Agents Decoded: There's no excuse for bad (agent) behavior
Most agents are hardworking and professional, says broker Phil Faranda. But those who aren't can damage your brand and the industry — and should be terminated.
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As a broker, I sometimes have to run interference for my agents. That can mean contacting a fellow broker or manager to assist in a transaction because there is friction between our respective agents. Those are not my favorite calls to make.
Most real estate agents are solid, hardworking people who care deeply about their clients. Sadly, a small minority who don’t act professionally remain in the industry because we as brokers and managers allow it. This has to stop.
Recently, one of my licensees was finding it hard to get professional collaboration from their counterpart at the other company. To put it more bluntly, the other agent was being disagreeable and argumentative. In an industry that relies on cooperation, this wasn’t just unpleasant, it was destructive.
In our neck of the woods, contracts are not signed right away, so even though a meeting of the minds existed, the deal was in jeopardy if our clients got frustrated enough to walk before signing.
At the heart of the issue was an inexplicable delay in sending us a contractor’s estimate for the repair of a septic system, which is no small matter. Our clients wanted to see the estimate and match it up with their own before signing. Again, in our market this is normal. After over a week of waiting, I called the other broker.
The problem, I explained, wasn't merely the delay, but the acrimonious pushback.
I heard the following phrases uttered by the other broker/manager:
“She’s an acquired taste.”
“She’s not the most diplomatic person, but she sure tells it like it is.”
“My agent is passionate, but her heart is in the right place.”
We all know the codewords in this business — cozy means small. Rustic charm means it needs serious updating. My colleague’s sentiments were code for explaining away and enabling unprofessional behavior. That kind of behavior is damaging to all parties and merits dismissal more often than we admit.
Most brokerages terminate agents who are unethical or act outside the law, but some struggle to address more subjective behavior. It can cause real damage to brands and the trade as a whole when behavior doesn’t rise to the level of ethical or legal infractions, but far exceeds civility and professional conduct. Some examples we’re all familiar with include:
A bombastic or acrimonious attitude
Failure to deliver on promises of documentation or other follow-up
Radio silence when a timely response is of the essence
Cutting corners that shouldn’t be cut
I’ll expand on that last one: In the situation where we were waiting for a contractor’s estimate, after intervening with the other broker, I was first told that the estimate was “sent to me.” There was nothing in my inbox. Finally, a screenshot of a text was messaged over. No letterhead. No detailed good faith estimate. Just a text bubble was supposed to suffice.
Sadly, I think we sometimes forget that a home purchase or sale is almost always the largest transaction of most people's lives. What might be considered business as usual between people who are used to our lingo and shortcuts doesn’t cut it with a consumer who is spending $600,000 when their biggest purchase to date was a $30,000 car. These folks deserve our best, not our shorthand.
In many cases, all of the chasing, the drama, the evening calls with frustrated clients and the stress can be traced back to one thing: an agent who put their mood ahead of the business at hand, who wasn’t willing to break a sweat, and, worst of all, was defiant about it. And that kind of defiance happens because their broker allows it.
The job of the real estate agent is to be the professional voice of objectivity, level-headedness and dispassionate advocacy. When a licensee embodies the opposite, they need to be let go.
Termination of unprofessional agents is the ultimate addition by subtraction. It raises morale among the colleagues who no doubt had to deal with that toxicity, it removes a headache for the broker or manager, and it sends a message to other agents that we stand for higher standards than merely not getting caught breaking rules.
I can’t make it any clearer: Bad behavior should be met with pink slips, not excuses.
J. Philip Faranda is a real estate broker-owner serving Westchester and Putnam Counties, just north of New York City. He founded J. Philip Real Estate in 2005, now the top independent brokerage in the two counties by transaction sides, and his real estate blog has been cited by major media outlets. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author.