This April, one of Inman’s most popular recurring theme months returns: Back to Basics. All month, real estate professionals from across the country share what’s working for them, how they’ve evolved their systems and tools, and where they’re investing personally and professionally to drive growth in 2022. It’s always smart to go Back to Basics with Inman.
One of the interesting things about real estate is that it draws people from all sorts of backgrounds, from career-switchers with years of professional experience behind them to brand-new agents fresh out of high school or college. It truly is a democratic industry where people can bring their talents to the table and achieve success.
If you’re just getting into the industry, you may be a little nervous about what to expect and how to conduct yourself. If you’ve been in a different line of work, you may be wondering about the differences. If you’ve never really been part of a professional environment, you may be concerned about how to present yourself to both clients and colleagues.
If you’re younger, you may not have grown up with some of the strict etiquette do’s and don’ts that older agents and clients take for granted and fully expect. If, like everyone else, you’ve just spent a couple of years in sweatpants and have forgotten some of the niceties you used to do automatically, it may be time for a refresher.
Although being yourself is job one, you want to make sure that you feel comfortable with others and that they feel comfortable with you. The good news is that etiquette and social skills aren’t just for tea parties and polo matches — they’re for everyday situations. Here are some guidelines to help you put your best foot forward.
It can be difficult to make connections with others, especially if you’re coming into an environment where you’re not immediately comfortable. If you’re a new agent, you may find it hard to connect with the more experienced agents. If you’re younger, you may find it hard to talk with older agents; if you’re a career-switcher, you may not feel at ease with your fellow newbies who may be several years younger than you.
Building professional relationships comes down to being open-minded enough to have those early conversations and hope for the best. Maybe you’ll make some awkward small talk, but maybe you’ll find that you have a lot in common with that agent who, superficially, seems so different from you.
It also means getting out of your head and putting yourself out there, despite your insecurities or butterflies. Coming into a new situation and hanging back because you feel awkward or afraid won’t do you any favors. Take the risk of being authentic. Show your enthusiasm, interest and eagerness. You’ll feel better and others will find it refreshing.
You’ll find plenty of back-and-forth among real estate agents about how to present yourself. Some are big believers in flashy, upscale clothing and the coolest car on the block. Others believe in dressing similarly to your clients, or maybe just a notch above.
There are real estate agents who specialize in farm and land and spend most of their working life in jeans and boots. Others are luxury agents in upscale markets where only the finest designer fashion will do. Suit your dress and presentation to those you want to work with. If in doubt, talk to your broker or a trusted mentor about what constitutes professional dress in your market.
Whether you’re meeting a client for the first time or coming into a new brokerage, the way you present yourself is about more than clothing labels. Follow these guidelines to make a great first impression:
- Be friendly and courteous with those you meet. Real estate agents generally have a reputation for being outgoing and extroverted; it’s not a requirement for the job, but it helps. If you’re a little quieter, make the effort to smile a lot and brush up on your small talk.
- Many younger people are not used to making eye contact, having grown up communicating more through screens than face-to-face. When you’re talking to someone new, make an effort to make eye contact and to look at the person you’re speaking to.
- Whatever your style of dress, make it neat, clean and well-tailored. Don’t wear sloppy or ill-fitting clothes, and purchase a steamer (if you don’t already have one) to get out wrinkles.
- Keep your car in good repair; wash it and clean out the interior on a regular basis. You never know when you may be called upon to drive a client to a showing or to take a colleague to lunch. You don’t have to have a fancy car when you’re starting out, but you can keep your current car looking nice.
- Consider upgrading your backpack for a nicer purse, briefcase or workbag. It will help you look pulled together and a bit more professional. You don’t have to pay a lot for a good quality workbag and you don’t need to carry an uber-expensive purse. Just find something that is tailored and looks grown-up.
Be mindful of professional behavior with clients and colleagues
Different brokerages have different customs. Real estate, as an industry, is known for its outgoing, gregarious agents and sometimes party-hard lifestyle. While you may want to join in at happy hour or social occasions, keep it cute and classy and don’t overindulge.
Mind what you say and don’t let yourself get carried away by a feeling of friendship or kinship with clients or colleagues. Don’t gossip, tell secrets or let your mouth “write a check that you can’t afford to cash.” Remember, you’re at work – even when it feels social, even when it feels like everybody’s kumbaya.
Mind your manners
Keep in mind some of those basic manners you learned back in kindergarten:
- Say please and thank you.
- You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.
- Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share.
- If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
- Listen twice as much as you speak.
- Use your good table manners.
- When someone does something nice for you, write a thank you note the next day.
Communication is not just about how you communicate, but when. One of the most common complaints you’ll hear about real estate agents – from both other agents and from clients – is that they don’t communicate enough. The first rule of thumb? Prioritize communication: Return calls, text messages and emails promptly or bring on support staff to help you do so.
Here’s how to keep both clients and colleagues happy with the quality of your communication:
- Create a schedule for client communication and follow-up – and let your clients know when they can expect to hear from you. Even if you don’t have anything new to communicate, touch base to say hello and answer any questions they may have.
- Maintain a written record of verbal communication, both to cover yourself and to ensure that everyone’s on the same page. If you discuss something with your clients on the phone or in person, follow up with an email recapping your conversation.
- Talk to clients about their preferred method of communication and strive to honor their preference for most of your interactions.
- However, be aware that some information is more easily communicated through other channels. For example, while a client may prefer texting, a complex or upsetting conversation might be better over the phone.
- Be cordial when reaching out to colleagues, even if they’re on the other side of a negotiation. Remember, while you may only work with the client once, you’ll spend decades working with that local agent.
- Don’t take a heated negotiation personally or hold a grudge over an offer that didn’t go your way. You’ll need to work with other agents in your area again and again, so stay calm, carry on and endeavor to maintain a good relationship with everyone in your market and beyond.
- Be someone other agents want to work with. Be competent and communicative. Submit offers that are neat and provide a cover letter email that outlines the main points. Provide helpful feedback when requested. Follow up with a thank-you after you work with an agent. You never know when your good manners will come back to help you down the road.
Master nonverbal communication
There are some people who can keep their views to themselves and others who show every fleeting thought on their faces. As a real estate professional, you will be privy to all kinds of facts about clients, colleagues and properties.
You may walk into a house and hate the paint color; don’t let it show on your face. You may be listening to a client talk about their desire for a feature you loathe; don’t roll your eyes. You may be in a negotiation where the other agent just gave away a valuable piece of information; don’t let your eyes light up or raise your eyebrows.
Remember the old saying: You want to be a swan — serene and still on the surface but paddling like mad underneath.
Christy Murdock is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant and the owner of Writing Real Estate. She is also the creator of the online course Crafting the Property Description: The Step-by-Step Formula for Reluctant Real Estate Writers. Follow Writing Real Estate on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.