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Have we taken the service out and replaced it with sales?

March 3, 2011

My first job was in a medical office. My step dad was a doctor so as soon as I turned 14 he did the paperwork and put me to work. I started off working up front and learned to run the whole office over the course of 6 years. At that time medicine was considered a “service” industry.

Over time it seems as if the “service” has been removed from medicine and all that is left is the business; aka: cash flow. Medicine seems to be less like helping people and more like making $200K per year and driving a new Mercedes. I mean, how much meaningful conversation can really happen in the allotted 8 minute office visit? Oh, by the way, did you want to check my vitals and see the rash that I made the appointment for?

When your Jewish mother told you to marry a doctor, did she want you to marry a person with a heart for healing or did she want you to own a home in the Hamptons?

Something similar has happened in real estate. And it happened to me, too.

When I got into real estate I liked that most self made millionaires had made it in real estate and I found that intriguing. When I first started in the business I rented and wanted to be a home owner, I wanted to change my life for the better. I wanted to know how this whole “owning property thing” worked and I wanted to help other people change their lives, too.

When I got in I couldn’t get a loan.

I had bad credit and no cash and a new career that, while promising, didn’t have a 2 year record tracking income. I was a young step-mom with a 6 year old first grader to watch and a husband that worked – a lot.

I worked hard and helped a lot of people. I learned financials, chatted about goals, set up timelines and and learned how “successful” people did it. I learned how to crunch the numbers and differentiate a good investment from a bad one. I learned a lot.

Five years later, we bought our first home.

As time went by it became easier and easier to buy a home. First the numbers showed that it was practically impossible, statistically, for folks with 720+ FICO scores to default on a loan. Loans were made and profits rose. Wanting to get in on the good time, more companies came to the table. More loans were made and more money was made. Slowly competition eroded qualifying and eventually the qualifications came down so low that verifying an income was not even a requirement to qualify for a loan. True, the borrower had to sign the loan application, thereby swearing that the information given was true and correct. But, that was small print. And the lender didn’t feel obliged to point it out.

Something shifted. What we were doing and striving for got a little greyer. Was I still changing people’s lives? Was I serving my client, or was I selling them something in order to get a paycheck?

Sure, there were licensees that pointed out the fine print. We warned the borrower against committing fraud. But the snowball was already picking up speed. In order to compete, with another licensee or with the neighbors down the street, heads were turned. Allegiances were broken. The Agency bond was broken.

Or maybe the licensee became the accomplice. Looking the other way when $40,000 credits were given to the buyer. “They are not my client”, or “It’s in my clients’ best interest to sell this house – regardless of the means” we rationalized.

Real estate became the fat cat, a place to make money, and faces were replaced with dollar signs. Sales trainers taught us to spend as little time as possible with each client in order to crank up sales volume. Do I remember all the clients I have had over the years? No.

I was in a meeting recently and sat next to an agent who’s name looked familiar. We both knew that we’d worked a transaction together but neither remember who/where. I could just chalk that up to time in the business or is it an underlying theme of disconnect?

I got an email from a client in Switzerland. We are working out dealpoints on her condo sale.

I quickly and efficiently pounded out an email to the Buyer’s Agent and hit SEND.

He quickly replied, letting me know that he sent the issue on to his client.

This is an agent that I don’t know, have never met, have never spoken to on the phone. Think I’ll make a call and make a friend of him. As a service to my industry and to my client.

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