Can we call ourselves professionals?
Oct 21, 2013
By Lloyd R. Manning
In recent years, from many quarters, concerns have been expressed about the continuing decline in professionalism. This includes medical doctors, lawyers, accountants, other professions and certainly Realtors, assuming that we who transact in real estate as agents for sellers and buyers could be considered as a profession in the first place.
That we can legitimately call ourselves “a profession” is questionable, because many of the basic canons of a profession seem to be lacking. One only has to follow the blogs and opinion pieces in magazines such as REM to prove the point. The public is very cynical about this. Some place Realtors in the same category as used car salesmen and politicians. In our industry there is less focus by Realtors on the needs of clients and more on making that sale or getting that listing. It is suggested that many have forsaken their professional roots and regard their agency solely as a business, and professionalism is a lesser priority. This creates the need to inform the public more by deed than word that Realtors are indeed professionals. We must demonstrate by high standards of ethical behaviour, service and conduct that we live up to the tenets of professionalism and the Codes of Ethics we so often hear preached.
Professionalism is best described as a relationship between a person who has a high level of expertise and discipline in a chosen field and who is a member of an organized group of like-minded individuals with the same expertise and discipline in the same field, and the relationship they have with their clientele. The building blocks of professionalism are being well educated in the chosen discipline, integrity, honour, leadership, independence, pride, collegiality and service, all balanced with commercialism.
This includes the relationship between a Realtor and a client and the unwritten contract between the Realtor and society. An essential attribute is the ability to provide sound advice, competent service and to quote the medical profession, “Do no harm.” Real professionalism involves a pride in one’s work, a commitment to quality, a dedication to the interests of the client and a sincere desire to help. Professional success is about attitudes and about character. These are demonstrated by energy, drive, initiative, commitment, involvement, enthusiasm and the ability to provide sound advice.
Professionalism does not mean wearing a suit, carrying a briefcase, driving a high-priced automobile or always having your cell phone at the ready, just in case. Nor is it having a collection of meaningless (to the public) designations and diplomas, which many associations and commercial diploma mills are far too anxious to hand out. It is not one, but a combination of qualities; not a skill but a blending and integration of a variety of skills and attributes.
All of this is wonderful news; isn’t it? Or is like the multitude of seminars and lectures on ethics, just grinding out the same old and worn-out palaver to deaf ears? Know-nothing lecturers and writers of articles such as this keep telling us everything that is wrong with the way we conduct our business, so should we not listen to them?
There is also a common thread that runs through most professional organizations. This is an ingrained negative reaction to compulsory ethics courses where it creates increased monitoring and accountability. Case in point! For over 35 years I held the AACI designation. During all those years I never had a single incident reported to the Canadian Appraisal Institute or had to legally defend an ethics or malpractice violation. Not one! Yet, having more than 125 continuing education credits where only 60 were required for recertification, to be able to continue practicing as an appraiser, I had to take an ethics course taught by someone with less than half of my experience. How ridiculous!
In real estate sales there are many very competent, very conscientious and very honest Realtors who could justifiably call themselves “professional”. They demonstrate all the mandatory characteristics just referred to. However, this is not the majority. In so many areas in our industry commercialism and old-fashioned greed has taken over. To earn a good living is a common goal and a necessity, yet many of our colleagues are given over to avarice. Fundamental ethical behaviour, which often is in competition with increased revenue and profit, is losing.
Realtors win prizes and in-house recognition, not for doing a good job, not for advancing the acceptance of the industry, not for assisting the less knowledgeable or for high-quality professionalism, but for making the most sales, getting the most listings or earning the most commissions.
Ours is a fractured commercial system comprised of largely poorly trained, ill-fitted candidates who were initially attracted by romantic notions of what selling real estate is all about and anticipation of high earnings, but for whom the starvation rate is high and the retention rate low. Although the pre-licensing courses have reduced the revolving door concept to a degree, the high failure rate persists. No other industry or profession would tolerate such seduction of the innocent and this waste of human resources as does the real estate brokerage industry.
There is a philosophy, not spoken about but certainly practiced. If at the beginning of a fiscal quarter you hire 10 new sales agents and if at the end of the quarter two remain, your brokerage has done well.
The industry has only itself to blame; not the government, not the public, but us. There is a crying need for all Realtors to uphold the values of a profession and make a strong commitment to do so.
Professionalism must start with the Realtors themselves, insisting that all practitioners uphold the tenets of true professionalism and eliminate from our ranks those who do not. Until this occurs, acceptance by society will never be attained. The greatest challenge will be the elimination of unprofessional conduct from all unethical and incompetent Realtors. This is to consider the interests of our clients and the public as the No. 1 priority. This is not to sacrifice our own needs to attain this end but to demonstrate care and concern for our client’s welfare in all of our actions, not by giving only lip service or obtaining continuing education credits for having taken an ethics course, but a genuine commitment.
In Part 2 of this article, I’ll discuss the question, “Can ethics be taught?”
Lloyd Manning, AACI, FRI, CCRA, PApp is a semi-retired commercial real estate and business appraiser and broker who now spends his time writing for professional journals and trade magazines. He resides in Lloydminster, Alta. Email firstname.lastname@example.org