Fellow agent and Inman News columnist, Alison Rogers, recently spoke of the friends-and-family plan when it comes to buying and selling real estate. This made me chuckle knowingly, for I have been burned more times than I am willing to admit by the "I have a friend" rejection. Occasionally, this friend will turn out to be a very competent, even proficient agent. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Licensed agents in my state alone total 87 quadrillion to the 12th power. Every one of them is the friend or family of someone, yet I will wager a bet that not every one of them is among the very best real estate has to offer.

Fellow agent and Inman News columnist, Alison Rogers, recently spoke of the friends-and-family plan when it comes to buying and selling real estate. This made me chuckle knowingly, for I have been burned more times than I am willing to admit by the "I have a friend" rejection. Occasionally, this friend will turn out to be a very competent, even proficient agent. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Licensed agents in my state alone total 87 quadrillion to the 12th power. Every one of them is the friend or family of someone, yet I will wager a bet that not every one of them is among the very best real estate has to offer.

The first thing we are taught as new agents is that we have to focus on our sphere of influence. This is because, for the typical new agent unshackled by the encumbrances of venture capital, clients need to come fairly quickly. From the moment you are shown your cubicle, you are a debt center. Before you meet your first client or close your first transaction, there will be stuff you have to pay for. This stuff will include professional dues (National Association of Realtors, Your State Association of Realtors, Your City Association of Realtors, the Teamsters Union, Royal Order of Masonic Elks Chapter 43, and the Feed Bill Gates Fund), lockbox fees, signs, business cards, Errors and Omissions insurance, and a Lexus.

Your sphere of influence traditionally was considered to consist of the following: blood relatives, and any casual acquaintance who might let their guard down long enough to have a business card thrust into their clinched fist. As for the former, the limitations are obvious. Unless the bulk of your family is still in their reproductive years, you can run out of "work" pretty quickly. It is the other kind of sphere, the casual acquaintance, which is a little trickier. Thankfully, and in large part due to our technological advancements, this sphere is being redefined.

As I sat in a listing appointment yesterday, I was reminded of the power of the sphere of influence. The couple with whom we met happen to live in our community, a community with more real estate agents per capita than that Lexus showroom, and they seemed to know every one of them personally. On the other hand, we had never been formally introduced, but we had met. We had met through our marketing, through our Web site and through our blog.

This couple was troubled. They were troubled because their "friends" from the softball games, from carpool and from the old neighborhood were going to be upset when they selected another agent to represent them. But, while all of these other friends had demonstrated that they are great people, and even really good drivers, we had given them evidence that we are really good agents.

It is becoming more dangerous for agents to rely on the traditional definition of the sphere of influence. Being Bev from the Bunko group is not necessarily enough anymore. This is great news for me, not just because we got the listing, but because the tools now at our disposal allowed us to earn their business. I am seeing this "crazy" behavior more often, where consumers are sensing that in a transaction with a lot of money and liability at stake, they might owe it to themselves to put business before relationships. Ideally, the two will ultimately coexist, but the priority should be in the successful transaction.

As a matter of full disclosure, I have always failed miserably with the old-school sphere. My personal protractor has been notoriously short on influence. Coming from a small family, I lacked a sufficient number of Aunt Margarets to constitute a viable long-term business strategy. Further, my friends saw me not as a crack real estate professional, but as the frazzled girl next-door dragging the trash cans to the curb in her bathrobe, the harried hunter and gatherer in the frozen food aisle of the local market, and the unreliable social odd man out, willing to cancel a personal engagement faster than the Harrison administration when duty called. This was before we had our newer, more powerful and compelling ways of demonstrating our qualifications.

Yesterday, it might have been enough to know someone. Today, we have set the consumer’s expectations much higher. What we do and how we do it is a lot less mysterious; it’s all out there on the Internet for the taking. Now, armed with this better understanding, and with the realization that there is a difference that just might make a difference, our clients want the best. We still have our spheres, but they are becoming more on-topic. Our social networks and our Web presences allow us to mix business with pleasure, and our potential clients can get to know us both as people and as professionals, not having to pick one and take the other on faith. It’s about time.

Kris Berg is a real estate broker associate for Prudential California Realty in San Diego. She also writes a consumer-focused real estate blog, The San Diego Home Blog.

Berg will speak at Real Estate Connect in San Francisco, July 23-25, 2008. Register today.

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