Trust is melting around us today like spring snow washing into the sewer.
When growing up, I felt I had institutions and people around me that I could trust comprised of my large family (4 grandparents, 9 aunts and uncles and accompanying cousins all close by), my church, my highly Catholic upbringing, the Boy Scouts and the men and women who politically led us. Naively, back then, the occupant of the White House was for me a symbol of trust (until Watergate).
This trust allowed me to enjoy a sense of centeredness, of grounding. It was like a child’s swimmie that kept me from sinking.
Today, I watch trust disappearing. How much trust is left when we now know that the primary source of most people’s ”facts,” Facebook, is really an echo chamber where others can ensure that we do not learn facts or real news, but now can be filled with propaganda? How much trust is left when we learn on Inman that a sales rep at our own Realtor.com tells us agents are being defrauded? How much trust is left when the Washington Post chronicles over 2000 fact checked lies by our President in his first year in office? Where is trust when we are shown an apple and told it is a banana?
The erosion of trust has ramifications for real estate agents. After all, consumers trust us with the largest financial transaction of their lives. They trust us with financial and personal information that few other professionals ever see. They trust us with transitions in their lives, good and bad, of expected babies or divorces, of business achievements and reversals. In short, consumers trust us to guide them through their transitions and allow us to see and know things others don’t.
Also, I have also come to learn that the long-termers, the agents who make it through the recessions and the ups and downs, are agents who know that what makes our profession so very, very special is that we fulfill dreams.
It might be a person who wants to own their first tiny piece of the world where they can now open a door and let in whoever they wish and then close it whenever they want. It might be a couple who want a roof under which to build a family. It might be a middle-aged couple whose success now warrants a larger statement of what they have achieved and hire an agent to help them “move up.” It might be an aging couple for whom a home has become too much work and now need to “move out” and “move on” to an easier form of living. It might be grieving children who now need to liquidate their parent’s estate and re-create their remaining lives. Whatever it is, we, as real estate agents, are asked to help fulfill their dreams, because consumers believe they can still trust us.
When a consumer finds an agent who can understand their dreams, they’ve found an agent for life. Such an agent knows that our first business is to focus on developing and nurturing the trust that make us worthy of being handed others’ dreams. Selling bricks and mortar and getting paid just comes with it.
And so trust is at the center of fulfilling dreams.
This is all so obvious and right in front of us that we often forget it. Consider the annual NAR Profile. Year after year it is the same message. 97% of buyers consider it “most important” that their agent have “honesty and integrity.” The Profile tells us that a seller’s “need for a trusted real estate agent is still paramount.” Proof? Sellers first trust the opinions of their friends, neighbors and relatives regarding an agent and that is why referrals and repeat business are the predominant sources of business.
In short, every year the Profile tells us that consumers want trust first. That means agents should first focus on how to develop it. Prospecting and lead gen and all the other paraphernalia of our business should come second.
The consumer’s desire for trust favors older seasoned agents who have a body of past clients or what I call “trust intermediaries” to vouch for them. Newer agents who haven’t yet developed these “trust intermediaries” face an important barrier to entry into our industry, something NAR’s Danger Report identified as a key risk.
A more recent form of “trust intermediary” is found in the rating and grading sites. According to Zillow 53% of all agents now turn to rating and grading sites to help develop consumer’s trust. But such sites are increasingly faced with questions whether they themselves are trustworthy. Consumers know that the reviews found there are often written by friends and family, sometimes even purchased at closing by an agent with a “gift” in return for a sound bite. They also know that bad reviews are censored not just by agents, but by the sites themselves. Further, all such sites are based upon subjective reviews rather than an objective standard. In short, all allow for manipulation and censorship that undermines their trust.
If trust in agents erodes, then consumer may conclude that they don’t need an agent in the transaction. Then, the tech firms who for 25 years have dreamed of disintermediating the agent, will fill the gap. If we don’t put our primary focus on developing trust with consumers, we are in effect empowering these dis-intermediators to win.
Because real estate agents have been entrusted with a dream wrapped inside a transaction, trust and character count more.
In upcoming articles I will explore what consumers look for in a trusted agent and what agents can do to earn that trust by providing (1) transparency, (2) better communication, (3) compliance and (4) accountability in addition to (5) market knowledge and (6) verifiable and honest reviews.
David M. Michonski is the founder of the Quigler app and the author of 3 award-winning books on listing and selling luxury real estate.