Gallup Poll Says Consumers Don’t Believe Real Estate Agents are Ethical — and Haven’t Been for 40 Years!

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The most honest and ethical professions
The most honest and ethical professions

Gallup released its semi-annual poll results where people were asked to rate, “the honesty and ethical standards of people in these different fields.” If you’re looking for real estate agents, save time and start at the bottom. In this poll just 20-percent of respondents rated real estate agents either “high” or “very high” in ethics and honesty.

Agents beat out car salespeople, telemarketers, and members of Congress, but lost out by one point to lawyers, by five points to building contractors, and were buried (pun intended) by a whopping 24 percentage points by funeral directors. The top three were in the medical professions.

Viewed as a ratio, real estate agents are viewed as having triple the honesty and ethics of lobbyists (often former members of Congress) yet less than a quarter of a nurse. It’s also worth noting that little has changed since this poll was first conducted in 1977.

From 1977 to 2015 ranking have only improved slightly
From 1977 to 2015 ranking have only improved slightly

The middle-of-the-road “average” has changed little, ranging from a low of 47-percent in 1988 to 60-percent a decade later in 1999. It’s remained in the mid-to-high 50s since. The remaining “high/very high” and “low/very low” categories consistently show consumers view real estate agents as being less ethical and honest. Since 1977, overall ethics and honesty have improved slightly, but 20-percent is hardy a stat to trumpet on your website.

In fact, the low scores in this poll are dominated by professions that use some form of manipulation (or perceived manipulation) to enrich the purveyor and potentially another party in the transaction. People are generally more distrustful of a profession where they know their “trusted advisor” has some skin in the game. Professions that encourage their practitioners not to leave money on the table aren’t ever going to be viewed as being as honest as a nurse who’s not getting a commission if you lose those holiday 10 pounds or finish that prescription.

The data also begs the question: Do ethics and honesty necessarily mean the customer is unhappy?

If an agent does something dishonest that benefits one party, that person is likely to be thrilled (because people are like that). If the other party never finds out, they too may be happy ethically. If a stockbroker gives an inside tip, while dishonest, the recipient may be similarly thrilled if it pans out.

Remember, he’s your “cherished husband and best friend” right up until the moment he becomes “that cheating scumbag cradle robber.”

But there is also some accountability for these low rankings on the agent as well. Let’s face it, this industry can chew up and spit out the best of the best sales people there are. (Or it can attract the “let’s get-rich-quick-ies”.) Only about 20 percent of new licensees will renew once their two-year license period is up, according to The National Association of Realtors. Either real estate is not what they thought it was cracked up to be, or they simply couldn’t survive on the low income: about $46,000 a year. And that is the average. So a huge number of the nation’s 1.1 million Realtors could be making less than that! Most of these folks are independent contractors and pay a certain percentage of this income to taxes, as well as marketing/office expenses.

In the end, Gallup offers some interesting insights into how clients likely feel about the real estate profession (noooo, not youuuu, sugar!). In understanding that, a client’s actions and reactions may better inform an agent’s approach.

Feel free to cuss out the Gallup folks in the comments.  🙂


Remember: Do you have an HOA story to tell? A little high-rise history? Realtors, want to feature a listing in need of renovation or one that’s complete with flying colors? How about hosting a Candy’s Dirt Staff Meeting? Shoot Jon an email. Marriage proposals accepted (they’re legal)!

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Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is's condo/HOA and developer columnist, but also covers second home trends on An award-winning columnist, Jon has earned silver and bronze awards for his columns from the National Association of Real Estate Editors in both 2016, 2017 and 2018. When he isn't in Hawaii, Jon enjoys life in the sky in Dallas.

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  1. Cody Farris says

    If there’s anyone to cuss out, it’s not Gallup (the proverbial messenger), but those among us who give the industry a bad name. Like every other profession out there, we are judged by our worst practitioners. It’s up to us to raise the bar and weed out the bad players.

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