Five Things to Stop Doing in 2010

This past week, I gave a presentation at the Inman Connect Conference in New York with the great Steve Harney on “10 Things” real estate agents should do in 2010. My feeling was that agents are already doing too much, so I decided to talk about five things that agents should STOP doing.

Given that the conference is largely about technology, and that one of my main points was that agents should stop embracing technology, I thought it went rather well….

There’s also a short clip of Camilla Sullivan of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate interviewing me about the Five Things to Stop Doing in 2010 here.

1. Stop Annoying People, Start Helping Them.
Stop annoying people on social media like Facebook and Twitter. In the last year, real estate agents (and other salespeople) got into social media in a big way, on the theory that this new frontier of networked communications would help them break through the barriers that clients have put on phones, email, or direct mail marketing. But all that agents have managed to do is provoke their contacts to create those same barriers in social networks, the same barriers that people put up to emails of listings they’re not interested in, or phone calls. They are deleting (or even worse blocking) your emails, and they’re using call screening to avoid your calls, because they don’t see the value in what you’re offering — random listings that they don’t care about. No one cares about your new listing that you posted on Facebook, any more than they cared about it when you emailed it around. All you’re doing is annoying people, who are now blocking you or using new tools to screen you out. If you want to be effective in social media, listen to people and respond to them, and provide them with information they actually need. Don’t barrage them with marketing nonsense they could care less about.

So what should you do instead?
• Get the real estate agents out of your Facebook account. If you need to, set up two Facebook accounts, or master the new techniques they’ve created to provide different “faces” to the world.
• Read what your clients are saying, and respond to it. People like it when you post comments on their postings.
• Post minimally, and only when you have something people would want to read.

2. Stop thinking about sales, and start thinking about service.
How many people here would list their home with more than 50% of the agents in your market? That’s amazing. We’re in a business where even the sales professionals don’t have a high regard for the people in the industry. It’s amazing to me that sales training is still so focused on sales techniques that were developed 50 years ago or longer. Sales training should be all about service training. We all need to do a better job for our clients, because in the future clients are going to choose us based on the service experience of our past clients, not based on our marketing pitch or our ability to talk fast and use personal power to influence them. If you do a great job for your clients, you’ll be rewarded. If you do a lousy job for your clients, all the sales tricks in the world aren’t going to save you.

How do you get there? Establish a set of bedrock best practices for how you will run your business, everything from a checklist for what you need to do when you get a listing to a set of protocols for how to communicate with clients. And apply that to not just your transactional clients, but your sphere. Everyone needs a great real estate agent, even when they’re not buying and selling.

So what should you do instead?

• Set expectations for your clients, and then meet those expectations.
• Find out what your clients want, figure out how to give it to them, then execute.
• Look for opportunities to “Bring the Wow” to your clients – opportunities to blow them away with one particular bit of service attention.

3. Stop talking, start listening
Whether you’re online on Facebook, or sitting in someone’s living room, you need to stop talking. Natural salespeople like to talk, because they’re good at it. But we all need to listen more. The biggest complaint I hear from sellers is about agents who come in with a canned presentation and talk for 45 minutes without stopping for a breath. The first thing you should say to every client you meet is, “tell me about yourself, and what you would like me to do for you.” Just like you enjoy talking, so do they, and there is nothing more flattering or engaging than a person who asks you about yourself. Stop thinking about your client meetings as “presentations” and start thinking of them as “consultations” in which you’re going to ask questions, and they’re going to tell you what it is they want. The more they talk, the more they confide in you, the more you’ll naturally build credibility with them. You can’t manufacture “rapport” – it comes naturally by showing a genuine interest in people and what their concerns are.

So what should you do instead?
• Approach any meeting with a client with questions, not statements. Stop presenting, start consulting.
• Anyone you meet, in any situation, find out what their needs are, and then figure out what you can do to help them.
• Post less, comment more.

4. Stop doing things that provide the false security of productivity without actual productivity
In real estate, we measure productivity by whether the activity has the tendency to generate opportunities for you to obtain a new client or better service an existing client. Business development activities are productive. Going to see the inventory is productive. Taking a class is productive. Reading a book that teaches you something about the business is productive. But blogging about your experiences as a real estate agents is not productive. It might be fun, and you might enjoy it, and you might be able to justify it because it gives you pleasure, which is fine, but don’t fool yourself that it’s productive. And stop telling yourself that you’re blogging about the joys and miseries of real estate because you might get referrals. If you work in Manhattan, or retirement communities in Arizona or Florida, you might generate referrals. But the chances of you writing about your real estate career in Des Moines, Iowa or Monroe, New York is going to generate a referral – the idea that someone reading your blog in Utah someplace is going to happen to have a client moving to Des Moines Iowa is just too remote to justify the time expenditure. Don’t do things that give you false senses of security – look how much I did today – without actual productivity. Agents talking to each other is not anymore productive when it’s online than when it’s in the coffee klatch.

I constantly hear from agents in my company who have this great idea of how to develop their business. They all have one thing in common: they eliminate the need for the agent to actually pick up the phone and call someone. Why? Because calling someone is uncomfortable, and hard, and people don’t want to do it. That’s fine. Accept the fact then that you don’t want to do anything hard to build your business. But don’t fool yourself that you can be successful in the real estate business without courting rejection. And don’t finish up your day feeling like you accomplished something when you didn’t do anything to generate a real opportunity to obtain a new client or service an existing client.

So what should you do instead?

• Identify the activities you engage in that actually generate new business for yourself, or help you service existing business.
• Lock in times in your schedule to engage in those activities. I don’t care if it’s an hour, or three hours, or whatever, but lock it into your schedule just as if it were an appointment with a client.

5. Stop embracing new technologies unless they help you do something you’re already doing.
New technologies are exciting and seductive, but they can also be massive time- and energy-suckers. Here’s the rule: if a new technology allows you to do something you were already doing, but to do it faster, cheaper, or easier, then it’s a great technology and you should learn how to use it in your business. Examples are voicemail, emails, facsimile, scanning, digital photography, GPS. All those things allowed us to do things we were already doing, but to do them better. So what’s a bad technology: one that seduces you into doing something that you never did before. You have to ask yourself – why is it that I never did this before. If you used to send out reports on the market that you’d write yourself, then blogging technology is probably great for you, because it allows you to do something you were already doing, but to do it better. But if you’re not a natural writer, if writing is hard, and if you’re not particularly good at it, then why all of a sudden are you blogging? Why are you using a new technology to do something that you never did before? The fact that the technology exists isn’t a good enough reason.

For example: Facebook. Facebook is a great way to connect with your network. But we’re already seeing people mis-use it , and my experience the bloom is already off the rose. You join, you link up with people you haven’t seen in years, you exchange some emails, but then you quickly realize why you lost touch with them, and now you don’t communicate anymore. A lot of fun, but if you’re making some massive time commitment to Facebook, you’re probably being seduced by a technology you shouldn’t be.

I know people hate it when trainers talk about getting back to basics, so I’m not going to say that. But we need to do a better job with the technologies we already have. We all know that most brokers do a TERRIBLE job marketing their listings just on the fundamentals: bad pictures, old pictures, not enough pictures, incomplete descriptions, abbreviations from the classified ad days, incomplete information. Put it this way, if you’re not writing good, solid, appealing descriptions of every one of your listings, you have no business spending time on Facebook.

Client-Oriented Real Estate in Action: HomeBuyerTaxCredit.com

The purpose of this blog is to promote the concept of Client-Oriented Real Estate, or C.O.R.E., the idea that real estate agents should be focused primarily on identifying and servicing the needs of their clients. Not only do we think this is a better way to run your business, we think it’s a more productive way to build your business in an era where great service is much more likely to help you develop more clients through social networking and online review sites.

As we develop this concept and apply it to agent productivity, we’re finding all sorts of ways to apply it in the work we do running a large brokerage. A broker, like an agent, should be client-oriented, both from the perspective of the buyers and sellers as clients but also from the perspective of agents as clients.

So last November, when the Home Buyer Tax Credit was revised to increase the income limitations and expand it to long-time homeowners, we were on top of it. It seemed to us that a “world’s best real estate broker” should be able to break down complicated programs like the tax credit for the whole client base: agents and buyer/sellers. So we really dug into it to make sure we could help our clients (agents and buyers/sellers) understand the credit and take advantage of it.

The first thing we realized was that the tax credit was not going to be retroactive, and in fact would only apply to closings the day AFTER it was passed. This was on November 5th, the day the new legislation was announced and passed Congress. The President was signing it the next day, and the legislation itself said that it would only be effective to closings AFTER the signing date. This meant that buyers who might be eligible for the tax credit under the new guidelines but were closing on November 6th, the day the legislation was signed, would not be able to claim the credit — even though if they held off their closing for just one more day, they could be entitled to either $6,500 or $8,000.

So we put out a broadcast email to all our agent-clients, and a blog post alerting all our buyer clients about the issue, and advising them that they should talk to their attorneys about whether they could put off the closing for a few days if they were impacted by the tax credit. And we had a few people who actually did just that, which is “Bringing the WOW!” in a big way. Tough to “Bring the Wow” more than helping a client get a $8,000 tax break….

Once that was done, we kept it up. We came up with what we still believe was the best home buyer tax credit resources available anywhere on the internet. We had an overview, FAQ, list of individual scenarios, a breakdown of the history of the legislation, and even a comprehensive Eligibility Test that clients could take to see if they qualified for the tax credit.

But that wasn’t enough. It occurred to us that the large national franchises and other sites were not doing much to explain this difficult program. We discovered that the domain name “homebuyertaxcredit.com” was available for sale, and we bought it (never mind the cost). We then took the materials we’d developed for our brokerage, and then re-wrote and expanded them for a national audience.

From that, in early January, we launched the HomeBuyerTaxCredit.com resource site, which has by far the most comprehensive treatment of the home buyer tax credit anywhere in the country. Much, much more than the national franchises websites, which have scanty information and actual misinformation in some cases (I won’t name names, but it seems that all the brokers misunderstand what the long-time homeowner tax credit rules are).

Why did we do this?  Remember the C.O.R.E. process: (1) identify the need, (2) figure out a way to service the need, and (3) execute, and establish the relationship.  We identified that clients had a need for the information, and figured out how to get it to them. Then we executed by building a great site that is going to reach thousands of home buyers.

And, of course, we’re hoping to deepen the relationship.  Throughout the site, the client has opportunities to ask for a referral for a real estate agent, an accountant, or a lender.  Those referrals will help us serve our OTHER client base, the agents who work for us, either with direct leads from the site, or outbound referrals that will help us get inbound referrals down the road.   We have no idea how much revenue the site will generate, but we’re hopeful.  And even if we eventually lose money on the site (it cost about $100,000 to build), it was still worth it to execute well on a great idea.  Sometimes, you just have to take your chances.

First, to provide a great resource site for people across the country who want to understand the home buyer tax credit.  We identified a need, figured out a way to service that need, and then executed by putting out a tremendous site.

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November 30th is a HARD Deadline — Be Prepared

It has occurred to us that we should send out a general alert to all of you to start preparing for November 30th.

What’s November 30th? It’s the last day that first-time home buyers can close to take advantage of the federal tax credit. It’s going to be a massive closing day. It’s also, unfortunately, the Monday after Thanksgiving, which means that it’s going to ruin a lot of holidays.

I expect that the month of November is going to be a huge closing month, but it’s going to be stressful.
This is a good chance for us to kick it up a notch, to bring some WOW and deliver that kind of great service people should expect from us.

We need to be absolutely positively sure that every one of our first-time home buyers can close by November 30th. People who don’t start preparing now are going to end up in situations where their buyers literally cannot get an attorney who can close them on time. Or their buyers are going to look up on November 20th and have to pull together last-minute documentation during the holidays.

We have told our colleagues at Hudson Abstract and Rand Mortgage to be prepared for the deluge, and to be on top of every deal that might be a first-time home-buyer purchase to make sure that we are ready to close.

You should do the same thing. Look at your pipeline. If you have buyers you think (or you know) are going to claim the credit, contact them now and alert them to the situation. Talk to your attorneys and mortgage people and title people to make sure they’re aware that you have a HARD deadline.

If you want to send them something that explains the situation, send them our blog post about the issue on the Market Intelligence blog.

Be on top of it. Be the World’s Best Real Estate Agent.

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Staying on top of things

If you’re going to be the “World’s Best Real Estate Agent,” you have to stay on top of things.  For those of you working with first-time home-buyers, be advised that the New York State government just shut down the state’s first-time home-buyer tax credit.  As we predicted in the Market Intelligence blog a few weeks ago, the program was severely underfunded. 

Make sure your clients know, if they were planning on taking advantage of the credit.  My guess is that not a lot of you were working with people who were relying on it, since it simply wasn’t around long enough.

The larger point is this: the cornerstone of our business is knowledge about the real estate market. It’s incumbent on all of you to subscribe to information sources that update you about what’s happening, and provide avenues to push that information out to your sphere.

Bringing the WOW

I taught a class last week where we discussed the “Bringing the WOW,” that element of service that just completley overwhelms a client.  Bringing the WOW is performing a service for a client that surprises and delights them.  It can be a simple gesture, like a birthday card, or something more extensive, like catching a mistake in a contract that saves them thousands of dollars.

Unfortunately, our discussion of Bringing the WOW went a little askew, which was my fault.  I started the discussion by talking about WOW in the context of a really thoughtful (and cheap!) closing gift for a client — a set of 9-volt batteries.  To me, the WOW in that is the explanation — “I just thought that maybe your sellers might have skimped on the maintenance of their home while they were getting ready to sell, and I want you and your family to be safe.”  The idea is to send a simple message to the client — “I care about you” — while surprising them with something that might not have occurred to them — that they need to perform some routine maintenance that the sellers might have neglected.

Unfortunately, though, I locked the discussion into a framework of closing gifts and other gifts.  One agent had her husband make her client some adirondack chairs, so they’d have something to sit on when they moved in.  Another had food delivered to the move.  Another cut the grass for two weeks.  All very nice things, and certainly in the spirit of WOW.

But let’s not forget the core idea of WOW — it’s creating a great impression for service.  That is, I think it’s great to bring something thoughtful to the closing table, but the real issue is whether you’re providing a good service to the client.  In other words, an agent who botches a sale, or mis-prices a home, or misses that the upstairs bedroom is illegal and costs her client two months of extra payments while the closing is delayed, is NOT going to be delivering WOW by bringing pizza to the closing.

I’m not demeaning the value of the thoughtful gesture (like pizza at the move-in day), and the agents who made suggestions were terrific. I’m also not suggesting they were, say, cutting the lawn INSTEAD of verifying the taxes on their listings.  But I want to make sure that we don’t misunderstand what delivering the WOW means.

The first order of business is doing a fantastic job on the service elements of the transaction, delivering WOW through the fundamental job that the client hired you to do.  THEN you can add those little touches like 9-volt batteries and pizza and chairs and toilet paper and lawn cutting.

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