This article last updated March 3, 2022.
I’m a huge fan of crispy chicken sandwiches; I have tried them from every fast-food restaurant I can find. The routine is the same no matter which eatery I visit. I drive up, look at the gorgeous picture on the menu, place my order, and then, once the sandwich is in my hands, look at it to see how closely it resembles the picture.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably still waiting for the sandwich you receive to look even remotely close to the way its portrayed on the menu. Therein lies what should be a huge problem.
However, we have become numb to the advertising hype around sandwiches and know that what we’re going to receive won’t look as advertised. While it may taste great, the visual effect is never the same.
While fast-food outlets may be able to get away with this with a sandwich, when it comes to real estate transactions, the expectations are dramatically different — especially now as we come out of an extremely competitive market.
Although most agents manage to paint a rosy picture of how things are going to go during a real estate transaction, “stuff” inevitably happens that can pull the process off the rails. It is all about expectations: Most Realtors have been down the transaction road many times, but most clients only venture down a few times in a lifetime.
Consequently, they have no idea what to expect and can easily be caught off guard or have a set of expectations fundamentally different from their agent — in some cases, wholly unreasonable expectancies that cannot adequately be met.
At the end of the day, a successful transaction is not about the end; it is about the process. If you manage to buy or sell a house, but the clients have been totally aggravated or frustrated along the way, instead of a successful outcome, you have an epic fail.
Success is achieved by effectively managing your client’s expectations. Although there’s no end of detailed lists online for managing expectations, I believe there are three fundamental components:
Tell them what you will be doing
Expectations start at the very beginning. From the first phone call, text or email, they are evaluating you and assessing your ability to manage their real estate process. First impressions matter, and it is important to demonstrate your professional capabilities from the start.
1. Get to know your clients
At the end of the day, even though they are “clients,” they are also human beings with passions, goals, hopes and fears. Although you may have clearly defined checklists and flowcharts for the entire process, if you don’t take the time to get to know them, you will never understand their expectations or fears. As a result, you won’t be able to tailor your process to their individual needs.
It may be business as usual for you, but it is deeply personal to them, and if you simply hit them with your process, they will feel like a cog in a machine.
2. Discuss communication methodology
Everyone has a preferred way of communicating. While I prefer calls, most of my clients want to text. Take the time to discuss preferred communication styles with them, and dial in on not only what will be the primary form of communication, but also the preferred frequency of communication.
While clients may want their primary communications by text, I stress that important communications will also be via email (so we have an audit trail), and all problems will usually be discussed via an actual call.
3. Clearly delineate goals
You can implement your goals much easier when everyone is on the same page. As an agent, you may think you know what the clients want. However, it doesn’t hurt to discuss everything with them so that goals are clearly aligned and expectations are in sync.
4. Produce a roadmap
Whether it’s buying or selling, it goes without saying that you should have your process down in writing. Having a system ensures that no details get overlooked. Remember: We may do this every day, but our buyers and sellers don’t.
Effective checklists serve as roadmaps to clients. They help point them in the right direction while highlighting critical steps along the way. We frequently hear clients say, “I’m so glad you have that on your list — it never crossed my mind.”
5. Set a schedule
When will you start? What are the critical milestones along the way? Make sure every key step has a deadline in writing that has been signed off by the client.
6. Define feedback
There will be times when your clients may have questions or concerns. Make sure they understand the fastest and most effective way of communicating their concerns so you can help resolve them as quickly as possible.
Tell them what you are doing
For any sports team to succeed, there is a constant flow of communication from the bench to the platers and back again. The same thing needs to be happening inside a real estate transaction:
7. Communicate their way
Whether text, email or call, let them know what is happening every step of the way using their preferred method of communication.
8. Communicate at their frequency
Nail down how frequently they want updates, and then make sure you follow through. It is impossible to overcommunicate; if they tell you they need less communication, then ease up a bit.
In reality, I have found that clients typically want more communication than we want to provide.
9. Share all milestones
There are two aspects to this: Clients need to know the next milestone to occur, and they need to be notified when it actually happens. Your clients should never be calling you to ask if their transaction has closed. You should have systems in place to notify them the second it does.
10. Talk about all issues
Some agents are afraid to call their clients, fearing their response. Trust me on this — their response will always be worse if they find out about an issue later or after the fact.
We have a script we use at the beginning of new client relationships: “Imagine you are on an airplane and the pilot comes on the intercom to announce rough weather ahead. They will state, ‘We just want you to know there is a rough patch ahead — please fasten your seat belts.’
It goes without saying that the pilot has flown through many rough spots before and has always made it to the destination. Like that pilot, when things get a bit rough, we will call you and let you know it’s time to fasten your seat belt. And like the pilot, we’ve managed to navigate a bunch of rough spots in the past and have always made it to the close.”
11. Communicate all successes
Do not miss any opportunity to let your clients know when something good has happened. Whether you managed to solve a problem, save them money, discovered a shortcut — make sure they know.
This is not patting yourself on the back; it is helping them feel good that selecting you as their agent was the right choice.
12. Discuss next steps
Every communication you have should have the same tag line: “This is what happens next …”
13. Solicit feedback
Never assume things are going well — always ask for feedback. Take notes, and then make sure any issues are handled immediately.
14. Surprise them along the way
Look for ways to actively exceed their expectations. Rather than just check off events as they happen, celebrate milestones as they occur, perhaps with a celebratory gift.
Tell them what you have done
While forward progress is always crucial, it is also important for people to be reminded of what has already transpired.
There are two reasons for this. First, it provides a sense of accomplishment. Even when things hit a snag, they can look back and remember, “We’ve made it this far — there is hope for the rest.”
Second, people have short memories. You need to help them remember so they can appreciate the full impact of what is happening in the transaction and how your constant interaction is propelling things forward.
15. Recap constantly
Sitting through a communication class years ago, the speaker made a statement about effective communication. He said, “First you tell them what you are going to tell them. Then you tell them. Then you tell them what you told them.”
It is true; recap constantly so they not only know what milestone has occurred, they also know what will be happening next. The three most important words in real estate relationships are, “communicate, communicate, communicate.”
16. Monitor expectations
Ask a simple question, “Are there any expectations that are not being met?” Then listen. If there are any outstanding issues, work to resolve them immediately.
In addition to celebrating when you meet milestones — go big at the end. They have entrusted you with the biggest financial transaction they will most likely have that year. You have scored a touchdown, and it is time to party in the end zone!
The next time you buy a fast-food sandwich, remember a single fact. Although the way the sandwich looks might not meet your expectations, it is still edible. In real estate, however, that simply does not cut it.
At the end of the day, to truly succeed, the goal is to not only meet client’s expectations but to exceed them at every step.
Carl Medford is the CEO of The Medford Team.