OpinionAgent

Professionalism matters: Business isn’t casual in real estate

  • Your friends and family may think they want you to be yourself, but when it comes down to referring you to others, professionalism is what counts.

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In the early weeks of my real estate career, my first broker gave me sage-like wisdom that I’ve never forgotten.

I told him business was great and I loved looking at houses. He said: “Don’t love it too much — you don’t get paid for looking at houses, you get paid for selling them!”

I wish I had known that before I got my first buyer clients. They really shed a light on just how much of a rookie I was.

Now, before I get into it, I should probably tell you that I loved my early clients.

I still have a high level of gratitude for those who willingly took a chance on me when I was brand new. The only reason I’m able to do what I do and love it is because some of my kind young friends worked with me instead of an experienced real estate agent.

Remember those days?

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Maybe you’re in that boat right now — it gets better, I promise.

I remember just hoping that nobody would be able to smell my fear and insecurity and that they’d somehow believe that I knew what I was doing.

If I’m being honest, it was a little surreal. I was just waiting for some one to expose my whole house of cards and tell me I was an idiot. But alas, that day never came.

Working with friends and family

My very first clients were some friends of mine from a previous job, and they were first-time buyers.

Perfect. They hadn’t experienced a seasoned agent, so if nobody told them I was bad, they wouldn’t know the difference!

In those days I had a lot of time and almost no money. In retrospect, I was pretty adorable.

I spent most days just obsessing over my clients and their property search. I created a cute little “consult” form to interview them about their ideal property, and I had another form with the full spiel about what my “style” was and why I was trustworthy.

I also poured over the MLS every 10-15 minutes to see if anything new became available. It was an exciting time!

I showed them 100-plus houses — I counted!

No referral love

Early on, I worked with mostly friends and family and a few open house leads I’d gained.

Obviously, with the strangers I worked extra hard to appear very professional, hoping they’d believe I belonged in the industry and praying that they wouldn’t ask me those very terrifying questions: “How long have you been doing this?” or “Have you sold a lot of houses around here?”

I spent so many hours working on the right way to cleverly answer those questions without lying.

After a couple of years, a pattern started to emerge in my business that I found a little baffling. I would get referrals mostly from the strangers, but not from my friends and family.

I still got their business, but it didn’t seem like they were passing my name along, and I couldn’t quite understand why.

I mean, shouldn’t my friends and family be the ones championing my budding business and supporting me with that sweet, sweet referral love? I got introspective and spent some time trying to understand what was happening.

Finally one day it hit me like a ton of bricks: I was mailing it in with my friends!

What do I mean by that? I wasn’t trying less hard or doing a bad job, but I was definitely giving them the “friend treatment.”

And it was mostly their fault!

Wanting to help me feel more comfortable, they would say things like: “You don’t have to dress up for us, we’re friends!” and “Just bring the kids along, we love them!” So I did.

Flip-flops and t-shirts were showing attire. I goofed off a little too much, brought my kids to showings and was generally far less professional.

A hard lesson learned

Here’s what I learned: your friends think that they want this, that they’re OK with it, and maybe they are.

But when someone asks them for the name of their trusted real estate adviser, they don’t have a professional image of you to fall back on.

They would be embarrassed if their referral got the same quality of service and professionalism that you gave to them. And to be fair, they’ve never met the “real you” in a business sense.

People are very careful about who they refer friends and family to because people still trust word-of-mouth like no other.

So whether you’re building your career from the ground level or you’re just looking to get more referrals in your business, avoid the temptation to mail it in with your friends and family.

Even if your friends and family say they don’t require it, your business needs you to impress this group — the most. Surprise them with your professionalism, and they’ll recognize your skills and gladly refer you the next time someone asks about their agent.

Matt Ashworth is the broker/owner of Ashworth Real Estate in the Twin Cities Metro area. Follow him on Facebook.