Cara Ameer, a top-producing broker associate from Northeast Florida, writes about working with buyers and sellers, sticky situations and real estate marketing in her regular Inman column that publishes every other Wednesday.
Real estate agents play a unique role in American society: We have the opportunity to help families achieve the American dream of landing on a stable perch from which they can create the lives they want. We have the opportunity to help people to find the right school district, the right apartment, the right financing and the situation that they need for their new job.
In short, we help people to build communities, and the best of us weave ourselves into these communities to build a sense of solidarity, trust and mutual aid. We’ve written petabytes of copy to the effect that the role of the real estate agent is to build and foster communities.
So what happens when political leaders, caustic neighbors and others feel free to destroy the fabric of our communities with rants and complaints at our collective local digital water coolers?
Social media has created a platform where everyone can express themselves, no matter their role in this dramatic play we call life — and that can be dangerous, as demonstrated by the tragic events over the weekend in Ohio and Texas.
Like the servants of the houses of the Capulets and the Montagues on the streets of Verona in the opening scene of William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet, some citizens of the internet seem to always itch for a fight. Social media is their virtual square, and their weapons of choice are words.
Boundaries are diminished, and free-flowing thoughts spill out online with people tending to speak before they’ve thought everything through. What about considering: Who might see this? What ramifications might this have? What might current and potential customers think? What about family, friends, neighbors, those we work with — including our bosses and other management?
The Pew Research Center piece recently noted: “Trust is an essential elixir for public life and neighborly relations, and when Americans think about trust these days, they worry … Majorities believe the public’s confidence in the U.S. government and in each other is shrinking, and most believe a shortage of trust in government and in other citizens makes it harder to solve some of the nation’s key problems.”
The detailed piece is based on a weighted survey of 10,618 adults in the U.S. conducted between November and December 2018.
The good news that Pew reports is that “many Americans believe the situation can be turned around. Fully 84% believe the level of confidence Americans have in the federal government can be improved, and 86% think improvement is possible when it comes to the confidence Americans have in each other.”
Given our central positions in our communities, my opinion is that Realtors play the roles of leader, diplomat, ambassador, problem solver, resource person and friend — in other words, to be a pillar of the community. We might not all be Rhodes Scholars, but the public looks to us as stable figures in an often uncertain time in their lives.
So here are my five suggestions for navigating gracefully through our Twitter-fueled, tumultuous and tricky times:
1. Rise above it
There is no need to chime in just because others do. Resist the temptation to add more kerosene to the fire, particularly in heated social media conversations, no matter the topic.
There are often unfounded rants about a lot of things on social media, particularly the neighborhood armchair commentary. Complaints about real estate agents in general really seems to get some people going.
I’ve seen the posts that start out with someone asking if anyone knows of someone looking to sell, or has a property for rent in a particular area, and then they specifically state that they don’t want any real estate agents reading the post to chime in — they’re only interested in private owner opportunities.
This touches off a string of back-and-forth from all sides, which results in a debate about the merits or drawbacks of using a real estate agent. Everyone shares their horrible real estate experience story. So much for the consumers in this thread who were trying to defend the positive experiences they have had with a Realtor, and the few agents who were diplomatically trying to provide some insight. As tempting as it may be to jump in the water, particularly when it speaks to the heart of your profession, debating it out on a social media platform is not going to accomplish anything.
Since we are in the “customer is right at all costs economy,” it’s not uncommon during or after a real estate transaction that someone who may feel wronged by a builder, buyer, seller or agent and/or broker may want to take to social media to use it as a vehicle to get what they want or try to berate or embarrass the other person or company to get some satisfaction.
Resist the temptation to feed into that urge, and encourage the customer to take a step back for a moment. Maybe write something out but never post or send it. Ask your clients: How will they feel with pointed comments being associated with their name a few days later and all the fallout that could ensue? Is that how they wish to enter their new community? A few weeks from now will it even matter?
2. Foster positivity
There are a few things that seem to unite people, no matter how diametrically opposed they may be on other issues. Food and pets seem to be two of those topics.
As the late Anthony Bourdain showed us in his docuseries Parts Unknown, no matter where in the world he went, even in some of the most embattled and war torn nations, gathering around the table or camp fire with some good food and beverage of choice is a much better way to foster relationships and goodwill rather than engaging in senseless “I am right, you are wrong” banter that goes in circles.
Ever notice what posts seem to get the most likes and engagement on social media? There is nothing like posting a picture or video of a new puppy on Instagram or Facebook. People eat that stuff up and even the toughest social media tyrants have something good to say about the adorable dog or cat pictures.
Spread the love on social media with likes, congrats and words of encouragement for those you are connected to. Mute those who you find agitating and tempt you to want to get in the social media debate. Bring people together with food and drink. It’s so much more fun to talk about fun recipes to try or review the different restaurants in your area and what they offer.
The New York Times offers a weekly email called NYT Cooking that is chock full of ideas and brings out the chef in the most culinary defunct and “non foodie” person (myself included). It’s fun to read these recipes and think of customers whom they may be perfect for.
In the worst case scenario, your sphere will really enjoy having the dreaded “what to make for dinner” question solved for the week and people will think you’re a hero! I recently came across a great post about homemade spumoni cake (paywall) and it was too good not to share. We don’t need to be “all real estate all the time.” (Here’s an alternative recipe if you’ve hit your article limit at the NYT Cooking section, btw.)
3. Take several deep breaths before you post
It seems obvious, but what you say on social media can and will follow you. Think about the ramifications of what you may be putting out there and use your judgement.
Can what you are saying be taken out of context or misinterpreted? Could someone get the wrong impression or become hurt or offended by it? Is it something that could cause you to alienate current or potential clients? Misinterpretion and misunderstandings were at the heart of the tragedy in Romeo and Juliet: Don’t be your own walking tale of tragedy.
When each of us made the decision to become a Realtor, we decided to choose a career that is always “on” in some way. You can’t leave it all behind at the office each night or on the weekend because your office is everywhere you are. Clients often become friends and neighbors and are connected in the weave of a successful agent’s web. They refer you, talk about you, may be in awe of you and want to emulate you as someone that inspires them.
Even without telling you, they secretly were amazed when you gracefully juggled showing them 18 homes in two days so they could find one before leaving town. They were beyond grateful when you resolved a difficult situation with a positive outcome for them.
Don’t curb their enthusiasm for you and all that you do with a post that may not showcase who you are in a positive way. The last thing you want is to realize that you’ve been unfriended or unfollowed as a result of some pointed commentary.
4. When in doubt, smile
As Realtors, we encounter and interact with all different kinds of people. We are going to hear and see things that may not align ideologically with our personal views and beliefs. You may walk into a home with taxidermy on the walls or see indications of political or religious affiliations that the customer does not agree with and makes a comment.
Do not engage in further conversation about it, but simply smile. I’m not talking about any situation in which could put you or your customers in potential danger. It’s possible you may encounter someone with extreme views as it relates to housing that makes you extremely uncomfortable, and who would want you to exercise bias in assisting them with choices which could lead to fair housing violations.
In those cases, you may need to explain why you are not able to assist and politely recuse yourself from working with that person. We are in this business for the greater good.
5. Think: Is this life or death?
In the most polarizing of moments, it is important to step back and ask yourself: Is this a life or death situation?
Is anyone going to die because the builder could not get the desired paver color the consumer wanted, and they have to pick an alternative choice? Or because something wasn’t done to a buyer or seller’s satisfaction in a transaction?
I’m not saying to accept less than satisfactory work or a less than acceptable solution, but diplomatically push for a positive resolution.
Brainstorm, collaborate and creatively problem solve with all involved in the situation rather than taking to social media to protest, or spar over a piece of tile gone bad. Don’t be the demanding and difficult agent who barks out orders, and who doesn’t the take time to understand the nature of a problem, and then who can’t come up with a practical solution.
Unfortunately, broadcasting consumer dissatisfaction in a pointed manner seems to be the acceptable norm in society.
Consider those moments in life that force you to step back and reconsider priorities and what you place importance on. This is likely to make you respond to any given situation in a more thoughtful manner, and will help ameliorate any schisms.
A successful agent must be flexible and adaptable at all times. We need to be a chameleon of sorts, but it is a delicate balance between going with the flow of our customers — but also staying true to who we are.
Seek to understand and be understanding. Patience, tolerance and appreciation for a broad perspective of points of view, lifestyles, and so forth is a necessity. Many people come to us with barely a 180 degree view of a situation or true understanding of their wants, needs and expectations in a real estate situation. They often don’t understand what is possible in reality. In any given situation, their view is that the world revolves around them.
As long as humans are involved, things are likely to be less than perfect on some level. There will be highly competent people trying to make sure all goes right, and some who drop the ball and those who simply don’t care. It’s OK to be that person in the middle who can steady a lurching ship of uncertainty, disappointment and unmet expectations.
No matter the current climate, be like Prince Escalus in that opening scene of Romeo and Juliet, who arrived to break up the fight, and who berated the dagger-wielding servants for being “enemies to peace.”
As an ordinary citizen, you don’t have the authority to decree peace like Prince Escalus, but you do have the ability to deescalate a situation. And if you’re an experienced agent, you’ve probably already deescalated quite a few during the final moments of particularly thorny and contentious transactions.
Real estate is about transition. Some transitions are planned for and happy, while others are associated with loss and pain.
As with any change, a range of emotions can ensue from fear, anxiety, anticipation and excitement. Through it all, we have to be that calm and guiding light. We can and should be the same person at a showing, in the office, on social media, and in our professional online profiles.
Focusing on achieving a customer’s goal with empathy, emotional intelligence and diplomacy is the way to guide people to keep calm while accomplishing the task at hand.
While the consumer may be able to say or do what they want when they want on any platform they desire, we must remind ourselves that everyone is watching what we say and do at all times, so we must communicate clearly, succinctly and sincerely — you never know what your words, and your demeanor might spark off.