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Time for a health check

4 January 2017

By John Cunningham, former REINSW President and Chair of the REIA Professionalism Committee (originally featured in Elite Agent)


Over recent years we have had boom markets in many parts of Australia and life’s been good. Lately there’s been more competition. 

In some markets stock is tight while in other markets buyers are in short supply; fees are getting some serious pressure in most capital cities and there have been new discount or intermediary entrants into our space almost daily.

Sure, some agents are behaving badly and respect seems to have disappeared between competitors, but we all get our slice of the pie so we accept it and think it’s OK. Sellers, buyers, landlords and tenants are getting very demanding; the digital and social space is getting flooded with options and there seems to be an app for almost everything. 

On top of all that, Governments keep giving us a hard time over things like underquoting and new tenancy laws, and material facts are still hard to define, but we should be fine… shouldn’t we?

Familiar story? We all think it looks manageable and if we just keep improving bit by bit all will be well. Or could it be like not reading the signs of an impending heart attack; ignoring them, avoiding the doctor and then suffering the dire consequences?

Well, I believe we are well overdue for that check-up.

There is an old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – but these days we need to rethink and consider “If it ain’t broke yet, fix it before it does”.

This is not meant to be a whinge about the ills of the real estate industry; it’s a constructive point of view on what we can do in a positive way about treating the causes of the symptoms, so that we stay healthy and survive and thrive in a new, ever-evolving environment.

I am going to approach this check-up as any medical practitioner would, by looking at the four key indicators of overall health. These are where the clinical indications of health are identified; they apply exactly in the same manner to business – and for that matter a whole industry. I am going to score every one out of ten, so let’s see how we are going. Once diagnosed, we can put in place a 12-month treatment program for 2018.

THE CORE

We hear the expressions: ‘Core values’, ‘at the core’, ‘core strength’ and, unfortunately, ‘rotten to the core’, so it is clearly the foundation of everything we do. At our core, we are a service industry and that means we are here to serve the interests of our principal: the people who pay for our services. And the most effective way to serve that purpose is to take care of our customers, the people who buy or lease the products owned by our principals.

So how well are we doing that? Is our core strong enough? A healthy professional has a set of core values; guiding principles that apply to everything they do in their daily life, both personal and business. These are the ethical standards, culture and disciplines that ensure strength of character, integrity, honesty and trust, upon which everything else is built. There seems to be some big gaps here and certainly no standard principles for the industry to follow and stand by.

SCORE:6/10

THE HEAD

We can usually blame bad decisions on head choices: ‘I went with my head’, ‘I shouldn’t listen to my head’, ‘a confused mind stalls’, ‘what was I thinking?’, and so on. When your health goes off the rails it usually means you have been making life choices with your head, and the same in business. They are often choices of short- term gain and long-term pain.

The ego lives in the head and as such leads to self- gratification and self-centred behaviours as a default. Don’t get me wrong – we all need ego, but if it is your sole driving force then there is no way
you can function in a service environment.

Our head can also be very positive; it has resulted in some serious creativity in our industry in the areas of marketing and technology adoption, but it does not rule the core ‘others before self’ service mantra of a professional. It begs the question: are we becoming self-obsessed in this industry and have we forgotten our core functions?

Being ruled by our head without the influence of all the other elements leads to a lack of analytical intelligence and often results in ‘Twitter insanity’ like behaviours, and that is seriously not a good look. Lots of work to do here.

SCORE: 5/10

THE HEART

They say your heart is where your true self dwells; it is from where your lifeblood pumps through your veins and without it you are nothing. Expressions such as ‘from the heart’, ‘home is where the heart is’, ‘heartfelt’, ‘close to your heart’, ‘heart of gold’ and ‘heartache’ tell us that it is our emotional centre, and it is where we connect and relate to others.

So it comes as no surprise that in our industry everything we do is about connecting with people. Your heart enables you to show you care, show empathy, have understanding, go above and beyond and help people; in other words, to truly serve.

Could it therefore be said that having our heart in the right place is where our energy and focus need to go if we are going to thrive as a viable industry in the evolutionary consumer-driven age of the property professional?

If I take a look around the industry right now I am seeing two distinct trends emerge: those who get the connection of the heart to everything we do, and those who couldn’t care less and see it all as a load of claptrap. Well, it therefore remains to be seen how the prognosis will work out. A tale of two hearts and minds here.

SCORE: 6/10

THE GUT

The gut is usually the first place we feel something isn’t quite right. We have gut feelings, gut instincts and gut-wrenching moments. It is of the body as distinguished from the soul, mind and psyche, and is probably the hardest element to understand. It can be called intuition; it is often an immediate reaction and it is where most people I talk to in the industry are feeling it.

They are feeling a bit tenuous, feeling that we are not being honest with ourselves and that we can really do a lot better than we are. Expressions like ‘we have been fooling ourselves’, ‘we are our own worst enemy’ and ‘It makes me feel sick to the guts when I see what is going on’ – and this is from some of Australia’s leading agents.

This gut reaction I am seeing is what gives me confidence that we can collectively change
direction and reboot our industry into a being a real profession. It is this gut of the industry that is making the first moves towards a recognised professional standards scheme. Work in progress.

SCORE: 7/10

THE DIAGNOSIS

We all know that we cannot connect with people and serve them with just our head (knowledge and skills). Our gut on its own; neither will our core (ethics and values) be all we need to strengthen our industry. There needs to be balance in all these elements for it to function effectively and, as there is no substance without the heart’s involvement, we need our heart to bring all the elements together in a genuine desire to make a difference to people’s lives.

So the diagnostic advice is clear. A score of 24 out of 40 leaves plenty of room for improvement.

There is too much head focus going on and not enough care for the heart to function properly. Our gut is feeling a bit troubled and has been fed a lot of the wrong ingredients for far too long. And we need to put in place a stringent fitness regime to stabilise and strengthen our core, which will set new standards of values, ethics and behaviours for us all. 

Part one of four. Read part two 'The Core of our Industry "PURPOSE"' here.