Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Independent Contractors

Yesterday I explained to a client that real estate agents are independent contractors. I know that most people realize that real estate agents, and companies, only get paid when someone buys or sells a piece of property. But sometimes I doubt whether they know the full extent of what that means. It means that agents don't get paid for their time. Or their gas. Or the lunch that they might buy you when you spend a long day looking at houses. Or their cell phone. Or their car, car insurance, and repairs. Or their real estate license, continuing education, Board fees, and MLS fees. Or the extra advertising and marketing that they may do on your property (while our firm pays for postage, advertising, and training, many firms charge agents for those services). It's expensive to be a real estate agent, and even more expensive to be a real professional, with all the tools.

Indpendent contractors, who don't get salaries or benefits, deduct their business expenses themselves. In effect, they run their own small businesses. They affiliate with brokers, and use the branding and offices of those brokers, but they don't work set hours. We aren't even allowed to carry worker's comp insurance on them. They assume the costs of working, and, as I often say, they "eat what they kill" in terms of compensation. They get paid for what they do, when it goes well. When it doesn't, they bear the risks.

Why, you may ask, did I decide to blog about this now? The simple answer is that, when I was told by this client that he understood that an agent only got paid when he bought, and that those were the breaks, I'm not sure he really got what he was saying. I guess it gets down to the Golden Rule, as most things do. How much time would you spend doing work for someone and not getting paid, before you felt that it was unfair?

Clients didn't create our compensation system in the real estate industry, and I'm not asking them to be responsible for changing it (although I would certainly love to change it!). I just want them to understand that, if they aren't serious, or they aren't willing to stay with someone until the transaction is completed, then they are really asking for services for free. And the way you treat someone who is doing you a favor may be different than the way you behave if you think it's someone's paid job to help you. It's that simple, and that complicated.