The “OPEN” Open House

People in sales are taught early on to build a big list of possible leads. After all, there is no customer or client who was not at first a prospect. So, we want to identify those people as soon as possible. Not everyone we encounter will be realistic, creditworthy, or even seriously looking for what we have to offer. Why waste their time, why waste ours? We collect names, numbers, email addresses, zodiacal signs, whatever it takes to pour all those prospects into the “funnel” so one true customer will shake out of the bottom.

For those of us in real estate, the open house is the ideal place to begin that sifting process. If there is a house for sale, what better way to get potential buyers interested in the property than to simply invite them inside. We greet them at the front porch before they even knock on the door, put the biggest smile on our faces possible, and bring them in so we can all get to know each other a little better. We shake hands to introduce ourselves, and never let go of their hand until they give us their name. Then, we attempt to find out where they currently live, and ask if they need to move in a hurry. We study their attire, and glance at their car to assess financial ability. Once we finally leave the foyer, we are sure to give them the “grand tour”, so when we point to a toilet, they will know they are in the bathroom. All along, we probe for even more information on them, their family, and lifestyle. If this model fits your approach to an open house; congratulations, you’re a stalker!

Stalkers love to gather information, and keep current records. However, a good stalker will reveal just enough information themselves to keep their new victim under their thumb. The really adept ones will take control of the situation, so no one can get away without being on the hook for something. Perhaps the name of a friend or family member they could stalk as well. Oh, our timeshare counterparts love this one! But, is this an effective approach, or are we just wasting our energy on someone who we teach to resent us?

My decade-and-a-half experience in real estate, and hundreds of open houses within that time, have led me to some pointers to help create a more efficient open house experience which is a lot less energy draining than most. In the process, the sales professional will come across a lot less… creepy.

DO leave the front door open in the Spring and Summer months. After all it is an “open” house. This is more inviting, and suggests prospective buyers eventually get to leave.

DON’T be ready to ponce on them in a moments notice. In fact, let them find YOU. A sheepish “hello?” from you down the hall signals they are not going to be placed on the defensive.

DO introduce yourself as an industry professional. Hand them your business card, and let them know you are there to answer any questions they may have. If you are not the listing agent for that property, EXPLAIN to them you would work for the buyer, and could even show them several other properties.

DON’T lead them through the house. They know a bedroom when they encounter one. Once introductions are made, tell them you are available to them, and WALK AWAY. They will be perplexed, confused and befuddled that you don’t want to know their blood type. They will then seek you out for details.

DO ask broad, open-ended questions “What are YOU looking for in a home”, versus “What do you like about THIS home”? This will let them know you are on their side, and help create a dialogue.

DON’T hand them the open house flyer until they leave. You want them to ask you the questions about square footage, acreage, schools, etc. The intent here really is not to “control” the situation, simply to show the lookers you don’t bite, and are happy to help them however you can. This also sparks conversation, which could lead to a professional relationship once trust is established. At this point, give them ALL of the public information the MLS will allow.

Some additional ideas to solicit contact information;

– Ask them to fill out a very brief survey about the house. Include a heading for all their pertinent info.

– Offer a prize drawing to be conducted at your office once a month, or for the week if you pool with other Realtors. The information they give here tends to be more accurate since they want to be notified should they win.

– Actually schedule an appointment in your office, where you will take time to better understand their buying needs.

By allowing the prospect to take the lead, you assure them that you are NOT a stalker. They will also feel positive and empowered by the process. Along the way, they should feel better about you if not our industry as a whole. No, not every prospect will convert to a client, but you will have saved yourself a lot disappointment not wondering if you could have been more in control of the situation.

Having said all this, you do need a few tricks up your sleeve for safely sake. Your Broker should know where you are, and there should be a red flag code word, should you feel compelled to call a friend, or into the office. Unfortunately, Realtor safety concerns are paramount in today’s world, but that is another discussion. In the meantime, consult your Broker’s office policies concerning open house safety.

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A Realtors Stock in Trade

Every other year, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) publishes its statistical findings from the year prior. One of those reports is the Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. The publication reports buying and selling trends in real estate as well as other influencers affecting the market. One stat I find especially interesting every two years is how buyers actually found the home they bought.

In the latest edition, print media was dead last. That’s no surprise to anyone. The overall effectiveness of signs has wavered somewhat as well. But at the top of the list is the internet with half the total. Just below that, with 28% was the real estate agent. What the report does not take into account is how many of those online views are from a public version of a Multiple Listing Service (MLS) or an agent’s website.

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I remember over a dozen years ago, those top two numbers were flipped! Back then, several real estate experts were concerned that the internet was going to be the end of their profession. Without a Realtor to help buyers locate a suitable home, the industry would just shrivel up. “After all, if they don’t need us to find a home, what do they NEED US for?”

Decades ago, the general public assumed the most important thing an agent did was help locate a home. Why the experts gave in to that way of thinking is beyond me. Unless you are in a very rural area, it’s not about helping clients FIND a home but rather to GET a home. Realtors do so much behind the scenes to make a family’s dream a reality. And there is the problem… it’s too much behind the scenes. We need to better inform our people of the actions we take to work for them.  Otherwise, they assume we did nothing, especially when they locate the house. No one considers a material defect or liability issue until they have one.

And now the industry is ringing its hands again anxious that an online retailer is going to get in the act. How will this change the industry dynamics? Even Zillow is worried about it! Relax… it’s not day trading, it’s real estate. Abraham Lincoln once stated; “A lawyer’s time and advice is his stock and trade.” The same is correct for real estate agents. A seasoned expert has been around the block a few times and knows how to guide her clients. Great attention to detail must be given for a house to close. The type of attention given by a local individual, not a website and customer service pods half way around the world.

I recall about fifteen years ago, there was a large retail chain looking to get into the realty business. The idea was to have kiosks set up in their stores where customers could browse listings of properties in the area. They would sit down with a store clerk and simply “put in the order.” There were even a few pilot programs to test the waters. In the end, the mega retailer dropped the project. It was just too much of a hassle.

Holiday Listings

Each year, about this time, Realtors across the country hear those same three little words “…after the Holidays”. The real estate market tends to go into an economic hibernation for a couple of months as activity slows down. Our focus shifts from seeking listings and promoting sales activities to turkey and hanging out with the family.  We plan our cross-country trips, hang the lights, buy gifts for our loved ones, and make sure we are stocked up on eggnog. Mmmm, eggnog!

For our clients, it is just as stressful a time of the year as for us! Not to mention the kids. Oh yeah, they’re around! Many times, the last thing our sellers want is the added stress of selling a home. So, each year, about this time, we resign ourselves to having a slow month or two. These are all valid points, but certainly not the only points to ponder. This December could be a productive work month if you know how to position yourself.

Occasionally, I will send out a postcard to my farm area entitled “8 Reasons to List during the Holidays”.  The intent was not only to promote myself and the services I could provide, but also to create a shift in the mind of the seller who had already decided to put off listing until the New Year. I would also send the little card to my current listings who I knew might expire during this period. I will share a few of those ideas with you.

First, the listed home is already looking pretty! No need to “tidy up” before a showing or make the place look festive, or bake wonderful smelling cookies in the oven to make it all seem like home. It already does. The owners did your staging for you!  There’s also no need to cut the grass just before a showing appointment.

For sale in snowAnother good consideration is the Holiday schedule itself. Many times, manufacturing plants and other businesses will completely shut down for a couple of weeks.  This means those “by confirmed appointment” sellers are now much more flexible, and easier to reach by phone. The brokers appointment system can simply block out important family days and sub-Holidays like New Years Eve. Buyers are in the same boat with extended vacation and many want to take advantage of the free time.

Another key factor, and perhaps the most important, is a smaller market! Remember, a lot of sellers are thinking “…after the Holidays”, and the inventory actually shrinks. Real estate is already competitive, so why not take advantage while the competition is on hiatus. Not to mention, come January, all those new and “new again” listings will twinkle in our MLS system like lights on a tree.

Plenty of people, people just don’t want to get out in the cold. However, if someone is willing to bundle up, schedule an appointment, and take a meeting with a Realtor in the dead of Winter, they’re serious! It’s a good opportunity to eliminate the “Looky Loos” who are less than serious and think of house hunting as a hobby. Buyers are also stressed out and otherwise involved, yet if they take the time to see a home with your sign in the yard, they may just be willing to put ink on paper. You couldn’t give your sellers a better gift!

These are all great considerations when it comes to working for your clients, but there are distinct advantages for the professional as well. Not only is the overall market better for our clients, but it’s better for YOU! For years, I have made myself available to anyone and everyone who want to buy or sell. Without fail, I always pick up new clients at this time because everyone else had their phones turned off. Consistently, I heard stories of how people must have called a dozen agents, but no one picked up or returned their call. Well, I do, and I get new clients out of it, too. Some of them will be people relocating to the area in a few weeks or months, and had this time to look for properties. I don’t mind the delayed gratitude if I know the buyers are serious.

Yes, there are a lot of points to consider during the Holiday season, but your mental default should not be that of “Nobody wants to buy or sell during the Holidays”.  By working smart and being available, you just might be able to put a nice little bow on the end of your business year.

 

So, Just ASK Already!

Do not underestimate the power of asking for that which you desire. In business, it is generally expected that after the “pitch”, comes the “ask”. It must be in that order, too. Why would a buyer or potential client do business with someone else, without knowing all the facts first? As Realtors, we rehearse our presentation and practice eliminating objections, but we give little consideration to actually getting the ink on paper. Too often, business people sit back after we have shown all the graphs, answered all the questions, and simply STARE at the prospect. The prospect finds this really creepy, by the way. Without asking for the order, the default answer is always “No”. Perhaps worse than not actually asking for the contract, we may give the feckless “so, what do you think”?

Asking also plays a big role in charities, recreation, and civic organizations as well. Years ago, I was curious as to why there wasn’t more participation in the annual Chili cook-off in my real estate office. The Managing Broker of the company told me, “Some times, people just want to be asked”. That really struck me as odd. This was something we did every year in the Fall, and everyone always partook and had fun. So, it’s not like people didn’t know to enter the contest, especially since it was posted, mentioned in a meeting, and followed up in email. After all, if an opportunity was available, or a position open, such as “Snack Chairman” for the high school volleyball team, wouldn’t people just raise their own hand, and say; “yes, I would relish the opportunity to be the Snack Chair this year”. I followed her guidance, and sure enough, we were able to double the participants, and everyone enjoyed the party.

Some time later, that same real estate broker needed to fill an Office Manager position at the firm. She must have had over a dozen applicants. She selected three or four potential hires for an interview. After the process, she confided in me, her decision came down to the one interviewee who actually ASKED for the job. I was under the assumption being grilled for twenty minutes on what animal you would be if you lived in a forest, WAS asking for the job. Apparently, not. The lady stated how much she really needed the job, and actually vocalized the words; “Will you hire me?”. Turned out, she was a really good fit for the office, and she never for a second indicated she took the position for granted.

Seeking a favor puts us at a disadvantaged position. When negotiating, we want to come from a position of power and strength, but in asking, we admit the ball is in the other person’s court. Many times, the ball IS NOT in our own court, and coming to that realization puts a knot in our stomach. Nonetheless, formally requesting the business is where the rubber meets the road. Even being denied your request is certainly a better position to come from than; making your presentation, dodging objections and being grilled for half an hour, only to toss out “So, what do you think” in the end. My advice; swallow your pride, and just ask!

May I Offer a Little Friendly Advice?

There is an old saying: “Free advice is only worth what you paid for it”. Well, hold on! Not everything that is free is completely worthless. Consider the air we breathe. Yes, there are times when advice can be good and beneficial to its receiver. There is another adage: “The best things in life are… FREE”. Perhaps more than the actual advice, we should better scrutinize the source. WHO is the one imparting the sage wisdom? Are they actually a sage? In other words, is it someone who actually has experience in that field?

When I was in business school, we had the occasional adjunct professor teach some of the upper class courses. An “adjunct” was someone who was not on regular staff, but still worked in the industry of which they were teaching. That being the case, they were usually night classes. I always had this feeling that the regular faculty didn’t like adjuncts. Nonetheless, THEY are the ones from whom I learned the most. If I saw an instructors name in the course catalog I didn’t recognize, I knew it was probably a business owner or CEO. It would be someone I could ask real-world questions and get a straight answer. An answer based on experience and not what was already written in the textbook. In other words, I valued their advice.

In real estate, it is estimated over half of all agents nationally quit after the first year in the industry.   One major reason for the high turnover is rookies feel they are not adequately trained in the BUSINESS of real estate. Over a decade ago, I was a real estate trainer for one of the largest RE/Max franchises in the country. It was a job I enjoyed and held that position for about five years. The program I put in place for new agents was hugely successful as evidenced by the stint of their careers. The training was said to be so good that veteran agents of other companies would recommend their friends who wanted to get into real estate to come see me! The managing broker loved me.

Given the acclaim from within as well as externally, you would think all the newbies would always hang on to every word I said in our training meetings, right? Nope! A new agent would knock on my office door and ask “Do you have a minute”? I always made the time. Once they asked a question or told me of a challenge they were having, I would tell them the best course of action or even offer a couple of suggestions. USUALLY, it was based on an experience I actually had throughout the course of my own career. I was puzzled the times they would not heed my words and go it their own way, sometimes re-inventing the wheel.

On one particular incident, one of my agents asked if she could simply use the old house photos from an online listing that had expired with another company. Though I had never heard of such, I told her it was best she take her own listing photos and “start fresh”. Simple enough, right? It may have been laziness on her part, but it certainly was not by accident she posted the old agents pictures online. Three days later the broker of the expired listing’s company called my broker and words were exchanged. I believe the topic was intellectual property rights. Once my young agent caught wind of the conversation, she called the old agent and further exacerbated the situation. Feelings were hurt and there was now bad blood between the two firms, which in real estate is NOT good. Not good at all. All she had to do was take my advice… and her own damned photos.

What I realized was there are people who seek validation rather than unbiased advice. They have an idea and go to the expert. IF the expert agrees… YAY! But if the veteran dissents, they simply do what it is they really wanted to do all along. I use to be extremely annoyed by this, as I considered my time was wasted. Now I see it is part of being human. To varying degrees we all do this. We get it in our head what we want to do, but ask opinions of others to cover ourselves. This is why it is vitally important to suspend making final decisions on important issues until enough workable information is in. Granted, it’s hard to separate our emotions from a logical decision. That’s the human part I was talking about. Consider all the down on their luck gamblers in Las Vegas; a prime example of not separating ideas from emotion.

Real estate is a tough career, but so is public speaking. I’m not even talking about being on stage. That is only 10% of it, the tip of the iceberg. As a public speaker and corporate trainer, I have about ten people a year ask me how to get started as a motivational speaker. I always stop what I am doing and take time to talk to them and answer any question they have. Why? Because a lot of successful speakers along the way stopped to talk to ME. They gave me advice and I took it. I always let novice speakers know the one most IMPORTANT bit of advice I can spare for someone just getting in the business; join Toastmasters International. Toastmasters is a public speaking club where one can learn the skills. The cost is only about $100 annually and generally, members are warm and welcoming. So, how many would-be Tony Robbins took me up on my advice? None! Not a single person I ran into again or called a month later actually joined Toastmasters. My guess is their dream is more attractive than the actual work of bringing it into reality.

My advice to you: the next time you seek someone’s opinion and their idea is contrary to what you initially thought, do further fact finding. However, they may be able to spare you some heartaches and stress. Has this person actually done what it is you want to do? If not, then WHY are you asking them?  Find someone qualified with real-world experience. If something isn’t as easy as you originally thought it was, you’re probably on the right track.

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I Remain Neutral!

In real estate, a big part of the professional’s job is to advise his or her clients. When it comes to working with sellers, many times it is necessary to advise them as to their choice of color schemes. This is a very delicate situation since, the last thing we want to do is insult our client’s sense of taste by recommending they repaint or do some light remodeling. It implies there was an issue with their choices in decorating. Yet, that is exactly what we must do with our clients many times… ADVISE, not insult.

Utilizing colors of a light or medium hue shows a room at its maximum size. OK, the dimensions don’t change at all, but white does better reflect the light, which makes it APPEAR to be decoratelarger than the same room painted, say… brown. It also minimizes the shock value of the sportsman who tours a house where the little girl really loved pink. No matter the size of the back yard, he’s just going to remember the pink bedroom.

Often, we speak in terms of using “neutral colors”. But keep in mind, those who are design challenged, don’t know what neutrals are. Otherwise, there probably would not be an issue in the first place. I provide a palette to my clients of off-white, parchment, gray (really light gray), eggshell, or even (I’m about to go nuts, here) taupe and beige. I simply create some “swatches” on my computer, print it off, and hand it to them.

Yes, in larger homes, potential buyers do expect a certain amount of professional decor. However, the blood red walls of a large dining room that might have worked a few years ago, will not work in the living room of a 1200 square foot home now. It’s simply too gloomy.

If you have been in the business long enough, you have come across the Tennessee football fan who painted the outdoor trim in U.T. Vols orange. By the way, he KNOWS he has to paint it, but just doesn’t want to go through the hassle. This is your opportunity to advise your client. He’s waiting for it! Besides, what if the eventual buyer is from Alabama? As I tell my sellers, “I’m not trying to guess what the one in ten will like, but rather avoid what I know the nine in ten will not like. Don’t let a bad paint job stand between you and your closing the sale, or worse your clients ultimate goal… selling the house.