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Opinion: Consumer education is missing in too many real estate transactions

Real estate needs a standardized set of processes to educate consumers on the steps involved in selling, buying and and renting.

Having spent six decades in the real estate industry, one of the takeaways that I share with people is that our industry is in desperate need of standardization to help consumers understand the real estate transaction.

Real estate agents and brokerages come in all sizes and shapes. Most of the people who work in our industry are entrepreneurial and sales-driven, with their energies focused on the conclusion of the process that they are going through, whether it’s helping someone buy, sell or rent a piece of property. Yet often, too little thought is given to thoroughly explaining all of the steps which lie between the beginning and the conclusion of the transaction.

Today’s agents face a different landscape than their counterparts of a generation ago. Online tools have made buyers, sellers and landlords more savvy. There is more information about individual properties and industry trends available on the internet than every before. Today’s real estate customers have the ability to come to every transaction armed with information.

Prove you are indispensable

It all points to the need for real estate agents to deliver true value in each transaction to show that they are indispensable. There are many ways a real estate agent can deliver value. One is to better develop and adhere to consistent standards across the industry.

Topping that list of industry standards is knowledge. Our industry needs to do a better job of educating its customers. Consumer education is the missing piece in too many real estate transactions. Even the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have weighed in on the need for greater transparency in the real estate industry when it comes to consumer knowledge.

And while the federal agencies may zero in on questions like, “How do you figure a commission?,” the important piece is being certain that our end-user customers thoroughly understand the process of buying, selling or renting property.

Service expectations unmet?

I’ve worked locally, regionally and nationally in this industry, and one of the comments I’ve heard frequently is that many home sellers, buyers and renters believed that their service expectations rarely matched the actual results of the process they went through.

These processes may seem like second nature to us, but if we put ourselves in the position of a buyer, renter or seller, it can be an experience filled with uncertainty and anxiety. They often wonder: What do I do first? Is it normal for my house to be on the market for 60 days? Is a contingency sale worth entertaining? What is a seller’s market? Does the MLS matter? What about Zillow? Where should I as a seller be when the agent is showing a prospective buyer around the house?

Again, second nature to us, but for our customers, it isn’t. We need to do better in educating our end users.

Think of the stakes involved! The National Association of Realtors reports that 5.64 million existing homes were sold to the same number of buyers in 2020, and the U.S. Census shows that 822,000 new construction homes were sold in the same year. Other statistics show that 44.1 million of American homes are renter-occupied, and 37% of renters live in apartments.

That is a very a significant portion of the population engaging in real estate transactions.

Do consumers understand the process?

I believe that the majority of home sellers, buyers, and renters have little idea of the process they are embarking upon, and the unique and complex details involved. If the process is not clearly understood, it may result in unpleasant, unexpected, and expensive surprises. Deals have fallen apart over minor issues. We shouldn’t let it happen.

The industry should self-police

The national agencies such as DOJ and FTC are invested in protecting consumers. But there are no federal regulations requiring standardization in explaining the processes, step-by-step, involved in buying, selling or renting property.  Nor am I advocating that there should be.

I believe this is a matter where our industry should self-police and come up with the means to thoroughly educate our customers on these processes. The steps involved in selling, buying and renting should be the same in Tempe, Arizona, as they are in Norwell, Massachusetts, for example.

Agencies that take these unprecedented steps of working with their customers to educate them thoroughly on the processes they are about to go through will gain a distinct market advantage by being seen as the agency that truly cares about the customers it serves.

And if we do that, we all benefit. After all, we want our customers to have a good experience and tell their friends that they bought (or sold, or rented) their property because of our efforts, not despite them.