Why integrity is essential in the real estate industry (and everywhere else)
In real estate, facts are facts. As the country watched the drama unfold over the past week, first on Capitol Hill and now, perhaps, in state capitols across the country, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle (and members of the press) asserted the truth or falsity of their point of view, while vilifying that of their opponents. In our profession, we cannot do that.
As Realtors licensed by the New York Department of State, we need to know the difference between truth and lies. Pilotage laws and fair housing issues are not fundamentally fungible. When real estate agents make decisions about which neighborhoods to promote based on skin color, religion, or gender identification, it’s against the law. It’s wrong. There are no “good people on both sides”.
Likewise, the Department of State monitors real estate agents to determine that the listings we place accurately describe the property we are listing. We can’t describe the bedroom we list as “the biggest apartment anyone has ever seen”. It’s HUGE” if it’s actually only 500 square feet. We cannot describe an apartment as four bedroom if two of those bedrooms have no windows – without windows they are not legal rooms.
The numbers don’t lie. If we promote a 2,000 square foot property as containing 3,000 square feet, that is not an alternative fact. This is simply not true, and the law does not allow us to do so. Ways of calculating square footage vary (most condominiums measure exterior wall to exterior wall, which results in considerably more square footage than just calculating interior space), but they vary in size. measure of reasonableness. A New York company many years ago lost a lawsuit because of this: an unhappy buyer was able to prove that the real estate agent had inflated the square footage of the unit beyond a reasonable measure. Square footage, like inauguration crowds or election votes, can only be pushed so far.
Individual preferences and decision-making play a huge role in consumer choices about real estate and real estate agents. Buyers and sellers so often select their agents on the basis of personal recommendations, because they believe that their friends and family will not mislead them about the professional who offers the highest level of knowledge, the deepest understanding of local conditions and the most honest reflection on the advantages and disadvantages of the different alternatives. These consumers depend on real estate agents to act as fiduciaries, placing the interests of their clients above monetary or personal gain.
Opinions will always be a gray area and will slide along a spectrum; any agent who has worked with a buyer whose final purchase bears little resemblance to their original criteria knows this. The facts are different. In our business, as in most businesses, we need to be able to trust what others say, and others expect the same from us. We must believe that their business interactions with us are performed in good faith and that their statements are truthful. Words matter, and in business as in the rest of our lives, we must deploy them carefully. Nothing can change the importance of always taking the correct and honest measurements.