the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
When I was 19 a good friend of mine, that really wanted to see me doing something better with my life than what I was doing at the time, told me about this company doing open interviews the next day for financial advisors. It sounded like a great gig to me, so I borrowed a suit from a friend, got a haircut and went into the interview. This was a first interview, they didn’t ask any real hard questions. Looking back, I think it was just to weed out the people showing up in hoodies and people that obviously didn’t have any business advising anyone on finances. Well, I managed to fool them pretty well and got the opportunity for the second interview. I got a little cocky acing the open interview and strutted around in the borrowed suit for the rest of the day imagining myself as a financial advisor, whatever that was…
About a week later it was time for the second interview. I was certain I had this in the bag. Well, this one wasn’t quite as simple as the first round. I remember being asked a lot of questions I didn’t know how to answer. I can’t really remember what most of those questions were, except for one. “What’s an example of a time you demonstrated integrity in your job?” Huh… I knew the word integrity, thought I knew what it meant, but suddenly realized that I didn’t. “ummmm…” I suddenly started to feel real uncomfortable. I felt like the interviewer and I just stared at each other awkwardly for an eternity. Finally, he put me out of my misery and excused me from having to answer by telling me that he didn’t think I was quite “ready” for this job. So that sucked..
So, integrity.. What does it really mean? I’ve heard it defined as “doing what’s right when nobody is looking”. I like that definition. If I were to ask you right now to give me an example of a time you demonstrated integrity in your job, business, or life would you have a good answer? Or would we just be staring at each other in an awkward silence while you desperately tried to think of either a real example or a made up story? Since that interview, I’ve asked myself that question several times to see how quickly something would come to mind.
When I decided to get into commercial real estate and met with my future broker for the first time, he explained the job pretty well. I had a pretty good idea of the commercial real estate agent job description. Get listings, find buyers, negotiate deals, coordinate transactions, get a big check. I think I was about six months in when I landed my first big client, an international bank. I just happened to be the only one in the office that day available to take a phone call when they called looking for somebody to help them locate some office space in the area. They came into town and we drove around looking at several different office spaces. We eventually found the perfect space for them and they were ready to move forward.
We discussed what price and terms would work for them, what type of improvements they needed the landlord to make, and how soon they wanted to move in. It wasn’t until I started to negotiate this deal that I realized what kind of conflict there really was in the buyer/tenant rep relationship. By them becoming my client and trusting me to negotiate the best price and terms I could on their behalf, I took on a responsibility to represent them and their best interests to the best of my ability. However, my commission check would be coming from the landlord. That commission check would be a percentage of the gross lease amount. See the conflict? The higher the lease rate they pay, the more money in my pocket.
The asking rent on this space was $21 per square foot annually, which was a fair rate for the area and the property. My client, the tenant, said they could pay as much as $20 psf, but asked how low I thought we could get it. The landlord said he could possibly get the deal to work at a rate as low as $18 psf, but said he really wanted to try to get at least $20 psf if possible. So, like any starving commercial real estate agent would do, I calculated what my commission would be at $18 psf and what it would be at $20 psf. Turned out to be a pretty significant different. Doing what’s right when nobody is looking.
In the end, I got my client into a lease at $18 psf. Doing what’s right when nobody is looking. This is something that comes up with pretty much every real estate agent on a regular basis. Money vs. taking care of the client the way you’re supposed to. The truth is, a lot of agents choose money. I mean, we’re sales people that work on strictly commission. It makes sense that the better we do at our jobs the more we should make. That’s the short game. I eventually figured out how to win at the long game. Make the client’s needs the priority, not the commission. When you do that the money will come. It comes in the form of referrals from a satisfied client, repeat business from that client, and probably just good karma.
What’s an example of a time you demonstrated integrity in your job? I finally figured out what it means, and I finally have an answer. I still ask myself that same question all the time. I ask myself that question on every deal I work on. I ask myself that question when I’m working on something with my team. I ask myself that question almost every day, and I expect to have a new answer every time.