In 1943, a 69 year old writer, W Somerset Maugham, published an essay on Virtue. He said most people accept the importance of the virtues of integrity and self-sacrifice, but this is not enough to weigh against the powerful motives of self-interest.
Maugham said that people can only do what is right when the correct virtues have become habits. And these habits must be so strong that acting upon them becomes instinctive.
In real estate, the opposite has occurred. Thousands of agents, focussed on self-interest, have developed systems and habits which are so bad they can’t help hurting sellers and buyers. They do the wrong thing almost instinctively.
There is often a big difference between what is legal and what is ethical. Many agents use ‘legal’ as their standard. It is legal to receive kickbacks and so they do it. It may be legal to have ‘dummy bidders’ and so they do it. It is legal to quote one price to sellers and another price to buyers and then blame the market. It is legal to take money from homesellers in the full knowledge that this money is not to promote the property but to promote the agents.
In his book, Character is Destiny – The Value of Personal Ethics in Everyday Life, Professor Russell Gough, says: “Being ethical is never just a matter of being a good rule-follower. It’s exceedingly more than that. Rules and laws by their very nature usually prescribe, at best, only minimum standards of ethical behaviour.”
It is hard for anyone to argue the merits of legal but dishonest systems without looking foolish. And this is why so many agents – and people with a high financial interest in the real estate industry – are so keen to silence Jenman. These critics have no answer to questions such as, “If your systems are honest, why don’t you guarantee them?”
Consumer complaints are so high in real estate that some training courses now teach agents how to avoid being sued. One course, conducted by a real estate institute is titled: ‘AUCTIONS – AVOID BEING SUED’. The course advertises “new information”, such as ‘The law relating to auctions’. To state that the ‘law’ of auctions is a newtopic is a staggering admission.
The most basic study of ethics is lacking from the common real estate courses. It is amazing that the real estate industry does not consider ethical conduct to be important enough to teach or that ideas from other ethical and successful industries are not studied. Ethics is good business. And ethics begins with how people are taught to act. It begins with education and training.
In his article, Corporate Ethics, business writer, Manuel Velasquez says that “ethics requires self-sacrifice but in the short-term ethical behaviour may not be rewarding.”
And here lies the root of the problem. Most real estate agents have short-term relationships with their clients. Typically, they see clients as ‘one-hit’ propositions. The need for repeat business is not the same as for a restaurant. If restaurant patrons are given food-poisoning, they do not come back. But when sellers and buyers are financially or emotionally poisoned, it is too late – the sale is made and the agent is paid.
Ethics in real estate must begin within the real estate industry. Agents have much work to do if they are to regain the trust of sellers and buyers.
To improve the ethics in real estate is not easy. It requires agents to accept the irrefutable evidence that many of their systems hurt consumers. And that’s what most agents won’t do.
But, again, as the ethics professor, Russell Gough says, “What kind of people are we if we don’t have the character to own up to our own shortcomings and responsibilities.”
The lack of ethics in the real estate industry is one of our greatest national scandals. And, in many ways, it is a hidden scandal because thousands of consumers do not realise how they are being hurt. There should be a major independent Enquiry into the millions of dollars being lost by real estate consumers.
But, when governments want to know what is happening in real estate, they ask real estate institutes. This is absurd because the institutes are made up of real estate agents. Just as the tobacco institutes were not the ones to warn consumers about the dangers of smoking, the real estate institutes will never be the ones to warn consumers about real estate.
The real estate institutes have had an entire century to bring ethics into real estate. As well meaning and ethical as some of their members may be, they have failed. Most consumers do not trust agents.
If you are a homeseller, this web site will give you the knowledge to avoid mistakes which cost you thousands of dollars. If you are a homebuyer, it will give you the knowledge to protect yourself and find the home you want at a price you can afford. If you are an agent, you will learn know how to take care of sellers and buyers.
Ethics in real estate will help all Australians become winners in real estate. It will make the business of buying or selling a home the wonderful experience itis meant to be.
Portions of this article first appeared in Real Estate Mistakes – How to Avoid them, How to Save your Money.
For more information on ethics in real estate, please go to ‘Ethical Concerns in the Real Estate Industry.’