Rental Dementia: Why All the Hostility?

Written by Brian Carter on . Posted in Opinion and Column, Posts.

I recently spoke with the manager of a very well known and respected real estate company. He was speaking specifically about agents when he said the business had a self-esteem problem. Apparently, real estate agents aren’t very proud of what they do for a living. It was refreshing to hear, as overcompensation generally comes with the territory. Rarely does anyone inside the industry make such obvious or honest remarks. Most will tell you it’s a difficult but rewarding job—the safe answer. Some admit to loving it. I try to avoid these types. While I imagine others aren’t happy about it at all. But if agents overall are normally a little defensive, it’s for good reason. Last summer a survey conducted by Harris Interactive measured the public’s perception of the most prestigious occupations. Real estate agents ranked dead last.

A professor of mine once said that a glaring difference between Americans and Europeans is that an American, within minutes of meeting you, will ask what you do for a living. According to her, the European will take a different approach in getting to know a person, and it will have a lot less to do with your work. I don’t know what passes for conversation in Italy, but I’d say the obsession with career is at its most prevalent in NYC. Here it’s all about what you do for a living, and how much money you make doing it. That’s not an easy question to answer when you are a real estate agent.

Proof of the negative assumptions commonly associated with agents is available in comments posted every day on blogs such as Curbed. Here is a typical remark from Jan. 2, “I generally hate all brokers and will never trust any of them because 99 percent of them are unethical liars.” Nice.

Yet, next to talking about living in New York, how much we pay for our apartments, how we found them, what neighborhoods are heating up and how expensive it’s all gotten, I’d say New Yorkers talk most often about work.
Consumed as we are with real estate and career, one would think a real estate agent would garner more respect. I can assure you however, that we do not. Which is fine, as the same Harris poll also showed that over the years most occupations have slowly declined in prestige. Only teachers seem to be getting more respect since the study’s inception in 1997.

So what exactly is it that so many people have against real estate agents? I mean what the hell did we ever do to stir up so much hostility? And why is the service we provide so heavily scrutinized, and so often deemed unnecessary? I can tell you most landlords are quite happy to have us field every question, make every appointment and put together every application package on their behalf. Of course they generally don’t pay us, so why would they complain? Sellers can’t be too unhappy when an agent markets, shows and eventually finds a qualified buyer for their property. If they were, more would go at it alone. Buyers are free to roam open houses at their leisure and can negotiate directly with sellers and their agents if they choose, but they don’t, and for good reason. How can they be sure they haven’t overlooked that one perfect property? Without an agent, who has their best interests in mind? Again, if the service we provide is so thoroughly unnecessary, who then is to blame for our continued existence?

Maybe the distaste for real estate agents has something to do with our overall “pushy” or aggressive nature. I’ve certainly encountered it. Just the other day, an agent I was hoping to co-broke with could not seem to accept the fact that I was unable to force my client into completing an application. Once I put my foot down, she immediately took it as a personal affront and ended the conversation by threatening to continue to show the apartment. This would have been fine, if she hadn’t protested showing it to us in the first place. She started our initial conversation by making certain I understood her role as a sales agent. Showing a mere rental, even if it was her listing, was somehow a huge inconvenience.

Maybe it’s that we put our picture on our business cards, or immediately offer our services in polite settings at the mere mention of moving. I honestly have no idea where all of the hostility begins, or why.

Clearly no one ever sets out to be an agent. It’s not something small children dream of one day becoming. For many, it’s nothing more than a way station on their way to something a little more meaningful, or at least a little more dignified. For others, it is most certainly a legitimate and life long career. It’s an occupation they probably hate some days and love other days, a chore, a job and a means of supporting a family.

I’m not ashamed of my career in real estate, but I don’t make a habit of announcing it either. The way I look at it, it’s just something I do to make some money while I wait for my real life to begin.