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Opinion Editorials

We – And Our Customers – Are Not Machines




Steve Austin, astronaut, a man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him, we have the technology. We have the capability to make the worlds first Bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better. Stronger. Faster.”

More than 30 years later, it seems that the human population continues to move closer and closer to becoming just what Steve Austin was in the Six Million Dollar Man … a machine.

With our Bluetooths, PDAs, mobile PCs, and constant

contact it becomes easy at times to forget that there are people on the other end of those messages. And while e-mail, texting, and instant messaging helps sell real estate – it can become a crutch to our field.

A crutch that allows us to stop treating people like people and start treating them like machines or any other commodity. I learned this the hard way recently.

An e-mail inquiry on a listing comes in, we share a couple e-mails, and set a showing on one my properties. Great, I’m stoked. Have a second showing at 5:15 with a client and this new client is set to be met at 6:30 with 15 minutes travel time between.

My client is 20 minutes late for the first appointment, so I bolt to meet my new clients. They are 10 minutes late and my first client is blowing up my cell phone wanting to know when I’ll be back to take care of his needs. And suddenly I’m faced with a dilemma:

  • Do I give up on these new clients and get back to the second showing for this client that is going to write on this house, or
  • do I hold out my usual 20 minutes for a late client.

Well I did the first and just missed a chance to show this home to a young couple that have an infant and could have yielded. And to set “karma” my first client didn’t write.

Why am I writing this today?

I made a couple of fundamental flaws in this process, and am hoping by sharing you’ll be reminded how easy it is to quit seeing people as people and only as commodities.

  • Always Talk to Potential Customers: E-mails are great to begin communication but you need to make that personal contact to solidify the deal. Also, it is a major safety faux pas that I committed.
  • Balancing The Birds: One of the things I’ve learned from working at Best Buy is “stacking customers”. What did I do last night? Failed at stacking customers, they don’t need to see you today – but they do need to know you care.
  • Keep a Black Book: My grandfather always carries a little notebook with numbers and contacts in it. What was my biggest mistake yesterday? I didn’t have a cell phone number for my new clients. That one action would have made this embarrassing situation go away.

Hopefully, this little reminder will help you not make the same mistake I did last night.

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.

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  1. Jim Duncan

    May 8, 2008 at 9:03 am

    I have little sympathy for the first client – did they call you to let you know that they were going to be late? This part falls, I think, on both client and agent – agent for not setting expectations of punctuality for the client, and the client for not respecting the agent’s time.

    We’re not machines, and neither are the clients, but if the clients don’t respect our time, we have to move to those who do.

    I met an appraiser the other day who was 10 minutes late – didn’t call, but I had called his office when he was 5 minutes late (and I had to meet him. That 10 minutes threw off most of my day.

    Personally, I call clients if I’m going to be 2 minutes late (which rarely happens) and I expect similar respect.

    But that’s just me.

  2. Toby Boyce

    May 8, 2008 at 9:43 am

    In the “real” world I follow your thoughts as well. I try to be on time for all appointments – why? Because it is the professional thing to do, and that was my first problem. I didn’t have a cell phone number for #2 to find out where we stood. Client #1 would have sat on the back-burner and simmered until #2 was done, had I been able to make contact.

    But, I’m finding more clients contacting me via e-mail regarding properties. Which is awesome. But I’ve made a personal “rule” that we must talk on the phone for a few minutes and exchange vitals before the appointment is scheduled. I’ll show one house to a suspect before they become pre-approved, but not on an e-mail discussion.


  3. Jim Duncan

    May 8, 2008 at 9:45 am

    I’ll show one house to a suspect before they become pre-approved

    I love it.

  4. ines

    May 8, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    I have to tell you that time issues are huge here in Miami. There is a general disrespect for others’ time and as much as it aggravates me…..I’ve gotten used to it and plan around it (I know it’s ridiculous, but I can’t control it). I do expect people to respect my time and will wait a max of 15 minutes when another agent is late.

    As for the “man as a machine thing” – you are right – human contact before a showing is crucial – I’ve also learned the hard way. Funny how you can tell so much more about a person when you talk to them on the phone, no?

  5. Jay Thompson

    May 8, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    While in my younger days the ladies often referred to me as a “Love Machine”, you’re right, we (and our clients) are not machines.

    Time is valuable for all, and it’s not free. “Human contact” is critical in this business. All the technology is great, but it doesn’t replace face-to-face contact.

    And mutual respect for each other’s time.

    And I’m kidding about the “Love Machine” thing. Sorta…. 😉

  6. Vicki Moore

    May 8, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    I’m going to start referring to you as The Love Machine. That’s great!

  7. ines

    May 8, 2008 at 1:42 pm

  8. Matthew Rathbun

    May 9, 2008 at 5:49 am

    Jay – oh brother….

    Toby – unfortunaly agents have allowed themselves to be treated as a means to an end and not professionals. Most people are on time for meetngs with tax prep, parent-teacher coferences, getting the hair appoint etc… However, agents are “always there”, we don’t move on to the next appointment like most other industries do. We always seem to make time for every client even as aggravating as they are.

    But let me say this – Realtors are just as bad. A majority are always late for training, staff meetings, committee meetings, etc… I’ve caught a lot of flack for my tactics as an instructor in the past. At ten minutes after class I lock the doors to the classroom. When I give breaks, I have a timer on the projector. I always start exactly when I am suppose to. The word got out and folks are usually more timely for my sessions than they are for other instructors. It’s a slow hard process to change, but it’s well worth it.

    I’ve just learned to come to terms with it and realize that I can only control me, in regards to respecting other peoples time.

  9. Raleigh Real Estate

    May 9, 2008 at 10:19 am

    Great post. I have to agree personal contact is a must : ]

  10. Rebecca Levinson

    May 9, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Good post and I don’t have too many meaningful words to add, other than I agree that a personal connection should follow an electronic one. Your time is valuable and so is your clients?

    On a side note, I love seeing these Transformer Graphics. Just was reading another post that had one too. I suspect Suspect SpeedRacer will be up and coming. Yes, I watched both these shows as a kid, so the nostalgia of the graphic and then the headline led me to this post.

  11. Jim Duncan

    May 9, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    Matthew – I wish more instructors were as strict as you.

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Opinion Editorials

Will shopping for that luxury item actually lower your quality of life?

(EDITORIAL) Want to buy yourself a pick-me-up? Have you thought of all the ramifications of that purchase? Try to avoid splurging on it.



shopping bags

In an era of “treat-yo-self,” the urge to splurge is real. It doesn’t help that shopping – or what ends up being closer to impulse shopping – provides us with a hit of dopamine and a fleeting sense of control. Whether your life feels like it’s going downhill or you’ve just had a bad day, buying something you want (or think you want) can seem like an easy fix.

Unfortunately, it might not be so great when it comes to long-term happiness.

As you might have already guessed, purchasing new goods doesn’t fall in line with the minimalism trend that’s been sweeping the globe. Being saddled with a bunch of stuff you don’t need (and don’t even like!) is sure to make your mood dip, especially if the clutter makes it harder to concentrate. Plus, if you’ve got a real spending problem, the ache in your wallet is sure to manifest.

If that seems depressing, I’ve got even more bad news. Researchers at Harvard and Boston College have found yet another way spending can make us more unhappy in the long run: imposter syndrome. It’s that feeling you get when it seems like you’re not as good as your peers and they just haven’t caught on yet. This insecurity often arises in competitive careers, academics and, apparently, shopping.

Now, there’s one big caveat to this idea that purchasing goods will make you feel inferior: it really only applies to luxury goods. I’m talking about things like a Louis Vuitton purse, a top of the line Mercedes Benz, a cast iron skillet from Williams Sonoma (or is that one just me?). The point is, the study found that about 67% of people – regardless of their income – believed their purchase was inauthentic to their “true self.”

And this imposter syndrome even existed when the luxury items were bought on sale.

Does this mean you should avoid making a nice purchase you’ve been saving up for? Not necessarily. One researcher at Cambridge found that people were more likely to report happiness for purchases that fit their personalities. Basically, a die-hard golfer is going to enjoy a new club more than someone who bought the same golf club to try to keep up with their co-workers.

Moral of the story: maybe don’t impulse buy a fancy new Apple watch. Waiting to see if it’s something you really want can save your budget…and your overall happiness.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer got you down? Does it make your job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment without budget worries.



better equipment, better work

Aside from bringing the boss coffee and donuts for a month before asking, what is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes. In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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Opinion Editorials

Minimalism doesn’t have to be a quick process

(EDITORIAL) Minimalism is great and all…but how do you get started if you’re not sold on getting rid of basically everything you own?



minimalism desk

Minimalism. This trend has reared its head in many forms, from Instagram-worthy shots of near empty homes to Marie Kondo making a splash on Netflix last year. If you’re anything like me, the concept of minimalism is tempting, but the execution seems out of reach. Paring down a closet to fit into a single basket or getting rid of beloved objects can sometimes seem too difficult, and I get it! Luckily, minimalism doesn’t have to be quite so extreme.

#1 Digitally

Not ready to purge your home yet? That’s fine! Start on your digital devices. Chances are, there are plenty of easy ways to clean up the storage space on your computer or phone. When it comes to low stakes minimalism, try clearing out your email inbox or deleting apps you no longer use. It’ll increase your storage space and make upkeep much more manageable on a daily basis.

It’s also worth taking a look through your photos. With our phones so readily available, plenty of us have pictures that we don’t really need. Clearing out the excess and subpar pictures will also have the added bonus of making your good pictures easily accessible!

Now, if this task seems more daunting, consider starting by simply deleting duplicate photos. You know the ones, where someone snaps a dozen pics of the same group pose? Pick your favorite (whittle it down if you have to) and delete the rest! It’s an easy way to get started with minimizing your digital photo collection.

#2 Slowly

Minimalism doesn’t have to happen all at once. If you’re hesitant about taking the plunge, try dipping your toe in the water first. There’s no shame in taking your time with this process. For instance, rather than immediately emptying your wardrobe, start small by just removing articles of clothing that are not wearable anymore. Things that are damaged, for instance, or just don’t fit.

Another way to start slow is to set a number. Take a look at your bookshelf and resolve to get rid of just two books. This way, you can hold yourself accountable for minimizing while not pushing too far. Besides, chances are, you do have two books on your shelf that are just collecting dust.

Finally, it’s also possible to take things slow by doing them over time. Observe your closet over the course of six months, for instance, to see if there are articles of clothing that remain unworn. Keep an eye on your kitchen supplies to get a feel for what you’re using and what you’re not. Sure, that egg separator you got for your wedding looks useful, but if you haven’t picked it up, it probably has to go.

#3 Somewhat

Sometimes, minimalism is pitched as all or nothing (pun intended), but it doesn’t have to be that way. Just because I want to purge my closet doesn’t mean I’m beholden to purging my kitchen too. And that’s okay!

Instead of getting overwhelmed by everything that needs to be reduced, just pick one aspect of your life to declutter. Clear out your wardrobe and hang onto your books. Cut down on decorations but keep your clothes. Maybe even minimize a few aspects of your life while holding onto one or two.

Or, don’t go too extreme in any direction and work to cut down on the stuff in your life in general. Minimizing doesn’t have to mean getting rid of everything – it can mean simply stepping back. For instance, you can minimize just by avoiding buying more things. Or maybe you set a maximum number of clothes you want, which means purchasing a new shirt might mean getting rid of an old one.

The point is, there are plenty of ways to start on the minimalist lifestyle without pushing yourself too far outside your comfort zone. So, what are you waiting for? Try decluttering your life soon!

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