oc | Thursday 23rd January

Understanding agent cultures

CulturesBuying a home is a business interaction – and business interactions involve dealing with different business cultures. So just as business people need to find the most appropriate way to interact with people of different cultures, so too do home buyers have to find the right way to deal with selling agents.

There is an overall culture among selling agents and there are many sub-cultures within different agencies, just as there are within cities, football clubs, even . Understanding, and working with, these sub-cultures usually yields better results than fighting against them.

A first step to gaining an insight into agent culture is to consider the overall big picture: that agents represent sellers first and foremost (and, despite the bad press agents sometimes get, most of the good agents do really do this).

Taking this one step further, some selling agents have a culture of win-loss: the seller can only win if the buyer loses.

The next helpful hint is to understand that you are on their turf. In footy terms, when you begin negotiations you are playing an away game. Be mindful therefore that the wind may blow in a direction that the agent knew but wasn’t obvious to you.

In , one of the first agent “cultures” that new buyers have to learn quickly is the concept of “quote  ’em low and watch  ’em go.” It’s endemic and not likely to change in a hurry because unfortunately it often works against the inexperienced. But this is not an article about that.

Once you have done twenty or so deals with a particular agency you will start to get a handle on the overall agent culture(s), and you will also start to develop insights into individual agency “clan” cultures.

To reiterate: better negotiations generally come from better understandings. And while you may not agree with the way the game is played, you can often achieve a better result if you understand the players and the game you are in.

For example, here are some of the sub-cultures we see in some of the Melbourne real estate agencies we deal with regularly:

: Under the leadership of , and Richard James, Jellis Craig’s sub-culture has changed in recent times to a more professional consultative culture.

: Led by in the toughest game in town – vs . The sub-culture of this company is one of approaching every day with the view of “what deal can be done?”

Kay and Burton: The five pillars, as we call them  – Ross Savas, Peter Kudelka, Jason Scillio, Mike Gibson and Gerald Delany  – have a sub-culture based around considered planning, preparation and professional presentation. A deal can’t be rushed.

: Led by James Connell and John Bongiorno, this company is also highly structured. They have a competitive and very professional sub-culture.

Biggin and Scott : Local flavour is very much part of their sub-culture.

Noel Jones, Benmac, Buxton, Hodges, Barry Plant, and so on all have very different sub-cultures.

I’m sure you have run into agents who treat you like dirt (although this is a lot less widespread than ten years ago). And you may find that you visit home after home where these agents are from the same company. It’s all about culture and leadership from the top. If the company’s leadership has tight commissions, poor training and low ethical standards which encourage a “dog eat dog” attitude among its sales staff, that can manifest itself in poor interactions between buyers and agents. But rather than reject that and rule out a number of homes because of the agent, you can recognise the culture, understand why it is happening, not take it personally and then use it to your advantage in structuring an offer. In many cases, agents with a chip on their shoulder can be a smart buyer’s friend.

Of course, the reverse is also true and in any one of the above companies you will find the majority (if not all) agents operating in a professional culture where you will be treated in a manner that may lead to a result that made you feel good during the process but …

Understanding culture is very different from understanding buying or selling techniques. For example, if your pre-auction offer is shown to everyone else for 24 hours before it is accepted or rejected, that is a procedure. To be told by an agent that there is another offer even if there isn’t, is a technique or a strategy, not cultural. But to think that all buyers are liars – that is a culture.

There are problems when buyers want to, or become focused on, changing agents’ culture. I would like to see some changes to make private sales a more open process and legislation to make post-auction negotiations a more level playing field. However, while that is a wish, it is not my primary aim when involved in deals day to day. My primary aim is to get the right deal for my client. Any of my cultural change agendas are best served through REIV committee work, agent lunches and other forums. But when the deal light is flashing, I, for one, am not thinking about cultural change.

Besides that, changing cultures in countries, in clubs and within real estate agencies, is not an easy or instantaneous thing.

And, of course, it won’t have slipped past quality selling agents that our company individually, and we as collectively, also have cultures – and a number of quality selling agents understand that and deal with us accordingly.

Overall, you may have noticed, in general, that buyer agents’ culture with regards to selling agents is moving from animosity towards understanding, and vice versa.

Selling agents, agencies and auctioneers are all different. There are cultures you may not like, but, in the context of a six-month search and buy, you need to ask yourself whether your priority is to resist or fight to try and change a culture, or whether you should simply ignore homes whose agent culture you don’t care for. You may find that your needs are best served by understanding and finding ways to operate within an agent’s clan culture.

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