Bullying and harassment in real estate – a service industry

 

 

Anger is being directed at the service providers

 

Bullying and harassment in real estate – a service industry – are very concerning. Covid 19 highlighted bullying and harassment, particularly in the female-dominated workplaces of nursing and retail. For some reason, some people think they have a right to vent their frustration on service providers. As women, we all know these same people would never speak to men like this. I say that confidently because women would be scared that the male bully could retaliate by force. In fact, everyday women hide their frustrations away from bullying people because women are socialised to know the danger. Unfortunately, some women even feel confident bullying other women and young people because they know these groups don’t usually physically react.

 

 

Covid was a frustrating time where people lost their fundamental freedoms and were confined to very regimented schedules and lifestyles. Hospitals were bulging with patients and frustrated families that vented their anxiety toward nurses. Food and grocery stores were places where some people felt they could be rude and dismissive to staff. So bad is the bullying behaviour now that the call centres warn people before they are connected that offensive conversations will be terminated. As entry-level service providers, they are fair game for abuse and there is no accountability for their actions. Abuse at work often comes from within work and there are some remedies for this but there are none for when the abuse is from clients/customers.

 

 

It seems that when the external environment is stressful people feel it is ok to let off steam. The current real estate environment appears to be creating opportunities for people be abusive too. Interest rates rising, properties not selling, no available rental accommodation, harder to attain finance and the cost-of-living rising are all impacting consumers. As a woman in real estate, I have never encountered such hostility before. Of course, people have been disappointed in a sale result or unhappy with a particular service. However, people usually express their dissatisfaction through emails and sometimes verbally but it is civil. The negative feedback is typically a learning experience for me to improve or change a methodology that is flawed.  However, since covid, there has been a definite change.

 

 

customer

 

 

Ugly change

 

I have been for over twenty years so I know my style hasn’t changed so much to warrant this behaviour. I pride myself on my professionalism and for having empathy for my clients’ circumstances and for buyers. Even when people are upset, I always recognise that external factors are the issue and let people vent their angsts. However, in the past year, I have had phone calls after 12 am at night, personal threats and menacing emails and SMSs. Some threaten me personally and some threats are directed at my family.

 

 

I have asked other agents and I have even been told by some male agents that some clients chose women agents because they feel they can have more control over the service! I have been hearing some male clients find it hard to bully a male agent because if the male agent doesn’t capitulate that reflects more negatively than if a female agent resists. Even female vendors find it easier to bully a female agent as women are seen as more compliant. The bullying isn’t always screaming and shouting either.

 

 

Bullying clients use a raft of tactics including endless SMSs and emails that go for hours on issues that cannot be resolved. One client was abusive because the purchaser withdrew their higher offer by several thousand. The purchaser stated that because it was a buyers’ market, he didn’t want to pay the higher price thinking the price might fall after he moved in. Explaining this to the vendor I was met with utter outrage and contempt for my professional ability. Indeed, she felt I was lying and that I suggested the lower offer. Why would I convince a buyer to offer less than their first offer? It is not in my best interest to get less for my clients as I want great reviews and repeat business.

 

 

Purchasers also seem to feel entitled to bullying. Recently I had a client that was very hostile when the vendor declined their offer. I explained that the owner had already rejected higher offers. I went on to explain that whilst I would present his emailed offer it was not likely to be accepted. He was furious and accused me of not really submitting his offer and that the vendor had to accept the lower prices. I also explained my job is to present all offers – even when I know the vendor will be upset. I explained that I am contracted to get the best price for the seller and if he was selling, he would want that too. However, nothing would placate him and I felt quite sacred throughout the whole encounter.

 

 

 

 

Refocus 

 

Providing customer service is work and we all rely on services. The people providing the services are the conduit, not the source and people need to observe that. Of course, not all service is good and you can absolutely complain but you will get more satisfaction gathering your evidence and presenting your complaint in writing than by being abusive. The instant gratification you get by telling someone off is fleeting – you still will not have your desired outcome. However, if you formalize a complaint with facts someone has to address your issues. You could actually get someone fired, have a problem investigated, or start a dossier on poor service. If other people also complain there is a high chance the issue will be resolved.

 

 

In real estate, if you are not satisfied gather your evidence and discuss your concerns then note the action taken. Being aggressive and hostile is also counterproductive because the abuser becomes the focus rather than the complaint. It is difficult for sellers and buyers at the moment but that also means it’s hard for agents too. We are dealing with anger from both sides as service providers and the media reports very little on how agents are treated when people are frustrated. Real estate agents are criticized when the market is doing well and when it is doing badly – often it’s the market causing the issues. Fast rising markets frustrate buyers and slow markets frustrate everyone. Agents are on the receiving end of all that anguish – regardless of whether they are good or bad service providers. As service providers’ agents are being threatened often for what we cannot control.