Editor’s note: Meet Kris Berg at the upcoming Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco, which runs from Aug. 5-7, 2009. She will be available to meet with conference attendees from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 6, in the Palace Hotel’s Ralston Room. Click here to send Kris a message.

This week, I once again found myself sitting in the hair stylist’s chair covered with enough aluminum foil to safely reenter the earth’s atmosphere. It’s a ritual I perform reluctantly and only when I find that I am too often being mistaken for a Chia Pet or the fifth Beatle.

I dread these beautification outings because the outcome is so unpredictable. I am what you might call a hair-care orphan. The moment I establish a relationship with someone who demonstrates a modicum of competence, they suddenly relocate their practice to some foreign country — like Texas — and I am left to find and test the talents of a new salon professional.

The exception was my last stylist. I’ll call him James (since that is his name). James didn’t move. I fired him. He worried me. And not because I always left his chair looking like I had been victimized by a blindfolded Samurai, which I did. Rather, he was always so darned available. When I would call for an appointment, the conversation would go something like this.

ME: "I would like to make an appointment with James."

RECEPTIONIST: "Can you make it at 10 a.m.?"

ME: "It’s 9:58 now. I was thinking next Thursday at …"

RECEPTIONIST: "How about tomorrow? Eight? Nine? Noonish?"

And this would go on as she continued to read the column headings of her appointment book aloud, sounding just a little too desperate. The strange part is that when I eventually would show up for my time slot, James would have absolutely no recollection of ever having seen the likes of me before.

"We did the Mohawk last time, right?" he would ask tentatively. And at this point, I would always be thinking, "Not intentionally." More to point, I would also be thinking, "Come on, dude, of course you remember me. I’m your only customer!"

It’s a scary thing, being someone’s only customer. It makes you wonder. I think they call it the law of scarcity. According to the law of scarcity, James would have been better served playing a little hard-to-get, as this would have left me with at least the perception that he was in high demand and, therefore, great at his job.

The funny thing is that I am no better than James. It’s true I can’t cut hair worth a darn but, more importantly, I suck at being scarce. And I’m not talking about the manufactured kind. Sure, I’m not good at faking scarcity.

The problem is that I’m also not good at saying no when my time is truly limited. What I’m talking about is my tendency to drop 12 things and reschedule six appointments to show a home on one hour’s notice. When a client or would-be client delivers my marching orders, I tend to fall into rank a little too fast in the name of service.

I am starting to think, though, that what I see as service others may perceive as desperation. Lately, I have had a string of rather demanding clients, and I have been feeling a wee bit bullied. I’ve long strived to make every client feel as if they were my only client, but what if in doing so, I have diminished my own value in their eyes? There’s a little talk I give myself every full moon: "If you can’t respect your own time and yourself, you can’t expect your client’s respect." And yet, I keep reverting to that old habit of being too accessible. …CONTINUED

At least one popular real estate trainer teaches us to use the perception of scarcity to our advantage when booking appointments. Don’t ask when the customer would like to meet, we are told, but instead suggest a couple of times during which you are "available," even if the only other thing you really have on your agenda is a date with your TiVo.

Another application of the law of scarcity I see in real estate is the voice mail message announcing that all calls will be returned between "2:30 and 2:37 the next business day." I understand the spirit of this approach.

I’m down with the whole time management thing, but to suggest that I am too busy to talk to you at other times during the day is not only disingenuous, it smacks of arrogance. And it certainly isn’t what I would call service.

I suppose these methods do have some merit, though. They tend to establish the "you aren’t the boss of me" boundaries early on, but could it be that a more honest approach would work just as well?

The real estate transaction is a collaborative one, but too often we are afraid to just come out and say it. It’s an issue of service vs. servitude, and by opting for the latter I am not only violating the law of scarcity — I am misrepresenting the nature of the home-buying and selling processes.

Maybe sometimes, just sometimes, the client has to be a little inconvenienced themselves. My client who finds it most comfortable to see homes only after 7 p.m. on weeknights and never on weekends just might have to meet during a lunch hour or on one of his days of rest next time. We had another client recently who, having been bothered by the signing of loan documents during what was supposed to be a golfing day, blurted, "This was supposed to be fun!"

They might have been better prepared for the occasional intrusion of the home-buying process into the daily schedule had we insisted on some give and take from the beginning.

And maybe we shouldn’t be so afraid of admitting our own mortality. Sometimes agents do sleep or shower or talk to their children, and maybe the fact I have a casserole in the oven is not some dirty little secret I should keep but reason enough to insist that we schedule around my schedule just this once.

Last time I found that a product I wanted was on back order, I seem to recall still wanting it. I even wanted it a little more. So why am I afraid to admit that every now and then my time may have to be back-ordered? Had James been the best cut-and-color man on the planet, I still would have wondered why he seemed to have a little too much time on his hands.

The challenge in any business is how to make each client feel like the only client while assuring them that they are not and by a long shot. That’s my challenge at the moment, and I’m working on it.

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


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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