Gallup (gallup.com) conducts a regular poll of ethics and honesty of various professions. Although the survey is not inclusive of all professions, many are covered in alternating years. Results from the 2013 survey ranked the top five professions as (along with their corresponding “Very High/High” rating) nurses (82%), pharmacists (70%), grade school teachers (70%), medical doctors (69%), and military officers (69%). At the bottom of the list we can find lobbyists (6%), members of congress (8%), car salespeople (9%), state office holders and advertising practitioners were tied at 14%, and lawyers and TV reporters were tied at 20%.
Real estate agents were included in the 2011 Gallup Ethics and Honesty survey, where they were rated with a 20% Very High/High rating; which would be toward the bottom of the list. The 20% rating is actually an improvement from the 17% rating given in 2008. Believe it or not, the 20% rating seems to be the highest rating achieved by real estate agents since the first time they appeared in the poll in 1977; and 2011 was the second time for such a rating (2005 was the first). Historically, the rating ranged from 13% to 19%; not surprisingly, the lowest ratings seem to coincide with housing market slowdowns.
The “Very High/High” rating used to compare consumer opinion of professions may be a little misleading. The 20% “Very High/High” rating in ethics and honesty could lead one to believe that agents are generally viewed negatively. However, in 2011 the “Low/Very Low” rating was 22%; while the 57% “Average” rating may be more indicative of consumers’ opinion of real estate agents’ ethics – which is indifference.
The National Association of Realtors® has for years tried to influence public opinion of Realtors® and the industry (not all real estate agents are Realtors®; Realtors® are members of the NAR), by publicly promoting the high ethical standards by which Realtors® are held. Many are unaware that a code of ethics was adopted in 1913 by the association (which was then called the National Association of Real Estate Boards), and has since strived to instill and maintain a high level of integrity in the field.
With such emphasis on ethics, you might expect that public opinion would be much higher. Unfortunately, the limited research on consumer perception of ethics is mixed at best. And according to one study, consumers consider price, quality, and value more important than ethical criteria in purchase behavior (The myth of the ethical consumer – do ethics matter in purchase behaviour? The Journal of Consumer Marketing. 2001;18(7),560-577.)
The reality may be that consumers are not necessarily concerned about ethical behavior or honesty when hiring agents; which may be why the NAR has decided to add a compulsory dimension of “value” for practitioners so as to increase public opinion of the industry. In an effort to increase professionalism standards, the NAR recently approved an “aspirational” Code of Excellence. A report on the November 10th NAR Board of Directors meeting stated (realtor.org), “The goal is to raise the practice of real estate measurably through increased training in the competencies that consumers value. These competencies include the stewardship of property listing data, privacy and security of consumer information, advocacy of property rights, community involvement, and technology.” NAR President Steve Brown was quoted to say, “This is the first step in a process for the continuing improvement of our profession…”
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