Have you ever found yourself in a painful situation where it would have been convenient not to mention an issue that could be a problem to your clients? While you may never intend to intentionally deceive a client, failure to mention issues that may be relevant can be just as serious as an outright lie.
How many times in your real estate career have you glossed over a buyer’s inquiry about something negative with one of your listings? For example, did you forget to mention the noisy neighbors next door or perhaps the 100 pounds of honey the sellers removed from the beehive in the attic two years ago?
Sometimes not saying anything can be as dangerous to your real estate sales career as lying.
To illustrate this point, an agent took a listing on a hillside property. When the buyers had their geologist inspect the property, the geologist warned that if there were a major earthquake, the property could collapse. The buyers backed out of the deal.
The second set of buyers elected not to conduct a geological inspection. The sellers and their agent did not provide the buyers with copies of the original geological report, according to a lawsuit filed by family members. Several months after the transaction closed, one of the new owners died when the property collapsed during a major earthquake.
Even if no lies are told about the condition of the property, an agent’s omission of a critical piece of information about the property can prove fatal.
Fear is usually the reason that people hide the truth. The agent may fear either losing the deal or coping with the client’s anger. The agent justifies her behavior because she believes that addressing the issue head on will have greater negative consequences than not mentioning it at all.
The problem with glossing over the truth is twofold. First, as Mark Twain once said, "No one has a good enough memory to be a good liar." Sooner or later, people who aren’t forthcoming about issues will eventually trip themselves up. When that happens, the agent has to clean up the original issue plus the fact that she chose to hide pertinent information from her clients.
Furthermore, when an agent glosses over the truth and then her client discovers it, the agent runs the risk of not only losing that client, but having her client’s negative experience broadcast across the social media as well. Even worse, negative comments normally rise to the top in most online searches.
If glossing over the truth has such serious consequences, what makes it so common? In many cases, it’s viewed as the easy way out of a tough situation. The payoff for omission of an important fact (or outright deception) is generally the alleviation of perceived short-term pain mixed with the belief that one won’t get caught.
Five steps for telling the truth, even when it hurts
The next time you’re tempted to gloss over the truth, here are some simple steps to follow:
The first step in changing any behavior is awareness. Identify the times when you are tempted to gloss over a fact that you probably should share with your client. Usually there is some sort of short-term payoff tied to your desire to avoid the issue. If you can identify what that short-term payoff is (e.g., my deal will close and I’ll have the money to pay my bills this month), you will have a better chance of avoiding this behavior in the first place.
2. Determine the cost of getting caught
One of the greatest deterrents to glossing over the truth is to examine the consequences of what will happen if your client finds out from another source. Failure to disclose, or failure to behave in an ethical fashion, can cost you your license. Is it worth the risk?
3. Like attracts like
When you deal with clients who are cutting corners on honesty — or you are the one cutting corners — you put your reputation and you career on the line.
4. Americans value "fixing it" more than perfection
Research from Clotaire Rapaille, the marketing consultant to 50 of the Fortune 100 companies, shows that Americans actually rank products, services and salespeople higher when there is a problem and the person fixes it.
Consequently, when a client has a problem, the simple way to take care of it is to say, "It was never my intention to make you angry. What can I do to fix it?" Notice that there is no blame here, only an offer to do your best to make the situation right on behalf of the client.
5. If you fall off the wagon …
It often takes time to change a habit. If you catch yourself glossing over the truth, use it as a learning experience to help you make a better choice next time. While it may be easy to judge yourself or others for this behavior, remember that this behavior is almost always fear-based.
While the cost for glossing over the truth may appear small at the front end, the potential for damage to you and your business is so severe that it’s simply not worth the risk.