Imagine you’re a civilian. You are meeting a real estate licensee for the first time, considering whether or not to list your home and then perhaps buy another. Because you owe all of them money, you can’t ask friends or family for a recommendation so you simply call a local brokerage – you’d seen a couple of signs – and ask to speak to an agent. You have a brief chat, exchange names and arrange an appointment. You Google the agent, find a couple of generic references and then connect to their website for a quick review.
During the interview, because this isn’t your first rodeo, you ask, “Are you a full-time agent?” They answer, “Well no, I have a part-time job as a Walmart greeter. I find the high traffic count beneficial to my real estate clients.”
What do you do?
Let’s back up and have another run at the same scenario only this time it is your first rodeo and you don’t ask the question about full-time employment. A few days after the sign goes up and the agents’ tour and open house have circled the drain, you have a 7 pm reservation at a new restaurant across town and the hostess looks familiar. It’s your agent in another “high-traffic” scenario. To make matters worse, they don’t recognize you, you get a lousy table after a half-hour wait and the food doesn’t merit the delay. The good news: attached to the cheque is your agent’s card – apparently her idea of networking. The bad news: the fortune cookie message reads, “That wasn’t chicken!”
What do you do?
All this rhetoric is prompted by last month’s REM column by Michel Friedman, Give a person a fish, in which he suggested part-time agents must disclose to their buyers and sellers their employment status. All hell broke loose in the readers’ comments section but I leave that for your entertainment.
Michel’s suggestion that part-time agents should disclose made me think about my office. I have one agent who has another job, several on pensions, two volunteer firefighters and one who gets a small stipend to rescue idiots on the water. Those are the agents with other “jobs” known to me and all participate in the day-to-day business of real estate as though they were full-time. In fact only one would meet the test of “part time” as is generally accepted.
And that is the problem. If we want them to disclose, we have to define.
Let’s stop there for a second. Do we want them to disclose? Must they disclose? Agency requires that we disclose anything that might influence a client’s decision and you could argue that the seller’s listing decision could be influenced by the agent’s day job. The Code of Ethics to which we subscribe says in Article 2 that a Realtor “shall fully disclose . . . . the role and nature of the service the Realtor will be providing.”
That seems clear to me but probably debatable to others. Article 12 requires us to “render a skilled and conscientious service.” Well, I’m sure you know full-time agents who can’t jump that bar so there’s little help from Article 12 until after the fact when we are pursuing discipline.
What do the regulators say? They agree that definition is troublesome. Two sales per year in commercial sales can be a full-time job. Realtors who are married to a high-income spouse can withdraw for extended vacations or market fluctuations. Those who are stepping towards retirement may reduce their involvement to old clients or friends and family.
With part-time real estate agents, if “part time” means another source of income, then pensioners (private, public or CPP) would be included. That clearly would impact many licensees who have joined the industry following a long career in a pensionable job. And what about alimony?
A non-starter definition.
Okay, so what about a job that pays an income and takes time away from real estate? Closer, but still we have politicians, writers, artists and entertainers who are licensees. In the past I have had licensees who were municipal counsellors and reserve military personnel. None of them set the world on fire but more importantly, they didn’t set my hair on fire! But did they disclose to clients?
Seven hundred words later I’m of the opinion that part-time agents are a red herring. They are no different than the agent who spends eight or more hours a day in our business doing the crossword puzzle, waiting for the phone to ring or napping at an open house. They may accidentally get a deal or two a year but they are likely getting them from family or other part-time agents. Brokerages will be known by the people they keep.
Part-time agents, by any definition, are easy to outperform. “A tiger doesn’t lose sleep over the opinion of sheep.” – Shahir Zag