9/11/2016

Real estate industry should work on its credibility

Neighbourhood communication Reputation management

Half of the Belgian population has little or no trust in the Belgian real estate market. This was found by the first Real Estate Trust Barometer. According to communications expert Dajo Hermans (Bereal) and market researcher Pascal Steeland (WES research & strategy), the problem is not a lack of professionalism, but a lack of credibility. Too often, real estate professionals only communicate when they have something to gain, and that’s a mistake.

The survey of more than 2,000 Belgians confirms what many already suspected: the real estate industry no longer inspires a lot of trust, which affects real estate agents and project developers in particular. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise. When one of us traded in his previous career in journalism for a job as a spokesman in the real estate industry, he was cynically asked why he wanted to work for the ‘real estate mafia’. Sure, you can joke about it, but that does say a lot. 

The industry is haunted by its legacy. Just think back to the days when there were no restrictions at all on who could become real estate agent. People looking at the papers in 2016 might think hardly anything has changed. But looks can be deceiving. The truth is a lot more nuanced. Compared to the way things were decades ago, governments and real estate agents alike have brought their deontological code up to scratch. Citizens—now more than ever—have an active voice in the matter and supervision has increased.

It’s still too often about perception, which just so happens to be an issue that everyone in the real estate industry can do something about. The poor industry image has driven too many companies to only communicate when they have to, say, when they need to obtain a permit, or when the sale is final. That’s unfortunate, because a lot of real estate entrepreneurs are brimming with expertise. Sadly, all that vision and knowledge cultivated in many companies usually doesn’t leave the inner circle.

“As a company, don’t just send out your salesmen, but have your experts traverse the country. ”

Dajo Hermans, Bereal

Real estate professionals need to do more than just think about social issues such as affordable housing or the lack of space. The accumulated expertise must venture outside the board room. Why would the town planning alderman not visit the town school to explain his views on housing during a geography class? Why would a real estate agent not just drop a brochure in the mailbox, but also inform his townsmen about the prices in the area? And why wouldn’t a project developer be able to explain what it is he does in Cannes every year and why it really does make sense for him to speak to politicians from time to time?  

As a company, don’t just send out your salesmen, but have your experts traverse the country. Send them to every evening lecture of the local guild and have them share their views on social media. Moreover, also have them talk about the less positive side of things. Or about those things that, strategically speaking, wouldn’t be great for you. Only then will the industry regain the credibility it deserves.  

The big news from the Real Estate Trust Barometer may not be that people’s distrust in the industry is still considerable. It’s that youngsters trust the real estate industry more than others. Moreover: the younger they are, the bigger the trust. That should inspire hope, because they are the generation that has the most possibilities of informing themselves. 

“The industry is haunted by its legacy. ”

Pascal Steeland, Wes research & strategy
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