Part of the problem is the vast numbers of unscrupulous people who figure the real estate profession offers them a fast track to easy money. It's not difficult, in many states, to obtain a real estate license. Professional standards and educational requirements are at a minimum. Any kid over the age of 18 who doesn't have an FBI record in California can get a real estate license, for example, providing the kid takes a couple of real estate classes and passes an exam. Even high school dropouts qualify.
Which Real Estate Agents Are Trustworthy?
You rarely hear about the honest agents in the news as most coverage is devoted to agent arrests and shady scams. But that's because truthfulness isn't newsworthy. The truth is about 10% of the agents do 90% of the business, and that top 10% are more likely to be the type that buyers and sellers can trust. Many home buyers and home sellers say they want their real estate agent to be honest, ethical, professional and experienced.
What Do Real Estate Agents Lie About?
Mostly, themselves, if you're lucky.
Real estate agents often misrepresent their experience and credentials on their web sites and / or blogs. Some spend inordinate amounts of time posting online to obtain maximum search engine exposure. Others pay for commercial rights to rank high in Google and Yahoo. Agents expend this effort and expense to get you to click on their site.
You may wonder, and rightly so, if you can trust the agent's web site. Just because it's on the Internet doesn't make it true. I run across hokey real estate agent sites all the time in Sacramento and also nationally. The bottom line is if your agent isn't presenting a truthful picture of herself or himself online, what else is your agent likely to lie to you about?
Here are misrepresentations to look for on a real estate agent's web site / blog:
- Real Estate Experience
If you can't easily spot a reference to the number of years the agent has been licensed to sell real estate, it's because the agent has none or very little (under five years) experience. The agent may toss other numbers at you such as how long they have lived in the state or the number of years the agent was employed somewhere else. But only one thing counts, and that's solid real estate experience.
Tip: Experience is important because it means an agent should be able to anticipate problems and prevent them from manifesting. It also means you're relatively assured that over the years your agent has learned how to handle just about any type of potential difficulty without running elsewhere for advice.
- Real Estate Listings
Most agent web sites feature that agent's active listings. You should check for a link to "my listings," to determine whether that agent even has any listings. Only a select few, such as exclusive buyer broker agents, refuse to take listings. Listings are the backbone of experienced real estate agents. If you can't find a link, it's because the agent has no listings.
Tip: Some agents without listings advertise other agent's listings. Read through the listings carefully to see if they belong to that agent. They may not. If you can't tell, call the office number and ask for the name of the listing agent -- you may discover it's probably somebody else. Some agents misrepresent all their company listings on their site as their own, when they are not.
- Real Estate Specialty
Agents generally advertise their specialty, whether it's a neighborhood, type of property or specific types of buyers they may represent. For example, an agent might claim to be a specialist at selling homes in a trendy neighborhood but haven't to date. Or agents may try to market themselves as an exclusive home specialist by showcasing only high end homes on their web site, yet they have never sold a home in that price range. Still, other agents may advertise that they are FHA specialists but have yet to close an FHA transaction.
Puffery is the shameless new PR.
Tip: Be aware that one sale does not a specialist make. Agents sometimes have difficulty drawing the line between what they aspire to become and what they are actually are, so don't be fooled. Agents can get sued for pretending to be a neighborhood specialist, but that doesn't stop some from misleading you.
At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.