April 2015 | By Leigh Brown
I recently saw a Facebook post from a real estate agent mentioning that a consumer looked at 250 houses with eight different practitioners before finally making a purchase. You should have seen the comments on that post. You’d think that wretched consumer should be burned at the stake! What heresy! How dare a consumer waste professionals’ time like that!
Excuse me. Why is everyone so sure the consumer is the bad guy here?
We all know some clients are more difficult to work with than others, but that doesn’t automatically put them at fault when things don’t work out between you. They might have moved on because you didn’t up your game enough.
There are seven deadly sins in real estate, offenses that could turn off any consumer. (Actually, I can think of many more sins, but we’re keeping it simple for now.) If you commit any of them, then you can blame yourself for the loss of a client. As real estate professionals, we can be amazing advocates for consumers, but there’s always room to improve. Start by absolving yourself of these shameful transgressions.
Sin No. 1: Abandonment
You work your butt off to earn clients’ trust and win their business. They share intimate details with you, and you become their confidante. But after the sale, where do you go? Do you drop them like a hot potato? Cash the check and leave?
Don’t stop calling, texting, and e-mailing your clients after they had the nerve to — gasp! — actually buy a house. Check in every so often. See how the kids are adjusting or if there are any questions popping up that you can answer. Call them when the county tax office does a re-evaluation of their property to see if they have any concerns. Be a resource forever. My clients know that unless they beg off or die, they are going to hear from me forever.
Sin No. 2: Cherry-picking
If you care about serving clients only in higher price points, you’re turning away a ton of potential business at the lower end — and future referrals. You should have learned this during the 2008–12 real estate bust. It was then that agents who insisted on only working the top end found out that when those price points dry up, it’s the cheap seats where folks continue to buy and sell.
Sure, it’s hard work to deal with a short sale or a nasty foreclosure, and trailer houses aren’t the most glamorous side of real estate. But last time I checked, that money spends, too, regardless of market conditions. The folks you helped when no one else would — who you treated with as much respect as any other client — often turn into the best referral bird dogs you can imagine.
Treat all price points well. It’s smart business. And if you’re so busy you can’t see straight, then set up referral partners in your own amazing real estate community, and make sure that every potential client is cared for.
Sin No. 3: Not Asking Enough Questions
Finding out how to best serve your client isn’t just about asking their price range and how many bedrooms and bathrooms they need. If you don’t know why they want to move and what their goals are for buying or selling, then you don’t know what’s really important to them. Ask enough questions to get them to tell you everything, and listen.
Any of you old-timers remember the immortal Howard Brinton? He taught me to always go “three deep” with questions. Clients will usually spill the truth after you’ve asked the third question. If they answer with things that make you feel nervous about fair housing, you should have the resources available to direct them to the research they’re seeking. For example, if you can’t answer questions about school districts per your local laws, offer websites where your clients can do their own information gathering.
Sin No. 4: Too Much Ego
It meant something long ago to be a “million-dollar agent,” I suppose. But for heaven’s sake, it means nothing now. In some markets today, a million bucks isn’t even a whole house. My second favorite phrase is “No. 1 agent.” No. 1 at what? And how many No. 1s are out there? Lots and lots, by my estimation.
Clients are coming to us armed with more knowledge and education than ever before, but they still crave professional guidance and advice in understanding the data sets surrounding local real estate. How does your trumpeted-up marketing hailing yourself as the king or queen of real estate provide that for them? Instead of talking about ourselves, let’s focus on the consumer. Figure out what you can offer that helps them reach their goals — not yours — and start setting yourself apart.
Sin No. 5: Reluctance to Call
I don’t know why it’s said that the two things people fear most are public speaking and death. I’m inclined to think picking up the phone has an even higher fear factor, since people use them almost exclusively to swipe and poke instead of talk. If I check any agent’s phone at any time, I bet I’ll see more incoming than outgoing calls.
How about actually dialing a number or answering the phone when it rings? Even the millennial generation wants to talk on the phone when it’s time. Vocal inflection makes a huge difference in the outcome of a conversation and can’t be replaced by text and e-mail. By the way, when you get a call, you have to answer it quickly. If you need help managing all those calls, set up a Google Voice number for your business (yes, it’s free!) so you can forward calls when you need some down time.
Sin No. 6: Fluff and Puff
You know you’ve giggled at the bad photos in your MLS — the ones with neon-green grass or a sky that is an unreal (a.k.a. Photoshopped) shade of blue. Or property descriptions like “diamond in the rough” (read: falling down), “charming” (overly decorated), or “cozy” (cramped).
We’ve taught the consumer not to trust us by using deceptive marketing. We keep going back to the same tired phrases that don’t realistically describe properties, and we use photos that are so doctored, they might as well be animations. If we want the general public to believe us, we need to use smart marketing words that are vivid but also accurate. Photos should be as flattering as possible, but they should also accurately depict a property. We need to do this for reasons beyond following the Code of Ethics or doing good business. It’s just the right thing to do.
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Sin No. 7: Inverted Priorities
Getting a call or a text? Drop everything and answer it. Supposed to have a date night? Reschedule it. Kids playing a ball game? Catch the next one. Church? Get there next week.
Is this what you’ll do for a deal? Too many real estate professionals who are amazing at their jobs and would walk across hot coals for their clients get life completely backwards. They’ll put everything — the most important things, such as family, worship, or themselves — on hold to catch a deal. But you know what happens when real estate becomes your 24/7 be-all and end-all? Burnout.
When you’re burned out, you just can’t do a great job for anyone. Your sharp wit is dulled, your follow-up is lackluster, and frankly, my dear, you just don’t give a damn.
Make yourself and your family your most important clients. Block time on your calendar for you and for them. Create a life environment that is healthy because when you are healthy, your client relationships will blossom and grow into more than you ever imagined.