by Peter Mericka B.A., LL.B
Real Estate Lawyer
Qualified Practising Conveyancer Victoria
Director Lawyers Real Estate Pty Ltd
It would seem that real estate agents are the same, all around the world. The following anecdote appears on a real estate industry blog in the United States. What makes this anecdote particularly interesting is the author’s final comment “not all sales have to be ‘difficult’ to makes the salesman deserving.“
I have often wondered as to whether real estate agents genuinely believe that they are entitled to take a chunk of a client’s property (usually 2 or 3% of it) as payment for the dubious services they offer. Really, a real estate agent doesn’t do very much at all. It is the lawyer who does all of the “heavy lifting” in any real estate transaction, by carrying responsibility for the client’s legal well-being, and often keeping the real estate agent out of trouble along the way.
The inability of the real estate agent to justify remuneration by way of commission is highlighted in situations where the vendor’s property sells to the next-door neighbour shortly after the “For Sale” sign has been erected. I know of one “ethical” real estate agent in Melbourne who boasts that in such circumstances he charges only half of the normal commission. This translates to, “If I have done nothing whatsoever to bring about the sale I will not charge the vendor the full $15,000. It would be unethical for me to take any more than $7,500 for doing nothing.“
So, how does a real estate agent justify to herself the taking of a massive and undeserved fee? In her blog posting titled “But He Didn’t Do any Work – Why Should He Get The commission?” real estate agent Wendy Rulnick appears to argue that because some sales are “difficult”, she is entitled to demand a high commission for sales that are “easy”.
Here is a transcript of the anecdote as written by Rulnick:
My husband and I had to go shopping for a new television last weekend. The old one was about to die – its channel guide was getting fuzzy and my eyesight is already “bat-like”. We researched our options online, found one we wanted, then set out for a reconnaissance mission to Sears, Best Buy and yes, Sam’s, at my Hubby’s insistence.
Right away, at our first store, Sear’s, there was our new flatscreen- and it was a lot less expensive than the internet price! I got really excited. The on-duty salesman, Lee, came over and quietly introduced himself to ask if we needed any help. My husband asked if it the t.v. had built-in speakers, and Lee said “Yes”. Hubby didn’t give signals to talk further (being an engineer), so Lee said to call him if we needed more help.
My husband and I walked up and down the aisles but I already KNEW it was the t.v. we wanted (OK– ” I” wanted). Hubby and I whispered ….”I really want it, let’s get it now!” I said. My husband agreed.
I called Lee over and we said “We’ll take it”. He said he would have to check their inventory (sigh). Sadly, there were none in stock, but if we ordered it then, we could have it in three days. Hubby and I looked at each other. I said “Let’s order it”, but my husband wanted to finish our mission and go to the other stores.
Before we left, I asked the salesman, Lee, “Are you commission sales?”
” Yes” , he responded.
“Then I want you to get credit for the sale if we call or come back to order the t.v. I am a salesperson, too, so I respect that.”
Lee then filled out a customer-finder form so we could let any of the other Sears salespeople know we were “his” customers.
Hubby and I completed our research at the other stores. Sears was the best price by far. I sent Hubby to get the t.v. the next day. “Make sure you give the on-duty salesperson Lee’s card so he gets credit!” I instructed.
“Why?” he asked innocently, being an engineer, “He didn’t do any work. He answered one question.”
“Honey”, I said, ” If someone called me up because they found a house, then grabbed me to write an offer, would I not deserve a commission? Some deals are easy, some are hard. That’s just the way it is. Lee might have killed himself with the previous three customers. They might not have bought, or maybe they did not give his card so he didn’t got credit when they did buy. Yes, we were ‘easy’, but not all sales have to be ‘difficult’ to make the salesman deserving.”
Using the “easy” sale to pay for the “difficult” sale
According to the real estate agent, commission is seen as a way of ironing out the peaks and troughs that occur in real estate sales, so that big rewards can be reaped for small effort. But the reality of real estate is that real estate agents do nothing much, and take almost no responsibility for what little they do.
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