Is “fiduciary” level of care “old school”?

I would not respect a doctor who would hand me three phone numbers of his/her patients, who just had a recent surgery, as “references”.

While it’s true that highest degree of confidentiality is a fiduciary duty, and WA has statutory vs. fiduciary duties, I just can’t honor the request of people who want me to “use” my past clients as “references”.  Using your client for your own benefit is such an anti-fiduciary concept.

Some time ago I received an email from a total stranger seeking to hire me as his buyer’s agent.  He asked for a complete list of all of my client’s names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers prior to our meeting. I responded that he should think very hard about hiring anyone to represent him in a client relationship, who would acquiesce to that request. The issue has come up again, and while I fully appreciate a person’s need to “check references”, I still won’t give out personal info of my past or present clients.

Once I connected two of my clients by asking a former client to have lunch with a current client.  The former client was a whiz at hunting down the absolute best loan available. They worked for the same Company.  They were about the same age and neither had extensive local contacts, both having relocated here and away from their family and friends. I was careful to not give out any info of either party until they both agreed to the lunch, which I did not attend so as to be absolutely certain I would not reveal anything about one to the other. Asking one client to help another client is not the same as asking my clients to help me GET new clients.  I just cannot get my brain around that concept.

I turned 55 the other day and Craig Blackmon’s recent remark that I am “an old war horse” is reverberating in my ears at high volume. I became “a fiduciary” for the first time back in 1974. We were constantly warned about never going out to lunch with a colleague and discussing a client by name in a restaurant. It was the blackest of mortal sins to use a client’s last name in public, and if they had an unusual first name like mine, no first names either.  To this day even when my partner Kim and I speak of clients, we never use last names even to one another. Clearly my age is having an impact, as we seem to be treating all of our clients as if they are our children. “Honey, the kids are coming over to sign the papers in an hour!” [I yell up the stairs]

In many ways, people reveal more about their personal lives to me, than they do their doctor or lawyer. Regardless of whether or not the State views me as a “salesperson” or holds me to a fiduciary standard, I’ve just been a fiduciary for way too long to erase that concept from Who I Am.  Fiduciary = “without regard to self interest”.  So while it is perfectly acceptable and understandable for someone to “want references”, it is just not possible for me to accommodate that request. Many agents have argued with me that I am wrong, old school, old fashioned, etc… Well, maybe turning 55 comes with the convenience of being allowed to be “an old war horse”.

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ARDELL is a Managing Broker with Better Properties METRO King County. ARDELL was named one of the Most Influential Real Estate Bloggers in the U.S. by Inman News and has 33+ years experience in Real Estate up and down both Coasts, representing both buyers and sellers of homes in Seattle and on The Eastside. email: cell: 206-910-1000

26 thoughts on “Is “fiduciary” level of care “old school”?

  1. I’m wondering if times have changed that much. Does your doctor give you the phone numbers of his last three patients? Maybe they do now…maybe I’m wrong.

  2. you don’t have any former clients who would agree to be a reference for you?

    you appreciate a person’s need to “check references

  3. Matt,

    I appreciate your comment as I am trying to figure out something that simply hasn’t been an issue for me for 19+ years.

    My clients comment on the blog and in emails all the time. I don’t need “written testimonials” like we did in the old days when most of our conversations were in person and by phone. I have many comments from clients that appear on the blog, one was turned into a post by another writer, I can excerpt them from emails. Lots of real and unsolicited “testimonials”. Aren’t unsolicited ones better?

    But giving a person’s phone number or email address. What do you do if the person keeps calling them and calling them while they are trying to make up their mind? I have seen an agent hand out 3 phone numbers and heard the complaints of his client when the caller had a list of FIFTY questions. It was like a State Exam 🙂 That agent was almost fired, and I say rightly so. Got off on “first offense” basis and never handed out client phone numbers again. You just don’t know what the person is going to do next. I would not subject my clients to that unknown factor.

    If someone calls your employer and wants your cell phone number and home address…they will not give it out. That’s standard procedure in business…no? Has that changed when I wasn’t looking?

  4. This just hit my alert today (what’s up with that Google?). An old war horse, like myself, knows that a fiduciary goes beyond representation, to a place called advocacy. One of the best definitions of fiduciary was in a conversation I had with Allan Dalton– in a fiduciary relationship the client and fiduciary are one.

  5. Hi Joe,

    Lots of old quotes express fiduciary well…”putting myself in your shoes”, as example.

    Why aren’t there more mandatory courses and testings in this industry regarding what fiduciary IS and means? It is the core of our business, yet how many “hours” are required to understand what fiduciary IS in order to be a licensed agent in any state in this Country.

    Fiduciary is not a list of “duties”. The duties are separate and distinct from the meaning of the mindset.

  6. I agree. This ought to be a high priority education subject. The focus too often is on “brokering the transaction”, i.e. making the deal happen, instead of on the best interests of the client.

    The interesting rub here is that some clients will want to make the deal happen, despite it not being in their best interests. What’s an agent to do in that case? Is their fiduciary duty met with the disclosure and advice contra? Is not the client free to act against their best interests?

  7. Joe, you already answered that question.

    When I represent you I am your best you…but I am still you, and not me. What you want to do is what I help you do best and better. Unless it is unlawful or dangerous…etc…

  8. Joe,

    Here’s a simple cut to the chase for a buyer client who wants to buy a house, with issues that the buyer is choosing to overlook, because it’s “new and shiney”.

    “I will be more than happy to help you with that…just don’t call me when you want to sell it.”

    Simple, direct and as long as buyer client says “deal”…it’s a green light.

  9. I am not sure this is the answer you want, but I have had clients offer to be referrals. I would alsways ask before I give out their names but if I am buying something or seeking a service I always ask……and in fact have received some great names from my doctor for specialsts.

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