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Your Client Doesn’t Care: A Contrarian View

number one businessSmall Disclaimer: I have never met any of the AG writers personally.  I’m positive they are warm, caring, intelligent and thoughtful human beings.  I particularly like Matt Stigliano’s writing. Don’t take this personally.

Your Client Doesn’t Want To Be Your Friend

There has been a lot of writing on AG of late about how we really need to get warm and fuzzy with our clients and, barring that, really need to take their interests to heart and not do anything mean and nasty like get involved with Dual Agency or anything else that has even the slightest whiff of conflict of interest.  The thinking goes that if we get warm and fuzzy and do right by them, they’ll come to love us and create all kinds of wonderful business opportunities for us. Of course, the business opportunities are just a kind of side benefit.  The real goal is to get more friends.  You know.  Coffee at Starbucks.  Thanksgiving dinner. Play dates with the kids.

Here’s a real shocker for all you relationship types out there: your client doesn’t want you to be their friend.  They have friends.  Their friends can’t help them buy or sell a house.  That’s why they called you.

The Home Buyer

Everyone knows there some huge percentage of home buyers surf the ‘Net before they even think about getting in touch with a Realtor.  Why do you think that is?  Do you think it’s because they have warm and fuzzy feelings about Realtors?  Do you think it’s because every Tom, Dick and Mary feel they’re so technologically advanced that once they connect via their dial-up connection they can find their dream home?

Guess, again.

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They don’t know any nice, warm, fuzzy Realtors whom they either like or trust.  If they did, they wouldn’t be on the ‘Net. They’d be in your car. If you met them in the coffee shop or the Chinese take out and really made an impression on them after you talked about the local sports team, their car troubles, this terrible swine flu thing and how wonderful it is that their little Suzy is a tree in the school play, they would be on the phone to you.  They wouldn’t be looking on Zillow or Trulia for guidance.

The truth is: you didn’t make an impression, they didn’t need any more friends and they were this close to telling you to take a hike but were too polite to say so.

The Home Seller

Did you know that most people forget who their buyer’s agent was within 90 days of settlement?  Pretty phenomenal, huh?  Of course, the key is to keep in touch or “top of mind” via postcards, newsletters, phone calls, unannounced visits and the like.  Even then, if they really didn’t have the optimal experience buying the house, they probably won’t use your services anyway.

Even if they remember you, they may be swayed by the “neighborhood expert” who has been papering the neighborhood with postcards and fliers (aka “farming”) for the last six years.

It’s A Business Transaction And They Know It

Buying and selling real estate is a business transaction.  Your client understands this.  Wanna know how they know?  It’s because we’re required, in most States, to shove a legal document into their face at the earliest opportunity to let them know they had better be on the lookout because Realtors are out to screw them.  Whether it’s a one pager like an Agency Disclosure form or a multi-page, 10 point font document like a Buyer’s Broker Agreement or Listing Agreement, it amounts to the same thing.  This is business, Mr Home Seller/Buyer, not pleasure.  There are legal considerations to be aware of and you may want or need an attorney.

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Now, let’s go down to Starbucks for a latte and talk about whether the new Redskins coach will turn the team around.

Get Over Yourself

Realtors have huge egos.  We have to have them to get over the massive amount of rejection we experience. People interview three Realtors.  We don’t get the job.  We take clients out house hunting. They buy from an agent in an Open House and our Broker tells us to suck it up.  Any number of scenarios come to mind.  We need to be tough and we also want to be loved. Why else are there tens of thousands of Realtors out there who will proudly state “I’m #1”, “I’m a TOP producer”  or some other such tripe that can’t possibly be true.

The sad fact is that most people who hire Realtors to assist with the real estate transaction do so because they have some little voice in the back of their head saying they might need some help. If I have a broken arm, I don’t go to a plumber, no matter how much I love my plumber.  I go to a trained professional who can help my broken arm.  Home buyers and sellers don’t call you up because your kids are on the same little league team.  That part is just a coincidence.

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Written By

“Loves sunrise walks on the beach, quaint B & Bs, former Barbie® boyfriend..." Ken is a sole practitioner and Realtor Extraordinaire in the beautiful MD Suburbs of DC. When he's not spouting off on Agent Genius he holds court from his home office in Glenn Dale, MD or the office for RE/MAX Advantage Realty in Fulton, MD...and always on the MD Suburbs of DC Blog

32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. BawldGuy

    February 28, 2010 at 10:27 am

    Dear Benn & Lani — Give this guy a lifetime contract. 🙂

    • Ken Montville

      February 28, 2010 at 3:20 pm

      Say, could you put in a word for raise, too. 🙂

  2. Russell Shaw

    February 28, 2010 at 11:06 am

    What BawldGuy said.

  3. Benn Rosales

    February 28, 2010 at 11:14 am

    I wasn’t sure where you were going with this but I’m really glad I read it as I agree whole heartedly with many of your assertions. What I think may be missed though is that many of us do have friends that never touch online search sites or seek other counsel as they do call us or dm or email us to begin their process. What we see from our vantage point is attempting to recreate the same impact utilizing online media, and to be quite honest it does work, but there’s a small catch. Never before has an online client been exposed to so many real estate personalities that they could use and find themselves caught in the middle.

    I’ve spoken to many buyers and sellers that look at those same personalities and wonder how in the hell they run a business yet spend their entire day and night socializing online. I’ve heard comments that they feel caught in the middle and sneak around to find someone, utilize their service and then announce they’re in contract right in front of many of those that believed they were friends with the buyer- and the same with a few sellers I know. I’ve also heard a few buyers say that they really didn’t want to discuss challenges in buying like credit blemishes or income with people that fall in the friend zone for fear of mixing business and personal.

    Matt’s post however was more about the offline approach with consumers and whether you pitch as a professional, friend, or a salesman, and I think he makes his point by stating the obvious and dealing with it, that we all have motives, even those twitter/facebook ‘friends’ to ultimately sell you something.

    Bawldguy and I have made the observation many times of the past two years in conversations that the online real estate space is in denial that they’re salesmen and women and what they don’t realize is at the end of the day that fact remains true but only their pitch and tactics have changed- ultimately, someone’s buying something, and you’re selling it.

    • Ken Montville

      February 28, 2010 at 3:28 pm

      You mean I’m not supposed to spend all day online? 🙂

      I’ve had folks that haven’t used me because of credit/money issues. I get that part. It kinds of proves the point. If the real estate transaction wasn’t a *business* transaction that kind of stuff wouldn’t matter between friends.

      I guess I got something else out of Matt’s post (and some of the comments). I got that if we were just more interested in the potential home buyer/seller as “people” we want to help (i.e., good motive) than everything else including the money would follow. I guess I’m not on as high a spiritual plane or maybe I’m way too cynical.

  4. Ken Brand

    February 28, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    The counter to your counter:-)

    Your Client Doesn’t Want To Be Your Friend
    I believe we all have varied definitions of the word friend. If we expand our definition of friend to include “acquaintances”, then I believe friends are critically important to generating real estate success. I believe if an agent relies primarily on working with strangers, they will eventually leave the business, due to lack of business.

    In my 31 years in the biz, I’ve observed and experienced that people more frequently call on real estate agents they, their other friends and their kids party, celebrate, relax, worship, and play with. Provided their real estate friend/acquaintance is viewed as a trustworthy professional.

    I would agree that not ALL clients want to be friends socially, but I do believe the majority want a professional and friendly (friendly = considerate, polite, congenial, understanding, etc.) agent. I also believe that people don’t referral recommend strangers. Where would Top Performers be without the referral recommendations from a friend? Nowhere, that’s where.

    The Homebuyer
    I believe prospects surf the net for several reasons. I have friends in many professions, I still use the internet to research, dream, explore, etc. When I’m ready to pull the trigger, If I have friend I can trust (not all friends can be trusted as the best person to choose in their profession, that’s why we should all beam expertise and professional) in the field I have a need for, I would choose a friend before I’d choose a stranger. The devil/angel you know, etc., plus, most humans want to help a friend. I believe most people, not all, would choose a trusted friend before they would choose a stranger. I believe an agent who was perceived as trustworthy and professional and has dozens of friends, would out produce a professional and trustworthy agent with no friends or few friends. Survey after survey shows that 60%-70% of home buyers and home sellers choose an agent they knew, or was recommend from a friend.

    Ask every successful agent you know about how they’d like to pack up, move to another city and start all over. No WAY! Why? Because they don’t anyone in the new town, they’d be a stranger and have to rebuild their business, without the help of their friends. Go ahead, ask around.

    The Home Seller
    Home Sellers, Home Buyers, suspects, prospects and humans in general forget the forgettable. It an agent does a good job of staying in touch and creating continuous Top Of Mind Awareness (Relevance, Repetition and Remarkable), it’s doubtful that people in the their sphere or a past client would choose a stranger (they might choose another friend who has greater Top Of Mind Awareness though). Why would they? People are risk adverse, why would someone pay thousands of dollars to a stranger they have no experience with, especially if they have had a positive experience with someone familiar and trust worthy. As you’ve shared, if we do a BAD job, of course we wouldn’t be rehired or recommended.

    Using your example of a seller turning their attention to the neighborhood expert (a stranger), because they farmed furiously for six years. What if their previous agent and or agent friend, farmed their personal sphere and this particular person with the same ferocity? Would the prospect still choose a stranger or a know, familiar and trusted friend? I don’t believe they would, as you’ve shared, they would pick the expert they know over the expert they don’t. I know, sometimes friends don’t choose friends because they don’t want their personal known to others. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

    It’s a Business Transaction and They Know It.
    I agree they do know it. This is why they would most likely choose someone they KNOW and TRUST. It’s too big a financial risk to trust a stranger and the unknown. The Agency Disclosure notice isn’t any big deal. Nobody runs for the hills. Our’s is one page, it’s simple and states what 99% already know. If you hire me to list your house I work for you. If you engage me to help you find a house, I work for you. If I show you one of our brokerage listing houses, we’ll be in an intermediary situation. Nobody freaks or goes AH-HA. It’s a non issue if done correctly an concisely.

    Get Over Yourself
    Ken, this is ON point and indisputable. We all have egos and in our business, it’s easy to broadcast your egomania. I believe the problem with the chest thumping and muscle bound monologue, I’m #1 is due more to ignorance. It’s an old fashioned marketing method that used to work, it doesn’t any more.
    Today, if we treat people like friends, we wouldn’t be spitting “I’m #!” in their face. We’d treat them like friends, we’d be humble and helpful, we’d listen and share and serve. One the most powerful human needs is “A Sense Of Significance.” What would most people choose a friend who makes them feel Significant, Safe and Certain or a stranger?

    In conclusion, without friends, acquaintances, professionalism, expertise and extra effort, we’re doomed.

    In double conclusion, thanks for sharing your Contrarian View, I love reading about your thoughts and sharing mine as well. And I have to tell you, I think your name is the most awesome name on the planet.

    Cheers Big Ken.

    • Ken Montville

      February 28, 2010 at 3:36 pm

      You have some fair points, Ken (great name). I agree that I need to be friendly as well as professional. I also agree if you did a good job and everyone liked everyone else, future business is in the forecast. What I’m trying to get at is that becoming someone’s buddy doesn’t necessarily get the job done well and, many times, might cloud a Realtor’s judgment about the right and professional approach to any particular challenge that arises during the transaction.

      One off the wall example: do you sacrifice part of your commission to “make the deal work” because the client is your friend or because you want to get paid something/anything for your hard work. And, if you do sacrifice part of your commission for your “friend” (the client) what does that do for your professional standing in his/her eyes.

      I must not live right and I certainly haven’t been in the business 31 years but I’ve been burnt on too many times by “friends” that imposed greatly upon our “friendship”.

      • Ken Brand

        February 28, 2010 at 5:27 pm

        The old I’m you friend, please work for free plea.

        Truth be know Ken M., I have lot’s of acquaintances and few friends. Mostly, because to have friends you have to be a friend and I’m a crappy friend, too selfish I think…but I digress.

        When a friend asks me to work for free or less, I smile. First because I know they aren’t my friend. How do I know? Because if I used their same plea and pressured them, if I said, “well because you’re my friend, I need you to pay me extra!”, they’d drop me in a hot minute. I fell the same way, why would you as a friend to give you their money? It’s a BS tactic by a moocher. So I would not bend and share my income, if they didn’t like it, good bye, next. One of the great things about our business is that we can pick and choose who we work with. Of course it’s a lot easier if you have plenty going on and things are kinda tough right now.

        I agree, if and when we do bend over it tarnishes our professional image in their eyes, probably tarnish the so-called friendship and sullies our soul too.

        Of course you haven’t been in the business for 31 years, you’re a young man, luck you:-)

        PS. Getting burned is part of the business. Unfortunately we have to wear asbestos underwear and outerwear and we still get singed. Working with humans is fiery.

  5. Joe Loomer

    February 28, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    @Ken Brand – What’s so awesome about “Monteville?”

    To me, there are equal parts Russell, Bawldguy, and Ken Brand in this – but I disagree that it is not about relationships (friends/acquaintances, whatever).

    I read this post to be geared more to “how did they find you as an agent” than referral results from post-closing contact with your clients. If so, I’m done here – great post.

    If you intended it to be more general in nature, I still agree with most of what you say, but also believe the social media era has changed it drastically. Now, you can be pretty much anyone’s “friend,” and capture their hearts and minds through relevant, humorous, and touching “status updates.” Do this right and the “neighborhood expert” postcard goes right in the trash. Facebook is the primary reason my referral income nearly doubled in 2009. Friends (many past Navy buddies I haven’t seen in years, or never knew but shared a posting to some far-away-#%^hole) enjoy your content, you tactfully dribble out the occassional (yet relevant) market data piece in the midst of your “pun of the day,” and voila – you’re the agent they’ll contact for selling their home regardless of the locale. In this context, they very much want to be your “friend.”

    I’ll assume the definition of “friend” you used in your post had nothing to do with social media. Who’d ignore the elephant in the room?

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

    • Ken Montville

      February 28, 2010 at 3:41 pm

      This was supposed to be about relationships. I was thinking of writing another post (and still might) about all this relationship business and how I’ve come to a place where I think we’re barking up the wrong tree.

      I’ll concede that during the transaction period there are some intense moments and some intimate sharing (non-physical, of course). However, that kinda wears off shortly after settlement. It’s important for we Realtors to keep in mind that our clients are not going to become bowling buddies or members of our book club. They need professional expertise not a social worker.

      Finding clients and keeping clients and getting referrals from clients is a whole other thing and you may be onto something. I’m not completely convinced, though.

      PS Just a small point but it’s Montville (no “e” in the middle). It’s a common error and I have no idea why. 🙂

  6. Brandie Young

    February 28, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    Hi Ken,

    Cool. My two cents from the consumer side, FWIW.

    I don’t need to relate to you, or like you. I do need you to know your stuff. I don’t care if you have a dog, unless it will make you sell my home faster and at a better price – and if you make that claim, I will ask you to prove it.

    It’s a transaction. As a consumer, I don’t want my attorney to cozy up to me when I seek legal advice, nor do I want to hang out with our CPA. It’s business.

    The only point I’d question is the shopping online. My hunch is they would regardless of having/not having engaged an agent. While I have no empirical data to support this, I believe buyers like to see for themselves “what’s out there” and sellers like to see what’s happening in their neighborhood.

    @ Joe Loomer : I wonder how much the social media era has impacted efforts. I’m not challenging the fact you get referrals via your Facebook (and congrats on your success), but the reality is not everyone is engaged.

    For example, I just returned from the MBA Servicing event in San Diego. There were ~ 3,000 people there, yet there was no Twitter hashtag, and I was the only one checking in to the hotel on Foursquare. These are all viable home buyer/seller candidates.

    • Joe Loomer

      February 28, 2010 at 2:46 pm

      @Brandie – in contrast, I spent last week at the Keller Williams Family Reunion event in New Orleans, along with 8,500 others. I attended a Social Media breakout taught by Ben Kinney. Jay Papasan was sitting a row in front of me, and many KW owners and leadership were also at this standing-room only session. My takeaway was it was important – but this doesn’t change the fact that – as you intimate – the audience was the very choir the preacher wanted to lecture.

      My main point was the definition of “friend” can take on a myriad contexts as applies to Ken’s post. I didn’t sell any houses on Facebook, I merely connected with “friends” in a way that made me memorable. Hell of a lot cheaper than print media.

    • Ken Montville

      February 28, 2010 at 3:49 pm

      I’m absolutely sure buyers want to “see what’s out there”. That’s why they tell me that they want to buy a house no more than $350,000 and then start to send me Internet listings for homes at $400,000 and above. Or that are under contract. Or sold three months ago. And sellers love Zillow. The Zestimates confirm everything they think about how special their house is including the fanciful notion that it’s worth $70,000 more than any other similar home in the neighborhood.

      Internet shopping is both a curse and a blessing. Sometimes it has helped a buyer narrow their search and focus. Many times, not so much.

  7. Janie Coffey

    February 28, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    hmmmm, I think it depends entirely on your targeted client base and how you operate your business. Being someone’s friend (in whichever variation you prefer) does not preclude you from being a good or bad real estate professional. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    For those who use an SOI business model and most of their business comes from past clients, friends, referrals, etc. then this argument doesn’t hold water. Friending someone (again, in which ever flavor you prefer) is the BEST way to stay in touch in a non-salesy way yet continue to be present and top of mind.

    For those who operate at arm’s length, “hi I’m Mr. Agent, let me sell you a house and you can forget about me in 3 months” then you are right, to “friend” is not only unnecessarily but a little icky. Totally different business model.

    It all depends on what type of business model you have and your own personality. I don’t think blanket statements one way or the other really work too well for such a broad reaching topic. There is a lot of that going on…. This works, this doesn’t. Social Media works, that doesn’t and being that we all operate various forms of business development, I think such definitive statements only make sense if someone says “X doesn’t work for X business model and here is my experience as to why not”….. Just my 2 cents…

  8. Mary Weaver

    February 28, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Ken,
    Your points are well taken, and I agree with most. As agents, we are not near the top of the “most admired professions” list. However, the one quality that I think folks are looking for is TRUST. As a buyer I trust that your going to guide me towards the best purchase – therefore, I’ll spend a lot of time online studying the market, and I wont get taken. As a seller, I may forget your name in 3 months, but not if you went the extra mile, through promotion, and showing and making my sell happen. And as a buyer, or a seller, I will mention to at least 10 people that either you earned my trust or you did not !

    Your own blog, about Fulton, MD real estate is about building trust with local expertise, and client testimonials… and not so much about “lets be friends”

    Your right, it is about a business transaction, and we may not share Thanksgiving dinner. However, I’ll take a relationship built on trust and professionalism first and foremost, and if a friendship happens – well that’s a bonus.

    • Ken Montville

      March 1, 2010 at 8:17 pm

      Trust or, as I would like to frame it, respect for my expertise would be a welcome change. Instead, buyers withhold information or constantly want to 2nd guess my suggestions for offer strategies. Sellers never really believe I’ve given them a true picture of what their home is worth (because it’s so special). The bottom line is that it is the rare client that fully respects your expertise enough to trust your guidance. They’re out there but they’re rare.

  9. Greg Cooper

    February 28, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Wow….can we have a discussion like this every week?

    Each time I read this column and the comments I get more out of it. Thank you Ken!

  10. Dan Connolly

    March 1, 2010 at 12:19 am

    For me, it has always been a combination of working the general public and the SOI. The general public is more of the bread and butter or the main course, and the SOI is the gravy or the dessert. I have never been comfortable with asking my friends for business and I really hate to be introduced at a party, by a friend who has done business with me, as his Realtor. It seems tacky and I don’t really want that kind of introduction. I would rather be introduced as his friend and if someone in the course of the conversation wants to know what I do, I will tell him. That is a much more natural, and usually a more productive way to connect with someone, for me.

    I know that for many people working the SOI is an obvious and perfectly normal way to get business. If you are comfortable with it, great! It doesn’t feel right for me so throughout my career I have cold called, chased FSBOs and expireds, mailed stuff to neighborhoods, worked open houses, door knocked, had home buyer seminars, got the number 770-HUD-HOME and posted signs on thruway off ramps (man that makes the phone ring!), and lately learned how to find buyers and sellers online. I find working with strangers has a number of benefits, the greatest of which, for me, is the peaceful feeling of not having to solicit my friends.

    I keep in touch with past clients (and friends) by sending a wall calendar with a little letter once a year that thanks them for any referrals they may have sent me and gives them some updates on this or that (new grandkids etc). That’s it. I never mention real estate on Facebook, and never bring it up at parties or other social gatherings.

    I do get some repeats and referrals and they are always wonderful and appreciated. I like that they come from the heart. But I really don’t want to have to depend on them.

    • Ken Montville

      March 1, 2010 at 8:11 pm

      My thing about being “the Realtor” in social gatherings is that I always get grilled about the real estate market. I end up giving a mini-seminar/workshop. I guess it’s kind of like being the accountant in the room and being asked for tax advice….for free.

  11. Nashville Grant

    March 1, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    There is some great truth to this article, especially from my experience. I’ve never really been the ‘welcome wagon’ type of broker, I’ve always preferred to swoop in for my buyers, rip the seller’s heart out by their wallet, stomp on it a few times for good measure and move on to the next slaying. My methodology is more like an attorney’s, always gathering information even if I am not currently working with a client. Don’t get me wrong, I am a very pleasant person, but I am ruthless for my client. I don’t want or need to be your friend after the transaction, but I do make a mean Boeuf Bourguignon should we become one.

  12. Don Stewart

    March 3, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Consumers simply want to know which agent is their best choice to help them buy or sell a house given their specific needs. If we tell them we are the best choice for them because our children go to the same school or because we are in the same choir aren’t we really just saying that any agent is as good as any other agent?

    If we can tell them why we are the best choice for their particular needs and if we can support that fact then the chances of us getting the business, successfully defending our commission, and deserving our commission is greatly enhanced.

  13. Joe Hare

    March 7, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    In a typical Greater Boston suburban town in which in a given year there might be 300-500
    homes listed, often a homeowner thinking of selling often will know personally several agents of the 150-200 agents in town.

    If one of the agents stands out either because of their market presence and/or because of their firm’s reputation, being a true friend is no impediment to a seller selecting them to market their home.

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