NAR should promote Realtor Authenticity

Realtor Authenticity
Rules of Authenticity (infographic from MarketingWeek.com “How to be an Authentic Brand”

Several years ago I told you about the National Association of Realtors’ attempt in shifting consumer attitude towards Realtors.  They are pivoting away from selling Realtor integrity, to selling Realtor value.  In 2014, the NAR voted on creating a Code of Excellence to demonstrate competency.  It wasn’t until this past November that the NAR approved a framework of competencies for agents to achieve.  The eagerly anticipated implementation will allow Realtors to assess and grow their skills and knowledge in many aspects of the business of real estate.  But this Commitment to Excellence, as it is named, may help Realtors increase their competency; but in the end, just like being proficient in the Code of Ethics, it will likely fall short in building consumer trust.  The NAR should promote on Realtor authenticity.

Having agents commit to more training is a good idea in building competency among real estate practitioners.  However, research has demonstrated that showing off accolades and awards doesn’t instill value, nor does it increase sales (Valsesia, Nunes, & Ordanini: What Wins Awards Is Not Always What I Buy: How Creative Control Affects Authenticity and Thus Recognition (But Not Liking). Journal of Consumer Research. Apr2016, Vol. 42 Issue 6, p897-914).

Realtors have a trust gap.  And a badge indicating competency and a Commitment to Excellence won’t bridge that gap.  The business of residential real estate is likened to a game of smoke and mirrors.  Instead of encouraging Realtor authenticity, agents are often taught techniques of persuasion to increase sales.  Many agents devise gimmicks and expensive marketing materials to entice you to do business with them.  Even before you meet with a real estate agent, they are likely scheming how to gain your trust.  Whether or not they earn it is an entirely different matter.

Instead of creating another Realtor badge, designation or code, the NAR should consult with James Gilmour and Joseph Pine II (of the Strategic Horizons LLP).  The title of their 2007 groundbreaking book sums it up nicely: “Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want.”  Realtor authenticity is sorely lacking in the industry, and it’s not just the NAR; it stems from the brokers who train real estate agents as well.  In order for Realtors to build trust, they need to be authentic.

A brief 2004 article by Michael Angier (Authenticity Matters: Are you the real McCoy; Sales & Service Excellence Essentials. Vol. 4 Issue 9, p10) highlighted the necessity for authenticity in the sales environment.  He stated that “People like to do business with people they like. And they like people who are like themselves… Buyers today are savvy. They have more choices. And they can tell whether the company and the people in it are congruent. They seek out, resonate with and tend to be loyal to companies that are authentic. Your uniqueness and the things you’re best at doing are part of your differentiating position. It’s who you are—your identity. It’s what people can relate to. If there’s anything false, made up or covered over, your prospects will sense it. And they can’t even tell you why they didn’t buy…”  Realtor authenticity would certainly positively affect client satisfaction.

Realtor authenticity will not only build trust but can also increase sales.  And indeed, a 2006 research article by Allen Schaefer and Charles Pettijohn (The Relevance Of Authenticity In Personal Selling: Is Genuineness An Asset Or Liability? Journal of Marketing Theory & Practice. Vol. 14 Issue 1, p25-35) confirms that authenticity is related to sales performance.  Their results indicated that salespeople who felt more authentic in their roles performed at higher levels and had a higher commitment to “personal selling.”

What do you think?  Below is the framework of the Commitment to Excellence Program as adopted by the NAR is below (from nar.realtor/policy/commitment-to-excellence). It seems to me that Realtors should already be striving to be competent in these areas:

1) Being current and knowledgeable about the laws, regulations and legislation affecting the real estate disciplines the REALTOR® engages in, and about real estate in their community generally.

2) Understanding the Code of Ethics is a living document, and keeping themselves informed about its duties and obligations on an ongoing basis.

3) Providing equal professional services to all consistent with Article 10 of the Code of Ethics.

4) Advocating for property ownership rights in their community, state and nation.

5) Acknowledging and valuing that honesty and integrity are fundamental and essential to REALTORS® being known as consumers’ trusted advisors.

6) Becoming and remaining proficient in the use of technology tools to provide the highest levels of service to clients, customers and the public, and facilitating cooperation by sharing accurate, current information with consumers and with other real estate professionals.

7) Keeping up-to-date on laws and regulations governing data privacy and data security, and taking necessary and appropriate steps to safeguard the privacy and integrity of information entrusted to them.

8) Committing themselves to enhancing their knowledge and skills in the real estate areas of practice they engage in on an ongoing basis.

9) Providing superior customer service.

10) Appreciating that courtesy, timely communication and cooperation are fundamental to facilitating successful real estate transactions, and to building and maintaining an impeccable professional reputation.

11) As a broker-owner or principal of a real estate company, being committed to creating and maintaining an environment that promotes excellent customer service consistent with these standards.

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Real estate agents getting back to basics and focus on relationships

real estateDon’t be surprised when you’re getting more real estate agent phone calls, or seeing more agents at your doorstep. You may be surprised to know that in this increasingly tech dependent world, agents are getting back to business basics; which is founded in personal introductions, building relationships, and providing personal service.

You see, many real estate agents (like the rest of the population), are realizing the limitations of the internet. What was once the promise of a new market place for products and services has become a super-saturated arena of information, advice, and “content” clamoring for your attention; and is a growing disappointment for many due to the increasing irrelevance of information, not to mention the surge of fraud and hacking.

The National Association of Realtors® (realtor.org) has reported on the growth of internet use in real estate over the last fifteen years in their annual Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers (the 2014 Profile indicated that 92% of buyers “use the internet in some way in their home search process…”). And although the statistic is astounding, it is becoming clear that is still not wholly understood how home buyers and sellers use the internet.

You may not be surprised to know that home buyers and sellers don’t entirely rely on the internet for choosing their agent. In fact, many choose an agent through friend/family referrals, personal introductions, and even serendipitous meetings (such as visiting an open house). Furthermore, buyers and sellers are increasingly aware of the internet’s limitations as well; as one home buyer’s recent statement of “…this home is not what was advertised on the internet…” illustrates the type of misleading information that is often found.

Although many are just waking up to the fact that “point and click” does not sell homes, “big housing data” knows it generates online revenue by capturing your information and selling it to real estate agents, loan officers, movers, and others. Last year’s acquisition of Trulia by Zillow was thought by many analysts to be an industry game changer by merging two of the most visited real estate portals. However, many did not consider that the move was to increase traffic and revenue for two companies that were reportedly not “yet profitable” on their own, by “grabbing a bigger slice of the advertising market” (Logan, Tim. “Zillow Deal to Buy Trulia Creates Real Estate Digital Ad Juggernaut.LA Times. 28 July 2014.<latimes.com>).

More recently, HousingWire’s Ben Lane reported on Zillow’s downgrade by Barclays (“Is Zillow in Trouble?” HousingWire. 20 July 2015. <housingwire.com>), referring to a slowdown of traffic due to saturation and competition. Months after the major acquisition, growth of the online real estate portal is “slowing significantly.”

Just as the growth of the internet created markets and changed how real estate agents conduct business; personal needs and attentions are changing how consumers view the internet, as well as producing voids left by agents and brokers who heavily relied on the internet for business.

The NAR’s recent DANGER Report misses the mark by highlighting perceived shortcomings in Realtor® ethics and competency.  However, the real issue may be more about the lack of professional intimacy; which is necessary for commitment, integrity, and building trust. While some already know it, others are waking up to the notion that the quality of the professional relationship is vital to the consumer’s satisfaction – and it all begins with an introduction.

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DANGER Report not a mea culpa – but forecasts issues affecting housing market

real estateNews about the D.A.N.G.E.R. Report is making the media rounds, but maybe the excitement is more hyperbole than news. And contrary to the recent hype, the D.A.N.G.E.R. Report is not a mea culpa by the National Association of Realtors®.

D.A.N.G.E.R. is an acronym for “Definitive Analysis of Negative Game changers Emerging in Real estate.” The Report was commissioned by the National Association of REALTORS® as that is part of the NAR Strategic Thinking Advisory Committee’s attempt to identify issues affecting the future of the industry; the Swanepoel | T3 Group researched and authored the Report, which identifies trends and offers the residential real estate industry an impact assessment.

Described as a “…mix of yesterday, today and tomorrow…” the Report is intended to assist those in the industry to “…anticipate the forces taking shape that we can’t yet see;” by pointing out possible challenges, threats, and opportunities. Although the result is meant to “inspire” discourse, the reception has so far been mixed. NAR CEO Dale Stinton was quoted to say, “The D.A.N.G.E.R. Report is like 50 things that could keep you up at night. It isn’t a strategic plan. It isn’t telling you to do anything. It’s 50 potential black swans. It’s for your strategic planning processes. Digest it and cuss and fuss and decide whether it’s right or wrong…” (Anrea V. Brambila; ‘Danger’ report alerts industry to 50 biggest threats; inman.com; May 15, 2015).

One issue highlighted in the Report that has attracted the media attention is agent competency and ethics. The use of Report quotes such as, “the real estate industry is saddled with a large number of part-time, untrained, unethical, and/or incompetent agents…” is as if some in the media are saying “we told you so.” But the truth is that competency does not guarantee ethical behavior, and vice versa; the answers, like the issues, are more complex than you might expect – and do not assure advancement.

Like many of the issues reported in D.A.N.G.E.R., concern about agent competency and ethics is not new. The National Association of Realtors® has for years tried to influence public opinion of Realtors® and the industry 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, and has since strived to instill and maintain a high level of integrity in the field. And yet with such emphasis on ethics, you might expect that public opinion would be much higher, but 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 D.A.N.G.E.R. Report may have missed the mark by not acknowledging that the industry’s transformation over many decades has been mainly influenced and driven by market forces, regulation, and technology. Discussing “black swans” with regard to these three areas may have been more valuable and practical to professionals and consumers.

However, as much as we try to identify unforeseen events; they are just that – unexpected and unanticipated. Take for instance the extreme changes that have occurred over the last ten years in the real estate industry – much of which were due to market forces, regulation, and technology.

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How home buyers and sellers have changed and remained the same

HomesThe National Association of Realtors® annual Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers is characterized as being a survey of home buyers and sellers that reveals “demographics, housing characteristics and the experience of consumers in the housing market, including the role that real estate professionals play in home sales transactions (realtor.org). The release of the Highlights of the 2014 Profile of Home buyers and Sellers on November 3rd by NAR provides insight into home buyer and seller behavior. I compare a small sample of data from three Profiles that demonstrates how some things have changed, and how some things have stayed the same.

The recent lack of first time home buyer participation is one of the issues that experts point to as holding back a full housing recovery, and has been highlighted by the 2014 Profile of Home buyers and Sellers. Only thirty-three percent of home buyers surveyed in 2014 were first time buyers, which the NAR points out as being below the “historical norm of forty percent among primary residence buyers.” Compared to 2003, NAR reported that forty percent of home buyers were first time home buyers. However, fifty percent of home buyers reported being first time buyers during 2010, which is most likely due to the first time home buyer tax credit that was offered at the time to stimulate home sales.

The 2014 survey revealed that home buyers searched on average for 10 weeks and viewed 10 homes; which is reduced from the 12 week average search indicated the year prior. The 2010 report also indicated a 12 week average search, looking at an average of 12 homes. But these home search stats are a far cry from the 8 week average search time viewing 10 homes reported in 2003.

As you might have expected, home buyer use of the internet has grown. In the 2014 survey, ninety-two percent of buyers reported using the internet in some way in the process. The first step for forty-three percent of home buyers was to look at properties online; while only twelve percent of home buyers initially used the internet for information about the home buying process. The use of mobile applications has significantly increased as technology allowed; fifty percent of buyers reported using mobile websites or applications. Compare this to 2010, when about ninety percent of home buyers reported using the internet; and in 2003 when only forty-two percent of home buyers reported searching for homes online.

Rather than eliminating real estate agents, the internet has changed the relationship between agents, buyers and sellers. Ninety-eight percent of buyers in 2014, who used an agent, viewed them as being a useful source of information. Eighty eight percent of surveyed buyers indicated they used an agent to purchase their home, compared to eighty-one percent in 2010, and eighty-six in 2003.

Ninety-one percent of surveyed sellers in 2014 reported their homes were listed on the MLS, but eighty-eight percent had assistance from real estate agents. Only nine percent of surveyed sellers sold “by-owner.” The 2010 seller stats are consistent with the 2014 Profile; while the 2003 survey indicated eighty-three percent of home sellers used an agent’s assistance to sell their home.

There are differences between buyers and sellers also.  Among the differences in how they choose their agent: the 2014 survey indicated that forty-four percent of home buyers, compared to thirty-eight percent of home sellers, found their agent by a referral through a friend or family.

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Will home prices depreciate second half of 2014?

house for saleIt’s no secret that the pace of home sales has slowed during 2014. So what’s ahead for real estate and the housing market? If you really want to know, Irwin Kellner, Chief Economist for MarketWatch, has some advice. In his August 19th MarketWatch.com piece (Opinion: Don’t count on U.S. consumer to save economy) he eloquently and succinctly stated, “If you are trying to discern where the economy is heading, look at the consumer.” And this applies directly to real estate too.

July housing figures from the National Association of Realtors® are due to be released this week (July housing press release August 21st); and although good news may be suggested, the numbers may be revealing of where the market is heading – and it may not be good. The NAR July 22nd (realtor.org) press release indicated that June’s existing home sales increased (compared to May 2014), however it stated that existing home sales were down 2.3% compared to the same time last year. In the area where I list and sell homes, Montgomery County single family home closings (sales), reported by the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtor® (gcaar.com) also dropped off in June (decreased 1.5%); and particularly telling is July’s decrease of 16.2% compared to the same time last year, as well as the 7.4% decrease year to date (compared to last year)!

The silver lining is that NAR reported that median home prices have increased in 71% of the “measured markets.” However, 27% of the measured markets showed a decline in median home prices from last year. Montgomery County median home sale prices are moderating (according to GCAAR stats): increases were about 3% during June and about 2% during July compared to the same periods last year.

Taking Irwin Kellner’s suggestion of “looking to the consumer,” let’s look at home buyer behavior trends; which may be understood through home absorption rate (the number of homes sold compared to the number of available listings during a given time period). It should be no surprise that the home absorption rate decreases compared to recent years due to the steady growth of home inventories and the reduced number of closings. Surprising is the rate of decrease in the absorption rate (calculated from MLS data) during June and July compared to the same periods last year (a decrease of 15% and 39% respectively).

Like the average consumer, it seems that home buyers may have become a bit skittish. Kellner points out that contrary to economist’s expectations, the August report of the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan survey of consumer sentiment has dropped to a 10 month low. Additionally, he reported that although there has been some good news about employment, he argues that wages are not keeping up with inflation due to the nature of many newly created jobs, which are temp or part-time. Furthermore, he states that consumer savings are either low or “depleted.” Rounded out by the usual concern about job security, geopolitics, and the general economy: Kellner gives us a glimpse of today’s consumer.

As for real estate, the statistics suggest that the housing market may be at another crossroads. Homes sales have already dropped off during the busiest time of year, and it may be reasonable to expect that sales for the remaining year may also be subdued. The mediating factor will be home prices; which may eventually decline as home sellers try to be competitive with other listings, as well as entice home buyers to buy their homes.

© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.