When I first got into this business, all the “old” brokers I met told me that real estate was in the throes of monumental change. They had made their money, they said, by having control of their listings, and the Internet was revolutionizing that. They were no longer the monopolizers, or even the gatekeepers, of information. The new buzzword, they said, was “service.”
I thought that was just fine, and I tried hard, as I learned about sales, to learn about service. I had the greatest model in the world, because I went to work for the broker who had sold me my first apartment, and my second apartment, and his service was impeccable. He is the kind of broker who makes sure you know where the neighborhood dry cleaner is, and will get you a contractor when you need to do a renovation.
Indeed, my first clients were very grateful for my service-oriented attitude. That is, I assumed they were grateful because they referred. I did a high-end rental and got three referrals from that client; I did a different rental and had those clients come back when they wanted to buy.
But still, somehow, I was working in Broker 2.0 land. And one of the things that had gotten lost in that big transition was … authority.
Now, I’m a writer, and I’m used to, literally, having authority by being an author. Things are a certain way because I say they are.
Since my writing is founded on journalism, I don’t take this privilege lightly. I do research (sometimes great quantities of research that cause lots of scribbled notes to be tossed all over the floor) before I make up my mind about something.
But deep down, I know that I’m right. When I sell in New York, for instance, I am working in a city where I have lived for 20 years, where I spent two years running a team of a dozen people writing about real estate for, oh, half a million more. I have been licensed as a real estate agent in two states (New Jersey, too, even though that license is pretty dormant). I might be a relative rookie but I know my territory really well, and I spend a great deal of time looking at inventory. Especially when I’m representing a buyer, by the time I tell my client that they should or shouldn’t be in a certain property, that recommendation should have some weight to it.
But it doesn’t, not at all. My clients like me to explain the process of buying to them, especially if they’re first-timers. They like me to find properties for them, even if they are computer whizzes and spend a lot of their time on aggregator sites and bring things in for themselves too. They like me to go to open houses with them, and to tell them how they can move a wall for maximum effect, or where their furniture might go.
Yet that last, matchmaking step … they want to take that step for themselves. The hold that my sponsoring broker had over me — well, “hold,” sounds like a very Svengali-like word, so let me say maybe that trust that I placed in him to let me know when the hunt was done — that’s gone. I don’t have it over my clients, and I don’t even think my sponsoring broker has it over his any more.
This was brought home to me today, when I went with a client back for the second time to see a property that might be The One. This client and I have been looking for two years, and we have seen EVERYTHING. We have seen big properties and small ones, expensive properties and cheap ones, ones that needed a lot of renovation and ones that were done to the nines.
And this last one, I had picked it out for her. I knew it would be right. My taste had been trained by going through literally dozens of homes to know when the closets wouldn’t be big enough or if the second bathroom was in the wrong place.
But I knew, as we were going through the property on our first visit and even today on our second, that I wasn’t allowed to strong-arm or claim credit. That sense of real estate agents as art dealers who pick out something that’s just “the thing” — customers don’t want that anymore.
So I stayed in the background and answered questions as they came up, cross-selling this property against all the other ones we’d seen, but careful not to be too pushy.
Because, you know, in this career real estate agents are not allowed to be authorities anymore. The thinking is that the Internet is right and we just open the doors.
That’s really too bad; it’s a loss for the profession. I at least have this column, an outlet where I can tell you I’m right. But I will tell you, dear readers, that you are right too. Especially if you are a little more experienced, that sixth sense that you get when you putting your client and the right home together, that’s not fake.
I’m sorry real estate as a sector has changed to the point where we’re not allowed to celebrate, that any acknowledgment of your expertise would be too much ego submission from the client. But the next time it happens — or after it happens, when you cash that commission check — go ahead and let yourself do a little jig.
Because you’re an expert even if it’s not cool to say so.
Alison Rogers is a licensed salesperson and author of “Diary of a Real Estate Rookie.”