Real Estate

Commission Rules, Lockbox Access Chief Among Threats To Industry

At Coldwell Banker’s Gen Blue Experience event, Kalama Kim predicted that everything from a DOJ antitrust case to “marginal agents” could soon upend the real estate industry.

All week, Inman is taking a Deep Dive into Coldwell Banker. We’re talking to key executives, unpacking the company’s strategic moves and reporting on the Gen Blue Experience event — taking place virtually and in New York this week. Stay tuned in the coming days for more on Coldwell Banker, and for future Inman Deep Dives into top brokerages.

A number of threats are currently menacing real estate agents’ livelihoods, including a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) lawsuit that could be a “nuclear missile,” and members of the industry need to proactively tell their own stories if they want to survive.

That was the message Wednesday morning from Kalama Kim, a senior vice president of Hawaii-based Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties. Kim spoke on the main stage of Coldwell Banker’s Gen Blue Experience, an annual event taking place this week both virtually and in New York City.

During his speech, Kim outlined a number of threats that have the potential to undermine agents’ ability to make a living. Probably the most widely known — and the biggest question mark at this point — is the DOJ’s antitrust case against the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The case hinges on rules regarding things like commissions and lockbox access, and it appeared to be resolved last fall when both parties announced a settlement. However, this summer the DOJ backed out of the settlement. NAR has responded by trying to force the DOJ back into the deal.

The result is that the outcome of the case — and its ramifications on things like agent compensation — is now very much still up in the air.

During his speech Wednesday, Kim said the case “could be the nuclear missile that changes everything.”

Kalama Kim on stage at Gen Blue Wednesday. Credit: Coldwell Banker

But the DOJ case wasn’t the only threat that Kim outlined.

Instead, he pointed to “the rise of the marginal agent” as another major threat.

“The threat to our business is ourselves,” he said, adding a moment later that, “if those marginal agents are out there then the public starts believing that’s who we are.”

Kim went on to explain that “marginal agents” are those who don’t provide their clients with adequate information, such as market analysis. They may miss deadlines, costing their clients money or time. In some cases they may lack training, or don’t focus enough time on their work. In many cases, there is also “always someone that is willing to make less than you,” Kim added.

The threat, then, is that such agents perform poorly and tarnish the reputation of the broader industry. And when that happens, Kim noted, consumers may become less willing to pay for the services of agents generally, including those who perform at a higher level.

Kalama Kim on stage at Gen Blue Wednesday. Credit: Coldwell Banker

Despite such threats, though, Kim’s take was ultimately optimistic. He said that agents such as those he was speaking to at Coldwell Banker’s event do offer value, and that they need to convey that fact to consumers. In other words, the antidote to the various threats the real estate business faces is agents who proactively tell their stories and make a case for the value they offer.

“What we have to do is tell our story,” Kim said. “We have to tell our story to the public before we’re even in a transaction.”

Email Jim Dalrymple II

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