It happens at least once during every listing appointment, that moment when eyes start to glaze over. It’s the universal language that says, "You may find all of this talk about your company and client testimonials, about Fannie, Freddie and market trends, quite fascinating, but I’m over it."
Swiftly and without hesitation, the savvy real estate agent, having read the signals, will correct course and start talking about the things that really matter to the seller. The seller typically wants to know two things: that their home will sell for a record price by Saturday, and that you will be out of their kitchen in time for the season finale of "Glee."
I could make this about the importance of taking physical cues and adapting our presentation to fit our audience if we are going to successfully make that all-important connection. I could, but I won’t. Instead, I see it as a reminder that people today demand immediacy, and that reality needs to drive our business decisions.
Some time over the past decade we became accustomed to instant gratification. It started rather innocently, with cable modems and an entanglement of power cords. And as technology has continued to bestow upon us a limitless storehouse of information and friends, we have become dizzy with the Wi-Fi hot spots before our eyes.
We want what we want, wherever we happen to be, on demand. Immediately. We live our lives in sound bites, and we have developed attention spans that max out somewhere around the three-minute mark of a YouTube video.
I was reminded this week, while on a short trip, that I’m not immune. I was starring in the final 2011 episode of "Teenage Trash-Out." The season premier was two weeks ago. That was when I moved my first daughter out of her college digs for the summer, so now I’m a veteran.
Having learned from my mistakes, I was focused this time on improving my productivity. I brought more 10-gallon Hefty bags than I did moving boxes. Those were for my daughter. For me, I brought a bottle of wine with a screw top, considering the uncorking process an unnecessary time expenditure. I’m a busy, busy girl, after all. I’m all about the quickest way from point A to point B these days. So, by the way, are our customers.
It was a work trip; they’re all work trips when you are a real estate agent. So, I brought my laptop. And despite the convenience of the comfortable in-room workstation and free Internet connection provided compliments of the Lack of Quality Suites, I never took it out of its case.
All those zippers, that cord, the whole powering up process! I had no time and less patience. Instead, I found myself checking my email and surfing the Web on my smartphone from wherever I happened to be.
At breakfast, I took my iPad, which is slightly more cumbersome than my smartphone, but a better experience when engaging in casual reading. Ultimately, I opted for the USA Today that the previous table occupant had ditched. I know — paper is so yesterday! But keep in mind it was faster. It is not about the medium as much as it is about immediacy.
Like most people, I find myself texting more often. It is easier than dialing when I have something simple to say to my children like, "The cat just ate your fish." This works for clients, too. "The cat just ate your fish. Oh, and we had seven groups through the open house."
Email still has a place, of course, especially when you have a more complex message to convey. And email certainly trumps the old-school phone call by eliminating all of the time wasting "noise" that results when the other person invariable starts talking back.
But with email, if the message is important, the subject line tends to get lost in the recipient’s inbox, which looks something like this:
"Thank you for your order!"
"Your online bill is ready to review"
"Fish make dumb pets and the cat ate yours"
And, of course, smartphone email has that risky auto-correct feature, so that you will likely send a message that reads, "The catalog ate your Carrie Fisher at open House, M.D.," leaving your clients thinking you are a raving lunatic.
Where was I? Oh, yes. I returned home from my work trip to finally reacquaint myself with that relic of simpler times: my laptop. I still use a feed reader when relegated to my desk, and as I caught up with my reading, I realized again that I no longer have the patience for the long form. (Yes, I too see the irony here. Let’s just move along.)
I found myself skimming as I clicked on the post titles. And any time a site had chosen to only give me one sentence with a "read more" hyperlink, they were tossed faster than a last night’s Tuna Surprise — unless that one sentence was extremely compelling ("If you don’t read this, your daughter will bring home three more fish from college, and you will be cleaning out one-gallon tanks for the duration of your golden years while your friends take up golf.").
Clicking through takes time, and the last thing I need is another opened tab that will become just one more unread testament to my inability to properly manage my time and focus my attention.
As agents, this issue of immediacy is important for us to remember. In a business that is dependent on establishing and maintaining relationships, we have to connect on our audience’s terms. And the folks in the audience, like we, are an impatient bunch.
No one looks for the longest checkout line at the supermarket; we all avoid the busiest highways and, admit it, the first three quarters of a professional basketball game.
I don’t see this need-for-speed trend reversing anytime soon — not as long as there is one Web developer left standing who thinks we need an app for everything from finding due north to backing out of the driveway in the morning.
Rather, we need to deliver immediacy in all aspects of our business. And since I don’t profess the credentials of a credible advice columnist, I will share the areas in which I have been attempting to improve my own delivery at the real estate drive-thru window.
1. Listing appointments. I already touched on this one. The seller doesn’t want my unabridged biography or my doctoral thesis on the rise and fall of a real estate market. In competitive situations, demonstrating knowledge and experience is critical, but we need to deliver the information in a way that it might be received — quickly.
Face time is valuable, and we are on the clock; the backstory can be delivered ahead or left behind. It’s what we used to call, in the days of yore, the two-step listing process.
2. Marketing. If you are still doing print marketing (and we are), it’s not about the words. Rather it is about the imagery. Think minimalist. You have approximately one second — the time it takes for your masterpiece to move from the hand to the recycling bin — to make that valuable brand impression. Don’t clutter your ads with a wall of self-aggrandizing words. No one reads them.
3. Websites. Think about your website design like staging a home. Sure, you want it to look pretty. But, a good stager knows that the point of all of those visual props is to draw the buyer’s attention to the special features of the property. You aren’t selling the candlesticks and waxed fruit; you are selling the fireplace, the vaulted ceilings, and the view.
On your website, that pleasing picture of the fake family holding the fake keys in front of the stock photo house is a waste of home page real estate. People come through the front door to look at homes. The end game is that they might reach out to you.
Don’t send them running for their secret decoder ring to accomplish that, either. They don’t have the patience, and they will be off to search on your competitor’s site faster than you can say, "bounce rate."
4. Response Time. This could just as easily been titled, "Why I have no life." We are all on the emergency response team now. We know this. Opportunities are measured in minutes, not hours or days. Why, then, do so many agents continue to not answer the phone or return their calls? Why do emails go unanswered or do I find so many voice mail boxes full and unable to accept new messages?
There are no excuses. Technology has made it so that all channels are always with us; our operators are always standing by. Sure, that message can wait until morning. But, by morning, that buyer will already be in my car.
5. Mobile Optimization. How do your sites look on a mobile phone? On an iPad? On each of the more popular browsers? You may only use a desktop or laptop powered by Internet Explorer, but your clients are searching on the go, and it’s important to know what they see when they visit your site from their device of choice. It might surprise you.
Note to all of the multiple listing services out there: This applies to you, too. In the case of my MLS, I set myself up for automatic updates like we do so many of our clients. What I learned from this is that the listings I receive are unreadable on my Android phone. They come through as tiny little documents that cannot be enlarged, rendering them totally useless for me given the way I receive most of my emails.
The result is that many of my clients who also rely on mobile devices are sent scurrying to download some third-party application, which becomes one more clip in my value wings.
6. Blogging. This is an area in which I get a big, fat "fail." Try as I might, I can’t escape the wall-of-words syndrome that has forever plagued me. If I were to adopt a condensed, CliffsNotes style, however, nothing would ever get written. For me, it would be no fun and would become work.
Consequently, I will likely live out my blogging days with my three loyal readers who "get" me. But I do so knowing that I have lost a much larger potential audience of speed readers who prefer headline news over not-so-short stories.
I’ll be speaking at the Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco in July at the Broker Summit. In the session, "Recruit for Success," I have been tagged to talk about things brokers should be offering agents — the things that agents need most to succeed today. I find this session oddly not unrelated to this idea of immediacy.
We have all, to some extent, come to expect instant gratification in our lives and our careers, and the concept has a place where productivity and communication are concerned. But there is no immediacy to success. So perhaps what agents want and what they really need are two very different things.
Perhaps, in the broker’s eagerness to build the biggest collective of licenses, recruiting is seen as a short-term event rather than the first step in a long-term process.