Before there were calculators, there were fingers. If you needed more than 10, well you had toes for that. Need more than that? Move onto sticks, marbles, or those highly florescent humongous jaw-breakers, because let’s face it, everyone looks stupid with one of those things in their mouth so you might as well use them for math instead. All of us, well I thought all of us, were tortured in school with math drill sheets, spent time counting m&m’s with moms and dads, and some of you even know how to use an abacus. Some of you have never heard the word abacus, but that is a different post.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes a real estate agent good. Now, I do realize that the concept of good is very subjective, but I think that there are probably some similarities in people who are generally considered good at their profession. I’m contemplating bringing another agent into my company, and so was thinking about my definition of good. I’ve been mulling over characteristics and have a nice list going for myself, but I always like to make sure I’m covering my bases. I asked other local industry peers, that I respect, their thoughts. I was a bit disappointed when I received some responses like having legible paperwork and knows how to read a calendar. Basics are givens and what sets the standard for the worst agent, not the standard for the best agent.
As I’ve been going through this thought process, I was randomly selected to do a survey for our real estate agency. Not one to shy away from giving my opinion, I made sure I had a full cup of coffee and forged ahead with the 45 minute survey. Not that any of you care about the distinction, but I am a principal broker in Oregon. What that means is that I have been an agent for at least three years, took a class, and, now, passed a test. I didn’t have to pass one. I’d like to think it is because I am so incredibly amazing all on my own, but it really is because they didn’t offer it in 2007. It also means that I’m eligible to supervise and train rookie agents or agents without enough experience to mold them into amazing or not so amazing agents. So this survey was asking me, as a principal broker, what skills and knowledge were important for when you first get licensed. What should someone that is entrusted with training new agents be expected to know on day 1 of being a supervisor.
There were some excellent questions on material facts such as zoning, asbestos, floodplains, etc. There were excellent questions on titles and deeds, escrow and financing, and contracts and licensing. Then there weren’t excellent questions. I literally did a double take when I saw the how important are “addition, subtraction, multiplication and division” question. That was followed by questions about decimals and percentages. Surely, they must have put a quintuple shot of espresso in my coffee this morning causing severe hallucinations, I thought. No one would ask these kinds of questions for a job that entails helping people buy and sell things that cost six figures. Right? More math questions followed. I was flabbergasted. Math is a given. That’s like saying “How critical is it that you get dressed for work?” Unless you are the receptionist for the nudist colony clubhouse, it’s pretty important in these rainy parts. There is absolutely no profession where they should be asking, on a survey, whether or not you can add 20+15 is an important skill.
Images of real estate conversations floated in my head.
Client: “I’d like to do a 3.5% down loan program. What are my options?”
Agent: “You know those little circle with the line in the middle thing-a-ma-bobs really confuse me after numbers. I never was trained on those in real estate school, so never mind that. You can buy this house though. Cheap. Cheap. Cheap. Look, it even has a kitchen and a bathroom.”
Client: ” Well my interest rate would be 3.75. Can you help me figure out my payment? ”
Agent: “Whoa there. Don’t get all fancy on me with those dots. Everyone knows they go at the end of a sentence. Why are you using them in-between numbers?”
Client: I’m thinking about adding a 20×20 addition to the house for a master suite. How does that impact the value?
Agent: Ah…who needs an addition like that. All those x’s and o’s make me want to give hugs and kisses for some reason.”
I love the idea that the REA (real estate agency) is interested in finding out what are the most critical things brokers and principal brokers should know when they first hit the streets, live with their license. They care about improving the process, which is really important. The unfortunate implication with asking questions like these is that it is okay to not have basic math skills and be a real estate agent. Considering this job is filled with math calculations on a daily basis, I find this disturbing.
As I continue to refine my ideas of what makes a great agent great, you can rest assured that being able to read, write, and do math aren’t on the list. Just like I don’t think about whether or not someone can put their clothes on the right way. These are givens. Rest assured that agents that work at my brokerage can add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Forget the old school way of calculating things with fingers and toes or the HP calculator that had all those functions that looked cool but no one knew what they really meant. You can rest assured that my agents are high tech: we have an app for that.