What’s more important to clients: The real estate agent or the brokerage?
Whether the answer is sought for marketing purposes, leverage in compensation negotiations or any host of reasons, this question is the focus of numerous studies, articles and panels in our industry.
I’d submit we already have the answer to the question. It’s found in lessons learned from studying consumer behavior and supported by the results of various surveys and studies regarding how clients search for their perfect agent.
A 2016 J.D. Power survey found 58 percent of clients who rated themselves as “delighted customers” say they “definitely will” use the same real estate company again.
Now contrast this with the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) 2016 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, which found that 88 percent of buyers would use their agent again or recommend their agent to others.
According to a 2008 Keller Center Research Report at Baylor University, “When polled, none of our group rated ‘national brand’ as being very important in selecting an agent when buying.
When selling, the importance of being a national brand was somewhat more important. But, again, none rated it as very important. Rather, as long as the brand is recognizable, they were more likely to rely on ‘whose signs you see the most’ in the area.”
NAR’s 2016 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers also found “64 percent of sellers and 42 percent of buyers found their agent through a referral from a friend, neighbor or relative or used an agent they had worked with before to buy or sell a home.”
The friends, neighbors and families of those surveyed may have selected their agents based on their brokerage; however, based on what we have learned from studying consumer behavior, it’s very unlikely this is the case. Given the importance placed on the known, future relationships between each of those clients and their agents, it is much more likely their search was agent specific.
It’s also important to note that the subjects of NAR’s survey were clients who consulted known associates to ask specifically about and for their recommendations for an agent as opposed to a brokerage.
So, why would clients place more value in finding the right agent versus the right brokerage? Consumer behavior, how it’s impacted other industries and how it translates in our industry can shed light on what consumers value and why.
As humans, we find comfort in personal connections.
We make personal connections with other people more easily than we do with an entity such as a brokerage or a corporation.
Every marketing campaign and platform strives to engage the consumer and make a personal connection. However, no matter how successful a marketing campaign may be, it will rarely allow a business, product or service to match the personal connection possible with human interaction.
It seems that every agent bio you read contains, “Buying a home is the largest investment most people will ever make.” That is intimidating for a client who doesn’t participate in real estate transactions on a regular basis. The greater the perceived difficulty or fear, the greater the need to find comfort.
Clients are more likely to find the comfort they seek in a one-on-one relationship with an agent versus a brokerage. While a brokerage can certainly create a sense of comfort through branding and past interaction, it is the agent who provides the personalized attention. Therefore, it’s the agent who is better positioned to provide the comfort many seek during a critical transaction.
Convenience is key. Want proof? Consider Blockbuster, which is kind of hard to find now.
Consumers found more convenience in stopping at a Redbox while visiting the local Walmart or pharmacy than they did in making a special trip to Blockbuster.
We’re now gravitating towards spending more and simply streaming a movie in our living rooms. There is value in convenience.
Remember all the free music sites in the 90s? It was free! A
ll you had to do was find the one server that would actually download the song while risking viruses and malware. But it was free, and you avoided a trip to the record store in the mall.
You’ll now push a button on your smartphone and pay $1.99 for that same song. iTunes surpassed the convenience of free and a trip to the record store by getting rid of the record store and viruses with the touch of a button. Consumers have proven they will pay for that added convenience.
An individual agent offers the convenience of being a one-stop-shop for all our questions and concerns. They are “in the trenches” with the consumers throughout the buying and/or selling process.
The top-level services brokerages offer isn’t granular enough to provide the detailed guidance and attention provided by the consumer’s one agent of choice. There is both comfort and convenience in knowing that one person, the right person, knows everything about your specific desires and needs.
Have you ever had a bad experience at a restaurant?
Maybe the waiter was having a bad day. Maybe the air conditioning was out. Odds are you still went back.
Unfortunately, we as consumers are somewhat accustomed to bad customer service. However, if we go to that same restaurant and have a terrible meal, or worse yet, get sick, we don’t go back. Why is that? Expertise.
While a less than desirable attitude can be justified in any number of ways, a bad meal or sickness goes directly to expertise. As consumers, we are inundated with choices — expertise is a deciding factor in helping us choose.
Different brokerages have different expertise.
Some have established their expertise in providing continuing education for agents. Others claim marketing expertise that ensure they are the most recognizable brand.
However, it’s the agent who will provide the expertise we seek as our individual advocate in the buying or selling of our home. As with convenience, we find comfort in the specific expertise of an agent versus that of a brokerage.
The relationship with the agent is (again) more granular, versus the top-level relationship with the brokerage. Naturally we’ll want those closest to us to have the most expertise to address our specific concerns.