Several years ago I lost some clients to another agent. I will admit it was a painful experience and a real kick to my ego. But, unwilling to let it happen again and in an attempt to grow from the experience, I asked the buyers what it was their new agent had to offer that I did not. Their answer was surprisingly simple, “Kevin, you are an incredible agent. You have great communication skills, we enjoy working with you, and we can’t think of a single thing you have done wrong. But, in this market we feel it is important to work with an expert and our new agent is a certified expert.”
I’m not an expert? That just sounded weird, after all, I have successfully closed over 100 transactions including short-sales, foreclosures, and even dealt with properties sold at auction. I’m thinking their new agent must be a super-agent. So, I did the only logical thing I could think of; compare my stats to her stats. Now imagine my surprise when I found out that I had been an agent longer, sold over 5 times as many properties, and she was only a salesperson where I am a broker (a salesperson must work under the supervision of a broker). How in the heck did this agent dupe these buyers into thinking she was more of an expert than I am? The answer was simple, this agent had a few little initials after her name that indicated she was a certified expert.
Determined to never lose a client again over something this simple, I set out to get certified as an expert myself. What I learned will surprise you. To become a “Certified Expert” all you need is a little time and some space on your credit card. Out of sheer embarrassment I won’t disclose how much I spent, but it was north of $500. Within 48 hours of giving my credit card information, I was a “certified expert”. There were no prerequisites, no interviews, and no complicated exams. Basically, if your credit card passed, so did you. Now, in all fairness, I did learn a few things so it wasn’t a complete waste of time but under no circumstances can a course take someone from a neophyte to an expert. Can you imagine if medicine worked like this? “Mr. Brain Surgeon, can you tell me what makes you an expert and why I should trust my life to you?” “Well Mrs. Patient, you see, after I completed medical school last week I took an 8 hour online course and was given this fancy certificate that says right on it EXPERT. Sure, you can go down the hall and have Dr. Bob operate on you but in the 25 years he has been practicing medicine he never achieved the level of expert. Poor guy.” I will also add that in some cases if you fail to pay your annual subscription, you will lose your expert status.
Sadly, the real estate industry is full of phony designations that are designed to fool you into thinking you are working with an expert. The California Department of Real Estate (now Bureau of Real Estate) put out an alert in 2010 warning consumers that the DRE does not issue any special designations (Consumer and Industry Warning: False and Misleading Designations and Claims of Special Expertise, Certifications and/or Credentials, October 2010).
My story does a happy ending. After spending just a few days with their new agent, my clients came running back to me and we closed on their new home about a month later.
When looking for a real estate agent, take time to do your research and don’t fall victim to the industry scams.
To follow you will find some questions to ask an agent you are considering hiring. This list was taken directly from the California Bureau of Real Estate’s website http://dre.ca.gov/files/pdf/ca/2010/ConsumerAlert_ConsumerIndustryWarning.pdf
Suggested Questions to Ask (This List is Not Exhaustive, But It Will Give You Good Information on Which You Can Make a Reasoned Decision)
1. How many transactions or services of the type you are advertising have you successfully performed? Ask them to give specifics and contacts.
2. Do you have a list of your last ten customers? If so, get it and call them. Do your own background check. And note that even if the person or company is “highly recommended” by so-called satisfied customers, the risk of a scam is not eliminated entirely.
3. Are you licensed by the California Department of Real Estate? If not, why not? What exemption from the licensing laws do you claim? If they are licensed, check to see if they have been disciplined by the Department (go to www.dre.ca.gov).
4. What qualifies you as an expert? How did you get that expertise?
5. You state that you are a specialist. What specialist qualifications do you have and what does that mean?
6. You say that you are certified. Who issued the certification? Do any government entities or recognized industry trade groups (such as the California Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors) recognize the certification? If so, which ones? Then you can and should verify that information.
7. What course of study did you undertake to become certified or specialized?
8. What are the requirements for certification or specialization?
9. How many hours of coursework were involved?
10. What professional organization gave you the designation or certification? And when were they formed? If they give you a name, check out that entity with the California Secretary of State, Better Business Bureaus, with the California Association of Realtors, and see if any complaints are noted through a Google search.
11. When did you get the designation?
12. Did you take an examination? If so, who conducted the test, how long was the examination, and when did you take the examination