Are you a Fraud?

When I first became a Realtor fifteen years ago, I was excited about the prospect of helping so many consumers realize the “American Dream”. But, as I actually began to approach prospective clients, a terrible sinking feeling hit the pit of my stomach. I had begun to question everything that had brought me to that point. Was I really trying to help others achieve a lofty ideal, or was I just trying to make a quick buck? Was I good enough? What if a client knows more about the situation than I know?   Believe me, there’s nothing quick about making money in real estate, but these questions often enter a new agents mind… veterans too! These are normal anxieties that most people experience at one time or another in their lives. It just means you’re human.

A magician will take the stage, with the intent of dazzling his audience. He makes sure his first effect is a big hit to quickly win his audience over with his demonstration of skill. After a few minutes, even the most hardnosed skeptics stop trying to catch the performer commit an error, and simply sit back and enjoy the show. The magician is delighted to know he has the audience in the palm of his hand. However, delight eventually turns to guilt. “These people actually believe I can perform miracles” the illusionist will think to himself. “My entire show is built on lies, deception and optical illusions. I’m a fraud”! It’s what magicians call the Impostor Syndrome.

The Impostor Syndrome is something often attributed to over achievers, as well as novices. An actress makes a few movies that are well received, and the performer is in high demand. She now has the means to purchase a large home with all the furnishings, as well as that fancy sports car she always wanted. Then when she considers all those other people who are without the extravagant creature comforts, she feels guilty for her success. To alleviate the negativity, she offers to work FOR a worthy charity. This is a wonderful way to channel the energy into a positive. She then receives worldwide acclaim for her good works, and again, feels guilty for receiving the notoriety. She then rationalizes in order to find peace; she needs to lash out AGAINST something… anything. This explains why we have so much social commentary from the Hollywood elite these days.

What the magician’s audience doesn’t see is the countless hours researching, studying, and practicing in front of a mirror to get each and every effect just right. He will also experiment with different methods, and ask for guidance from other professionals. Similarly, a brand new real estate agent devotes themselves to their craft. Consider the hundred hours of formal training one must attend in order to achieve his or her license. Respect the fact most people would not endure sitting through the classes, studying for the test, taking the test (maybe more than once) and subscribe to an code of ethics in order to call themselves; Realtor. Yet, we feel ashamed if a member of the general public states information they found on Zillow or Trulia that they say is contrary to our research and professional opinion. One should never question their own abilities when confronted by those who are not willing to put in the hard work.

The magician is not paid to perform “miracles”, he’s paid to ENTERTAIN, which is what he does. Similarly, an agent is not compensated for “knowing everything”, but rather to research a specific situation to help the clients achieve their goals. Still, there are some things we can do to overcome a fraud complex. First, understand by being committed to your industry, you already know a lot more than you may think. Second, when someone pays you a compliment, accept it. “Thank you” is an appropriate response. Also, fresh knowledge by way of continual training and keeping up with current industry issues is a good way to kill off the “impostor” inside. When it all said and done, you are a professional with a conscience. After all, a true con artist never has an issue with integrity, or the lack thereof. So, remind yourself, you are there to help consumers realize the “American Dream”.

http://MomentumSeminars.com

Does Your Customer Service… Suck?

I’ll be blunt, customer service in the 21st century, pretty much sucks! Like small children, we have become a self absorbed society, and lost touch with the idea that the consumers of our product or service are ultimately responsible for our paychecks. In a word, our “BOSS”. But in a world filled with selfies, web addresses that begin with the word “MY…”, and an ever increasing use of unidirectional communication, i.e. texts, our focus has shifted from the true money makers. Large businesses, it seems, are more concerned than ever about taking in more than they give out. You can imagine the strain that would create on their relationship with the public.  Where is the pride so many companies use to tout when it came to their customer follow up? Do we understand the public’s expectations of us? Do we care?  Are we conceited, or have we just forgotten HOW to talk to customers?

The other day, an associate of mine commented on how great the customer service experience was with Amazon. To which, I replied how shameful it is that an “upstart” organization online, or over the phone can deliver better service than someone across the counter. It seems each year, dealing with a breathing body at the point of sale is becoming less, and less enjoyable. In fact, it’s more and more one directional. Do you hear that sucking sound too?

A month ago, I needed to get a new cellphone, so it was just a good time to change carriers altogether. I knew the headache I was in for, but felt assured someone at one of the world’s largest department store would be able to educate me as to the proper service that would fit my lifestyle. Typically, I go for the face to face transaction, though I am starting to rethink that. I looked at the in-store map for Plan A, and my entire State appeared to be covered in bright orange. That’s a good thing… I think. However, after waiting two days for “coverage to kick in” at my home, I took the product back to the store. I was informed though the coverage map was correct, it apparently just didn’t reach my home address, which, by the way, is in the geographic center said State. Really? Yes, they implied that the problem was somehow with me.

Undeterred, I switched to Plan B, however none of the four employees including a member of management could easily facilitate me in the switch since I was so newly in the system. Something about a vendor policy that would not allow them to manually fix the problem. Their solution; dial a toll-free number and hand ME the phone. Pathetic, but true. I first spoke to a man who explained the clerks earlier actions at the register deleted the phone number I had for the past decade, and he asked if I wanted him to see if he could retrieve it again. Obviously, my answer was “yes”. Why he even hesitated solving what was an apparent problem, I don’t know. Two hours later, after speaking to several voices, including Mary, who informed me she would need “two minutes of SILENCE” on my part while she typed in everything we discussed. Apparently, she was using pen and paper before. “Yes, Mary, I will grant you two minutes of silence”, I responded. Anything to get it over with. A college buddy of mine told me I should have done business with a company that specializes in cellphones. He’s right of course, but nonetheless, this mega corporation had forgotten what I was told the first day of business school; “If you cannot service the product you sell, don’t sell it”.

Corporations are at fault as much as individual employees. In the “me” generation of business, we tend to think once a product is out the door, or contract signed, we are done with our part of the sale. However, we need to wake up, grow up, and recognize the establishment of a business relationship that will carry on for several days, if not years. A distance transaction may go smoothly, because management has empowered their employees to make certain decisions. Of course, they are being closely monitored when there are electronic means being utilized. So, why are the counter clerks not empowered at the brick and motor storefront? Perhaps it’s a trust issue on part of the company which might not be able to eavesdrop on every conversation.  More than likely, it just goes to poor training. It’s no doubt, the mega store was running scared during Amazon’s recent attempt at a “Christmas in July” promotion. It’s assurance. Even if they get it wrong, Amazon will fix it.

So, who are customer reps? Anyone who deals with potential customers on behalf of the business itself. Whether you are an independent contractor, sole proprietor, or just one cog in the spokes of a billion dollar machine, if your interaction has the ability to put a smile or frown on a clients face, you are a customer service representative. That being the case, you are the eyes and ears of business. You also have the power to effect whether that business thrives or dies. Oh, did I mention your actions effect your paycheck? Payroll departments tend to stop issuing checks when their companies go belly up.

Customer service is not easy. But neither is business itself. It never has been, which is why so many fail. Last century’s giant could very well fall to next year’s upstart which fills a void; delivering or surpassing customer expectations. A third-world country may surpass America in overall sales of widgets and thingamajigs! Though, it may not be too late if we train, empower, and promote a higher standard of customer satisfaction among those who have the ability to raise it. With a shift from “me, me, me”, to “the customer is always right” (remember that?), a business just might survive. We might make the process “suck” a little less. In fact, we could BREATHE new life into an organization that was almost on life support.

MomentumSeminars.com

Professionalism Begins Online

We have all had bad days, but is that a license to blab to the world about how much you hate your job because we’re just not “feeling it” that day? SPOILER ALERT; the crux of this article is that no one cares! Nonetheless, there will be teachers, CPAs, Realtors and even doctors who will spill their guts on the internet through social media. The individual may feel a little better after a purge, but his or her audience is aghast.

A couple of weeks ago, I was with about a dozen veteran real estate agents who were mortified by some of the recent posts of fellow Realtors. Things that apart from just being in bad taste, could actually get the licensee in a lot of hot water. Of course, I immediately pulled out my smartphone to see who was doing what. Oh yes, you will get reactions, but will you get business? I will confess just when I think no one is reading my feed, I may drop a quick comment about an elected official or some new government policy and inadvertently start a firestorm controversy. Right there on MY page… YIKES! Well, if you are alright with that, than that’s your business decision to make.

It really is a business decision. Most people with a professional license are independent contractors. That being said, they are small business owners. To which they are THEIR OWN boss and responsible for taking measures to avoid liability. If one agent tweets out their own resentment toward a fellow Realtor, the overall process or heaven forbid, their own client, repercussions are soon to follow because literally everyone on the planet can read it. As in the case of Realtors, the NAR Code of Ethics, Article 15 reads…

“REALTORS® shall not knowingly or recklessly make false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals, their businesses, or their business practices.” 

The supporting standards go on to state the professional could be made to remove the post and, essentially, apologize. In the case of clients, they could sue over a careless post as it is a breach of agency. So why would someone want to air their dirty laundry online in the first place?

Rachel Albertson, with InfoRule Social Media, a Murfreesboro based marketing firm states; “You do not have to be friends with clients on social media. In fact, I do not recommend it.”  Apparently, Disney thinks that’s a good idea as well. Their employees are NOT permitted to mention they work for Disney. To violate this policy could be grounds for termination. So, be mindful of how you intermingle your private life with business.

Legal issues aside, remember what your mom told you about “conversation in mixed or polite company”? Do not discuss sex, politics or religion. Mom was right! Yet, here is where a lot of people miss it. To spare you the details here, MASHABLE has compiled a list of people who were let go over social media posts. I am not suggesting we have no opinions or never share our ideas, that’s not my place. Though I will offer a friendly reminder if you post something political, you stand the chance of alienating half of your audience.

Professionalism begins online. In the 21st century, the majority of consumers start looking for an insurance agent, mortgage broker, Realtor or dentist through the internet. The search is actually a funnel. The buyer asks a question of a search engine, follows the answer to an industry publication, then a geographic company and then YOU! They already have a vague idea of what a professional is suppose to be before they ever click your name. When they ask a serious question, they anticipate a serious, coherent answer. If what they find instead is an agent posing with a sock monkey, they may not take that professional as one who is serious or would be responsible with their money. In short, the agent appears UNprofessional. Don’t get me wrong, I love sock monkeys as much as the next guy, but if there is no marketing tie-in or a picture of a give away at a children’s hospital, no one would take me serious. They certainly would not trust me with their biggest financial investment. Time to take down the cutesy avatar.

Blaine@realtracs.com

 

Talk a Good Game!

I have long said, “real estate is a people business”! Oh, I can hear the rumblings now… “But Blaine, didn’t you swear off cliché’s and erroneous business maxims in this blog”? Good catch! I knew I could count on you to keep me honest.

What I mean by realty being a PEOPLE business, is that it actually has little to do with real estate, or the property itself. Unless you are a builder, or investor, your commodity as a Realtor is in the service you provide, not brick and mortar. How many times have we been contacted by a potential buyer wanting THAT particular house, only to realize for one reason or another, it was not suitable for them? At that point, do we camp out on the front porch of THAT property, or begin to work with the buyer?  You see what I mean by it being a “people” business.

That being said, there is a whole new kettle of emotional problems in working with clients versus a house. Yes, emotions come into play when you work with people. It’s not so much a buyer wants THAT house, but rather what they think it represents. How will their family be affected by the move? Are their children safe here? Does this dwelling allow the family to accomplish it’s goals? And those newly single may not wish to be reminded of times at their prior residence, or the pain of losing a member of their family either through separation or death. We think of the experience being most emotional for our buyers, but we must remind ourselves, sellers are people too. Typically, we just don’t see them as often, and may not consider what is going through their minds.

But, unless we are also clinical psychologists, how do we deal with all these feelings, which aren’t even ours? The answer to this complex problem is simple; we talk. We ask questions of our clients, understanding their first response may not be the most accurate. We advise, tell stories, give feedback, and ASK for feedback. We must constantly “take the temperature” of those we are trying to help. Which means asking some of the SAME questions throughout the process to ensure our clients needs and wants haven’t shifted once they receive more information about the real estate process. I learned early in my career to not WAIT for my people to offer comments, or ask questions of me. Often times, they don’t know what to ask, don’t want to look ignorant of the process (which is why they hired us), or feel a bit overwhelmed and simply don’t know where to begin.

As the professional, it is up to us to anticipate problems and ask questions before they get too big. For some of us, this does not come easy. There are those in real estate who are very good with numbers, and willing to do whatever it takes to hammer out a good deal for the people they serve. But, is that enough? These are the left-brain people (much like myself), who don’t understand why someone would seem disappointed when “the numbers look really good”. We must continue to probe, and pull the details out of the minds of others.

For those of us not suited to reading the impressions of our listeners, it may be a good investment to enroll in a public speaking course at a community college. There, you will learn to judge your listeners’ reaction to the information you impart, to see if they are following what you are saying. Or for that matter, to better analyze whether what you are saying is even relevant to your clients. Dale Carnegie Training and Toastmasters International are also wonderful organizations to help you with speaking, listening, and critical thinking.

The fact that you asked the exact same question a week ago is completely irrelevant! All people change their goals to accommodate what obstacles life throws their way. It is OUR JOB as professionals in the business to keep up with our clients shifting desires. A house doesn’t change its wants and ambitions, people do that. Life would be so much easier if real estate were truly a housing business.

MomentumSeminars.com

BlaineSpeaks@gmail.com

Can We Talk?

I have long said “Real estate is a people business”. Yes, I know it sounds cliché, and I guess it is, but don’t let that deter you from the truth, and simplicity of the statement. I personally have nothing to sell you other than myself and the services I provide. When it comes to selling, a “widget” is something much easier to retail than is the concept of home. The buyer wants to have the pride and security of owning a three-, or four-bedroom house. Convincing them that we have the knowledge, and years (or months) of experience to make their dreams come true, is a much more delicate sales pitch.

So with that in mind, why would we not grasp the importance of good communication with our clients throughout the entire process? Whether they are buyers or sellers, they need the reassurances we give them. Reassurances that technology in and of itself simply does not provide. As an instructor, I teach a two-hour continuing education class entitled Professional Courtesy; Etiquette and Consideration in the Real Estate Industry. In it, one of the concepts I briefly convey the importance of remaining “high touch” in a high-tech world. Today, we have so many modes of communication at our disposal, but is it one size fits all?  Be it good news, or bad, from time to time (and many times), we simply have to look our clients in the eye and give a status report. But how is it best done to convey a message or update in a way that is still personable?

My personal preference is; in person. Though the restrictions of time and distance dictate many of these occasions are over the phone. As of yet, I have never taken on a client without first meeting them, or having an in-depth dialogue, so I just assume they expect a certain amount of face, or talk time throughout the entire experience. For the first home buyer or seller, real estate can be pretty intimidating. Yes, even in the 21st century, a certain amount of “hand-holding” still has to take place. As Realtors, perhaps that’s our most important skill; assuring people we didn’t forget about them, and that everything is going to be O.K.

Much communication in the past few years, whether business or personal, has taken place through short message service (SMS) or “text messages”.  These are short, one-way electronic notes. We have seen instances where teens, college students, and many of us may send texts back and forth a dozen times or more. So, the question begs to be asked; why not just make a phone call?

Texting has two distinct advantages by its very nature. A text is fast and convenient. But does every communiqué have to be fast and convenient? Should it be? Some of its downfalls are that it does not provide the details of an email, nor is it a true conversation. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage to SMS is you cannot see the face of the person reading your words.

I have often been overheard stating that “texts are of the devil”, but I’m not going to say that here. You can’t see it right now, but I promise you I’m giving the “winky face”.  So, when to text, and when not to text? Consider your expected outcome of the communication. Is it to update a minor point, or to impart important details for your customer or client which with to make a decision?

There is a place, time and subject matter for everything and that includes texting. Some acceptable texts, provided you are not driving, mountain climbing or delivering a baby, could include…

“I’m running a few minutes behind”

“I had your flyers made, and will place them in the box this afternoon.”

“I updated your online photos” 

These messages are routine, almost mundane in nature. At no point does it require the client to make a decision or otherwise stop what they are doing. However, on the other hand…

“Your loan was denied”

 “The house has termites”

“The contract fell through,… I’ll call you Monday afternoon”

…should probably never be texted. And no, a smiley face does NOT make your clients feel better

after any of these quips.

After all how would you feel to realize your dreams were potentially shattered in a note that was limited to fewer than 150 characters? We’ve all heard of the boy who breaks up with his girlfriend through a text message. It’s just considered… well, inconsiderate. So many times, we truly don’t know what our clients think or feel. Though we can get a sense if we see how they react or at least hear the inflections in their voice.

So, before you fire off that short electronic note or private message someone through a social media site, consider the receiving side might not read it exactly as you thought you wrote it.  At least with an email, you have the length to better clarify your message.

BlaineSpeaks@gmail.com

 

 

 

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.