Promoting professionalism

September/October 2016 edition

Are we an industry? Or are we a profession? It’s the perennial question.

By Cath Dickinson

Profession. It’s a word that means different things to different people. But, at its core, it’s an indicator of expertise. Even more so, it’s an indicator of trust and value.

According to the Professional Standards Council, a profession is a “disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards”. The word describes a group who position themselves as “possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised body of learning derived from education and training at a high level” and that group applies their knowledge and skills in the interest of others. Most importantly, a profession is recognised by consumers as being just that – a profession.

So is it a word that can be applied to real estate? Most will agree that, at present, real estate is widely viewed as an industry, not a profession. But the desire to become a profession and, more importantly, to be viewed by consumers as a profession is palpable.

According to REINSW President John Cunningham, the power is in our own hands. “We have a choice about the direction we want to go in,” he said. “Are we going to do what we’ve always done and retain the status quo? This says loud and clear that we’re no more than mediocre. It unequivocally says that we’re not professionals.

“But if we choose to elevate ourselves by raising our standards of education and lifting the level of service we provide to our clients, and thereby improve consumer opinion, we can position ourselves at a professional level.”

Mr Cunningham firmly believes that we’re at a crossroads and that all agents have a decision to make.

“We have challenges coming at us from all directions,” he said. “We hear it every single day – we’re living in an age of disruption. And, without doubt, the slowest to adapt to change will be the quickest to be disrupted.

“Real estate is ripe for the picking. Over the last 20 years, we’ve allowed our education standards to slip. At the same time, we’ve seen the complexities surrounding the real estate transaction increase exponentially and every day we’re faced with consumers who have higher and higher expectations.

“There are disruptors out there that are looking to take a bigger and bigger slice of the pie, and we’re becoming our own worst enemy. We’re competing with each other at unrealistic levels and cutting our fees, instead of behaving professionally and charging professional fees. We’re devaluing what we do – and by devaluing what we do, we don’t bring value to our clients.

“It damages our relationship with clients and the wider community of consumers, because we continue to lower the bar.”

Thinking differently

According to Mr Cunningham, one of the key things that we can do to counter the threat of disruption is to start thinking of ourselves differently – not as an industry, but as a profession.

“Collectively, we need to understand our commitments to our clients, understand our commitments to our community, understand our commitments to our agency teams and understand our commitments to our profession,” he emphasised. “If we do this, then we’re well and truly on the road to being a profession and, in doing so, fending off the threat of disruption and raising our standing in the minds of consumers.“Disruptors exist to fill gaps in a marketplace of dissatisfaction. But when you have a professional, trusted adviser providing a service at a higher level – one who provides the right services and solutions – consumers won’t look elsewhere, because the best option is already right in front of them.”

It’s about far more than just starting to call ourselves a profession in the common parlance. “The word ‘profession’ is not just a label,” he said. “These days we throw around lots of words, like ‘integrity’ and ‘transparency’. After a while they just wash over you. ‘Professional’ is another one. They’re words that are just thrown around.

“Yes, without doubt, these are things we should all be striving for. But they have to mean something.

“Our behaviours matter and need to reflect our standards and values. We’re not going to change public perception and lift ourselves to the standard of a profession until we actually start behaving like professionals.”

For Mr Cunningham, ‘value’ is a key word. “We have to be skilled professionals who deliver an invaluable service, one for which we’re paid according to the value we add.

“We have to deliver great advice, a great experience and a great result. That’s what clients are looking to us for. That’s what we’re being rewarded for. We’re being rewarded for the value we add.”

Professional excellence

As REINSW announces the finalists in the 2016 Awards for Excellence, the issue of professionalism comes to the fore. What does excellence mean in terms of professionalism? What does it look like?

“For me, excellence describes the concept of going above and beyond,” Mr Cunningham said. “It’s about looking at what a client’s expectations are and saying ‘how can I deliver more?’. In other words, it’s about looking outside the square, looking around the corner and looking beyond what’s in front of you. Let’s make sure we’ve done everything we can possibly do to achieve the best possible outcome for our clients.“That’s what excellence is about. It’s about not taking the easy path. It’s about taking the best path.”

It’s those agents who actively strive for excellence in everything they do that set the benchmark for us all, according to Mr Cunningham. “They take what they do extremely seriously. They put their clients’ interests first. They understand their responsibilities. And they perform to a standard of excellence as a matter of course – it’s not conscious, it just is.

“And our finalists in this year’s Awards for Excellence exemplify this.

“Excellence and professionalism come together to provide a better consumer experience – and a better consumer experience means a better consumer outcome.”

Without doubt, there are already many, many agents who are operating at a professional level. “Over the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of agents really up their game,” Mr Cunningham said. “More and more, agents are striving to operate at the highest level and act in a completely professional manner. They don’t just talk the talk. They also walk the walk.

“They’re leaders and other agents should want to emulate them. Those that don’t, have no place in real estate. It’s a choice – and there’s only one right answer.”