There are many non-negotiables that today’s discerning real estate consumers are demanding from their full-service agents. They expect them to operate ethically and, ideally, for them to provide as much of a one-stop-shop service as possible with a wealth of recommendations for ancillary services ranging from mortgage and insurance to home staging.
Consumer expectations of a real estate agent
There are many non-negotiables that today’s discerning real estate consumers are demanding from their full-service agents. They expect them to operate ethically and, ideally, for them to provide as much of a one-stop-shop service as possible with a wealth of recommendations for ancillary services ranging from mortgage and insurance to home staging. They also expect their agent to be adept at using tech to stay in touch with them and to do their job.
A good agent should also be inclusive, helping a broad range of clients follow their homeownership dreams. And though consumers come to the homebuying and selling transaction with far more information than they did 20 years ago, a top agent will help them interpret the plethora of information for their own individual circumstances.
A consultative relationship
Allow your real estate consumer to express themselves during the emotional highs and lows of the real estate transaction, no matter how confrontational that may be, says real estate industry expert Brian Buffini.
“Sometimes people need to vent their frustrations, but tense situations can make both parties involved feel defensive. If you listen though – without interjecting – it allows the other person to let go of their anger,” he advises.
Buyers are more anxious than ever before, Buffini says. You have to be very confident, you have to be very reassuring and you’ve got to know your facts, he said in a recent podcast.
Consumers these days don’t want to be told, they want to learn about the real estate process and to be consulted with, says Amy Somerville, RE/MAX Senior Vice President, Professional Development and Engagement.
The old approach of: “Trust me, let me handle it,” is not what people want to hear, says Somerville.
A consultative approach provides the personalized, customized experience the consumer wants. And it starts with “Why?” “Why are you in the market, why are you selling your house?”
Then an agent can use their knowledge and expertise in providing the “How.”
A key part of the consultative approach is to set a level of expectation, adds Somerville. This could be a step-by-step flowchart of what to anticipate in the different stages along the transaction, she suggests.
“If you start with a consultative approach, build relationships and educate through storytelling, you are no longer an agent, you are a trusted mentor and friend,” she adds.
You have to help people feel they have some sense of control over the process, says Julie Nelson, Realtor, author and coach at The Nelson Project.
The real estate consumer wants to be assured they will not have to do anything they don’t want to do in the transaction, she says. And if they feel safe and in control, they make better decisions and handle stress better.
The real estate consumer is, at the end of the day, the one who signs on the dotted line, says Nelson.
“We are the advocate, the educator, the advisor, we are not the decision maker,” she says.
Quality check during the transaction not after
A warning: Agents should never be complacent that they will be their client’s first pick. National Association of Realtors’ research may say consumers will go with the first agent they interview, but RE/MAX Chief Customer Officer Nick Bailey says studies show the vast majority of real estate consumers are researching two or three agents online and in their networks, before making a decision.
Once your client has signed on the dotted line, don’t take them for granted. An enlightened agent should be asking their buyer or seller during the transaction how they are doing, how they can improve, not waiting until the end of the transaction for feedback.
Kendall Bonner, a broker/owner of RE/MAX Capital Realty, in Florida, recommends agents send a short performance survey to the client during the three main stages of the transaction.
“Asking for a testimonial and a referral at the end of the transaction is a mistake, because it’s too late to fix the problems. You are not learning how to improve the customer journey,” says Bonner.
As well as learning what you could do better with each of these surveys, there are also three opportunities for the agent to ask for a referral after a positive response, she says.
What an inclusive agent looks like
One of the most important traits of an agent, as far as the real estate consumer is concerned – especially millennials, the biggest buyer group out there representing nearly 40 percent of the market – is that agents are inclusive, that their client feels heard, and the nuances of their needs and tastes are understood.
Part of inclusivity is not making assumptions about what certain generations will want.
Never pigeonhole someone because of their generation, says Somerville, who says she’s a Generation Xer but behaves more like a millennial.
“It’s really dangerous to put people into buckets,” she says. The beauty of a more consultative relationship is you know people well enough not to have to.
Meeting your clients on their terms is another recommendation from Mike Reagan, RE/MAX Senior Vice President, Industry Relations and Global Growth & Development. He references a California agent who shows homes to his clients at midnight because people in his community work second and third shifts.
“He listened and interpreted consumer expectations. He knows what is going on in every single family situation,” says Reagan.
Spending time with your sphere in a no pressure, non-selling environment is another example of being inclusive, he says. One agent he knows in Chicago hosts a picnic at his home every Saturday afternoon in the summer as a welcome to newcomers to his neighborhood. He never mentions he’s an agent – as far as he’s concerned, familiarity is the most important thing. He’s listening to them, says Reagan.
Do your homework before working with groups who have felt discriminated against, such as the LGBT community, to make sure you are giving them what they need. NAGLREP’s (National Association of Gay & Lesbian Real Estate Professionals) third annual LGBT Real Estate report, showed that 46 percent of LGBT renters feared potential discrimination from agents, new neighbors and sellers, and over 35 percent were said to be cautious about hiring the correct real estate agent.
Jeff Berger, founder and president of NAGLREP, says the agent should be a true ally for LGBT home buyers and that their vendors should also be similarly well-disposed.
How do agents go about being an ally? “Simply be yourself and advise your customer,” says Berger.
Are agents reflecting their market?
One of the big questions Reagan will always ask brokers he visits is: “Does the make-up of your office accurately reflect the make-up of your community?” He suggests agents go to websites such as City-Data.com to better understand the demographics of your local market.
The Ashton Real Estate Group in Nashville, a team of 145, has agents fluent in five different languages and prides itself on its inclusiveness. Debra Beagle, managing broker and owner of RE/MAX Advantage, has a Cuban-born mother and is fluent in Spanish. Beagle estimates that some 9 or 10 percent of the Nashville population is Hispanic.
Beagle, who leads The Ashton Real Estate Group alongside co-owner Gary Ashton, advertises their number one RE/MAX team in the world, in a number of languages around the city and on the radio. Bi-lingual agents do social media posts in Arabic, Spanish and Mandarin as well as English. They also use the favored form of contact for certain communities – WhatsApp is popular with the Hispanic community, for instance.
Beagle, a founding member of the local chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals says: “We see our brokerage as an ambassador of the city.”
Being sensitive to all communities in the brokerage’s city is just common sense and good business, she says.
“We are just promoting homeownership to all cultures and communities,” says Beagle.
With her multicultural client base, the managing broker is a big proponent of housing affordability and is encouraging local builders to include lower price point homes in their projects. There are strong rewards for being inclusive, Beagle says.
“These cultural communities are very loyal to their agents. Once they use you and like you, they will tell their friends — you become like family.”
Never leave your client in the dark
One of the key areas where agents can improve the real estate consumer experience is to educate clients is at every stage of the transaction particularly when the house goes under contract, says RE/MAX Chief Customer Officer Nick Bailey.
He has thrown a ballroom into complete darkness when addressing a conference audience to show just how the real estate consumer feels when the home goes under contract.
“This is what it feels like to be a buyer or seller, it feels like we’ve shut the lights off on them. They feel like they have to navigate in the dark for a bit,” says Bailey.
With consumers demanding transparency all the way along, this is not good enough.
“Inspections, appraisals, mortgage, title – this all need to be more transparent,” he says.
That point of going under contract can be stressful and intimidating, and consumers do not want to feel they are being taken advantage of, says coach Julie Nelson.
“At this stage in the real estate transaction, the clients are asking themselves: “Is this really a decent deal, is it a win-win, are we still feeling like we’re trusting our agent?” adds Nelson.
What agents are failing to provide in the marketplace is “edu-marketing,” adds Bonner. “You need to be giving more value for free if you want to be seen as the authority in your market,” she says.
“If you can Google how to bake a cake, you need to make it that simple for real estate consumers,” she says.
Bonner suggests doing a video on information that’s not easily found, for instance, about how title works.
“It’s relational marketing. If you want to put out market data, you want to go further and explain what that data means to them,” she adds.
Making tech work for you
There is room for improvement in the kind of content agents and brokerages are currently sharing online, according to NAR’s 2019 report, Real Estate in a Digital Age.
Home valuation bots or pages can offer clients good information on whether their home is appreciating or depreciating and can be a great conversation starter, says Jason Romig, RE/MAX Vice President, Product Development.
When RE/MAX bought software firm booj a couple years ago, it was to help RE/MAX agents engage with real estate consumers in a more meaningful way through the use of smart tech, says, Romig.
The new booj Platform launched to RE/MAX agents in August and helps them track and log the interactions they have with clients in their database. It also helps signal the “right time” to contact a potential buyer or seller.
While lead generation is still core to an agent’s business, RE/MAX also believes agents should put more value into their existing database and continue to cultivate those relationships, says Romig.
Using tech to communicate with your client is also something you have to get right with a new or existing client, he says.
A recent study says 57 percent of consumers would rather text with a business about appointments and scheduling than by email or phone.
“If I text my Realtor right now, I know she’ll answer me. It’s real-time interaction consumers are craving,” Romig added.
Too many agents think artificial intelligence (AI), is there to replace them, when it should be about enhancing their service, adds Bonner, a fan of the First.io app.
An app with AI for predictive analytics, First prompts agents to get in touch with clients around six months out, “before they get down the rabbit hole with another agent,” she says.
“If you can catch them up early enough in the funnel, you have the opportunity to secure and recapture them,” says Bonner.
She notes the app is not calling on your behalf, it just reminds the agent to make contact. Consumers hate automated responses; they want a human being, she says.
How ancillary services can continue connections
Consumers want meaningful connections with agents and for them to help them post-sale, says Romig.
Recommending ancillary services can be a way of continuing the conversation. If the client has taken on a mortgage, maybe they need a life insurance connection, for instance, he suggests.
According to a Real Trends report, the Secret Sauce: What’s Driving Brokerage Profitability, one of the five key drivers positively influencing brokerage profit is leveraging ancillary services.
Faisal Susiwala, a top Canadian broker with RE/MAX Twin City Realty in Ontario, who has his own investment division that manages properties for clients, is a strong advocate of offering clients ancillary services from appraisers to lawyers to stagers. But the service providers must have the same kind of work ethic he does, he says.
“I know my painter will answer his phone at 8 pm tonight. These are the types of people that you surround yourself with,” he says.
Make it simple for your clients, adds Bonner. She suggests putting your three biggest vendors immediately below your email signature.
“Pick synergistic partners who think the same way you do. Don’t choose them over money but rather how they handle problems, how they communicate mistakes,” she says.
Clients will be grateful for any information you can offer, she says.
“They don’t want to do their homework. They want you to make a recommendation and allow them to make choices. They want a community of experts,” says Bonner.
And the chances are they will give you a good referral and use you again as a thank you.
Don’t believe all you read about referrals and reviews
It is a well-known NAR statistic that 90 percent of buyers would use their agent again or recommend their agent to others. A lesser known finding is that the typical Realtor earns just 13 percent of their business from repeat clients and 17 percent through referrals from past customers.
According to Bailey, today’s social media savvy consumer will better believe what a perfect stranger says about an agent versus a word-of-mouth referral.
The consumer is looking for social proof about you, the agent, says Bonner. “They are looking at Instagram and Facebook to find connections and relatability. “
If you find a client happy to give you a referral, ask for a video review – these testimonials where people see a real human being go a long way, says Somerville.
“The only way to get a true referral is to create advocates,” says Susiwala.
An advocate who is on your side and talks about your track record is far better than just someone handing out your name, he says. When someone advocates for you, your chances of getting that client are 90 percent.
But for this, you need to maintain relationships, he says.
“Relationships don’t end, transactions end. Think relational, not transactional,” says Somerville.