Making real estate ‘guacamole’

Letters From the Home Front

I was once showing a home that boasted numerous fruit trees in the backyard. "Look!" I said to my clients, pointing to the avocados. "A guacamole tree!"

Then, I gleefully called their attention to a lime-bearing specimen. "A margarita tree!" This is when the wife laughed, "Isn’t it funny how Kris only sees trees for their end product?"

Actually, it’s good business. I have a vision.

It is nearing the end of the year, and I have been spending some time on our annual business plan. This year, the business plan has elevated importance since it represents our first as an independent brokerage. We didn’t make the transition from broker-associates to broker-owners for a higher commission split; we took the plunge in order to be more successful, and we recognize that at the heart of our success is the success and delight of our clients.

So, I have been thinking a lot about the mission statement lately. You can’t have a strong building with a flawed foundation, and it has occurred to me that revisiting and rebuilding the foundation of our real estate industry may be the first necessary step in our reinvention.

A mission statement in its simplest form must address two questions:

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  • What is the purpose of your business?
  • Who do you serve?

If we are going to truly strive toward bettering, even redefining, our image and our profession, maybe we need to revisit the cracked slab. Perhaps we should be reconsidering our core values and refocusing our vision. Perhaps we need to look beyond the fruit and toward the harvest.

The core purpose of the National Association of Realtors is to help its members become more profitable and successful.

I appreciate this commitment to my success, straight from the mission statement of my member organization. They recognize that their role is to serve me. But, I’m just the avocado. What about the customer?

Wal-Mart could have said that their mission is to sell a lot of stuff, but their mission statement reads, "To give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same things as rich people."

Most of us are familiar with Walt Disney’s mission statement, "To make people happy," but it just as easily could have read, "To sell a whole bunch of tickets to our theme parks and to cross-market our brand like nobody’s business through movie ticket and retail sales plus a bunch of other stuff to be named later, in order to capitalize on the tendency for parents to give their children anything they want — ‘anything they want’ being the entire Disney video library, 48,000 plush toys bearing the likenesses of princesses or rodents, and coordinated fitted sheets."

At Microsoft, "Our mission and values are to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential." Sure it is. What Microsoft doesn’t say is that their objective is for me to purchase a new computer plus upgrade to a new operating system and the latest Office release every time my hard drive crashes (Tuesdays). The point is: You can’t inspire the workers to make a great product or offer a superior service by seeing only the raw materials.

Real estate brokerages today can’t see the forest through the paradigm. One large brokerage promotes their commitment to "value people over market share." That is admirable, but the people of whom they speak are the agents, not the customer.

As I searched through dozens of "About Us" pages, this was a common mantra. "We want to make our agents successful." "We want them to make buckets of money so we can make buckets of money." "We value our agents (because they allow us to make buckets of money)." These are fine objectives, but they aren’t missions or visions. The brokerage needs the agent, but the agent needs the customer. Admittedly, I want to be appreciated by my brokerage, but my clients want to be appreciated by me. Brokerages might do well to cut the middleman out of their message.

At my last company, we received daily e-mail blasts from the office manager. Some were informational while others were intended to inspire, but most ended with a message along the lines of "Sell lots of houses this weekend!" Even our state Department of Real Estate, the regulatory agency with a mission statement that incidentally begins with the words "To protect and serve the interests of the public in real estate transactions," calls our credential the "Salespersons License."

The problem is that agents don’t "sell" homes — owners sell homes and buyers buy homes. Agents represent them in the process. Yet our offices focus on sales; our framed licenses remind us that our purpose is to sell; and then we wonder why we struggle with gaining the customer’s trust and respect.

At the core of our modern-day dilemma is that we have created the wrong culture. We are reminded daily that our greater calling is to sell a lot of homes and make a lot of money — avocados — when in fact our mission should be centered on providing the best customer experience and the most competent, knowledgeable, professional and ethical representation of customers in the home buying and selling process.

Our mission should be to ultimately delight our customers and see them realize their greatest success in the real estate transaction. This can’t be just the agents’ mission. It needs to be the industry’s mission, because the industry’s message sets the tone for the entire organization.

Maybe our licenses should read "Customer Service Representative" or "Home Buyer and Seller Fiduciary." What we should really be talking about is making great guacamole. Then we can move on to the business of making money.

Kris Berg is broker-owner of San Diego Castles Realty. She also writes a consumer-focused real estate blog, The San Diego Home Blog.

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