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Getting the Call



Yeah right.

Creative Commons License photo credit: jadakatt

Dear John

A couple of weeks ago, we got “the call.” If you are an agent, any agent, who has been on more than one listing interview, and I don’t care how incredibly competent or experienced or even famous you are, you have gotten “the call.”

“We have decided to list our home with another agent, but thank you for your time.” At this point, I always ask why we came up short. Critical self-evaluation and honest feedback is essential if we are going to avoid repeating past mistakes. The problem is that we don’t always get honest feedback. What they say is usually something like, “It was such a HARD decision, it was REALLY tough, we sure did AGONIZE, but we preferred his (pause) shoes.” What they really mean most of the time is, “We preferred his price” or “We preferred his fees.”

It’s Not You, It’s Me

One could argue that this is our fault. Perhaps we didn’t do an adequate job of communicating our value. Most often in these circumstances, however, I know it wouldn’t have mattered it I had produced a testimonial from Donald Trump himself. Blah, blah, blah. We charge “x” percent. Blah, blah, blah. Your home is worth less than you think and by a factor of a gazillion.

This is why our mentors teach us to talk about experience and marketing first. Once the subject of money comes up, either probable sale price or cost of sale, and if the message is unexpected, you lose your audience. In this market, we figure that about half of the time our professional estimate of value is going to be as welcome as a mild case of salmonella. We generally spend the first half-hour holding our breath for the moment of truth, waiting for the telling reaction. Sometimes, we get knowing nods. This is encouraging. At least we have a shot. Too many other times, however, we get vacant teenage-style gazes, the ones that suggest our hosts are thinking only about how and how quickly they can get out of the room. In extreme cases, they feign death until we give up and leave all on our own.

In virtually every case where we have found ourselves in a competitive situation, the sellers have assured us that they would “let us know.” We actually get the call only a fraction of the time. So, when we received our most recent closure, I had to at least give our would-be employers bonus points for common courtesy. And, it turns out, they deserved some props for bravery.

On the Rebound

This particular home had a rich history. It had been on and off the market for the better part of the past two years, with three different agents having done time at the helm. So when they told us that they were going to be relisting with agent number two, we were a little baffled. “She is going to do it for $500!” they explained. And, this is when I had to ask myself, “Do what?”

Obviously, money is an issue; it is always an issue. I get that, but am I missing something? You can’t really make more or pay less unless the home actually sells. And in the case of our $500 agent, she had not only failed once, but I want the name of her printer! This kind of payday wouldn’t even cover the cost of my initial photo shoot and brochure run.

This is a dilemma as old as the Slim Jims at my local convenience store. There will always be an agent who will tell the seller what they want to hear, and there will always be an agent who is willing to do nothing for very little. I can tell the seller all day long that unless that agent is holding a check book and is prepared to buy their home, he does not determine value. The buyer does. Blah, blah, blah. I can explain until I am blue in the face that what an agent can do is offer a knowledgeable and studied opinion of value and commit the resources to promote their home in the broadest, most professional way possible to maximize the ultimate sale price within that range of market value which truly exists. Yeah, whatever. Sometimes, it just isn’t going to matter what I say or how I say it, because it is ultimately up to the seller to make the call and, sadly, it’s not always going to be the call we want to get.

Kris Berg is Broker/Owner of San Diego Castles Realty. She is the perpetrator of the San Diego Home Blog, a locally-focused real estate blog, and in her spare time enjoys fencing, luge, and kittens.

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  1. Rob Hahn

    August 14, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Kris –

    Great article, but a question for you. Given that the client in this case sounds like a moron, with a home that has a “rich history”… why would you even want their business?

    Sounds to me like this client is the perfect case study for “firing your client”. Wouldn’t it be better for you to send that client to your top competitor, so they can be distracted trying to service idiots?


  2. Kris Berg

    August 14, 2008 at 11:00 am

    Well, I suppose it is the Pollyanna in me, Rob. We do “prequalify” over the phone before spending our time and money preparing and presenting. Sometimes, we misread or don’t get the truth. “Yes, we are really ready to sell this time and are prepared to price properly,” we were told. So, we thought they had perhaps gotten religion and were truly ready to do things the right way. Yet, still, it came down to the lowest bidder and (not so surprisingly) a list price that was too high — again. I tend to err on the side of assuming people are being honest and dealing in good faith which, unfortunately, is not always the case.

  3. Rob Hahn

    August 14, 2008 at 11:24 am

    This so reminds me of a passage in Ogilvy’s “Confessions of an Advertising Man” where he talks about doing the presentations. Something about how he decided that he wasn’t going to take part in a lot of show-and-tells. If the client is looking to shop his account around, Ogilvy would tell him to go give it to one of the other guys, and then only come to him after the others have failed. 🙂

    That’s confidence, heh.


  4. Lisa Sanderson

    August 14, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    I agree, this seller sounds like a bonehead who still hasn’t learned his lesson. Good thing for him, you’ll still be in business when he expires unsold and is ready to be realistic. NEXT!

  5. Carolyn Gjerde-Tu

    August 14, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    Sounds like you are better off not working with this homeowner anyway. In other cases, you might be able to demonstrate to a “reasonable” home owner the value of a full service agent vs. one with a minimal fee.

  6. Ruthmarie Hicks

    August 14, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    I guess this sort of discussion always causes me to dial back to one fundamental issue: When agents have all the respect of a used car salesman, it is not surprising that our advice is ignored. How it came to this sad state has to do with many things – there IS a lot of dishonesty in the business, there ARE a lot of idiot agents running around and there ARE simply too many agents – period. An easy fix to the latter issue is to raise the barriers to entry, but I don’t see NAR doing that any time soon.

  7. Russell Shaw

    August 14, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    Kris, as usual, your writing is a joy to read. One comment I would add is that *everyone* makes their decisions based on emotion. Most people believe that they do not do that. They are wrong.

    The better we are at connecting with people the more it can seem like we should be able to connect with just about everyone. In this example, there is “something about” the failure agent the customer actually likes better than the way you present yourself. The fact that someone SAYS they really want to sell their house, etc. does not necessarily mean that is the direction they will travel. Sometimes they have a path they will adhere to – that will not and can not work – that they stick to like glue.

  8. Benn Rosales

    August 14, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    $500 bucks? I have a housekeeper client that makes more than that per month on a single house. Sheesh… Unless it’s a flatfee mls listing, I would fear the desperation by an agent willing to spend their own money to list a clients house… isn’t that what this is? I want this listing so badly I’ll PAY you for it? funny…

  9. Dan Connolly

    August 14, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    I agree with Russell, I think there is a lot more to emotion than reason that plays into the decision. I think that the strangest things will set people off and your statement about “shoes” could be the actual reason with some Sellers.

  10. Charleston real estate blog

    August 14, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    When I consider the phrase, *list to last*, how long can an agent survive on overpriced properties and $500 commissions.

  11. Eric Blackwell

    August 14, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    First off it is REALLY good to be reading what you write again. A pleasure.

    Secondly, i would concur with most all of what has been said so far (He/she wasn’t the right one for you ANYWAY-etc –grin). isn’t that how we handle most break ups?? 😉

    The truth of Russell’s point made me smile…



  12. rsg

    August 14, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    Hi Kris,

    I think there is such a thing as “right” human connection, like when everyone at a company is a certain kind of person and the new person who is either nicer or meaner, smarter or dumber than the norm cannot fit in and leaves. If the connection wasn’t made with this person, count yourself fortunate. Really good business contacts self-select by affinity. In this market, only those relationships with strong affinities will overcome all the bad news and stick it out until a deal. A strong realistic professional will put off a person who wants to be dreamer every time.

    Keep up the good work and scare off the dreamers, the realists that are left should provide a decent living as clearly some deals are out there to be made.


  13. Jay Thompson

    August 14, 2008 at 5:58 pm


  14. Jay Thompson

    August 14, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    Oh and Eric, you need to get out more. You could have been reading Kris for quite some time now on her blog. And her fancy smancy Inman column.

  15. Eric Blackwell

    August 14, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    Ha! No doubt Jay!

    With the book project and all the work, my online social (and reading) life has been limited to the bare minimum– hehe. You’re right –time to turn the RSS feeds up to stun, hit the Diet Mt Dew…well you know the drill 🙂



  16. Alexander Wilkas

    August 14, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    What Timing !!! We just received our call

  17. Kris Berg

    August 14, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    I had a “job thing” to attend to today, but I am back. Thanks for the comments. Russell – You are right of course, except… sometimes a banana is just a banana. Sometimes, I believe, personality and connection have absolutely nothing to do with it. Sometimes, it is just the money, and nothing I say or no way in which I say it is going to have the slightest impact. I always tell my children that it is hard to rationalize with the irrational.

    Too many times, we look back to realize that we were used for our intellectual property. We spend hours preparing, hours sharing market data and waxing philosophical about trends, and we nail the proper asking price only to later find that Uncle Bill lists the home and was, presumably, going to get the nod all along.

    In short, maybe that “something” they don’t like about the “failure agent” is simply the message and, specifically, the part about money. Or, maybe the “failure agent” was the pawn, much like the one in the lead photo, all along. So, I will come full circle and admit that much of the blame ultimately is squarely in my camp; I need to get better at reading intentions and motivations, and I need to adopt more of a mindset that I am as much the interviewer as my would-be employer is.

    Having said that, I will admit that I don’t click with everyone (Go figure!), so we are back to the “you can’t win them all” concept.

    Jay – Thanks, Mister!

    Now, I’m off to pack for Mizzou. I have to deliver an 18-year-old to her dorm tomorrow, and I am not sure whether I should be partying or crying.

  18. Tom Vanderwell

    August 14, 2008 at 8:53 pm


    Very well said and I think it really lays out a big challenge that all of us in the real estate fields are facing now and will be facing going forward:

    The market has changed and there are a lot of people who don’t know what we (the professionals) know about where the market is.

    Therefore, there are situations where Realtors and lenders both have to deliver realities that aren’t very kind to some of their prospective clients. Whether that be a turndown for a mortgage, the valuation of their house or whatever, I’m sure we can all make a long list. As this trend continues (the need to deliver the reality of the market), I’m predicting that two things are going to happen:
    1. Those who “give the people what they want” without any feel for what’s really right (like the $500 lister) will find it harder to do business and will be weeded out of the business.
    2. The need for professionals will become clearer and clearer to the general public and these type of calls will happen less frequently and when they do, it will be for intelligent reasons rather than stupid ones.

    There’s a saying, “You can’t compete against stupid.” But I believe that stupid is going to get run out of the business and we’ll all be better off for it in the long run.

    Tom Vanderwell

  19. Paula Henry

    August 14, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    Kris – The irony is they will probably not sell and call in three more agens in six months. By then, they will make six more house payments, and find a free agent. That is emotion and not realism.

    One of the best responses to the “well, the other agent will do it for x% or x$, is. ” I know…… in the absence of value, money is always the determining factor”. Leave them with that and a thanks.

    BTW – I always cried!

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