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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

Enough, is Enough: how much minimalism do you need to succeed?

(EDITORIAL) Nobody starts a business praying for failure and debt. But, if we don’t identify what is enough for us, we can have a hard time pulling ourselves out.

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Enough peace

You’re scrolling on Facebook when you notice your friend’s feed, and the most recent post says, “You are enough.” You may recoil and think to yourself, “blech” what does that even mean? Touchy feely crap. I am “enough.” Ha! I’ll show you enough.

While exploring the concept of being enough may make some folks queasy. Asking the question: How does “enough” translate from our lives to our business? is it relevant and can help us get to our raison d’etre, our sweet spot, our perfect pitch, our business manifesto. And, what is “enough” for us in planning our life and business goals.

Recently, I was watching a British show on Netflix. The gist is an “expert” goes around to businesses to help them update their brands and improve business. In one episode, the host walks into a man’s clothing shop and asks the owner about his wares. He explains in one section he has clothing for the “fat bastards” (I am not making this up – he literally says that), in another section he has styles for the “trendy” kids, in another section, clothes for the businessman.

The owner thinks he’s doing great, but his sales suck, his customer service sucks and he doesn’t understand why.

From the outside looking in, it seems pretty obvious, the guy is trying to serve everyone and in doing so, he’s doing a crap job of serving anyone. Plus, he was rude and literally didn’t understand that calling customers fat bastards wasn’t good customer service.

From a business point of view, this guy had no concept of what it meant to be “enough” because he was trying to serve too many potential customers and it was a very disjointed effort.

His problem is not unusual. Think about it. Haven’t you gone into a locally owned business to find it selling too many items that make no sense? Kind of a like a gift shop gone wild. You look around and see things you like, but you get confused and leave without making a purchase. Instead, you walk a few doors down to the store that specializes in jeans or shirts or cool shoes and you drop some virtual Benjamins.

In his blog, Paul Jarvis expounds on the idea of being enough. He says, “In order to be more aware of what makes sense for our lives and businesses, we need to be aware of what enough means.”

And, that my friends, depends on who you are. Enough to me may not be enough for you. But, Jarvis explains is that, it can’t be minimalism for Instagram’s sake. Meaning, we aren’t truly living in an enough “state” if we are trying to be what we think others want to see.

Let’s not get caught up in the “yeah, but it’s Paul Jarvis.” Cuz, he also states this isn’t about judging others, because if you ain’t got much, it can seem pretty patronizing for someone to tell you to live with less. And, that isn’t what we’re talking about here.

If we go back to the business concept, consider Apple. The company started off building computers. It veered into phones and watches, but still tied to the idea of smaller versions of its computers. It stayed pretty true to itself. The concept was built around one product. The stores make that product shine. And, we as consumer feel we aren’t enough until we have the newest gadget and gizmo they sell. Brilliant.

For you having the latest gaming system or all the streaming channels may be the thing. For me, I get by with basic cable and Netflix. My enough isn’t yours.

So, if we are being truly cognizant of what we want in our business and lives, we need to understand what enough is for us. Not what is enough based on someone’s feed on Instagram, showing them with the Lambo (rented) and fancy clothes (rented) and fancy location (maxed credit card). We need to consider where we, from a truly authentic space, can live in enough.

Per Jarvis:
“Enough is the antithesis of unchecked growth because growth encourages mindless consumption and enough requires constant questioning and awareness. Enough is when we reach the upper bound of what’s required. Enough revenue means our business is profitable and can support however many employees/freelancers we have, even if it’s just one person. Enough income means we can live our lives with a bit of financial ease, and put something away for later. Enough means our families are fed, have roofs over their heads and their futures are considered. Enough stuff means we have what we need to live our lives without excess.”

One way to think about enough is to sit back and consider what would be your perfect day. If you were doing what you wanted – no holding back – what would your day look like. Imagine it. Are you really shopping and dropping $1k on a pair of shoes? Maybe. Or, are you hanging out with someone you love, doing work the way you want, having some food, walking your dog, doing yoga, CrossFit, etc., enjoying dinner and heading to bed?

If you think about business in the same way, what would your business look like? Would it be like 7-Eleven with Slurpee’s, Slim Jim’s, lottery tickets and birthday cards? Or, would it look more refined? Because, Target and Walmart have a lock on mega shopping experiences. 7-Eleven has a lock on, it’s 4 a.m., I’m wasted and need crap food.

Consider, how does your idea of equilibrium impact the outcome of your business, your work, your idea of success?

Most of us would love to be wealthy and that is our guidepost when it comes to the idea of business success. But, when evaluating it from the perspective of “enough” our viewpoint might change if one considers debt load to profit or unsold, stolen or damaged goods to profit. If you have more debt than cash, are you enough?

“Where things can go awry is when we never consider what enough is as a marker,” Jarvis says. “When this happens, we don’t solve for enough or optimize for it, we just keep going and going with more and more.”

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Op/Ed

How can you prevent deepfakes trickery?

(EDITORIAL) It’s hard enough to get a complete story about anything, but the use of deepfakes makes that process harder. How can you prevent from being tricked?

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facial recognition deepfakes

Deepfakes are some the latest content entering social media and digital news outlets. Deepfakes are false photos and videos created by artificial intelligence, that at first glance, can pass off as authentic imagery.

Deepfake content appears as a person in a real picture or video that is replaced by someone else’s appearance. The deepfake can then go on to pose as the real person doing or saying things that never happened. As one can imagine, it’s possible the Internet can take one joke too far and unleash a deepfake with insidious motives.

So what are some ways to spot one of these fake videos? One of the telltale signs is the mismatched lighting or discoloration on the person’s face. Another tip is to check for blurring edges around the lips, jawline, chin, and neck where the AI is trying to superimpose the fake image atop the real one. Lip-synching can be tricky, but it helps to watch and listen to how the audio is matching up.

To some, these tips may be pretty obvious, but not everyone is familiar with editing techniques and deepfakes can pop up many places online. As of now there are no reliable programs available to catch these inconsistencies so it’s up to us to pay attention to the media we consume (the zoom tool is a BFF). With AI and software development, this fake content will only become more convincing. Fortunately, companies and even states are taking action to ban deepfakes online.

Some companies are tiptoeing the line of normalizing this kind of technology, and many people seem to be fine with that, so long as it’s for a laugh. The problem with laughing at something that looks real, but is fake, is that that can conversely cause someone to minimize something that is real because the viewer thinks it’s fake. This mentality helps no one, and can only hurt our understanding of the events that happen around us.

Ultimately, and for now, viewers should keep our heads up while online to spot the seams in our reality.

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Op/Ed

Confessions of a productive person: keeping a clean desk

(EDITORIAL) Being a productive, clean person is nowhere near as difficult as it sounds – start with these simple steps focused on reduction in your life.

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productive desk

We keep a clean office, there’s no secret about that, and the desks are usually clear of papers and clutter. Some call it minimalism, others call it clean, but mostly people just call it “wow” and ask how we keep such clean lives.

Studies show that your brain is hardwired to have cluttered thought patterns when you are surrounded by clutter, yes, even those of you that live in a pile of papers (which of course you have “a system” for). It can be intimidating to even get started when you have a messy office, but there are a few things that anyone can do to regain control and help your brain function at its optimal rate, improve productivity, and prove to clients and coworkers that you mind the details like no one else.

Friends and coworkers ask me constantly how I get so much done in the average day, and it isn’t because of my smartphone, no, it’s because I am a focused workhorse. A huge part of that is keeping a very clean environment. Let’s talk about why that’s important (and why you should ignore the “buut geniuses have messy desks” bullcrap editorials).

Perhaps you put to do items on post it notes or pieces of paper, or you pile up files that need to be dealt with – one of the most common reasons desks are messy. This method of task management is ineffective and tells your brain to panic because what you’re doing right now may or may not be as important as those 35 stickies, so you either pause frequently to reflect on the dozens of other unprioritized tasks, or your brain constantly churns in the background having been distracted with this mess that represents tasks, or you simply learn to tune the noise out, which defeats the purpose of your reminder system.

To change this, either implement tech tools to manage your tasks (search this site for “task management” and see dozens of tools) or keep one pad of paper or journal on your desktop.

minimalism

Another common item on desks is what? Envelopes. One of the tricks I’ve found is that no matter the envelope, it gets torn open and processed while I’m on hold or on a conference call I don’t have to speak on. Before you leave for the day, every bill should be torn open and either dealt with, filed, or if you must keep it on your desk, have a beautiful inbox or even a clipboard to keep them all in the same spot.

There are much more sophisticated methods, but let’s face it, you have to start small to ensure good habits. The same goes for files – be smart about processing paper in your down time.

My core confession that you may have picked up on so far is that I love to trash stuff.

I didn’t used to be this way, I used to hoard paper, but it is how I began my journey toward being more productive – trashing. Remember that every time you throw just one envelope away, you’re making progress that is tangible, and you should learn to enjoy that progress and associate positive feelings with keeping things clean.

What else holds you back from keeping a clean work area and focusing on your tasks for the day? Often, books pile up or files start stacking themselves up magically. I’ve found that having aesthetically appealing storage systems (boxes, filing cabinets, files, pen holders, etc.) make you feel rewarded for using them. It’s a subtle trick, but if you invest in your desk accouterments, you feel compelled to use them, which inadvertently keeps you organized.

Look, these are simple things to do – ditch sticky notes, deal with mail and files before you leave for the day, and surround yourself with beautiful tools that keep you organized. This is where it begins – instead of being addicted to hoarding crap on your desk, work on rewiring your brain to enjoy reduction.

This editorial was originally published in November of 2013.

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