What is the state of the real estate industry and how can we improve it?

I feel passionate about the real estate industry and it's always at the forefront of my mind to do what I can to elevate it. I decided to interview a few real estate agents that, I believe, set the standard for excellence, progress and leadership in our industry. What are their thoughts on the state of the industry and how can we make it better for the consumer?

Barry Lebow Real Estate Broker
Barry Lebow
Real Estate Broker
Melanie Piche Real Estate Agent
Melanie Piche
Real Estate Agent

Barry Lebow is considered one of the leading experts in Canadian real estate. He has been accepted by courts as an expert in real estate matters in more than 500 trials and has provided expert reports to courts around the world. Barry has 46 years of real estate experience and has earned 14 professional designations during his career. He is considered one of Canada’s leading authorities on stigmatized properties and is a main media source on this subject. He is proud to be the founder of the Accredited Senior Agent designation for Canadian Realtors. He is a practising residential/commercial broker at RE/MAX Ultimate Realty Ltd. in Toronto and serves as an arbitrator for commercial lease disputes.

Melanie Piche is a sales representative and one of the co-founders of the BREL team at Sage Real Estate. In her previous job she was Director of Human Resources in the advertising industry. She sells houses and condos and in just a few years has made a name for herself as a leader in real estate technology and has become a top producer. She blogs, she rants and she tries to do real estate differently.

1. What improvements would you like to see happen in the real estate industry?

Barry: The number of agents today is unprecedented. We cannot stop people from working part time in real estate but the public has to be educated that there are professional Realtors and then the masses. The professionals are small in numbers. Whereas we cannot control part time people from entering or practising by law, we can raise the bar.

Melanie: While I love the real estate industry, I do find it frustrating. I think consumers and agents alike would be better served if the education and licensing system went through an overhaul. The current three-phase program doesn't adequately prepare agents for the realities of selling real estate or running a business (and make no mistake about it, being a realtor isn't a job, it's a business).

Josie: We all agree that the entry requirements to procure a license should be more stringent. Consumers make the biggest financial investment of their life and they deserve better qualified representatives.

2. How would you suggest this could be done?

Barrie: I believe that increasing the licensing fees is the only thing that will deter part timers and allow full time professionals to thrive. We need to to provide excellent service, to strive to work for the consumer and to raise the education bar to a higher level. In Ontario, the lack of diverse courses and the elimination of in-class mandatory education for agents was a major error.

Melanie: While much of the registration course-work focuses on how the industry is organized, house construction basics and paperwork, there is little focus on the key skills required to be a good realtor: negotiation and marketing. And the real estate law and property appraisal courses are optional! End result? Grossly unprepared agents who put the consumer at risk. I also wish more brokerages had hiring and performance standards, took accountability for training and weren't afraid to fire the agents who break the rules. I wish brokerages helped mentor their new agents.

Josie: I agree with Barry that the part time agent problem should be tackled and with Melanie that new agents need mentors and this should be mandatory. Unfortunately too many brokerages are focused on profit and less on the consumer experience.

3. Is transparency in the industry important to you and why?

Barry: I have to understand what transparency means. To me it means that all aspects of a transaction are understood by a buyer and seller. That complicated issues of Agency, mortgages, conditions are broken down to understandable levels. I am a major believer in “ABC” knowledge. Basics and to me “ABC” stands for “Always Be Counselling.”

Melanie: Transparency in our industry is critical! Buyers and sellers deserve it.

Josie: Transparency is of utmost importance. Consumers need to feel they can trust our industry professionals and the only way to achieve this is by being transparent and provide the consumer the information they want to make the best decisions. For example, in the age of information technology, not allowing the disclosure of sold prices is very passé. First, agents give out this information anyway so why not provide this to the consumer in a format that is useful?

4. What service could be implemented that could benefit consumers the most?

Barry: I deliver over forty services to the consumer because I deal with many seniors and/or their families. I am involved in hand holding through a major process when dealing with longstanding family residences. A majority of Realtors, list and sell and leave people to deal with contents, the moving - the entire transition to their new place or end of their last. Financial planners, transition managers and so many more professionals have to be part of the associates a top Realtor brings to their clients.

Melanie: I would love to see more transparency in the multiple offer process. In its current form, nobody wins. I'd love to see a mandatory requirement to register offers with brokerages to help eradicate the phantom offer; I'd love to outlaw the listing agent representing both the buyer and the seller in a bidding war (where all other buyers are at a disadvantage and inevitably, the agent's buyer wins); I'd love to see more control of the game where buyers are endlessly 'sent back to improve their offer' (and in reality may just be competing with themselves). I'd love to see a system where buyers and sellers are treated fairly. 

Josie: Phantom offers happen more often than we want to believe because the current system allows it. How outrageous is this? It's time to make it law for the listing brokerage to provide all buyer agents with a written list of brokers also offering on the same property BEFORE OFFER PRESENTATION or implement an online registry system. Full disclosure, through a written list of participating brokers and agents, would go a long way to providing consumer the protection they deserve. Furthermore make it mandatory for the listing agent, who has their own buyer, to present their offer to the seller first, before they see any other buyer’s offer. Currently, there are no industry rules that prevent an unscrupulous listing agent from suggesting their buyer increase their offer price slightly more than the highest offer on the table and have it accepted by the seller – all to earn a higher commission. This happens all the time and leaves buyers and sellers vulnerable to unethical behaviour.

The provincial regulator (RECO) has made changes which will be implemented soon that RECO believes will eliminate phantom offers but these new rules are weak at best. In the future, brokers and agents will no longer be able to make any mention of having or receiving an offer until the offer is signed and in their hands and brokers will be required to keep a copy of all offers received. How exactly is this going to stop phantom offers? It's like closing the barn door after the horse has left the gate. If a consumer suspects foul play, after the fact, their only recourse is a law suit. In my opinion, it would be more effective if this problem were tackled by implementing rules that could prevent it instead of ones that monitor it by providing every buyer who is submitting an offer a list of all participating brokers before offer presentation.

5. Who do you admire most in this industry and why?

Barry: I admire those who take continuing education because they do so to gain more knowledge of their industry. I admire those who train and teach, not for the money but to share their knowledge. I admire Realtors who are involved in charities and community events and are always giving back. I admire the volunteers in organized real estate, from board level committee membership to presidents. They give back and the public may be surprised how intensive real estate is as a profession because of these volunteers. I admire them all even if I do not know their names.

Melanie: My industry faves: 

  • Josie Stern (for her integrity and mentorship; for continuously embracing change);
  • Matt Slutsky (for his innovative marketing at BuzzBuzzHome);
  • Richard Silver (for his political leadership in organized real estate)

I also admire all the new agents who are risking it all to start a new career in this crazy industry!

Josie: I admire every agent who always "acts in the client's best interest". It's tempting when you're working in a commission based system with high financial rewards to only see dollar signs and not consider if your actions are, in fact, in your client's best interest. I admire all agents who display restraint, good judgment and integrity.

Melanie and Barry have brought forth good ideas which have been expressed by others before. But what can we do to pave the way for these changes to ensure a more positive experience for the consumer?

My hope is that agents can proactively create and participate regularly in an ongoing open dialogue which may help to decrease the disenchantment consumers have about the industry. Our ultimate goal must be to set the standard for excellence. If through our dialogue we smooth the moving experience of some, we will be on our way to achieving that standard.

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