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Opinion: Agent or advisor?

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When was the last time you heard someone call their investment advisor a stockbroker? Probably in 1987 when the movie Wall Street premiered. It’s not a moniker we often use anymore, and there’s a reason for that.

Times have changed and so has the job description. It’s no different in real estate.

Back in the 1950s, a real estate agent would canvas door-to-door for business. Today, no one would even answer the door. Later, agents would set up shop in local high-traffic neighbourhoods and most of the business would come from walk-ins. You could be successful just by sitting in your office, filling out a one-page contract to sell a property. There was very little advice going around back then. That isn’t the case today.

Gone are those days of the purely transactional relationship. These are the times of the ethical and moral relationship. “Do it right now” is out. “Sleep on it” is in. Termites are out. Home inspections are in. You get the drift.

Personalized technological and informational innovation have blossomed and forced all of us to act. The DIY sector has grown (demonstrating that clients have more than one choice) and expert advice is now a profitable spin-off business unto itself. When you add higher and more demanding client expectations, including the desire to be educated and informed with honesty and knowledge, agents may want to pivot to a new mindset that elevates, enhances and embraces their expanded role and better enables them to survive in the ever-growing world of disruptors that challenge all industries today.

If being muscled out doesn’t make you take notice of your expert abilities, maybe this will: there are tech companies now operating in the U.S. that allow users to access and view homes without an agent, secure mortgage approval and submit offers directly to the seller.

So, why have real estate professionals been so slow to ditch the century-old term agent in favour of advisor, a term that better describes who we are and what we do? We conduct business with the same fine-tuned fiduciary skills (ethical and legal) and regulatory obligations as an investment advisor and earn the trust of clients by providing personalized advice, education, guidance, support, solutions or just plain hand holding.

Today, property sellers and buyers don’t want to be “sold.” They want advice and guidance that helps inform their most personal life decisions. When we earn the right to do that, it means we are already playing a far greater role than that of traditional agents.

Market disruption is a key reason why we need everything in our arsenal to win and keep clients. Disruptors like iBuying (institutional house flippers) are at the industry’s doorstep, not only in the U.S., but right here in Canada. Their goal is to take the real estate agent out of the equation on a meaningful level and put all the power into the hands of consumers to manage the entire transaction by themselves. This puts a big responsibility on the shoulders of anyone looking to buy or sell a property.

Even DIY sellers and buyers need someone to walk them through the process and advise them what’s best for them in the short and long term.

Some home sellers or buyers might think an advisor isn’t necessary, but most will benefit from the personalized path or direction that only a real estate advisor can give them through the information clutter and confusion.

Although there are other real estate models that don’t use the word advisor, it seems to me to be the best term for someone who easily can answer questions like these: Do I keep my property or make a new real estate investment? Which inspections should I get and use? Which mortgage lender? What legal advice do I seek? What are the schools in the area for my 10-year-old? What are the pros and cons of the neighbourhood?

According to a recent proprietary marketing study of what’s motivating current Calgary home sellers and buyers, when it comes to the most important qualities in a real estate agent, 86 per cent of buyers and sellers say honesty is their No. 1 ask, followed by knowledge of the market (76 per cent).

Along with honesty and knowledge of the market, trust and integrity are also very important, with 74 per cent of buyers and sellers calling them some of the most important things they look for. Ideally, all these skills and qualities will be part of a real estate agent’s experience, another important quality for buyers and sellers.

The takeaway from all of this is: The combination of skills and ethical behaviour is what makes an advisor. We give advice based on knowledge and experience. We behave with the principles of honesty and integrity. Taken together, these considerations help to build trust among our clients.

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