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Op/Ed

Dropping everything to unlock a door for a buyer damages the profession

The real estate profession is unique in that everyone is on call, but until better practices are put into place, the profession will suffer.

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Consider the following scenario:

“Welcome to Burger House may I take your order?”
“I’d like a Big House Burger, a large sweet tea and I’d like to buy 1915 Main St.”
“Great would you like a home warranty with that?”
“No. Just the house.”
“Will you be paying cash or getting a mortgage?”
“Cash.”
“Your total is $196,521 please pull forward to window 1 to pay. Your food and keys are at window 2.”

Well now that’s a silly scenario. Who buys a house at a fast food drive through? That’s ridiculous, isn’t it?

Not really, if you consider how buyers call in on properties and expect real estate agents to “serve them up” a house sometimes with no notice, no appointment, and very little exchange of basic information. Here’s what a typical phone call is like to a real estate agent:

“Hello this is Jane. How may I help you?”
“I’d like to see 123 Main Street.”
“Okay great. The list price for that is $125,000. What is your name?”
“John. When can I see it?”
“Okay John and in case we are disconnected what is the best phone number for you?”
“I am in front of the house now I’d like to see it as soon as possible.”
“Well that house is occupied and we are supposed to give the owner 24 hours notice. Can you tell me a little about what you’re looking for?”
“It doesn’t look occupied. I walked around the outside and I don’t think anyone lives here now.”
“Actually it is occupied. The owner still lives there. I need to call and request an appointment. Even if it’s vacant we still do need an appointment. Have you been looking a long time or did you just start looking?”
“I have been looking a few months. When can you get here?”
“Okay I need to call to set it up. Are you working with another agent?”
“No I just call the listing agent when I see something. I’d really like to get in now. I only have an hour so can you get here quickly?”
“Let me call the seller John and get approval. I need to clear it with him first. What’s your last name?”
“Are you coming now to show it to me or not? I don’t have time to answer all these questions.”

I hear the buyer’s frustration – he wants an appointment right now

He’s not willing to give up personal information in exchange for an appointment. But the agent has a stranger on the phone who wants to meet right now, we don’t know if the person is qualified to buy – or even his last name.

The agent taking the call is trained to screen buyers to make sure (1) they are qualified to buy and (2) they are not working with another agent. This is standard practice in the real estate business. But the caller is having none of the vetting process – he just wants to see the house and see it immediately. See the disconnect here?

The next step the caller typically takes is to ask the agent, “Do you want to sell the house or not? Because I want to buy this house.” He hasn’t seen it yet, we don’t know if he can financially afford it, yet he wants the agent to jump in the car and rush over to open the door.

It’s a scare tactic. The buyer thinks agents are so desperate to make a sale they will risk their own personal safety – and waste of time – versus not sell a house.

Pulling the “safety” card

Whoa – yes I just pulled the “safety” card. To those who are not in this industry who may be reading this, answer this question: “If it was your wife or mother or little brother who was being asked to hop in the car, to meet a stranger at an empty house, perhaps at 10 am or 8 pm, would you be so quick to judge?”

Because that is exactly what real estate agents are asked to do every single day.

Get a call, meet a stranger, maybe sell the house. Maybe we lose more than a few hours of our time. Maybe we lose our lives. I know it’s a sobering thought – but in what other industry does the phone ring, and the person on the other end run to meet a stranger outside the office without screening them for the ability and motivation to buy? It happens every day in real estate.

Just meet them at the office, right?

You may be thinking, so meet them at the office and then take them out. Spend a week in this business and you will realize just how hard that is to implement. The house may be on the east side of town and your office is on the west side. The buyer doesn’t want to drive to the office when he’s already in front of the house.

You’re already in the car when he calls and it’s just a few minutes to run over to the property anyway. Who wants to inconvenience the buyer and the agent who are both on the other side of town from the office?

Those are not even the best arguments for not going back to the office to meet the buyer. The best arguments come from the buyers themselves, who are trained or conditioned NOT to treat real estate agents as true professionals. We’re just door openers, people who get buyers access to the house.

Try quizzing a buyer about his wants or needs or motivations and you’ll find that many buyers don’t think they have to answer questions at all. They are so used to agents just making the appointment that when an agent tries to ask questions so he or she can advise and counsel that person, they resist.

“Just get me in. I just want to see the house,” is the mantra.

How practitioners can change this game

Things won’t change until agents stop playing the game and won’t make the appointment until meeting in person at the office, or at least answering a few basic questions. I would love to see every agent stop dropping everything to show a house to a buyer “just in town a few hours” on the chance the buyer is “the one” who buys the property.

Yes it’s a gamble, but in 15 years of doing this, I find it’s rarely the buyer who throws a tantrum and insists in instant access who is “the one.”

Buyers who are serious will answer our screening questions. They understand that we are professionals who need appointments to show them houses. And they respect our time and brains in the counseling/advising process. Those are the buyers we want to work with. Those are the buyers who deserve our time and attention. Not the buyers who pitch a fit when they call an agent’s cell phone late Friday night and get no answer. Not the buyers who are sitting in front of a home and demand an agent show up within five minutes.

I wish every agent working with buyers would read this and agree to stop caving in to buyer demands to instant access to houses and agents.

But if agents deny access, unfortunately the consumer will just pick up the phone and call the next agent on the list. And chances are that one agent on the list will be hungry enough, desperate enough, or just naive enough, to hop in the car and show the house.

Until we train our agents and enforce an office policy that discourages “Pop Tart” agents, consumer behavior won’t change.

This editorial was originally published in March of 2015.

Erica Ramus is the Broker/Owner of Ramus Realty Group in Pottsville, PA. She also teaches real estate licensing courses at Penn State Schuylkill and is extremely active in her community, especially the Rotary Club of Pottsville and the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce. Her background is writing, marketing and publishing, and she is the founder of Schuylkill Living Magazine, the area's regional publication. She lives near Pottsville with her husband and two teenage sons, and an occasional exchange student passing thru who needs a place to stay.

Op/Ed

Tips to identify & minimize employee’s ‘invisible’ tasks in the workplace

(EDITORIAL) Often meaningless, invisible tasks get passed down to interns and women. These go without appreciation or promotion. How can we change that?

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Two women in the office discussing invisible tasks.

Invisible work, non-promotable tasks, and “volunteer opportunities” (more often volun-told), are an unfortunate reality in the workforce. There are three things every employer should do in relation to these tasks: minimize them, acknowledge them, and distribute them equitably.

Unfortunately, the reality is pretty far from this ideal. Some estimates state up to 75% or more of these time-sucking, minimally career beneficial activities are typically foisted on women in the workplace and are a leading driver behind burnout in female employees. The sinister thing about this is most people are completely blind to these factors; it’s referred to as invisible work for a reason.

Research from Harvard Business Review* found that 44% more requests are presented to women as compared to men for “non-promotable” or volunteer tasks at work. Non-promotable tasks are activities such as planning holiday events, coordinating workplace social activities, and other ‘office housework’ style activities that benefit the office but typically don’t provide career returns on the time invested. The work of the ‘office mom’ often goes unacknowledged or, if she’s lucky, maybe garners some brief lip service. Don’t be that boss that gives someone a 50hr workload task for a 2-second dose of “oh yeah thanks for doing a bajillion hours of work on this thing I will never acknowledge again and won’t help your career.”  Yes, that’s a thing. Don’t do it. If you do it, don’t be surprised when you have more vacancies than staff. You brought that on yourself.

There is a lot of top-tier talent out there in the market right now. To be competitive, consider implementing some culture renovations so you can have a more equitable, and therefore more attractive, work culture to retain your top talent.

What we want to do:

  1. Identify and minimize invisible work in your organization
  2. Acknowledge the work that can’t be avoided. Get rid of the blind part.
  3. Distribute the work equitably.

Here is a simple example:

Step 1: Set up a way for staff to anonymously bring things to your attention. Perhaps a comment box. Encourage staff to bring unsung heroes in the office to your attention. Things they wish their peers or they themselves received acknowledgment for.

Step 2: Read them and actually take them seriously. Block out some time on your calendar and give it your full attention.

For the sake of demonstration, let’s say someone leaves a note about how Caroline always tidies up the breakroom at the end of the day and cleans the coffee pot with supplies Caroline brings from home. Now that we have identified a task, we are going to acknowledge it, minimize it, and consider the distribution of labor.

Step 3: Thank Caroline at the team meeting for scrubbing yesterday’s burnt coffee out of the bottom of the pot every day. Don’t gloss over it. Make the acknowledgment mean something. Buy her some chips out of the vending machine or something. The smallest gestures can have the biggest impact when coupled with actual change.

Step 4: Remind your staff to clean up after themselves. Caroline isn’t their mom. If you have to, enforce it.

Step 5: Put it in the office budget to provide adequate cleaning supplies for the break room and review your custodial needs. This isn’t part of Caroline’s job description and she could be putting that energy towards something else. Find the why of the situation and address it.

You might be rolling your eyes at me by now, but the toll of this unpaid invisible work has real costs.  According to the 2021 Women in the Workplace Report* the ladies are carrying the team, but getting little to none of the credit. Burnout is real and ringing in at an all-time high across every sector of the economy. To be short, women are sick and tired of getting the raw end of the deal, and after 2 years of pandemic life bringing it into ultra-sharp focus, are doing something about it. In the report, 40% of ladies were considering jumping ship. Data indicates that a lot of them not only manned the lifeboats but landed more lucrative positions than they left. Now is the time to score and then retain top talent. However, it is up to you to make sure you are offering an environment worth working in.

*Note: the studies cited here do not differentiate non-cis-identifying persons. It is usually worse for individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community.

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Op/Ed

Technology gurus thrive on marketing you bullshit, here’s what really works

(EDITORIAL) Technology gurus have fun tools to sell you and tricks to teach you, but I can tell you firsthand that it’s mostly bullshit.

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woman holding phone representing technology

I am known as a technologist. An avowed geek. An unapologetic adopter of shiny new objects. My passion is finding out how technology – specifically the internet, can make my job better, faster, and more profitable. It is also figuring out how the consumer intersects with the internet and how I can leverage this to create more business.

In years past, I bet heavily on internet lead generation, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and video email marketing. I researched the best platforms and practices, sought the counsel of the foremost experts and hired the best talent.

I had some great wins and surprising losses this year. I’ll get into that in a bit… but I realized that the real estate industry often markets tech on the internet as a replacement for human connection, as a convenience for the agent, and as a crutch for a basic lack of knowledge and expertise. In the real estate industry, technology is marketed as a shortcut to profits and that is complete bullshit.

Fair warning- this post is likely to get you riled up and deny that any of it applies to you. That’s cool. It probably doesn’t, so move along. I am not trying to derail your successful train. But this category of business tools creates stress for a lot of agents who feel left behind or “less than.”

About those gurus on stage at your favorite conferences

Listen to the gurus on stage and the vendors hawking their wares. According to them, the internet can provide a never-ending source of people who want to buy and sell (leads). It can eliminate the need to chase signatures or show homes. It can sell homes without the need to open it to strangers or tell you a home’s value instantly and automatically.

Wow. Get clients without dealing with real-time rejection. Show and sell homes with no physical effort. Find values with no expertise or local knowledge. Makes you wonder what human Realtors are going to do. Flip burgers, maybe?

Internet-based tools are an amazing enhancement to traditional skills and techniques, but it is often promoted as the miracle cure and wholesale replacement of skills and knowledge. I call this bullshit – but our industry is buying it.

The enticement of internet lead generation

Let’s start with internet lead generation. The surface promise is very enticing. Write a check and get a never-ending stream of people interested in real estate who have given up their contact information. No physical effort. No skill is required. No face-to-face rejection. Who wouldn’t sign up for that program?

But here is the problem. It takes a lot of money to do internet lead generation effectively. It takes a lot of resources to follow up and it generally takes time to create a sale. When you factor in all of these resources, internet lead generation is far sexier on paper than in practice.

Now, this does not mean lead generation isn’t a viable way to run a business. But it is best done in a team setting with proper resources to handle these leads effectively. In a team setting, internet lead generation is less likely to divert attention away from relationship building. And, for a single agent, it is a very dangerous place to “bet the farm”.

So I can pay more but get the same results?

The number of portals and agents competing for attention increases every month, so the resources required to stay level will also increase. This means it continually takes more money to get the same result… and this is where I call bullshit. The average agent is only seeing the tiny fraction of people making a profit from internet lead generation and they have no clue how costly internet lead generation actually is.

And that is another problem. How many agents use internet lead generation as a replacement for the much less “sexier” work of face-to-face prospecting? My guess is quite a few. I’ll confess. I tried replacing my traditional prospecting with a lead generation site. It was bullshit.

Another bullshit problem: social media

Here’s another technology coming between the consumer and the agent. Facebook, Twitter, and email marketing- loosely categorized as social media. When used as an easy, thoughtless, broadcast machine (as most agents do) the agent is following the idea that being seen- frequently- is the way to make the phones ring.

Agents have been doing this sort of “look at me!” advertising with postcards and print advertising for years. However, print costs lots of money and most will give some thought and attention before doing each piece. Social media is essentially free and nearly effortless, allowing agents to completely alienate their audience with their avalanche of tone-deaf posts and emails.

Now, at least this stuff is nearly free and the agent has resources left over for traditional relationship building. But, how much damage is done to potential real-life relationships with poor and uninformed social media tactics? The bullshit part is that free and easy should not mean tacky, thoughtless, and loud.

E-sigs aren’t the next coming of Christ

Here’s another thing. I thought electronic contracts and e-signatures were the best technology tool since sliced bread. And, used properly, it still is. Contracts can be signed at the consumer’s convenience and that can be a huge benefit for busy lives. All too often, though, e-signatures serve the agent or brokerage more than the client. There are situations where the client is best served with an in-depth explanation of the documents, but they are given an e-signature package instead.

This was one of my hardest realizations – I was completely guilty of choosing convenience over great representation. I told myself it was for the convenience of the client, but it really made my job a lot easier. This is not cool, it is bullshit.

I love technology, but…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am still the technology fan girl you know and love. But with each passing day, I am convinced that a lasting and enduring business is made with an authentic connection to the people in my community. Technology simply gives me the opportunity to make more of those connections.

I meet and interact with hundreds of people on local Facebook groups and these interactions have led to wonderful real-life meetings and lasting relationships. It is an amazing and efficient layer to my traditional community building and prospecting. But it is a layer. Nattering on Facebook all day long does NOT create enough engagement to create a business.

So, what were my wins?

I used technology to publish my internal checklists to my clients, bringing a new level of transparency and accountability to our transactions.

I went deep on an unreasonable number of CRM systems and I am getting close to having a system that enhances both the creation of business as well as the transaction.

I went even deeper into the concept of the paperless office. There are a lot of benefits to a paperless office, but for the consumer, it means anyone on my team can answer any question, anytime, anywhere.

And my losses?

What were my losses? The biggest loss was my investment in internet lead generation, and that was a real surprise. I invested heavily in the platform, in the tools, and in the human resources necessary to make a profit.

I learned what it takes to make this business strategy work, but I also learned that I would rather use my resources to build a local community.

Another “loss” was the lesson learned on e-signatures. I have retooled my process to make sure that certain critical points in the process- the purchase contract, escrow instructions, and going over disclosures, are no longer a simple e-signature packet.

Moving forward – join me?

As I enter the next year, I am focused on a few principles. Belly to belly rules. Technology done right is invisible. Build a community to build long-term trust. Make a difference.

Wanna join me?

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Op/Ed

Kakeibo: What we can learn from the Japanese art of spending wisely

(EDITORIAL) If regardless of how much money you make, it seems like you’re always short a buck, take a hard look at how you are spending. It could save you a lot.

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control your spending

Raise your hand if you have cash in your wallet.

What is a wallet you ask?

I jest. I know you know what a wallet is. (I hope.) But, sometimes I wonder if cash will go the way of the rotary phone. Seems most folks I know use debit cards, Venmo or their phones to pay for things nowadays.

Ever notice when you go to the store and have a debit or (worse) a credit card at your disposal, your plan to spend $20 ends up more like $50-$100. For example, anyone who shops at Target knows that when they ask you at the checkout, “Did you find everything you needed,” the answer is “ugh… Yes, and then some.”

Living in a plastic economy has made us less cognizant of how we spend money. But, leave it to the Japanese to have a system for putting the thought into buying. It’s called Kakeibo (pronounced kah-ke-boh) and it translates to “household finance ledger” and it’s something most Japanese folks learn to use from the time they are wee children.

The system began in 1904 and was “invented” by a woman name Hana Motoko (also known as Japan’s first female journalist), according to an article on MSNBC. The system is a no-frills way of approaching finances, whether personal or business.

Now, some folks are great at keeping a budget and knowing where the money is going. My mom, for example was the best bookkeeper. Unfortunately, her skills with money didn’t pass down to me. So, I actually purchased a Kakeibo book to try and get my finances in better shape.

You don’t need some special book (save your money), though you can find lots of resources online, including these downloadable forms, but in actuality all you need is a notebook (preferably one to take with you) and a pen. No Technology Required.

If you have been spending money and not knowing where it is going, then it’s going to take some work to change your habits around money.

In her article on MSNBC, Sarah Harvey says what makes Kakeibo different than using an Excel spreadsheet or budget software is the act of physically writing purchases down – it becomes a meditative way of processing spending habits. “Our spending habits are deeply cemented into our daily routine, and the act of spending also includes an emotional aspect that is difficult to detach from,” Harvey says.

As a business owner or entrepreneur, it is also easy to get sucked into believing you have to have new technology, systems and bells and whistles that maybe you don’t need – just yet. Spending goals for a business, just like a personal budget, are important if you plan to stay on track and not lose sight of where your money is going. Lord knows the money flies out the door when starting any new project.

Based on the Kakeibo system, there are some key questions to ask before buying anything that is nonessential (whether for your home or business):

  • Can I live without this item?
  • Can I afford it? (Based on my finances)
  • Will I actually use it?
  • Do I have space for it?
  • How did I find the item in the first place? (Did I see it in an IG feed? Did I come across it after wandering into a store, am I bored?)
  • What is my emotional state today? (Calm? Stressed? Celebratory? Feeling bad about myself?)
  • How do I feel about buying it? (Happy? Excited? Indifferent? And how long will this feeling last?)

For Harvey, who learned about Kakeibo while living in Japan, using the system forced her to think more about why she was making purchases. And, she says it doesn’t mean you should cut out the joy of buying, just possibly making better choices when needing retail therapy on a crappy day. She found the small changes she was making were having a positive impact on her savings.

How to be more mindful when spending:

  • See something you like, wait 24 hours before buying. Still need it?
  • Don’t be a sucker for sales.
  • Check your bank balance often. Can you afford what you’re buying?
  • Use cash. It’s a different feeling having that money in your hand and letting it go.
  • Put reminders in your wallet. What are your goals? Big trip. Then, do you really need new headphones, a bigger TV, a new iPhone, etc.
  • Pay attention to what causes you to spend. Are you ordering every monthly service because of some Instagram influencer or, because of some marketing you get online. Change your habits, change your life.

Using the Kakeibo system of a notepad and pen or a Kakeibo book for the process can help you identify goals you have for the week, month and year and allow you to stay on track. Remember, cash is still king.

This story was first published here in January of 2020.

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