10-11-13 - formal attireEveryone knows good looks offer a leg up in life, but in real estate that advantage can be quantified with a dollar amount.

A recent study co-authored by researchers from three American universities found that physically-attractive real estate agents listed homes that were on average $20,275 more expensive than listings secured by their average-looking counterparts, all else being equal.  And not only did they list for higher prices, they also sold homes for an average of $15,622 more than average-looking listing agents could.

In an interesting twist, these “beautiful” Realtors actually made less money, because they worked fewer listings.  Researchers theorized that some of these good-looking real estate agents relied too heavily on their looks and charisma, and failed to back them up with hard work and intelligence.

According to Dr. Gordon Patzer, author of Looks: Why They Matter More than You Think, “human beings are hard-wired to respond more favorably to attractive people.  Good-looking men and women are generally regarded to be more talented, kind, honest and intelligent than their less attractive counterparts.”  He further asserts, “Controlled studies show people go out of their way to help attractive people—of the same sex and opposite sex—because they want to be liked and accepted by good-looking people.  Even studies of babies show they will look more intently and longer at attractive faces.”

But isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder?  Well, kind of: according to Dr. Daniel Hamermesh, author of Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but most beholders view beauty similarly.”  Across cultures and races, facial symmetry is consistently a determinant in who is considered beautiful, and studies have even shown that all aspects of bodily symmetry contribute to beauty, down to the lengths of corresponding fingers.

In a series of surveys Dr. Hamermesh helped conduct in the United States and Canada, the conclusion was when all other things are taken into account, ugly people earn less than average incomes, while beautiful people earn more than the average.  The “ugliness penalty” for men was -9% below the average, while the beauty premium was +5% over the average (a 14% differential between ends of the spectrum).  For women the effect was less pronounced, contrary to common social myths: the ugliness penalty was -6% while the beauty premium was +4% (a 10% differential).  Nor were the U.S. and Canada shallow exceptions: when the survey was repeated in other countries, similar results were found.

Real Estate Sales Study of Attractiveness Still skeptical?  This set of informal street experiments performed by NBC is shocking (or perhaps not), as they put a male and female model and two pleasant-but-normal employees of the station through a series of situations where they needed help from strangers, and secretly filmed the results.  Strangers of both genders went far out of their way to help the pair of models, but largely ignored the average-looking pair.

So, should landlords go out and hire stunningly gorgeous property managers and leasing agents?  It couldn’t hurt, all else being equal – but landlords should be sure that all else really is equal.  Remember that study about smokin’ hot real estate agents getting higher prices for listings, but not doing as many deals?  All people you do business with should be evaluated on their actual experience and results, before taking more trivial advantages into account.

Could landlords’ decisions about which prospective tenants to lease to be tainted by a “beauty bias”?  Beware, because this should be one area where beauty should absolutely not rank.  Be sure to run tenant credit reports and criminal background checks, and always verify income, employment and rental histories.

But the next time you visit rental properties or meet with a lender or property manager, it might not hurt to look your best.

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