You found your buyers the perfect house and helped them write a winning offer. You held their hand through the closing process and handed them the keys to their new home, then attended the housewarming party. Nice work, real estate agent! But … now what?

  • More than half of "very satisfied" buyers aren't using the same agent later on for their sales transaction.
  • Becoming a resource beyond the closing table keeps you top-of-mind.
  • Use mail, pop-bys, events, market reports and more to maintain a dialogue with past clients.

You found your buyers the perfect house and helped them write a winning offer. You held their hand through the inspection and appraisal and getting that earnest money check from point A to point B; you were there when they signed their names a hundred times over at the closing table, and you handed them the keys to their new front door while they beamed. Then you dropped off your closing gift and attended their housewarming party.

Nice work, real estate agent! But … now what?

Here are some statistics to think about from the most recent National Association of Realtors (NAR) Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, released in October:

  • 88 percent of recent buyers used a real estate agent in their home purchase transaction
  • 60 percent of buyers told NAR they were “very satisfied” with their recent home buying experience
  • 89 percent of recent sellers worked with a real estate agent to sell their home
  • 61 percent of recent sellers told NAR they were “very satisfied” with their sales experience

Given these stats, one might reasonably assume that satisfied buyers today are turning into satisfied sellers tomorrow — and since they were “very satisfied” with their last experience, wouldn’t they be working with the same person?

Well, not necessarily. According to NAR:

  • 39 percent of sellers found their agent through a referral
  • 25 percent of sellers used an agent they’d worked with in the past

It would appear that more than half of self-described “very satisfied” buyers are working with a different agent when they’re ready to dive into another real estate transaction — 60 percent of all buyers are “very satisfied,” but only 25 percent of all sellers work with an agent they’ve previously used.

Let’s assume the 25 percent of repeat customers were “very satisfied” buyers last time. What about the rest of the “very satisfied” buyers — 35 percent of all buyers surveyed?

Why aren’t they coming back to the same agent?

Focusing on the ‘now’

Zvi Band, Contactually

“We’ve talked to a number of agents about this because they’re focused on the ‘now,'” noted Zvi Band, CEO at Contactually. “They’re so focused on whatever’s urgent or the fire going on; they’re back to thinking about the next transaction they have to close or the lead that just came in the door.”

That means that oftentimes agents don’t check back in with their just-closed client to see how things are going — in a few weeks, a few months or possibly ever again.

“Realistically, an agent doesn’t know if that buyer they just worked with is going to be looking to sell their home in two years, five years, 30 years — or if they will ever make a referral or even know anyone who might be moving,” Band added. “I think every agent knows and understands that it’s about a long-term focus on relationships, but at the end of the day, that’s something that gets kicked down the road until later.”

Kevin Romito, QSC

Kevin Romito, COO at Quality Service Certification (QSC), says that his company doesn’t send follow-up surveys within 24 hours of closing “because it’s too fresh then; the dust hasn’t settled.” However, “we strongly recommend the agent personally follow up,” he said.

“That makes sure there aren’t any unresolved silly issues — signs left in the garage, a padlock on the shed with no key, a $300 fee on the closing documents that they weren’t prepared for,” he added. “If you don’t clear up those issues, you’re going to have an unhappy customers, or at least leave a bad taste in their mouth.”

Take the money and run

Paul Caine

Paul Caine, a broker in Melbourne, Australia, notes that because the buyer typically doesn’t take possession of the home for months after the transaction closes, someone who was “very satisfied” with her agent at closing might feel completely abandoned and have a different tune to sing if you ask her on moving day.

“The closing phase here can be anywhere from one month, two months, three months from sale to final exchange,” Caine explained. Through the sales cycle, the agent has been in near-constant communication with the client — “we might talk to that new owner every day in that period,” he said.

But once some agents have the money, the attitude shifts: “I couldn’t care less about you now.”

So Caine spends seven months easing his clients into their new relationship. “We find that is where we will lose friends — and it’s not only losing friends,” he explained. “They become almost violent objectors if you love them, love them, love them — then dumped — just like you’ve just left your girlfriend.”

“In real estate, the consumer sees what we charge as a very high price for services rendered,” Romito noted. “In the industry, we understand why, but that’s our model and our problem.”

It’s only natural for consumers to wonder what they could have done with that money instead. On a high-priced property, “they could be thinking ‘I could have bought a new Mercedes,'” he added. “If you put on the consumer’s hat and look at it from that direction, why would I use the same agent again?”

“If you did a wonderful job, I’m never going to forget your name,” he concluded.

Building (and maintaining) top-of-mind awareness

“The most important thing is top-of-mind awareness and keeping a relationship with your client that exists beyond the home transaction, and I think that’s what buyers and sellers want from their Realtor,” explained Elizabeth Mendenhall, a broker in Columbia, Missouri (and NAR’s president-elect).

Elizabeth Mendenhall, NAR president-elect

“The ultimate professional knows that this is not just the client, it’s their client for life, and they are involved in not just this client’s homebuying purchase, but they’re a friend,” she said.

“Automation is key, because that helps,” she added, “but it also needs to be authentic and realistic.” You need to move in their minds from being the person who helped them find a home (or sell a home, or both) and facilitate the transaction, to the person who helps them navigate the world of homeownership.

Following up immediately after the sale

Caine calls his clients the day after the transaction closes to check in. He adds: “I’ll talk to you in a week and check to see if there’s anything else you need.”

The next week, he calls back. “How you doing? You packing, got your mover coming, got the bank organized? Good; fine; I’m still here, and I’ll check in in a fortnight,” he says.

In another two weeks, he calls back to make sure things are rolling along and tells clients that he’ll be back in touch in another three to four weeks. “It’s a gentle bleed out,” he noted.

Leslie Ebersole

“Clients perceive follow-up in different ways,” said Leslie Ebersole, a team lead in Chicago. “The post-close follow-up that appears to be the most valuable is personal.”

And that can be hard for introverted clients or very business-oriented clients who aren’t great at building friendships — but it can still be done.

“The real estate agents who do form personal relationships or very friendly relationships are also the type to be out on social media and speaking at sales meetings about how valuable it is to them,” Ebersole said. “The introverts and the quiet ones aren’t yakking about it. They can still form and maintain relationships, but personal connection in whatever format you conducted the transaction — relevant personal communication — is the most valuable to them.”

Giving clients resources to manage, maintain and update their abodes

Mendenhall uses home maintenance reminders and seasonal information, prompting past clients to detach their hoses and otherwise winterize the property before the first freeze happens, for example.

“The other thing is that a good place for a Realtor is to be a go-to person where you are providing all of the contacts they need to service the home — reliable plumbers, handymen, electricians, decorators, repair and remodel contractors,” she said.

Caine calls the people in his contact book — all 1,500 of them — every quarter. “My assistant binds me up a new set of lists every quarter, gives it to me, and I call everybody in that list, tick them off, make a note, enter them into the system and give it back to her at the end of the quarter,” he explained.

It’s a check-in to make sure everything is going well. “How’s settlement? How’s the new place? After they’ve been in a week: ‘You’ve been in a week, any taps leaking or anything else our maintenance guy can tackle?'” (Sending that maintenance guy around to the house is a free service Caine provides new homeowners.)

“We try not to be too repetitive; they don’t normally need a new friend,” he noted. He’ll call if he lists a home down the street to ask whether the surrounding homeowners want to stay up-to-date on how the sales process goes.

Pop by with gifts (or send them)

Lynn Johnson

Lynn Johnson, an agent in Raleigh, North Carolina, keeps track of her clients’ likes and dislikes — she’s fond of leaving six-packs of a favorite beer or wine varietal on a doorstep with a note that says something like, “Hey, thinking about you guys — hope you’re loving the house!”

She also uses Facebook to keep up with the happenings in her clients’ lives. “I have clients who just found out they were pregnant,” she recalled. “I went on Etsy and had a handwritten note sent along with a little baby onesie, ‘My First Thanksgiving.’” (The parents-to-be loved it, of course.)

She dropped off festive brokerage-themed T-shirts for the Fourth of July along with sparklers to all of her past clients, and she also sends scratch-and-win cards for St. Patrick’s Day and puts together “boo bags” for Halloween that say “boo somebody else with this bag” — gestures that get the whole neighborhood involved.

Creating real-life connections for clients

Help to build bridges between clients and their peers on social media or in real-life groups and pay attention to what’s happening in their lives — marriage, children, job changes.

Mendenhall says her brokerage sometimes hosts events — “we did a playdate where we brought in some first-time mothers who had all moved in and were new to the area, took them to one of the children’s play areas and let them get to know each other,” she said, among other more trendy options like hosting client events in a design studio’s kitchen showroom.

“A great client party can represent your brand,” noted Ebersole. “Maybe your early summer party is a family party and your late summer party is at a bar.”

You’ve got mail

Caine says he sends a monthly email that gives clients updates on which properties have sold, the average price and days on market. “We do a quarterly print newsletter — really old-fashioned, we burn a few trees doing that, but they get something in their mailbox,” he added. “It’s building a reputation that speaks for itself.”

He also sends anniversary cards so his clients remember that he remembers when they moved in.

Targeted mail (whether digital or physical) is useful, Ebersole noted — but you have to be smart about it.

“If my persona is the community expert who’s knowledgeable about trends in the area, then the newsletter with the top 10 places to eat outdoors in the summer or the top 10 music events would make sense,” she explained “But I can’t recommend that a 30-year-old suddenly start producing a bunch of stuff on the parade at the elementary school because it’s not relevant.”

That’s not to say you can’t evolve — you can, and should.

“Agents who specialize in stage-of-life may lose track of their clients as their clients evolve into the next stage of life,” Ebersole noted. “If what you’ve handled is move-up corporate people when it comes time to buy the bigger, better house for more money, and that’s what you’ve done for 10 years, you may not be perceived as the person who’s going to pat the hand of the widow when her husband dies.

“You’ve got to know your brand, who are you in the marketplace, and you have to know their clients and what kind of information they want,” she said.

Annual home reports: Overplayed or worth the effort?

Mendenhall also sends out annual home reports — with a survey asking about updates: additions or remodels, for example — “so we can keep a record of changes and know where you fit into the marketplace.”

She says this report probably takes the most time of their follow-up efforts, “but it’s a professional value-added piece,” she said.

“If I were a consumer, I’d be very happy to have my agent send me a list of everything that sold in my neighborhood in the last quarter and what my house could be worth,” said Ebersole. “I think market data is a really important way to follow up.”

“It’s 10 times — 100 times — easier to work with people who know you rather than constantly chasing a new best friend,” Caine opined. “You’ve already got them.”

“It really isn’t what you do as much as that you are doing something,” Mendenhall concluded. “You have to touch your clients in a way that feels comfortable to you but is also going to resonate with them and secure you in their mind as their Realtor.”

Email Amber Taufen.

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