Who’s Really No. 1 in Chicago? A Look at Brokerage and Agent Advertising

A Scripted Freelance Writer Writing Sample

Real estate is a competitive profession. And while there are any number of occupations that may, rightfully, make a similar claim, hardly any industry is as dedicated to leveraging those positions of prominence as explicitly as those in real estate. Being in a hyper-competitive market, like Chicagoland, where both low inventory levels and demand persist through our post-crisis cleanup, it is not only a matter of pride that keeps agents promoting themselves and their brokerage, but rather a necessity to maintain a successful business. However, as with any advertising, there is a very fine line between honest promotion and hyperbole. The concern comes in deciding where to draw that line. If a real estate agent says they are the best, does it matter if they really are? Or what if a brokerage claims to be No. 1 in Chicago? Who determines what No. 1 even means? While many industry professionals might shrug their shoulders or disregard the notion of misleading advertising, the reality is that there is a real danger in claiming a false status. What Brokerages are Claiming Chicago plays home to a veritable trove of real estate brokerages, from national companies to local and boutique firms, and each one seems to have its own claim to fame. The only problem: many claims are the same. With little regulation, several brokerages have grown accustom to bolstering their images with ambiguous declarations of prominence. In Chicago alone, more than five brokerages, all independent from one another, claim to be some variation of No. 1, which begs the very serious question of: How can this even be possible? The simple answer is perspective; the complicated one spin. Real estate, while hinged on social connections, is an industry swimming in data, and most brokerages, whether big or small, has some access, or potential access, to that information and works to leverage it in their marketing efforts. Even raw, the data, which can include everything from closed transactions to days on the market, represents an immense value to the brokerage that knows how to leverage it. However, many companies go beyond examining the figures for trends and establishing benchmarks, opting to instead take it as an opportunity to add a bit of glamour to their image, often twisting numbers or honing in on one specific statistic to advertise as a sort of unique attribute. You can see how ACME Realty, No. 1 Chicago brokerage, sounds better than the standalone ACME Realty. Of course, there are brokerages that are careful to bolster claims with citations and facts, making sure that any designation they award themselves with is readily quantifiable. But the practice is hardly universal. Several real estate companies subscribe to a sense of ambiguity that allows them to tout themselves as an "industry leader" or "premier firm," without the burden of proof. The less specific a brokerage gets, the more leeway they have to say what they'd like, which lends itself to vagaries. What Agents are Saying One of the unique aspects of the real estate business is the relationship between brokerages and their supported agents. In many instances, agents work as independent contractors autonomous from their parent brokerage, advertising themselves as both a part of the company and a separate sales entity. As a result, much the way brokerages do, agents can sometimes exaggerate or lend themselves to vagueness. The major difference between brokerages and individual agents, at least in terms of advertising, is numbers. With brokerages, when a company makes a significant industry claim, like saying its No. 1 in terms of sales volume, the field of competitors in which to cross examine is relatively shallow, which makes it difficult to advertise patently false claims. Apply the same logic to the plethora of agents actively marketing themselves and verifying claims becomes considerably more of a challenge, especially if the message doesn't provide particularly clear context. For instance, let's say John Smith, top producer for ACME Realty, writes on his website, "No. 1 sales team in Illinois, and No. 1 sales team in Chicago for the third year in a row." This would be fine, only, as Chicago Agent magazine's 2013 Real Data report shows, Mario Greco of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices KoenigRubloff Realty Group is No. 1 sales agent in Illinois. With that being said, it might seem obvious that Smith is taking liberties with his words. Right? Not necessarily. What the reader, who, in this case, would be a potential buyer or seller, doesn't know is that John Smith is referring specifically to his accomplishments within the context of ACME Realty in Illinois. His No. 1 status represents a position relative to his ACME colleagues, both in Illinois and Chicago. In this respect, Smith has succeeding in making an accurate and verifiable claim – difficult though it may be – but at the same time, he's also succeeded in confusing a hopeful client who strives to work with the area's true No. 1. By omitting such information, as often happens, agents leave a significant amount of interpretation up to the client, which may lead to confusion during the initial selection process. In the event a client blames the advertisement for his or her confusion, the results may put both agents and brokerages in a position difficult to defend. - See more at: https://chicagoagentmagazine.com/2014/11/10/whos-really-1-chicago-look-brokerage-agent-advertising/3/#sthash.3o7PkOcE.dpuf

James M

Chicago, Illinois, United States •

Writer and journalist. I stopped freelancing for a while (hence the missed deadlines) but have decided to dedicate more time to freelance work.

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