financial planner/accountant. So why aren’t we perceived that way?
The media rarely portray us respectfully. At the nadir, there is Sylvia Miles in “Wall Street,” clothed in leopard, salivating over her commission, just another facet of the Gordon Gekko universe of greed and cynicism. The same face, although better disguised, is presented by the broker Sally Rawthroat in Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities.” These agents, indifferent to the plight of their clients as long as their “high commission” got paid, exemplify what much of the public believes we are about.
Part of the problem we have in New York State is that the barrier for entry into the real estate business is too low. The state test is extremely easy. The continuing education courses tend to be unchallenging. A more difficult test, a more rigorous course of study, would certainly be appropriate for a job in which what is at stake is often a client’s largest asset. My colleagues at The Real Estate Board of New York and I have devoted years to trying to make certain that all members of the Board, at least, get solid ethics and skills training. And while the bar for entry is low, the success bar is very, very high. Very few residential agents make it to the top.
So let’s look at this another way. Of course we are interested in getting paid. Who isn’t? And unlike most professionals, we can work for months or even a year and end up with nothing, depending on the property, the seller, and the economic environment. Agents at the top of their game have a complex and nuanced skill set: they are marriage counselors, mind readers, negotiators, persuaders, crafters of letters, furniture arrangers, balancers, winnowers, and organizers of financial information. We have to walk a thin line in every transaction – on the one hand, providing emotional support during a complex and often anxious moment in the lives of those we serve, while at the same time remaining objective about value and realistic outcomes. And when things go wrong-the Board says no, a higher offer comes in and knocks us out of the box, the property doesn’t sell – we are the ones on the firing line.
So the reason I write a blog every Sunday night, the reason I speak at meetings to my own agents and in public to consumers, is that I want to make sure we are taken seriously. I know how smart and creative most agents are, how committed to doing the right thing, how tireless in fitting all the pieces of the residential puzzle together. I know they are up at 6 AM looking for listings, and they are up at midnight responding to e-mails. And I want everyone reading this to know that, too.