Erica Ramus is an indie broker and a tech geek in Pennsylvania. Her regular monthly column publishes on Thursdays and covers an array of topics including recruiting, independent brokerage, technology and social issues.
Agents post on social media and complain in the office about how consumers treat us poorly. Walk into any office cooler setting, and you can start up a row just by sharing how your high-maintenance seller turned down three excellent offers on their overpriced house.
Then there are those annoying first-time homebuyers who won’t commit to the perfect house you found after showing them 23 houses over three weeks.
We experience disrespectful clients who abuse our time and pick our brains only to buy a for sale by owner without us. Longtime friends list with Aunt Mary’s favorite nephew to help him in his new career. And out-of-town visitors want us to show them houses on a whim just because they might sometime come back to town to retire here if they hit the lottery and can someday afford it.
I hear your pain.
But after reading the groups and noticing the high level of whining and complaining about “them” — those who we are supposed to serve — and recently walking into an office where the group in the back was delighting in one-upping each other in “worst client ever” stories, I’m writing to ask you to step back and see it from the other side.
Searching for a unicorn
Awhile ago, I received a detailed email on a Sunday morning from a guy who said he was relocating his family to my area. He accepted a manager job at a local factory and gave me more information than most cold leads: his kids names, ages and hobbies, his wife’s profession and the exact type of house he was looking for.
That house would be hard to find (a unicorn in fact), but I wrote back that I would set him up on emails and would try. We talked on email for weeks, and when he came into town, I showed him a few houses, none of which suited his needs.
I did have the perfect house for him, but it was not for sale because the owner was underwater on the mortgage. The owner did want to sell, but I had just advised him to sit on the property until the market shifted to his advantage. Instead, I worked out a rental deal with the new client and owner until we could sort things out.
I asked this client how he chose me as an agent. He had emailed 14 agents cold, out of a real estate journal he had picked up. “So I was the first to reply?” Nope. I was the only one to reply.
How sad is that?
A year later, I sold him a different house in the same neighborhood, and three years later when he relocated again, I sold him that house, too.
His original rental? I rented that twice for the current owner before his situation turned around, and then I sold it outright to a buyer.
Can you count the number of sides I closed because I answered an email on a Sunday morning? That was the sale side of three higher-end executive houses and three executive level rentals in a five-year period, essentially from one email.
Answer the damn phone
This isn’t rocket science. It doesn’t take a super agent with years of experience or spending tons of money on lead generation to answer an email or pick up the phone. So why is it so hard?
Fast-forward to this summer. I am on the other side of the picture now, as I am searching for a rental or starter home for my son in another state. I am in awe at how hard it is to find an agent who is responsive to phone calls.
I also cannot believe just how bad — terribly bad — many broker and agent websites are (including hard to find their direct phone numbers and contact information, but that’s another column).
I called one broker three times before he returned my call, and the conversation was not what I’d consider warm and welcoming — even though I had a recommendation from another broker we have in common.
I identified myself as a fellow independent broker and said I needed to either rent or buy within 60 days in his town. I started to tell him about the situation and precise needs (close to interstate, etc.), and I sensed from his voice that he either didn’t care to hear the details or was in a hurry.
I had questions about neighborhoods and price ranges. He told me to go on his website to search and call back when I found something that was in our price range.
I didn’t call back.
‘Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes’
How many agents have either bought or sold a personal residence in the past few years? An agent in my office just bought her first house. She’s a buyer’s agent primarily, and as many of you do, she gets frustrated with clients — their emotional outbursts, cancelling showings at the last minute, backing out of deals because of what we (agents) might think are minor problems on a property inspection report, etc.
However, after going through a rough transaction herself, I told her I was glad that she experienced it from the buyer’s side. It should make her more empathetic to her buyers to remember how she felt when the lender didn’t call back promptly, and the home inspection turned up foundation issues.
She sweated the appraisal and was worried about closing costs. She cried more than once over this house, and I believe now she can relate to what her buyers go through.
For me, not having my own phone calls returned promptly — or at all in some cases, even after identifying myself as a fellow real estate professional — really stung.
I’m a selling broker because I want to keep my hand in the business and always know what my agents are going through. I also take lead calls for the same reason, though I am the fallback for our team.
The other day, a gentleman called in and asked about a house we have listed, but I’ve never been inside. I told him the listing agent could answer his questions best.
The agent was on appointments but would call back shortly, I assured him. He got upset with me and demanded I answer his questions now and not pass him off to the other agent.
I repeated the same line that I couldn’t answer all his questions but that I was sure he would get a call back shortly to talk about the house. He replied sarcastically, “Yeah sure, like every other time I leave agents messages, and nobody ever calls me back.” His anger was palpable through the phone line.
Feel their pain
Normally, I might have gotten defensive and told him he’ll get a call back as soon as possible as my agents always call back (at least I think so). This time, because of my recent experience on the other side, I took a deep breath and continued the conversation calmly.
I explained how our office works and promised either myself or the listing agent would call back within the hour with all of his questions answered. And we did call back. I felt his pain and anger at real estate agents in general — and I am sure he has left many unanswered messages as I have over the past three months.
We spend lots of time researching the new shiny objects to provide our agents with the best tech and lead generation tools. We spend tons of money on Zillow and realtor.com and other platforms to bring those buyers and sellers into our lead funnels.
But are you sure your agents are returning their emails and phone calls — not just promptly, but at all? What is the customer experience when they call your office?
What good are the websites and ads and referrals if we don’t work with ready, willing and able buyers who raise their hands and say “Help me.”
Not all buyers or sellers are “hot” and ready to buy within 30 days. Not everyone has perfect credit or enough down money to buy right now. Not all sellers can sell tomorrow.
Sometimes we need patience and hand holding — incubation time — until someone is ready to buy or sell. But does that mean those leads should be kicked to the curb?
The relocation client I wrote about earlier was looking for a unicorn — his dream house that was not for sale when he wrote that email. Thirteen other agents deleted it, maybe because his request was not easy to fulfill. But didn’t he at least deserve an email back stating that there is nothing on the market that fits your profile, rather than being ignored?
I wish each agent could see our industry through the eyes of the consumer. Once you’re on the consumer’s side, you might not like what you see. Practice just a little bit of empathy the next time you’re frustrated with a client. They’re probably just as frustrated as you are, if not more so.
Or you could just go out and buy or sell a house to see how it feels to be in their shoes. Your attitude just might change after the experience. Some days it’s certainly not fun to be a real estate agent. But it’s also not all roses and rainbows being a buyer or seller these days.
Be the one who educates them, provides information and holds their hand when necessary — and please answer the damn phone.