“There’s an expectation for you to be genuine and transparent as a real estate professional,” says Ron Phipps, a former NAR President (2011). “But you want to make sure your genuineness is not provocative in a way that disrespects people.”
Phipps is helping to develop a REALTOR® University course on online etiquette for real estate professionals. “Great reputations are built one brick at a time, and buildings can come down with one bad move. You can destroy your reputation with one comment.”
Severing Ties With Serious Offenders
REALTOR® Magazine convened two focus groups—one with nine brokers and another with nine agents—during the REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in May in Washington, D.C., to learn how the highly charged political climate may be affecting business relationships. All participants acknowledged seeing a rise in politically infused online behavior from both colleagues and clients in the last year. Some said they’ve defriended or stopped following some business contacts. Several have a personal policy never to become online “friends” with a client until a transaction is over.
Joe Mock, a sales associate in Cincinnati, participated in one of the focus groups. He says he has defriended clients and personal contacts recently for making “serious” negative political comments on his Facebook page. Mock believes associating with people like that threatens his business.
Four of the nine participating brokers said they have no formal social media policies in place. One broker from Oklahoma had to fire two agents who refused to “go neutral” on hot-button political issues on the company’s social media feeds. Because the business of real estate is often affected by politics, some participants said that focusing on REALTOR® Party issues rather than partisan politics was the best way to avoid alienating clients and colleagues.
Doug Sager, a California sales associate, says that “One of the many hats we wear as a real estate professional is the hat of a teacher. We educate our clients on matters that affect them, and we cannot be afraid to bring up topics that impact their goals. It also shows that REALTORS® are about much more than seeking the next closing check; we are a viable political force with a powerful voice in all levels of government.”
Is it Ever OK to Reveal Personal Views?
Perhaps the person who needs to watch what they say is you. Real estate agents have lost clients—and their jobs—after making divisive political remarks in public forums. Even REALTOR® association leaders have had missteps. During the 2016 election, REALTORS® threatened to rescind their RPAC donations in response to a state president’s online political comments. And in January, an agent in Peoria, Ill., was fired after engaging in a cantankerous Twitter spat over political views that went viral online.
Real estate pros are public ambassadors for their communities, so they should remember that they are representing their business and neighborhoods at all times and on all forums—even if their intent is to “switch” to their personal persona, says Marki Lemons-Rhyal, a Chicago-based real estate coach who teaches social media ethics. “You shouldn’t be a practitioner and shouldn’t have a license if you think, ‘I’ll say whatever I want to say,’” she says. “You don’t get to take your real estate hat off. If you get online and rant and rave, that sends the message that you won’t work with a certain type of client.”
Of course, not everyone agrees that professionals must always avoid expressing personal beliefs. But if you do, you have to be willing to accept the consequences. Susan Young, a North Carolina broker, recalls wrestling with the resignation of one of her agents several years ago. Young says the agent left after expressing anger that Young posted a comment on Facebook supporting gay marriage, which was illegal in North Carolina at the time.
“The agent told the owner of the company that if she ever ran into a problem, she didn’t think I would have her back because we didn’t share the same views,” Young recalls. The owner did not reprimand Young over the situation, and Young says she doesn’t regret her Facebook post. But she did learn a lesson about how her words can have a greater impact because of her higher position in her company. “I realized I’m the broker in charge, and I represent the entire company. It wasn’t just me losing something; the whole office lost a good agent,” she says.
Some real estate pros simply aren’t sweating the risky consequences of working in a combative political climate. One Louisiana practitioner who participated in the focus groups noted that the business impact can accrue to his benefit if certain colleagues become known for their vitriol online or in person: “One of their clients is going to come over to me.”