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A couple of weeks ago I accidentally cut a thin wire on the side of my air conditioner. The unit sits close to the house and a vine was growing around it and up the side of the house.
When I tried to run the air conditioner I discovered that the fan wasn’t working. If the fan doesn’t work then even if part of the system runs it won’t cool the house.
It has been a hot summer here in Minnesota. I cut the wire on a Thursday afternoon and the weather forecast for the weekend was hot. It isn’t dry heat.
I called the company that installed our central air and they were too busy to help. I called the company that I usually call for emergency-type repairs. They have done repairs for some of my clients, too.
The man who took my call told me they could have someone out on Saturday morning. He said that they would “assess” the air conditioning unit and give us an estimate and sit down with us and discuss options. I asked if the person they were sending could also make a repair and did not get a clear answer.
He went on to explain various ways that I could save on the fee they charge to come to our house. Saving $20 or $30 wasn’t even on my radar. This wasn’t the first time my pruning sheers got me into trouble. I figured I would have to pay for my carelessness.
I made it clear that I wasn’t looking for an estimate or an assessment. It worked just fine until I cut that little wire. I just wanted the wire fixed, that was the only option I was interested in discussing.
We went around and around on the phone. He wasn’t listening to me. He had his own agenda and that was to sell me something. He stuck with his script no matter what I said. I didn’t feel as though he heard me. I went ahead and let him schedule the appointment anyway.
Then I called a company owned by the brothers of a friend. They listened as I explained how I cut the wire. The person who answered my call told me that I wasn’t the first homeowner to cut a vital wire. She told me she would have someone out to fix it within the next three hours.
The repair person arrived a couple of hours later. I asked him if I could show him what I thought was the problem with the air conditioner. I showed him the wire. He smiled and said, “Yes, you did it.” He had me turn everything off and he spliced the wire. I turned the AC back on and it was all working just fine. Next time, I’ll call him first.
I called the other company back and canceled the appointment. They asked me why and I explained that I wasn’t looking for an estimate or an assessment or a consultation. I just wanted a repair and that I wasn’t sure the person I talked to understood that.
The danger of following the script
Sometimes real estate agents have scripts that they don’t seem to be able to deviate from. They don’t listen to what the homeowner wants. They offer a free consultation and have a sales pitch ready about why they charge so much.
Some companies have systems in place that don’t allow for or take into account the random homeowner with pruning sheers.
The homeowners might know exactly what they want and it might not be a lengthy consultation to discuss options. They may not want a thirty-page CMA filled with charts and graphs. They might want to sell their house — and the salesperson who listens will get the listing.
They may not even care all that much about how much the agent will charge. They don’t care at all about how much of that commission actually goes to the agent and how much goes to her broker or a list of expenses the agent will incur when listing a house.
Sure you have a 20-step marketing plan to justify your high fee, but they may not be able to listen to all of that while waiting for their questions to be answered.
Find out what the client wants from you
They might just want someone to listen to their concerns about selling the house. They might be worried about how long it will take and whether they have to make any repairs. The thought of selling the house can cause a lot of stress.
Ask questions and listen to the answers and ask follow-up questions as needed. I like “Can you tell me more about that?” Or “What does that look like to you?” Make eye contact. Nod or give some signal that you are listening and have heard.
If what they really want is a quick sale and they have already assumed that all real estate agents charge 6 percent, there isn’t any point in going into why you charge 5 percent.
Salespeople who listen don’t go in with preconceived ideas and all of the answers. No two houses are exactly the same and neither are the owners. Scripts are important, but they are never a substitute for listening.
Listening skills are very useful when working with homebuyers, too.
Talk less and listen more.
Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker/owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is also the founder of StPaulRealEstateBlog.com.