A Message from President Mike Theo: Time to Raise the Bar ... Again

 Mike Theo  |    May 03, 2018

How does that old adage go? “Nothing is certain but death and taxes”? I would add: “and REALTORS® talking about improving professionalism within our ranks.” 

I’ve been at the WRA now 33 years — I know, right? — and for each of those years, I’ve heard members grousing about the lack of professionalism, usually about someone who works for another brokerage. Based on the pervasiveness of these comments over such a long time span, chances are you too have witnessed or experienced a fellow REALTOR® who, let us say, could use some additional schooling, training, retraining, coaching or experience — or all of the above.

Trying to improve professionalism is a principal reason most trade and professional associations exist. It was a key premise for the REALTOR® organization to form over 100 years ago, and it served as the basis for the REALTOR® Code of Ethics, which was adopted in 1913. Yet improving professionalism has been an enduring challenge ever since. 

Let’s be honest, the genesis of this “problem” can be traced, at least in part, to the very nature of our business: a complex set of ever-changing laws, regulations and rules, juxtaposed on a complex and emotional process, executed by practitioners who are as diverse as society itself. Add to these factors relatively low barriers of entry to the industry and a high degree of turnover, and you have an industry susceptible to professional inconsistencies. Newer agents with limited transaction experience are often cited as those who fail to properly execute contracts, but the same problem can result from experienced agents who have failed to keep up with changing rules, forms, technology or market practices. For competent brokers and agents who must interact with these types of colleagues, the result is discouragingly the same.

Oftentimes in the past, the response by industry leaders has been to direct the WRA to devise and implement legislative or regulatory solutions by increasing pre-license and continuing education hours, or improving required education curriculum or adding time and transactional experience prerequisites to attain certain licenses or certifications. Longer forms and additional disclosures have decreased our liability exposure, but they’ve also increased the need for constant training and retraining. The well-intentioned goal of these efforts was to improve competency and through it professionalism. Retrospectively, however, it begs the question: have they helped?

The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) has also tried. In addition to the Code of Ethics and a host of professional designations, NAR has recently created a new “Commitment to Excellence” program. This will be a voluntary initiative to develop and enhance qualities that reflect the commitment of a REALTOR® to ethics, advocacy, technology, data privacy and customer service. The program includes a web-based skills assessment to measure a member’s proficiency in each competency and provide a path on how to get there.

If you feel like the lack of professionalism in our industry is not improving, or is getting worse, then our problem may not be about competency alone. At least some of the complaints I’ve heard repeatedly might be better described as professional courtesy as opposed to professional competency. These grumblings usually involve complaints about not keeping clients or customers appraised on important developments regarding their transaction or failing to return phone calls and/or emails in a timely manner. In these types of cases, improvements may lie more with broker and colleague mentoring, coaching and oversight than with more classroom training.

The WRA, under the leadership of chairman Peter Sveum, has been discussing ways to help improve both the professional courtesy and competency for Wisconsin REALTORS®. As part of our research, you may receive a survey asking for your thoughts and your reactions. If you do, please take a few minutes to share your views and ideas.

It is our hope that we can devise ways to improve professionalism of REALTORS® in Wisconsin, but as we ponder the ways to do so, let me leave you with one thought. There is just so much an association, any association, can do to improve professionalism through education and rules. In the final analysis, individual practitioners must decide the degree of devotion they have to improving their personal performance and their profession. That means the solution, in the end, is you. There is no need to wait for additional tools or rules regardless of how helpful they may prove to be. And if you witness or experience clear examples of unprofessional behavior by a colleague, any colleague, use the tools already at your disposal to help fix the problem. Remember, it’s unprofessional to do nothing about unprofessional behavior you witness. 

Let’s together look for ways to improve this wonderful profession of ours. All ideas are welcome!

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