When we established Golden Real Estate over 11 years ago, I came up with two mottos for our company which appear on all our yard signs. The mottos also appear on our newest moving truck that we provide free to buyers, sellers and community organizations.
I’ve written more than once about the second motto, “Promoting and Modeling Environmental Responsibility,” but this week I want to focus on the first one, which is “Hometown Service Delivered With Integrity.”
I recall how easily those two value statements came to me back in 2007, and now I can testify as to how we have lived up to both of them in the years since and how important and relevant they feel so many years later.
My own relationship to integrity derives from my New England upbringing and specifically the influence of my somewhat aristocratic father, Abbott Pliny Smith II. Dishonesty or lying had no place in our home. I can still hear Dad telling me, “Just because other people steal apples doesn’t make it right for you to steal apples.”
Dad taught me not to pretend to know things I didn’t know or claim to have experience I did not have. I recall one instance where following that advice really helped me. It was when I owned a typesetting company in New York called Journal Graphics. Because of my journalism training, I wanted to land the account with WNET to produce the transcripts for The MacNeil/Lehrer Report. But I had no experience with transcription and no current clients.
So I took the approach of actually transcribing one of their shows and delivering the transcript to the station the following morning with a cover letter to the executive producer saying I could do this every night overnight, including printing. A month later I was in the office of the woman in charge of transcripts, and she said, “Yes, and would you like to do Bill Moyers’ Journal, too?”
I responded, “Let me do Bill Moyers’ show first, since it’s a weekly show, and once we’ve got that going smoothly, I’ll do the MacNeil/Lehrer Report, which is daily.” Then she asked if we’d do fulfillment. Without hesitating, I asked her, “What’s fulfillment?” She explained that it involves fulfilling the mailed-in orders. “That sounds very clerical, so I’m sure we could handle it,” I said. She then asked if we’d hire the two elderly volunteers who were doing that job for WNET, and I said, “Sure.”
Within a few years, we were doing all the transcripts for ABC News, Oprah Winfrey (and countless other daytime talk shows), 60 Minutes, CNN 24 hours a day, and all NPR programs. And it all started by demonstrating I could do the job, but also being honest about my lack of experience or clients. And I didn’t solicit thosse additional clients. ABC asked WNET, Oprah asked ABC, and the rest called us as Journal Graphics became a household name at the end of those other shows.
Fast forward to my real estate career. In 2012, mass emails claimed that the Affordable Care Act included a 3.8% sales tax on the sale of every home. It was an outright distortion of a tax that applied only to investment income and only on Adjusted Gross Income in excess of $200,000 in a given year. The email, which became viral as recipients forwarded it to all their contacts, was designed, using false information, to whip up grass roots hatred of Obama during his 2012 re-election campaign.
Recipients of the email were advised to sell their homes before the tax took effect in January 2013. The headline on my October 18, 2012, column was, “If You’re Selling Your Home Because of an ‘Obamacare Tax,’ You’ve Been Duped.”
At first, I figured it must be an innocent and unintentional misreading of the law, and I replied “All” to each email with the facts. But facts didn’t matter, and the emails continued in hopes of defeating Obama. This lack of integrity appalled me, but nowadays that lack of integrity is magnified by the use of social media, and the manipulation of voters continues unabated. Does it shock and dismay you as much as it does me?
Another wake-up call for me was that at least one of my own agents who received the mass email did not want to respond to it with the truth because she didn’t want to “be political” and thus alienate prospective clients.
One reason I was drawn to joining Rotary was its “Four-Way Test of the things we think, say or do.” I have published the Four-Way Test before, but I’ll repeat it here, and I urge you to consider whether certain politicians would pass those tests of the things they think, say or do:
“First, is it the Truth?
Second, is it Fair to All Concerned?
Third, Will it Build Goodwill and Better Friendships?
Fourth, Will it Be Beneficial to All Concerned?”
Boy Scouts can tell you that the Scout Law also includes telling the truth in the first of its 12 laws.
Realtors subscribe to the Realtor Code of Ethics. Article 12 says that “Realtors shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations.” Sadly, however, I recently reported on one Realtor whose business model includes misleading homeowners with notes taped to their front door saying “I may have a buyer for your house.” Not only does that Realtor not have a buyer, but he admitted to me that when he gets one, he refers the buyer to another agent and earns a referral fee.
A common lapse of integrity by real estate agents is the exaggeration of their success. In past columns I have advised readers on how they could verify an agent’s record, and I even created a shortcut, www.FindDenverRealtors.com, which takes readers directly to the page on Denver’s MLS where they can get that information.
So, yes, within my own industry I also confront a lack of integrity. But Golden Real Estate’s motto is to practice “Hometown Service Delivered With Integrity” and I hold my nine broker associates to that commitment. Indeed, I can think of four broker associates I fired for reasons related to their lack of integrity. Please let me know directly if you ever sense that I or one or my broker associates has not lived up to that commitment.
If You’d Like My Political Take…
This column is about real estate, not politics, but, as you might suspect, I have a lot to say about integrity in politics. You’ll find that content at www.JimSmithBlog.com.