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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.

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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.

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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. 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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