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So Many Questions I Forgot To Listen

I had an experience with a client a few years ago that I’ve thought of regularly, and it had a significant impact on the way I approached at my business. I met with him a few days ago over coffee and had a great time catching up – he’s a professor at Virginia Tech, a really personable and likeable guy. We talked about his family, what he’s teaching this summer, the basement remodel he’s doing in the house he bought a few years ago, that sort of thing … all the things might talk about with a client when you catch up with them again.

He’s just like you and me, but he was born with Phocomelia, a malformation of the arms and legs. In fact, he has no arms, and only one leg. Think of how your life might be different if you were born with no arms and one leg. It’s hard to imagine – I think I’d likely be bitter, yet my friend has such a solid outlook on life.

When It Came Time To Buy

He first contacted me via the web, and after communicating back and forth for a while we agreed to meet at a local neighborhood to see some homes. I knew nothing of his condition at the time, so when he stepped out of the van, needless to say I was a little taken aback. I mean, here was this guy with no arms and he was driving! But he was ready to go, and off we went – we worked together over the next few weeks, and soon found him a townhome that was under construction and met his deadline. It was close to a bus line if he chose to ride the bus to campus, it was in a quiet spot very near where he currently lived, and he felt like it was a good investment. I, on the other hand, was more than a little concerned; what kinds of modifications would we have to make to the house to be sure it really worked for him? I knew NOTHING about that kind of stuff.

In the end, he made two. His conversion van is a little taller than most SUV’s, so we extended the height of the garage up to about 9′, I think, and then we lowered the towel rack in the master bath so that he could reach it a little easier.

Say that again? A buyer with Phocomelia needs virtually no modifications?

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The Best Agents Know How To Listen

The thing I learned when working with him was that I didn’t need to know all of the details – I didn’t need to know all the ADA regulations inside and out. Like Danilo wrote recently, consumers need real estate Consultants. I forgot that, and I’d be willing to be that most of us have done the same at some point in our career. This client knew what his needs were, and they were no different than yours or mine might be. He wanted a good investment, in a nice area, and he got it. He needed me to be an adviser, to help him validate the decision, to guide him through.

Lead Or Follow

In talking with my friend yesterday, I got to wondering how many agents are out there, thinking like I did, that they’d never be able to serve clients with disabilities as well as they should because they don’t know everything? The whole time I worked with him, I was trying to lead, when in reality I should have been listening … listening to him, answering questions and learning how he looked at properties. If I had done that, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to realize that he was just like me. Are we listening?

It took me a while to learn the lesson, but I appreciate him being so patient with me while I did.

Written By

Writer for national real estate opinion column, focusing on the improvement of the real estate industry by educating peers about technology, real estate legislation, ethics, practices and brokerage with the end result being that consumers have a better experience.



  1. Paula Henry

    June 13, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    Jeremy – You have hit upon the secret to sales – listen more than we talk. Our clients want to know that we care and what better way than listening.

  2. Mack in Atlanta

    June 14, 2008 at 4:58 am

    Many years a go a very wise man gave me a piece of advise that remains true in any market. “You have 2 ears and 1 mouth, use them proportionately.” If we were all to listen twice as much as we talked we would understand our clients needs and wants so much better.

  3. Brian Block

    June 14, 2008 at 5:50 am

    Jeremy, as Paula wrote, you’ve hit the jackpot on how to make sales — listen to the needs of our clients. I let people know right upfront that I’m never trying to sell them something but rather helping them find what’s right for them. The only way you can do this is by listening.

  4. ines

    June 14, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    What an incredible story! I have to tell you that we deal with people with disabilities all the time and it IS about listening.

    My problem is the total opposite of yours. I know ADA regulations and have designed ADA compliant spaces. Sometimes I look at the potential and expense of making every nook and cranny ADA compliant when the customer doesn’t really need it. It’s about Listening…..once again!

  5. Jeremy Hart

    June 17, 2008 at 10:19 pm

    Ines, isn’t that interesting? You know the rules and regs, but the clients don’t really need them.

    Mack – don’t know that I’ve heard that before, but I love it. Really good reminder.

    Thanks all, hope everyone’s having a great week!

  6. Sue

    July 10, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    What a great story. I totally agree that we as Realtors really need to listen closely to our clients. Everyone is looking for something different in their next home based on their life style, needs and/or wants. I view a big part of my job is to understand what that is so that we can focus our search for the right home.

    Mack, thats pretty funny.

  7. Atlanta Travel City Guide

    May 26, 2009 at 2:07 am

    I let people know right upfront that I’m never trying to sell them something but rather helping them find what’s right for them. The only way you can do this is by listening.I totally agree that we as Realtor really need to listen closely to our clients. Everyone is looking for something different in their next home based on their life style, needs and/or wants.

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