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Simple stupid business advice from a Swiss building mural

Taking advice from the Swiss

The above mural covers an office building in Zurich and is well known by locals who see it from the train as they pull into the Zurich station. Some say it is in English because the language is more concise, others say it is because the sense/nonsense joke works best in English, but it is unclear as to why it is not in German, the most common language.

In the spirit of K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid), a common American business concept, the above is a gentle reminder of how to work better. As a real estate professional, the ten points of advice can be applied as follows:

1. Do one thing at a time.

Real estate professionals are commonly pulled in a million directions and one of the most common complaints we hear about Realtors is returning calls to clients. The phone rings while you’re on a tour, it rings while you’re driving, it rings while you’re in a closing, it rings while you’re eating, it rings while you’re doing a listing presentation, it rings while you sleep. On top of that, Realtors are feeling pressured to tweet/facebook/blog 24 hours a day in addition to traditional business tasks like creating and presenting listing presentations, negotiations with other agents, calling banks and lenders and waiting on hold, etc. The Swiss say to do one thing at a time, so instead of tweeting while your clients peruse the listing agreement, keep your phone away and focus 100% on them, not as proof of a cheesy slogan about how your clients are number one, but because you care to tend to one thing at a time and you tend to it well.

2. Know the problem.

The pressure and pace of real estate leads some to jump to conclusions. We’ve seen many a Realtor call another Realtor screaming about this or that, to find out that they are running on the assumption of information that is days old. Additionally, this Swiss reminder calls the real estate profession to do their homework. Know a neighborhood inside and out, not just the one house you’re looking to list- know when the streets were built, if anything historic has happened in the subdivision, and know that this listing was built by the current owner. Knowing as much as possible helps you to know a problem before it is a problem.

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3. Learn to listen.

You’ve been on the other end of a transaction with a loud agent who won’t listen, right? The agent can’t hear that you’re simply saying the inspector noticed a massive bee colony on the property and there is a nonprofit who the homeowner can bring out for free to remove it, instead the agent hears you imposing an obstacle and flips out. There is much power in negotiations for those who listen.

4. Learn to ask questions.

This advice is twofold for the real estate profession- first, don’t make assumptions because it could cost you your license, and second, questions can be more powerful than statements sometimes. “I hate that house,” the buyer tells you. Some agents will say “well let’s keep looking, we’ll find the right one,” but could have asked “what do you hate about it? If you could change one thing and make it worthy, what would that be?” Without asking, you’re doing a disservice to your client who may not know something can be requested at the time of offer, or you may not hear their objections which will possibly thwart your future showings if you don’t discover them.

5. Distinguish sense from nonsense.

Every Realtor would do well to refine their BS-dar. Know when an opposing Realtor is lying or stretching the truth, and refine your ability to read a lender… over time, noting the key words your lender uses that distinguishes an on-time closing from a delayed closing can save you time and money. Also, be able to distinguish between something that makes sense and something that doesn’t. Seeking the eco-Broker certification so you can add alphabet soup to your business card to impress clients makes no sense if you don’t plan on ever practicing green real estate or if it doesn’t exist in your area.

6. Accept change as inevitable.

Real estate is an industry that has a great number of people flocking to social networks and crawling all over each other to be the tech savviest, but if the economy were booming and the housing sector wasn’t in survival mode, we would hear a lot more about how silly social networking is. But, economies change, technologies change, that Treo in your hand isn’t being made anymore and the refurbished models are almost out, so when that dies, you’ll have to evolve to a smartphone. The MLS book is no longer printed out, and if you haven’t had a client insist on communicating through text message only, you will. Things change, and if you can’t accept change, your business life will be rough.

7. Admit mistakes.

Do you know how many lawsuits could be avoided by someone saying, “sorry, I shouldn’t have done that, how can I make it right?” How many broken professional relationships are there because someone couldn’t simply say “I failed to deliver because [insert reasons] and you deserve better, I apologize.” In the litigious world of real estate, many are groomed to never admit mistakes, and E&O providers will disagree with me here, but simply saying “I did not update you as often as I could have because I didn’t have any news for you and was anxious right along with you, I am very sorry” could curb the “you were in Aruba for the summer and didn’t sell my home, I’m suing for damages” baloney.

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8. Say it simple.

Saying things in simple terms is always ideal. Why do you think the government is attempting to redesign mortgage disclosure forms to make it super simple for any consumer to understand? Right or wrong, their belief is that if many consumers clearly knew what they were getting into (rather than just signing on the dotted line in exchange for keys), many of the defaulted loans would never have taken place. Additionally, imagine for a moment your favorite public speaker… do they speak in jargon or at a diction level only an English professor would understand? Probably not. The most popular public speakers are very clear and concise and speak in simple, easy to understand language and their craft is often in simplifying the complex.

9. Be calm.

When the lender calls telling you the appraisal has knocked yet another closing out, your listing client is calling to scream that it is day 100 and no offers have been made, and your spouse is yelling that you need to figure out how to get health insurance because your kiddos are sick so frequently. Real estate and life are stressful, but every great leader portrays calm not only for themselves but for people around them. In wartime, you will never see a President get on tv and scream insanely, rather, he or she will read a prepared speech that is calm and hopefully reassuring, thus keeping the nation as calm as possible. Calmness is contagious.

10. Smile.

Did you know that when you answer the phone while smiling, the person on the other end can hear your smile? It is a fact. When you are listening to someone and it is appropriate, smile. Many people say “well, I’m not a smiley” person, and for most it is true, but it is a habit that can be developed and the easiest way to do so is to smile the entire time you are on the phone (unless delivering bad news, because again, people can hear your smile). It is tough out there and not just for Realtors but for struggling homeowners and millions who are jobless. One smile can go a long way toward reassuring other people as well as simply brightening someone’s day. No one wants to be around a Debby Downer.

Thank you, Swiss people, for this simple business advice. In America, we will try to smile more, try to simplify as much as we can, we will listen, stay calm, and admit mistakes.

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Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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