- Use the FORD -- Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams -- method to build rapport and learn about your clients.
- As an agent, only let people know as much about your politics and beliefs as you are comfortable with.
Working with buyers is a very intimate experience. When thinking about and discussing “home” with buyers, we’re not just talking about the real estate or business transaction, we’re also diving into the emotional impact.
The emotional component is further complicated when buyers are a couple and may have different expectations or histories with the notion of “home.”
For example, is it more important for your clients to entertain big groups of people or to be comfortable at home with family?
Does the family hang out in their bedrooms, in the kitchen or in the family room? Who’s going to be visiting them?
Where do they watch TV? What was their home like growing up? Baths or showers?
Let’s talk about why finding these answers is crucial, how personal an agent should get, whether to discuss the big issues and what to do when you’re caught in an uncomfortable conversation.
The questions every real estate agent should ask
As you can imagine, a good agent is going to know intimate details about their buyers.
In fact, there’s even a popular acronym, FORD, for the types of questions we should be asking our clients. This stands for:
There are several reasons for asking FORD questions. First, we want to establish rapport with our clients. Most people naturally enjoy talking about themselves and appreciate someone being interested in them.
Second, we want to learn about the drivers or motivators for our clients. What’s important to them? What do they value?
Third, the answers to these questions often serve as clarifying points when negotiating; we can remind the buyers why it’s important to them to move.
How personal should an agent get?
We also spend a lot of time with our buyers, whether it’s driving or walking to see different listings or sharing meals and drinks during the purchase process, so we often become friends with our clients.
The question arises: Given how personal and intimate the relationship between an agent and buyer can be, how much personal information should the agent provide?
Considering that we’re still operating in a professional capacity, how much of your own private life should you share?
For example, if an agent is emotional following a death in the family or while a relative is ill, they may not wish to discuss that in a professional capacity.
Likewise, if clients learn that their agent is going through a divorce or break-up, they may be concerned about the agent’s ability to focus on the transaction.
On the other hand, I rented in a townhouse for a few years. In New York City, most people live in apartment buildings. New York City townhouses present a number of unique and quirky challenges and advantages.
By sharing my personal experiences (positives, negatives and solutions to problems) of living in a townhouse, I was able to provide buyers, sellers and renters with unique insights and solutions that resulted in my closing a number of transactions in townhouses.
Should you ever discuss the big issues?
During these politically charged times, do you discuss politics, religion or other issues that may be controversial? Will you initiate conversations about politics, or do you tense up when your clients assume that you have the same political tendencies as them?
We want to be authentic, real and honest with our clients. It’s important that our clients trust us to offer wise counsel and have sound judgment.
Can they trust us if they disagree with our political point of view? It’s also important that they like us. One of the reasons we utilize the FORD approach with prospective clients is so we can build a strong, trustworthy relationship with them.
Real estate agents are often advised to not post political comments on social media because their opinions may isolate half of their database.
I occasionally post political comments on social media because I want to be authentic. I don’t want to stifle opinions that are important to me, and I feel that I have worthwhile insights to share with the Facebook community.
I made the decision that if someone decides not to do business with me because of one Facebook post, that’s OK with me. I would prefer to lose some business than to stifle my inclination to speak out.
That said, most of my “political” Facebook posts tend to focus on unity. For example, I recently posted: “’When they go low, we go high.’ – Michelle Obama.” I thought that we all needed a reminder.
The week before Memorial Day, I posted: “Preemptive PSA: Every year, I receive at least five email blasts wishing me a ‘Happy’ Memorial Day weekend. It feels like a punch to the stomach. And I haven’t lost a family member in service to our country.
“Could you imagine how disrespectful, painful and tone deaf that sounds to someone who is honoring the memory of a loved one killed in action? Or to a veteran?
“This Memorial Day, let’s change the conversation. Let’s not talk about sales or barbecues. Let’s talk about heroes, bravery, peace, freedom — and standing up for something you believe in, even when it is really hard.”
What to do when you get caught in an uncomfortable conversation
So, if you’re in an intimate conversation with a client, either while looking at homes or discussing offers over a lunch break, and they express a political opinion that makes your hair stand on end, how do you respond? Here’s a few suggestions:
1. Follow the mantra of ‘agreeing to disagree.’
We can have differing opinions, have respect each other and be able to listen to other perspectives.
For example: “Bob, I am glad to hear you express that. I will share with you that I disagree, but I have a great deal of respect for you and your position.”
2. Focus on the positive and gratitude.
You might say, “You know, we are so fortunate to live in a country where we are free to express ourselves like this without fear. Think of all the people who live in countries where they don’t have that right.”
3. Smile, and make eye contact while discussing it.
Political disagreement can be a great opportunity to deepen rapport and understanding.
4. Maintain peace and calm, and don’t raise your voice.
Your words are more powerful when spoken softly.
5. Remember that the person is entitled to their beliefs and opinions based on their experiences, just as you are entitled to yours.
6. Focus on the client and the transaction.
How about you as a client? Do you choose professionals based on political beliefs or based on the quality of the service they provide?
What about choosing your friends? I know a number of people who have had powerful chasms in friendships and family relationships after the most recent presidential election.
How do you deal with the big issues in your relationships, whether it be a service provider or a friend? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Joan Kagan is a sales manager/licensed associate real estate broker for Triplemint in New York City. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.