No One Trusts Real Estate Agents: I Founded A New Brokerage Anyway

No One Trusts Real Estate Agents: I Founded A New Brokerage Anyway

  • Nicole Oge
  • 08/24/23

I co-founded a real estate brokerage less than a year ago and more than 900 agents have raised their hands asking to join… we have not hired one of them… but more on that later.

You would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't have a real estate agent horror story. For those of us in New York City, I would not be surprised if there are therapists specializing in the post traumatic stress-like symptoms induced by the painful process of buying, selling or renting an apartment. One of my favorite journalists, Emily Gould, from one of my favorite media companies, Vox / New York Magazine, chronicled her tale last year and its relatability propelled her story to viral Twitter status. 

The process of buying or selling a home is akin to a blood sport. We acknowledge the experience will be painful, hypervigilance is required to ensure we never miss a new listing, hawkishly monitoring any recent sale to justify the price is expected and, above all else, we have to keep a close eye on our real estate agent, should they dare steer us toward decisions better serving their needs than ours.

No cultural moment better captured the widely held stereotype of the real estate agent than Annette Benning’s character in American Beauty whose “I will sell this house today” affirmation became a meme shared the world over, or at least in our world of real estate. 

The stinging nature of the stereotype is real. Meeting someone intelligent and witty at a cocktail party only to find out they are a real estate agent could make your head spin. Suddenly you begin questioning your read on this person. “Why did this person engage me so intently and what are their real motivations here?”  

The reality of this deep mistrust in brokers is evidenced by studies showing real estate agents rank among the least trusted professions in the country (alongside car salespeople and politicians) with only 11% of Americans saying they find the profession trustworthy. 

So what drives the visceral and negative reaction to hearing someone say “I’m a real estate agent”?

The answer is somewhat nuanced. 

Many would state they don’t appreciate the profession because they can’t wrap their minds around the agent’s service relative to the cost of their commission. After all, most of us find our next homes on mega listing platforms like  Zillow and Streeteasy or, as a homeowner, feel like we can best articulate our home’s value and unique features.

But the aversion to a real estate agent’s fees doesn't fully explain why the profession is mistrusted. The reality rests with two central truths about the real estate industry:

  1. The barriers to entry are woefully low - everyone knows a real estate agent because it's so easy to become one. (Fun fact: 1 out of 10 people in Aspen, Colorado is a licensed real estate agent.)
  2. The brokerage firms that agents work for have equally low, if any, standards for who they hire. (Fun/sad fact: most firms don’t employ background checks.)

The low barriers to entry and lack of agent standards coupled with the rise of reality TV shows depicting astronomical commissions for what appears to be minimal work done by former Instagram models, actors, waiters and you have more unqualified individuals than ever before entering a profession where less than 13% of them will make it after five years.

These painful truths about our business have always gnawed at me as someone who has spent over a decade in the C-Suite of several national brokerages and, now, as Co-Founder of my own firm, OFFICIAL. I built my reputation in this business by collaborating with the best agents in the world, supporting their growth, mentoring them, speaking on behalf of the industry and ultimately, through these efforts, working to destigmatize the work we all love.

In this time I have learned that world class real estate professionals are amongst the savviest, most diligent, intelligent – and interesting – people you will meet at a cocktail party. My co-founders of OFFICIAL Tal and Oren Alexander are perhaps the most acute example of just how differently the premier agents in our business function and are perceived. Tal and Oren, the nation’s #1 Team in sales for the past four years, are amongst the most sought after, respected and trusted agents in the world. Theirs is a highly optimized, always-on business, which serves as the veritable nexus of real estate investors, buyers, sellers, financial institutions, luxury brands, the media and the marketplace. To think they once carried the same business card, marketing materials and branded talking points as some newly licensed real estate salesperson should serve as evidence for the change our industry needs and is capable of. 

Trusted and meaningful experiences with agents like my co-founders, forge relationships that transcend the transaction. This is the mission of OFFICIAL.   

An extraordinary real estate agent is a concierge, investment and design advisor, a mainline into the community and door-opener forging connections between clients and invaluable service providers and resources.

With the birth of OFFICIAL on a white board in 2019, we envisioned a world where clients would hear the name OFFICIAL and immediately understand its differentiated value. OFFICIAL is a professional services firm with the industry’s highest barriers to entry: $1 Billion in career sales and a deep, concentrated focus in the markets that matter to our clients who are amongst the most affluent and influential in the world. 

As I mentioned at the top of the piece, the number of agents that have asked to join the firm since its launch one year ago is hovering around 1,000. In response, we developed a  rubric to assess and vet these agents and the results have been fascinating. Even when prospective agents meet the current quantitative criteria of $1 Billion in historic sales, at OFFICIAL we have additional conditions for consideration, which include reputational excellence, new development experience and a collaborative spirit - the last perhaps being the most difficult to properly gauge. 

By interviewing these prospective agents,  I have noticed something interesting and frankly illuminating. Agents were hungry for constructive feedback. Tips on what they could do to one day qualify for OFFICIAL. The experience was both eye opening and humbling and it led me to question “what exactly are/aren’t these agents’ brokerages doing for them such that they would be so eager to blindly jump ship to OFFICIAL?” And the answer, sadly, is not very much at all.

Recruiting in brokerage is a slog. Recruiters’ talk track is laden with platitudes, promises of signing bonuses and “extra points on the package” in exchange for multi year contracts with clawback provisions that paralyze most top performers who may wish to leave in advance of their contract renewal date. Marketing (my passion and expertise) is often paraded as the answer to an agent’s unfulfilled potential–as though a social media or newsletter campaign could somehow unlock business opportunities and skills in perpetuity. These tactics are arcane. They are fleeting. And, most importantly, they are grossly misleading. 

The link between mistrust in the industry and the historic brokerage operating model is inextricable. When agents require little to no training, can get hired virtually anywhere they desire, are not properly vetted or assessed, then what hope could they have of making a career in this business let alone a positive impression on a potential client? They are set up to fail day one on the job.

So while we never planned on inviting agents with less than $1 Billion in sales experience to the table, it has become abundantly clear that the future stars of our industry could greatly benefit from our business model and that we could fill a void of support, guidance and mentorship they are sorely lacking. After all, what’s more exciting than identifying greatness early enough to be able to foster it?

Thus PRODIGY was born.

This month OFFICIAL is launching our PRODIGY Program, an invitation only and data driven program able to identify an agent's potential to become among the most successful in the world.

Unlike other firms that measure their strength by agent and office counts, PRODIGY is singularly focused on the highest caliber of agents. Those demonstrating both quantitative and qualitative excellence. 

How does PRODIGY work?

Together with our data partners, OFFICIAL maps an agent's strengths and weaknesses to create an OFFICIAL Scouting Report. The performance metrics outlined in the Scouting Report combine to create the Agent's Prodigy Score.

These two powerful and proprietary tools - The Agent’s Prodigy Score and Scouting Report - combined with a rigorous interview process, guide all hiring decisions made by the firm to ensure OFFICIAL deeply understands the potential of the candidate and the areas of focus their business would require in order to be optimized.

A potential PRODIGY is able to review their complete metric profile in the customized Scouting Report and are then invited to apply to the program and to be placed on an interview track with our Co-Founders. 

Upon selection into PRODIGY, the agent will be set on a path to business optimization by working directly with OFFICIAL’s leadership and sales, marketing and growth teams to realize their potential on an accelerated and intentional track.

Prodigies will learn how to:

  • Grow a team and operate a sustainable business
  • Break into new markets of interest, where they are set up to succeed
  • Navigate changing market conditions and effectively communicate guidance to clients
  • Elevate or refine their brand and voice in the marketplace
  • Lean into their strengths and overcome their weaknesses
  • Win the unwinnable pitch
  • Provide an invaluable and differentiated service to clients

...and ultimately rise above the rest.

While other professional services industries like consulting, legal, accounting and wealth advisory have prioritized identifying, growing and retaining their best talent, real estate has not focused with the same level of intent and certainly not employed this best practice in its operating model.

With PRODIGY, OFFICIAL has the opportunity to become the McKinsey of real estate. And I expect that in a few short years, you will meet one of our Prodigies at a cocktail party or conference and think to yourself when you hear them say “I’m an OFFICIAL real estate agent” that this individual is intelligent, professional, experienced and 1000 other people wanted this job. 

While I love Annette Benning’s character in American Beauty she, sadly, would not qualify as an OFFICIAL PRODIGY.

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