Ethics and Real Estate Agents

Gallup recently released the 2008 results of their annual Honesty and Ethics of Professions poll. Real estate agents came out in the middle of the pack of the polled professions, with the majority of those polled indicating that they felt the real estate profession has average integrity. This year’s results are not substantially different for real estate agents than surveys of years past.

I never used to think much about these polls when I worked in corporate America. When I would meet people in social situations and they’d ask me what I did for a living I’d respond with “I manage part suppliers for an aerospace company.” Ho-hum. Easy enough. The person would nod and smile and usually get a glazed look in their eyes. I’d typically try to change the conversation to something non-work related, like hobbies or current events or new restaurants, really just anything other than airplane engines.

But when I changed my career to real estate, the reaction I’d get to “what do you do for a living” completely shifted. My response of “I’m a real estate agent” or “I sell real estate” was greeted with a variety of reactions. Smirks. Twitches. Backing away. You’d think I just told the person that I sold my mother to the circus. (Really, she’s a nice lady, I would never do this) My new job was making me a social pariah. What the heck? I was still the same person.

So I decided to do an informal poll of friends and former colleagues to find out why people were now treating me only slightly better than a leper. The general results were that my survey group felt real estate agents were pushy, loud, only in real estate for themselves, and not focused on the needs of their customer but just with closing deals. Huh, awesome.

And what are my perceptions now that I’ve been doing this for awhile? Well, it doesn’t really seem to me that individuals that practice real estate behave much differently than people in corporate America, or any other line of work for that matter. Professional ability and ethical behavior seems to run the gamut. Much of it comes down to the individual’s moral compass. I’ve been in situations with agents that have made me raise my eyebrows and at times say “what you’re suggesting is not legal so don’t even go there.” I’ve been in other situations that could have presented huge conflicts of interest if not handled properly and felt that those scenarios were managed with the utmost professionalism and resolved fairly.

The fact that real estate agents rank in the middle of the pack of the Honesty and Ethics poll illustrates that we have some work to do as a profession. What positive and negative examples have you seen in your dealings with real estate agents? What do you think could be done to improve our perception with the public?


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