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RISMEDIA, September 22, 2010—While every industry defines professionalism in a different way, it is crucial that real estate professionals understand how to recognize and encourage professionalism in their agents. In this month’s Power Broker Round Table, industry experts Stephen Baird and Beverly Kendall discuss what their definition of professionalism entails and how you can maintain a level of professionalism within your office.

Steve Brown,
Special Liaison for Large Firm Relations, NAR

Stephen Baird
, President, CEO, Baird & Warner, Chicago
Beverly Kendall, EVP, RE/MAX Gold, Sacramento, California

Steve Brown: The dictionary defines “professionalism” as “reaching professional status in methods, character and standards”—and that’s fine, as far as it goes. The problem is that every industry has its own, modified definition. Within our industry, the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (NAR), with its vast array of educational resources, courses and ethics requirements has helped to raise the bar quite a bit. But professionalism, as seen from the broker’s point of view, may differ considerably from the way customers see it. Which agent is more professional—the one who writes a clean contract and keeps a daily accounting of his time? Or the one whose paperwork is almost embarrassing, but whose customers know she returns every call and knows the answers to their questions? This month, we’ve invited a couple of seasoned brokers to share their points of view. Stephen, what’s your definition of professionalism in an agent, and how do you recognize and encourage it?

Stephen Baird: First and foremost, a professional agent has a superb understanding of the marketplace—and the ability to relate so well with clients that they come to understand it, too. That kind of proven proficiency—along with common courtesy and a sense of accountability—will keep old clients coming back and new clients coming in.

Beverly Kendall: That’s true. But also, a professional agent adheres to NAR’s strict code of ethics…and they must be committed to the industry and have impeccable interpersonal skills.

Steve Brown: And these are qualities agents start out with, or how important is training?

Beverly Kendall: Training is important, but there are certain characteristics that are really innate, that you need to recognize from the get-go: a quiet confidence, a pleasing persona, a high level of general knowledge and comfort in interacting with people. These are skills you can’t teach, but you can’t be professional without them.

Stephen Baird: If someone has those interpersonal skills and is committed to working hard, we can give them the big skills training they need to be knowledgeable and competitive. In fact, I’d rather we train them ourselves. Give me someone who is driven to succeed, and we’ll teach them everything they need to know to be professional and successful.

Beverly Kendall: I agree, but at the same time, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. NAR, the state associations and other organizations offer a wealth of educational material. Yes, we need to keep our agents on top of the market, but I think what we’re concerned with here is the kind of professionalism that matters most to customers.

Steve Brown: You’re saying we need to look at how the public views us from the outside looking in…

Beverly Kendall: Absolutely, but we need to recognize that even our customers have varying definitions of professionalism. These days, a lot of younger customers prefer to do everything online. We have agents who are proficient in social media who never actually see some of their buyers until they’re ready to hand them the key. That’s great if it works for them. But more traditional clients want the emotional hand-holding that only an agent can provide—and for that, we’re back to needing and appreciating the old-fashioned people skills.

Stephen Baird: The fact is, professional agents take the profession seriously. They treat every customer with respect, no matter what those customers expect. Knowledgeable agents who are great with clients are going to be successful. If they hate paperwork, they’ll make enough money to team up or hire an assistant to take care of the details.

Beverly Kendall: I think when you feel the most successful as a broker is when you are managing a team where everyone is comfortable in his skin—and that requires our own set of people skills. As brokers, it’s our job to recognize professional attitude and demeanor in everyone we hire, but also to help every agent fill in the holes in his or strength.

Steve Brown: Well, it seems to me we’ve managed to identify four core qualities of professionalism: market knowledge, responsibility, interpersonal skills and integrity. As brokers, how can we encourage growth in any or all of these areas?

Stephen Baird: Require high standards…professional demeanor…full time commitment and motivation…and continuing education to keep agents ahead of the curve, including professional designations.

Beverly Kendall: As a broker, you need to recognize potential right from the very first interview. Then provide training that helps agents not only to define their fiduciary role but to live it every day…and promote the kind of office culture that encourages agents to give more than the client expects. It’s a tall order, and—like the notion of professionalism itself—some of it is simply intuitive. But there’s a wealth of data available out there on how to stimulate agent development. Maybe you said it all, Stephen. Demonstrate and demand high standards.