Back in the '90s, the Century 21 franchise exploded on the strength of its The Million Dollar Club campaign. At the time, selling the prestige of working with agents who routinely closed multimillion-dollar deals seemed like a solid way to market the brand, but the image of centurion agents in their golden jackets darting to and from sales training seminars reflected a purely sales mentality.
Since then, the industry hasn’t done much to change the idea that real estate agents are salespeople, and in many ways, that’s just wrong. Salespeople work for companies that sell products. Dealerships own the cars their salespeople sell. Insurance companies control the polices that their customers sign. By contrast, most real estate agents and companies don’t own the listings they promote.
In 99 percent of real estate transactions, a buyer asks a seller to accept a price. The agent is really only there to facilitate the transaction by marketing, promoting, and presenting information about the listing to the public. In other words, we have no direct control over the acceptance. The greatest value we provide is being a trusted resource.
Value Means Service
The perception of being nothing more than salespeople hurts our entire industry in a few ways.
First, if we promote an agent as a multimillion-dollar producer, consumers may believe that agent only deals with high-dollar transactions. Even if it's not true, that perception is enough to drive away anyone who doesn’t have millions of dollars. What's more, promoting agents as salespeople of any caliber presents them in a less favorable light. Yes, agents help make sales possible, but the idea of working with a salesperson can plant seeds of doubt and mistrust in clients’ minds. Without trust, we can’t perform our duty of helping clients make it to the closing table.
Because our greatest value lies in the services we provide, it makes sense to start portraying ourselves as service providers. We have to manage the inspections and appraisals, as well as the emotionally charged situations that clients will face, especially when it’s their first real estate transaction. That takes more than sales know-how; it takes emotional intelligence, a connection with people, and the ability to remind clients why they started this whole process in the first place.
From Sales to Service Professionals
Transitioning from being a salesperson to a service professional isn’t as complicated as it may seem. In real estate, that’s the natural role of an agent. However, you can become a more trusted resource for your clients by following these tips:
1. Take your eyes off the finish line for a minute.
It’s natural to focus on commission when you’re working in a sales-based environment — it's how you earn your living, after all. However, you must ensure you're not solely focused on the sale. Clients can sense when you're commission-hungry. I'm not asking you to disregard commission entirely — that would be a mistake, too — but I would encourage you to focus more on what's best for your client. If an offer doesn't pan out, be the first person to motivate your clients to keep looking. Provide more information and resources to help expand their search, and emphasize the process over the sale.
2. Take the headache out of onboarding.
Before your client gives or receives an offer, make sure you cover the entire home-buying and home-selling process from start to finish. By focusing on educating your clients upfront, you'll arm them with the information they need to make the right decisions later down the road. Different clients will have different levels of real estate knowledge, so your first task when you begin client relationships is to get a gauge on their experience. Continuously ask whether they have questions or concerns, and keep them involved in the conversation to ensure they’re following.
3. Build your army of service providers.
It truly takes an army to satisfy parties on both sides of a real estate transaction. Surround yourself with a quality support team that includes a good inspector, a trusted lender, members of various home service industries, and other agents. Having good, reliable people by your side will make it much easier to provide top-notch service to your clients 24/7 — even if you're personally unavailable.
4. Don't go radio silent.
Nothing will hurt your credibility more than collecting your commission and cutting off all contact. Great service-based agents stay with their clients long after the sale — providing updates, vendor referrals (for roofers, landscapers, plumbers, etc.), and keeping clients informed of neighborhood activity. They also help clients increase their personal wealth by strategizing future real estate transactions. Put a system in place to follow up and stay involved with clients — they might repay you with more business. According to a 2017 report from the National Association of Realtors®, more than 55 percent of sellers used the same agent more than once to buy or sell their homes.
Despite what you may have heard, real estate agents don’t sell their clients on buying or selling a home. Life creates those transactions by dictating when it's time for people to move on. A real estate agent’s most important role is to be the resource that makes that move possible.
Jeff Thompson is managing partner at Windermere Group One. WGO is a member of Windermere Real Estate, a real estate network comprised of 300 offices and more than 6,000 agents throughout the western United States. Jeff is truly passionate about helping build companies by building their people. He leverages his 25-plus years of experience in real estate to coach other managers and brokers. Jeff credits much of his success to hard work and a willingness to partner with good people.