Jeff Mullins, the real thing

Recently, I had the good fortune to sit down with prominent business owner and one of my best friends, Jeff Mullins. Jeff is the proprietor of J. Mullins Jewelry and Gifts at 352 W. Northfield Blvd. here, in Murfreesboro. The reason for the interview was a long-time curiosity of what it takes to create a successful business. In this and subsequent Business Momentum articles for the Murfreesboro Pulse, I will look at how to start and maintain a business, as well as advice to take and pitfalls to avoid. The segments will feature new or re-branded businesses in the area.

 

(As usual, Jeff has me laughing)

If starting a business or wishing to purchase a new accessory, Mullins is a good source.  He has a long-standing history of success. Labs can create fake diamonds in a matter of years rather than centuries, but they are not the real thing. Department store counters and online websites will come and go, but Jeff Mullins has stood the test of time. He’s the real thing!

 

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.

http://MomentumSeminars.com

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.

where-buyers-found-the-homes-they-purchased-04-23-2019-2400w-2619h

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!

SHOW Them You Mean Business!

Sales can be a fickle thing. Fickle because professional salesperson has to deal with other human beings. With that, comes all the thoughts, feelings, miscommunication and paranoia of those prospective clients. Throw a new home in the mix and you have a recipe for disaster!

In any industry, the onus to explain the process of how a customer can take advantage of a product or service falls to the sales professional. Ethically, this should include all the caveats of finalizing the agreement and disclosures any unforeseen liabilities. In real estate, this is a part of an agent’s fiduciary (financial) responsibility. A Realtor may market well and give sound advice when an offer comes in, but what about the period in between?

This is the time where clients, especially sellers, have the most anxiety and need a little bit of hand-holding. Yes, dealing with someone else’s emotions and frustrations is part of the job.  If one becomes a real estate agent because he loves beautiful homes, but dislikes dealing with people and their problems, then he is in exactly the WRONG industry. At the risk of sounding cliche, it really IS a people business. The best way take the temperature of your client and avoid a potential melt down is with good communication. That means preparing them from the very beginning.

People want to be led through the real estate process. They want to know what to expect. There are hundreds of things that may go wrong, and many of them are out of the Realtor’s control. What is in the control of the pro is how hard he or she will work on behalf of their clients. Over a decade ago, I developed a marketing plan detailing what I will do in the first 30 days I have a home listed. It was a way of actually showing what I would do. This is a small part of what I share in my Improved Communications for Real Estate Professionals” seminars. However, it is an important one. If I am going head-to-head against another professional for a client’s business yet they do not have a marketing plan, who do you think the prospect will choose?

Marketing Plan

Note, this 30 Day New Listing Marketing Plan does NOT guarantee I will SELL their home in 30 days. It simply reiterates what I am doing to get the home sold while I have it listed. Part of which, is good communication.  Having a frank conversation about what you will… or will not do to represent the client is not only sound business, but it will prevent miscommunication down the road. There is nothing new here. In truth, this is a culmination of several ideas I gathered along the way. A Realtor… or any other industry professional should have an explanation of serviced they can readily share with their prospects.

Keep watching for my latest “Improved Communications for Sales” workshop.

http://MomentumSeminars.com