I have to ask this every time someone calls me, in an open house, or when I follow a lead to a potential client. Sounds odd, right? Why wouldn’t I just jump on a potential and try to get their business. After all, they called me instead of their agent for a reason, right?
Well… yes, but… no.
You see, I can’t.
It’s not illegal or anything, but it’s crummy.
REALTORS™ are supposed to work under the National Association of Realtors® Code of Ethics and Standard of Practice. It’s a long, exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts that can be equally summarized with the words that I hope everyone lives by: Don’t Be A Jerk.
I’m not a jerk.
I run my business in non-jerky ways, at least.
Stealing clients is crummy and I don’t do it. What I do, however, in response to a caller that already has an agent, is say, “Honestly, I’m not going to be able to find anything more than your agent does when she searches for you through RMLS. Since you said that you’re not getting the results you want, you may want to talk to your agent about expanding your parameters and maybe go up in price or further out in location. It was great talking to you, bye bye.” If I’m feeling particularly benevolent that day, I’ll even call the agent and give them a heads up to do some client education.
When can I work with someone else’s client? 1) If I have the agent’s permission, say if I am helping with her business when she’s on holiday or in a jam or 2) if the client is no longer wanting to work with her agent and “fires” her. That means that she’s not in an Agency Relationship anymore and isn’t someone else’s client.
I like 2 better, though never want to be the reason an Agency Relationship is severed. Karma, you know?
There’s a very subtle emphasis on “Agency Relationship” up there. What’s that all about? You know that paper I give or email you when we meet? It’s called something fancy like INITIAL AGENCY DISCLOSURE PAMPHLET and is about three pages long. I tell you, when I do it, that I am instructed by the state to give it to you to explain how this client/agent thing is supposed to work. It’s true. The great State of Oregon says that I need to give you that paper at the first reasonable contact, be it by phone, email, or in-person so that you know about our legal relationship. It isn’t like we’re getting married, but it is important for you to know. If an agent doesn’t give you that piece of paper, that should be a tip-off that there may be an issue.
How’s it work?
Having an agency relationship means that I work for you, kind of like an employee. My job is to be honest and timely, to disclose what I know, obey your lawful instructions, keep your confidence, direct you to an expert if a matter is not in my area of expertise, and fulfill my Fiduciary Obligation to you.
As your “employee”, it’s my JOB to take care of your money, even though getting more money out of you in the contract is to my benefit because my commission goes up. It’s my job to make sure that you keep as much of your money as possible. It’s the other agent’s job to make sure that her client keeps as much of his money as possible. We help you negotiate the terms of your contract so we meet somewhere in the middle of everyone protecting her clients’ money, if possible. Again, I’ll say it: it does not matter that when the selling price of the house goes up, I make more money. It’s my JOB to keep money in your pocket.
I like to think that I’m pretty good at it because I know that buying and selling a house means that you’re hemorrhaging money for a couple months. I don’t want you to bleed out. I promise. I really don’t. Blood scares me. Dollar bills sitting on the table scare me.
That’s a BIG job.
It requires a lot of ethical behavior and a trustworthy mindset.
Ethical, trustworthy people don’t steal other agents’ clients. That’s why I ask, right up front, if you’re working with another agent. If you are, I can’t talk to you about real estate unless you terminate your relationship with the other guy, first. Them’s ‘da rulez.
Want to read that NAR Code of Ethics? I warn you, it’s totally boring.
Want to read a sample Agency Pamphlet? You can download a copy here.