Do you know who your customers are?

I know that sounds like something a motivational speaker might say, but don’t dismiss it purely on those grounds. If you are selling, it helps to have a strong grip on who you are selling to.

I often joke about my clientele being “busy millionaires and poor journalists,” but that really is my focus. I love renters, because they’re usually fast money, and they grow up to be buyers. I like first-time buyers, because, as much work as they are, I feel they can become customers for life (I have worked with Gil, my first broker and current boss, on five transactions because he was so good on the first one). I love poor journalists because they have big mouths, and I love busy millionaires, because, hey, doesn’t everybody?

The people I turn down, on the other hand — and even in my struggle to build a young business I do turn people down — aren’t rich enough, or don’t seem to have the potential to be rich enough, or aren’t sure enough that they want to work with a broker, or are rather geographically undesirable. I don’t mean that they’re looking in the slums; I mean that they’re looking in neighborhoods I don’t want to focus on. Manhattan is a big place, and we do not work out of our cars, and the last thing in the world I want is to be running hither and yon all day long with my heavy, heavy bag of stuff.

The challenge is what to do with someone on the margins, who seems to fit some of these criteria but not others. And that’s how I got stuck with Emily.

Emily was an old friend of my husband, who became a friend of mine; she was an attorney, which made her more-than-borderline-busy and a borderline millionaire, and she was a first-time buyer. All green lights.

Unfortunately, to deal with her, I overruled one big “red light” signal, which is that she was looking in a geographically undesirable area.

A certain percentage of clients are not going to pay out; I understand that. I think one thing good experienced brokers do is that they manage to lower that percentage over time. I truly think that much of the art of this business is not in writing great ad copy or negotiating tough deals, but in developing a sixth sense as to who is going to transact and who is not.

And frankly, even I, the rookie, had a bit of the “not-transact” sense about her because she was an attorney. If you are selling in New York City, it is illegal to discriminate against buyers on the basis of their profession. Yet I hate working with attorneys — I find them risk-averse to the point of being paralyzed.

Well, you know how this is going to play out.

We had a lot of fun — that’s the plus of the “friend” category — but we ended up seeing at least 20 apartments and now she’s renewing her lease. I got as pushy as I get, stating pretty forcefully that renting had its downsides too, and that I feared (and I do) that she would fall further behind the competition in a rising market. To no avail: she was paralyzed by anxiety, and rejected anything short of perfection. My favorite apartment (which is in a four-star school district, but not in the tippy-top location) got killed on the basis of location; my second-favorite, 20 percent above her desired price range but worth it because it was large and in the great location, got killed on the basis of price.

My third choice, the apartment where I feared the living room would be too small, the living room was indeed ruled too small, although I wish my friends wouldn’t use the word “claustrophobic” to describe a high-floor corner unit with 10-foot ceilings, north and east views, and a working fireplace. For one thing, I live in a studio apartment (that’s one room with a walk-in closet) with my husband.

By the time I started working as Emily’s agent, I had enough sense not to count on her, so it’s not like the time I wasted has put me in the poorhouse. I’m closing a rental tomorrow, and one next week, and I’ve got some richer, non-attorney buyer clients I feel better about.

But I really do regret familiarizing myself with all that geographically undesirable inventory. It was like I learned Latvian before going to Eastern Europe; fine knowledge in context, but I’m not sure I’ll have much use for it back home.

I have other friends who are perpetual shoppers, a gay couple who will drag me to look at dozens of apartments and never buy, but I indulge them because one of them is a salesman, and his gregariousness has already been the source of one referral.

What’s more, they like to look downtown, which is my area of focus. Earlier today someone called about a building that the couple had dragged me through in February, and boy, did I sound smart.

So today’s advice: think hard about who your customers are. And don’t spend your work hours learning Latvian unless you think you’re going to go back there, at least a couple of times.

Alison Rogers is a licensed salesperson and author of “Diary of a Real Estate Rookie.”


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