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Selling Your Soul For Success?

Real Estate Agent with Kimberly Howell Properties (210) 646-HOME

Flickr - Cheques - Daquella maneraI'm happy for your success.

I love knowing when people around me, people I like, are being successful.  I love a good rags to riches success story.  I love the triumph of a person who sets their sights on success and reaches (and often surpasses) their goals.

ActiveRain success stories are always great and I've written them myself.  Recently though, I've found myself struggling with the thought of the success stories being posted on the main page.  Each story is accompanied by a smiling agent holding the check they received after their success story wrapped up.  There's everything from referral stories to blog success stories to members touting how ActiveRain expanded their business.

It's not the success that I struggle with.  It's the check.  In one photograph, an entire successful transaction is boiled down to a simple string of numbers with a dollar sign attached to it.  The entire client relationship and work put into the transaction put into dollars and sense.  ROI.  Quantified and filed away into a database.  Stamped with a "PAID" marker and cashed, deposited, invested, or spent.  I am not a number.

Now before you argue that we don't work for free...hear me out.


ActiveRain is a business.  Their job is to get people to sign up and generate income for their company by selling the product and service that is ActiveRain.  In doing so, they need to show value.  A check in an agent's hand definitely holds a certain value to them as a company.  It's proof positive that there is value to spending time on ActiveRain.  Fair enough.

Here's where my thinking deviates.  ActiveRain - is it for our industry or for the consumer?  We all know there's value on both sides - or if we don't, we've at least heard the argument for one or the other or both.  So let's break it down into two sides...

...for our industry.

There's an obvious advantage to the network of real estate industry professionals here at ActiveRain.  As one of them, I look at the success stories and it compels me to continue writing, creating relationships, and building a referral base which I know I can always rely on to help my clients and perhaps send me business.  The check is the value.  It says "if you join ActiveRain, you can get business. I like business.  I like it a lot.

...for the consumer.

To view ActiveRain from a consumer's viewpoint isn't always easy.  I'm too close to it.  I'm involved.  One of my driving forces is to look at everything in our industry from the consumer's view.  I'm not always perfect at it, but I do work hard to keep it at the forefront of everything I think and do.  So I'm a consumer looking for local information - I google away and find some great blog posts on a site (ActiveRain) I've never heard of.  What's the first thing I do?  Go to the main page.  What greets me and catches my attention first?  A photo of a smiling agent who is flashing the cash.  I'm no dummy, I know that agents get paid and don't work for free...but the first impression I have is an agent waving their check that they just earned.  Do I read the success story and see why they're holding the check?  Maybe, maybe not.

Perception as truth.

In an industry that it constantly battling with consumer opinion and public perception, the check represents everything wrong with our industry if you're already on the edge of deciding whether to place us above or below lawyers in your list of people you like least (sorry to my lawyer friends, but you have the same problems).

I know my clients are always thrilled when we close a transaction and (something I never thought would matter to them) they often ask, "hey, did you get your check yet" when we speak after closing.  They actually want to be sure I got paid.  They do want me to make money.  The difference?  They are clients.  We've built a friendship, a relationship, a trust...we are connected.

If I were a stranger, looking for an agent (and this is my personal thought) and I saw a photo of you smiling like a lottery winner, I would pass right by you.  In fact, I'd probably perceive you to be what I don't like about real estate agents.  I know from personal conversations (as an agent) that some of the agents I've seen in the success story column are good people who care for their clients.  As a consumer though?  I wouldn't give you a second thought.  The truth is they are good people and excellent agents.  The perception doesn't necessarily align with those thoughts.

But perception is truth...until it is given time to conform to the real truth.  That times time, trust, and connection.  Something you don't get with a picture of an agent holding a check.

photo curtest of Daquella manera

Please note: I'm all for celebrating our successes and don't deny that without those checks, we wouldn't be agents.  I lived in the world of rock and roll where I was expected to do everything for free (post-Napster) and although I had a passion for what I did, the truth was it had to put dinner on the table and gas in the car or it wasn't possible.  Money may not be everything or bring happiness or whatever cliched phrase you want to use, but let's face it - we need that money to continue to do what we do, passionate or not.

Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573
Northern Maine Real Estate-Aroostook County Broker

I agree that if you make the money, the check the end all you reduce the industry of folks wearing the "R" as chasing the almighty dollar. Finding a first time home buyer a home or not being able to get them through the banking hurdles but sticking with it even if it takes 20 months is the story. So is the community work for no money but pride in where they live is key too. Not so anyone knows. The behind the scenes for just being the right thing to do. Or if you did not it, it would not get done. AR is a community, resource not zero places on a bank draft. But if you were looking for ways to monetize the platform and attract more paying customers, the check cheesy grin is the new honey not vinegar to attract flies for some. And some would argue this is the place to sharpen your skills to make more money. That is the attraction and worth the price of admission. With approaching 205K, we are not all twins in our philosphy and thinking.

Mar 29, 2011 03:58 AM
Karen Hurst
Rhode Island Waterfront!


Interesting observation! I honestly never thought of it that way. Have suggested to see what others here think.   I know that many people dislike Realtors, so I am guessing "anything" a Realtor does will not look good.

However, getting a Referral from and Active Rain Member or from our blogging efforts should not be something to be ashamed of and the Check is simply the result of "closing the deal"...

I will have to think about this...

Mar 29, 2011 03:59 AM
Kristin Moran
Owner - RE/MAX Access - KristinMoran@Remax.net - San Antonio, TX
San Antonio,TX - Real Estate - 210-313-7397

Interesting points Matt! I have to say I agree with where you are coming from on this one. I do care about my clients & have posed with many referral checks from AR & HOPE I don't come off as insincere about how I made that $!

P.S. - I got a check recently from the lady above me.  I forgot to photograph it. I know she worked VERY HARD with my friend's friend in her lovely town in Rhode Island & she deserved that check when she finally got it, I am sure her client would agree as well!

Mar 29, 2011 04:08 AM
Doug Rogers
RE/MAX Coastal Properties - Destin, FL
Your Real Estate Resource!

Perhaps we should post my gas bill from last month touring buyers around. That would be a dose of Realtor reality!

Mar 29, 2011 04:49 AM
Vicki Lloyd
The Lloyd Realty Group - San Diego, CA
(619)452-9798, Real Estate San Diego California

I agree with you Matt!  The photos with the checks seem a little crass, and aren't necessary.  Success stories about meeting & satisfying clients and being found on AR should be the theme. 

Mar 29, 2011 04:50 AM
Aaron Vaughn 830-358-0455
Conifer Builders LLC - Canyon Lake, TX

Terrific post, Matt, and serious food for thought!

I know I have personally been a little uncomfortable with the pictures of checks posted on the front page, where many members of the public find AR for the first time. To me, it feeds the stereotype that many have about real estate agents — soulless, greedy people who only care about the big, fat check at the end.

Mar 29, 2011 05:00 AM
Bob Stewart
ActiveRain - Seattle, WA
ActiveRain Ambassador

This is why we need you to let us know how you define success.


"where many members of the public find AR for the first time"

That couldn't be further from the truth. The traffic on the home page from consumers is extremely low. An overwhelming majority of the traffic on the home page in a given day/week/month comes from logged in members, or from IP addresses that have logged into AR at some point, indicating they are members.

That's not to say consumers don't access the page, they do.......but it's a pretty low percentage of the overall traffic on that page, and a super low percentage of the overall consumer traffic on the site. I talk about it a little bit more in the post I linked to above.


Mar 29, 2011 06:10 AM
Matt Stigliano
Kimberly Howell Properties (210) 646-HOME - San Antonio, TX

I feel like I'm late to a party that I didn't even know about.

Bob, thanks for posting the link.  I had missed the post (how does one find time to read all the posts out there, I'll never have that answer).  Interesting to see that there were others who thought this (I've had this post brewing in my head for awhile) and to see ActiveRain's thoughts as well.

I would suggest that anyone who comments, also reads the post Bob linked to.

Mar 29, 2011 08:19 AM
Don Rogers
Keller Williams Realty Chesterfield - O'Fallon, MO
Realtor, Broker, CDPE, GRI, OnullFallon MO & St Charles County MO homes


Good strong points and the fact that preception is truth will always be a problem for this industry.  My success story was NOT about a check at the end of a transaction it was more about the friendships developed here in the Rain something that has, to me, a deeper value and one that can be explained without the help of a check.

Mar 29, 2011 11:39 AM
Kay Van Kampen
RE/MAX Broker, RE/MAX - Springfield, MO
Realtor®, Springfield Mo Real Estate

So much of our work today never ends in checks being written, but it is about taking care of the client.  Funny I find this post tonight after one of my agents gave me a hard time about helping someone strictly because I cared about the client and not the money.

Mar 29, 2011 03:12 PM
Steven Pahl
Keller Williams Tampa Properties - Tampa, FL
Real Estate Consultant Tampa, FL 813-319-6423

Rather than a smiling Realtor face with check in hand, something more friendly such as first time homeowners entering the front door of their new home, would go a lot further with the general public!


Paola and Zubin


Mar 30, 2011 04:02 AM
Ricki Eichler McCallum
CastNet Realty - Corpus Christi, TX
Broker,GRI,ABR, e-Pro, TAHS

Hi Matt,  Good post, and glad to see the linked post from Bob

Mar 31, 2011 02:09 PM
Claudette Millette
The Buyers' Counsel - Ashland, MA
Buyer, Broker - Metrowest Mass


I am interested to see that anyone has actually pointed this out because it has bothered me from the first time I say this feature.

I certainly would not want to see a picture of my attorney holding a check from successfully defending me in a case or my surgeon depicted with a check because he made $5,000 from operating on the hip that I injured playing tennis last summer.

It is just not worthy of a professional that is being entrusted to represent someone in one of their most important investments.


Apr 08, 2011 03:53 PM
Loreena and Michael Yeo
3:16 team REALTY ~ Locally-owned Prosper TX Real Estate Co. - Prosper, TX
Real Estate Agents

I can see your point as explained. But honestly, it didn't bother me.  I would agree the stories are far better than the photo depiction of what happened. For me, it had a photo of me and my son on it. Would that make it worse?

Apr 19, 2011 04:06 PM
Mike Wong
Keller Williams Realty Southwest - Sugar Land, TX
Realtor: Commercial, Residential, Leasing, Invest

Interesting point Matt. I never thought of the feature this way and I have to agree with your views. It does not really portray what some agents are trying to accomplish in the industry. The last thing I would want my clients to see is posing with a check and grinning online.

Apr 19, 2011 04:14 PM


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