Like many aging baby boomers, I've had more than one career. I started out as a print journalist during the 1970s, working for newspapers and magazines. In the '80s, I moved into public relations, advertising and marketing, ultimately becoming a partner in a suburban ad agency. It wasn't until the '90s that I started selling print products, and ultimately Internet marketing programs, to Realtors - long before becoming a Realtor myself.
It was while working for one of Philadelphia's best business-to-business ad agencies in the early '80s that I internalized the mantra that drives my business style today. That style can be summarized in three words: friendly, helpful, authoritative.
I learned it from Joe Meehan, an extraordinary creative director and copywriter, and a real character straight out of the hit TV show Madmen. Joe was a twice divorced alcoholic who had a couple of heart attacks and eventually left advertising to become an Episcopalian minister. His concept of working with advertising clients was to be friendly enough to feel comfortable working together, helpful enough to produce whatever the client needed, and authoritative enough to tell the client when they were right and when they were dead wrong.
As a buyer's agent in today's insane real estate market, I practice the friendly, helpful, authoritative mantra routinely. Upon first meeting a prospective buyer (or seller), whether over the phone or in person, I try very hard to create a friendly atmosphere. I explain how I'd like to work with them, I ascertain their home buying (or selling) needs, and I ask a lot of questions. I try not to be too intrusive about their personal lives during the initial conversation but, let's face it, entering into a possible real estate transaction is about as personal as you can get short of being invited into a buyer's bedroom.
At this point - well in advance of the helpful and authoritative aspects of my real estate practice, I see if my newfound friends are behaving in a reciprocal manner. Are they being as open and honest with me as I am with them? Are they acting in an equally friendly way with me, or are they exhibiting any hostility toward real estate agents in general and toward me in particular? Do they appear to be forthcoming about their true wants and needs and desires? Or are they holding back, for fear of revealing too much too soon about the home they're seeking (or selling)?
What I find is that buyers fall into several different categories of openness and honesty. Those who are relatively closed to my encouraging suggestions that they share their hopes and dreams and aspirations with me aren't likely to ultimately buy with me. These folks see me not as a friendly, helpful professional who can help them buy (or sell) a home, but as a necessary evil to be used and abused. Thankfully, I haven't worked with very many of these buyers and sellers. A few of them went out looking at homes with me once or twice before switching to another agent. Most of the time, the feeling was mutual. My gut always tells me when I just don't like dealing with a particular person.
Those buyers who truly open up to me, who explain in some detail the kind of home they're seeking - and especially why that particular type of home, with those specific features, works for them - well, those are the buyers with whom I form a real bond. For those buyers I tend to work very hard, exhaust all my efforts, leave no stone unturned in search of the home that's perfect for them. No matter how long the process takes.
For not only do I want to be friendly with them, I want to be quite helpful and authoritative as well. I'm in this business not to become their best friend, but to be the best possible friend they can have within the business of buying and selling real estate. For them, I'm eager to employ all the skills I've learned while enduring all those Continuing Education courses that Realtors must suffer through. For those buyers who really and truly open their blessed buyer hearts to me, I want nothing more than to be as helpful and as auhtoritative as I possibly can be throughout the home buying process.
Most of my buyers these days come to me because they've found my technologically wondrous IDX-based home search site, www.Search4PA.com. There's nothing on it about me whatsoever. The site has no photo of me, no bio with designations and awards, not even my email address or direct phone number. Yet, it generates numerous buyer (and some seller) leads. That's simply because when people decide to search for listings on the Web, they just want to find a site that will show them all the homes within the geographic area where they're searching. They really don't want to form a personal connection with an agent - not yet, anyway.
But after they've searched for homes on my site for awhile, and after they've received the automated email alerts of new listings that match their search criteria, and after they've used my site and those listings alerts to help narrow their search - well, that's when they call or email me for help. At that point, when they need more information about a listing or a neighborhood, or they're ready to schedule a few showings, they need a Realtor like me.
That's the point in real estate where the technology meets the personal. For instance, I went looking at homes last weekend with a new buyer client who's been using my search site for the past six months. When I asked why he chose me as his buyer's agent, he explained that he's been using three different agent search sites, but he liked mine best.
"But all three sites have the same information," I explained, "because they're all based on the same MLS data feeds. The data is just tweaked a little differently by each site's vendor." (He's an IT guy, so I was comfortable speaking jargon with him.)
"Actually," he said, "I liked the drill down map views on another search site, and I liked a couple of features on a third site. But yours had the most comprehensive information, so that's why I decided to work with you."
Fair enough, I thought. He found the technology that my site offered to be the most...helpful. So he was already sold on my helpfulness before I even asked him to sign a Buyer Broker Agreement with me. And, as it turned out, he was completely open with me about the type of home he was seeking. He and his wife were willing to listen to my suggestions about the decisions they still need to make about choosing the right neighborhood, style of home, motgage program, and so forth.
Now, I don't know about you, but that's my favorite kind of buyer.