Posted: Feb 26, 2019
Why does the public give Realtors low marks in Honesty and Ethics?

The 2018 annual Gallup poll on Honesty and Ethics in business professions once again placed Realtors in the bottom half of the rankings.  How come? With over 1,000,000 members, the National Association of Realtors has a detailed Ethics training program, advocates strongly for diversity and widely touts its leverage in local, regional and national politics as related to home ownership and wealth creation. And yet, at the customer level, Realtors are consistently rated poorly. This is not a new problem, dating to the beginning of the Gallup polling series on Honesty, Ethics and Trustworthiness, and yet it persists. Owning a home is the "American Dream" with Realtors an integral part of fulfilling that Dream. Yet Realtors continue to be marked low.  Why?



Gallup has measured the public's views of the honesty and ethical standards among a variety of occupations almost annually since 1976.


Results for this latest Gallup poll were based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 3-12, 2018, with a random sample of 1,025 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia with a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents.  Respondents were asked to rate various professions as having Honesty and Ethical Standards that are; Very High, High, Average, Low, Very Low or No Opinion


As has been every year over the past 17 years, Nurses top the list.  This year 84% of respondents gave Nurses a Very High/High rating.  Rounding out the Top 5 are Medical Doctors, Pharmacists, High School Teachers and Police Officers with ratings of Very High/High from 67% to 54%. In past surveys, the Teachers profession has some times been Grade School yet; regardless, Teachers have been consistently in the Top 5.  Military Officers are also routinely in the Top 5 but this profession was not among those evaluated in this year's poll.

Realtors rank in the Bottom Half


Respondents graded Realtors at 25% Very High/High.  This places Realtors just below Bankers and just above Labor Union Leaders.


Drilling into the data breaks that total of 25% into two components, 23% High and 2% Very High.  2%!   2% Very High equals the same 2% Very High rating given to Members of Congress and Stockbrokers. In contrast, Nurses were rated 28% Very High and the remaining Top 5; Medical Doctors, Phamacists, Teachers and Police officers were ranked between 17% and 14% Very High.


Why are the Very High ratings of Realtors so Very Low?

Who can be a Realtor?

Pay your fee - you are now a Realtor

The prerequisites to be a Realtor, according to the National Association of Realtors, are simple:


  1. Be at least 18 or 19 years old (depends on the state)
  2. Have legal US residency
  3. Complete your required prelicense education (Varies by State. In Florida a 63 hour Pre-License course and exam - in person or online)
  4. Pass your State real estate license examination
  5. As for the rest of it, some Brokerages have internal training programs, mostly Script Training, but unless you join a team of Realtors, you're on your own. Find your niche. Make your brand.


After passing the State exam there are follow-on exams plus recurring Continuing Education (CE) obligations. Specialty Designations are available though not mandatory.  Except for the highest commercial real estate designations (CCIM), follow-on exams, CE and Specialty Designation courses are a piece of cake.  Code of Ethics training of not less than 2 hours, 30 minutes of instructional time is mandatory every two years.

Who can be a Top 5 Professional?

Genuine service annihilates a 6% commiss...

The prerequisites to be a Top 5 Professional, generally speaking, are difficult:


  1. College degree minimum with Advanced degrees almost a certainty
  2. By virtue of the time to obtain these degrees, be at least 22 years old
  3. Intensive continous education whose satisfactory completion has a measurable impact on your ability to continue in your profession
  4. Well defined mentoring and guidance programs where juniors are teamed with seniors for skills training and continuous exposure to professional standards
  5. Internal evaluation processes that critically measure your ability to be a Top 5 Professional.  Proven policies and programs to both advance the strong and weed out the weak.
  6. Corporate teamwork is paramount.  Leaders emerge by natural selection.

How do Realtors crack the Top 5?

So better educated people have better Ethics?  Not necessarily, but generally yes.


Teamwork and mentoring assure higher degrees of honesty?  Not guaranteed, but generally yes. 


Internal review policies enhance trustworthiness?  Not assured, but generally yes.


Education, teamwork and self disciplining policies create better leaders?  Y'er darn right they do.  And better leaders demand better Ethics, Honesty and Trustworthiness.



As buyers and sellers of real estate, the public has little relationship with the National Association of Realtors (NAR).  There is no evidence of intentions by NAR to tighten up the prerequisites to be a Realtor or recurring standards of excellence.  That leaves it up to the Brokers and Realtors in the field to fix the credibility problem. 


What if the low Honesty and Ethics marks are actually indirect indicators?  I mean, are Realtors actually cheating clients and acting unethically? Lying and trading on deliberate missinformation? Very unlikely. Instead, what is it that really differentiates the Top 5 from the rest of the professions.  Service. Highly personalized and relentless service Given under often very difficult circumstances to nation, to community, to patients, to children.  The Top 5 have dedicated themselves to the higher calling of Service.


Contrast that to Realtors.


  1. Recruiting is focused nearly entirely on "You can make a lot of Money in real estate".
  2. Despite it's non stop verbal advocacy for affordable housing, my Realtor Association has never fielded more than a dozen Realtors at any Habitat for Humanity event. (Membership steady at 375 - 390 Realtors).
  3. According to the Key West MLS, Gross Commission Income in 2018 on 587 residential sales in Key West was approximately $23M (@5% commission). Gross Commission Income on 65 Commercial sales in Key West was approximately $15M (@7% commission). $23M + $15M = $38M (Ballpark).
  4. My Association gives fifteen $1K scholarships annually to graduating High School Seniors. One affiliate member (a local businessman) usually donates 50% of that. Leaving 375 Realtors who make $38M in commissions to donate the remaining $7500.
  5. Putting aside the service and charitable activities by individual Realtors, how does this compare with your Association?


If Realtors and Realtor Associations contributed more of their time, talent and treasure to the service of their community, would that make a difference in the public's perception of Realtors as Givers instead of Takers?


How abundantly do you place other people's interests first?


If you have any comments or questions, please contact me here.


Good luck!


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