Professional One Creates Highest Barrier to Entry to Real Estate

Sometime in September of 2009, before I ever saw or heard of the #RTB hashtag on Twitter, I had a lengthy Twitter exchange with Stefan Swanepoel (@Swanepoel). We were talking about the need for an increase in the level of professionalism in real estate. Here’s my best recollection of the conclusion of our dialogue:

  • Swanepoel: “I don’t see anyone really leading on this issue.”
  • Me: “I think a company just needs to stand up and lead by example. I think it’s that simple.”

Since that first exchange with Stefan, I’ve spent a lot of time interacting with people within the real estate industry to discuss the issue of #RTB, or “raising the bar.”

This blog is full of blog posts that I have written relating to the #RTB movement, because we feel it is critical to the long-term success and viability of the industry as we know it today. We even founded and host a weekly show called “#RTB on the Radio” to try to engage people and create momentum for this movement.

And, at times, I think we’re making a difference. We’ve had some wonderful, amazing guests on the show, and we’ve had some fantastic blog threads and extended conversations with people all over America, from New York to Texas to Tennessee to Virginia to California and just about everywhere in between.

And, to be candid, there are other times when we think that real estate is like an enormous supertanker that is simply way too big to turn in any meaningful way, and that it’s destined to keep on going in its current direction, come what may (“come what may” covering the gamut from “the industry will take care of itself, relax” to “Titanic, Part Deux”).

Having invested this time and interacted with hundreds of people, here are the things we feel that we’ve learned so far:

  • There is an incredible, almost overwhelming lack of cohesion within the industry. We cannot think of any industry that is more fragmented than ours. Get five people involved in a conversation on what should be done to raise the bar in real estate – even if they all agree that raising the bar is of paramount importance – and you’ll get five different opinions on how best to accomplish that goal. Realizing this – and it does NOT take long to figure this out – makes having any hope for consensus-building a real challenge.
  • There is a high level of denial within the industry. Let me be to the one to say this: THE EXCEPTION DOES NOT DISPROVE THE RULE. Just because you know a few great agents with no education (and we know many too!) does NOT mean that having an educational requirement is a bad thing. Just because more education or a higher barrier to entry won’t solve every issue doesn’t mean that these are not inherently good things. Just because no solution is going to be a magic bullet for all that ails the real estate industry does not mean that we shouldn’t be pursuing the obvious, common sense changes that could and likely would improve the level of professionalism in real estate. Finally, pointing out that others are also rated poorly in the Harris Polls is just plain lame. So what if people think poorly of other service providers? Why are we concerned with that? We *should ONLY be* concerned with how WE are perceived. Nothing else matters!
  • We are not seeing leadership from the top of the real estate industry. We don’t want to open this Pandora’s Box, but it simply must be said: major industry insiders/players are conspicuous by their absence and silence. Maybe they are leading and we just don’t know where to look to see evidence of that leadership. But given all the buzz about #RTB in Social Media, we *think* we would have stumbled across some evidence of such leadership at some point. So far? *crickets*

The point of reiterating all these things? To get to this conclusion: we are not optimistic that the industry will “fix itself” as so many – particularly those with a vested interest in protecting the status quo – love to say.

When I read what Glenn Kellman of Redfin had to say on this point, I stopped what I was doing, I sat down and I wrote this post, because he confirmed what I had been feeling for quite some time. Please read Kellman’s entire commentary, because it is excellent, but here is the key excerpt to which I am referring:

“The industry can’t fix its relationship with consumers because it’s still so busy arguing with itself: about what agents should pay brokerages, about what brokerages should give agents, about who promotes whom. Every time I start to think that real estate will sort itself out, I go to a conference of brokers and panic, because I’ve never seen so many professionals invest all their passion in topics that have nothing to do with the customer.”

And now I find myself right back where I started my pursuit of #RTB, and to where I started this post.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” ~ Ghandi

After several months of research and focus groups and office meetings (and – to be honest – shouting matches) about the balance between, on one hand, our global desire for growth, and, on the other, our insistence upon professionalism, excellence and quality of service, we reached a meeting of the minds among our core management group.

And a bit of advice I received a few years ago from Rich Sheridan of Menlo Innovations proved invaluable during this process:

“In order to build your brand, you MUST make your “inside equal your outside.” That is, your image must actually BE who you are at your core, because people will immediately see through the facade if there is a disconnect. And if there is a disjunct between your “inside” and your “outside,” your brand will be meaningless and end up having no value.”

And when NAR’s OWN STATS show that brand is the “most important” factor when choosing an agent only 3% of the time (!?!), it’s fairly clear that real estate as a whole has done a collectively poor job of creating brand images that resonate with the public.

Hmm…I think we’ve seen this somewhere else, haven’t we? (UPDATED: And here.)

So, we took stock of (1) what and who we are at our core, and (2) the image that we want to project to the outside world. And, low and behold, we discovered that they were one and the same.

The missing piece? We simply hadn’t articulated or defined the bar/barrier to entry that we had already subconsciously created!

And our bar/barrier to entry is higher – MUCH higher – than what the industry itself has created.

Without further adieu, here it is. To become a Professional One real estate professional from this day forth, an agent must satisfy all of the following requirements:

  • Possess a college diploma (four-year degree), OR a broker’s license OR five years of documented full-time experience as a real estate professional.
  • Pass the Future Achievement International “Merit Profile” character assessment (this is an assessment which measures 10 character competencies and four behavioral traits and provides a scoring for an individual’s attitudes, beliefs and commitments).
  • Have a clean record of professional service (no ethics charges, no unfavorable litigation, etc.).
  • Agree to the Professional One “Mission Statements and Core Values” to the LETTER, 100% of the time, with zero exceptions…ever.

This is our definition of “raising the bar.”

This is our definition of “real estate professional.”

This is a branding message that we think will appeal to our target audience: our CLIENTS, the people who use our agents to help them buy and sell homes.

Have we gone TOO far with this? Are we using TOO NARROW a gateway or TOO FINE a filter?

To be honest, we don’t care.

We believe that uniform, consistent delivery of quality service is the ONLY WAY to create legitimate brand equity.

This isn’t about being BIG. We’re more than happy to let the behemoths tell you how “they’re number 1!”

This is ALL ABOUT providing a legitimate PROFESSIONAL SERVICE EXPERIENCE for each and every client that graces us with their business. Service like you’d get at a top-tier law firm or a “Big Four” accounting firm.

I experienced that type of “uniform service delivery” during the decade I spent in public accounting before I got into real estate, so I know that it’s possible.

The formula for providing that consistently excellent level of service was stunningly simple: you create the highest barrier to entry in your industry…and you build your business with the people talented and experienced and smart enough to want to be associated with that premium brand image…and you let your clients – again, the public – understand what you’re doing with a consistently delivered and articulated branding message.

In servicing real estate buyers and sellers in our market–all of Metro Detroit, with an emphasis on Northville, Novi, Plymouth, Canton, Ann Arbor, Birmingham, Livonia and West Bloomfield–we’ve raised our bar…

When are YOU going to step up?


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