There is no shortage of opportunities in a real estate transaction for something to go wrong. In most cases it’s a matter of when, not if, and to what degree. Some of them are small speed bumps on the way to a smooth closing, some take a little more work, and then there are those that make you question either your or your client’s sanity and maybe, just maybe, get a little jealous of your friends who have a “normal” job. It happens. If it hasn’t already happened to you, it will. It’s just part of dealing with people during the most emotionally charged, high stakes transaction of their lives.
When I worked in the home building world, everything we did revolved around the ever-important customer surveys at closing. The sales person got one and the builder got one. Funny thing about how those surveys worked out when it came to the builders. You see, there were basically two types of builders. On one hand, you had a builder who was their client’s best friend by the time they finished the home. They would go out of their way to be accommodating and do every little thing that the client asked. On the other hand, you had builders who handled the transaction like business and built the home quickly and efficiently without a lot of fluff. Now, you might think that the ones who went out of their way to make friends with their clients would have the higher survey scores than the ones who were all business, but the opposite was actually true.
So, how did they do it? Think about it. The client didn’t want a new best friend. They wanted an expert in home building that they could trust to do a great job in an efficient manner with a minimal number of surprises along the way. Sound familiar? Your clients want the same from you.
Too often, what leads to problems in a real estate transaction is our mistaking niceness for service.
Going back to the builders, here are the three things, plus a bonus, that the best builders I worked with did that created awesome experiences for their clients:
1) Set Very Clear Expectations
From the very outset of the process, the builder met, in person, with the client and set very clear expectations from beginning to end. These meetings were an hour or longer, depending on the needs of the client. There were other scheduled contact points that came out of that meeting and each person was expected to participate so we were all on the same page. If something came up during the process, they were reminded of the expectations set and the timeline explained at the outset. Everything hinged on that initial meeting. So, do you do the same thing as part of your client interaction? Do you walk through the process in detail? Do you set up communication points at regular intervals? If something comes up, will it be a surprise or will you be able to point back to your initial meeting as a reminder that something like this might happen?
2) Establish Expertise
They are, hopefully, hiring you for your expertise. That being said, the interwebs are a dangerous place to live. There is so much information out there, much of it wrong, that your clients will come to you with the most ridiculous things sometimes. “But I read on Zillow that (insert ridiculousness here).” Starting from the beginning, make yourself the go-to person when they have a question. Quicken Loans is ridiculous, Zillow is wrong as often as right, and don’t even get me started on the minimum wage moron at their local Chase Bank branch. Uh-uh. You, period. You know the market, you know the area, you have a team of experts.
3) Communicate Regularly
Yes, I know. We’ve talked about this before. Yet, here we are, talking about it again. Regular communication is one of the best tools you have to minimize adverse reactions to the problems that will come up along the way. You can’t just say you’re going to do it, you actually have to do it. There’s nothing worse than having to deliver bad news to a client when the last time you talked to them was two or three weeks ago and everything was fine then. Oh, and by the way, when I say talk to them I actually mean talk, a.k.a. speak with your mouth, to them. Not email or text. Words from your pie hole to their ears. When you talk to them, remind them from the first meeting where you are in the process and what comes next, answer any questions, make sure they are good to go, and either ask or plant the seed for a referral.
Since the title of this is about tough love, here’s how you deal with problems when they arise. It’s really easy. Be honest. Don’t beat around the bush. Get to the heart of the problem, tell them what your plan to fix the problem is, what you expect of them, and then go do it. Don’t worry about their feelings. Worry about solving the problem as quickly as you can. Their feelings will be just fine once you, as the expert here, fix the damn problem, make sure they are good with the fix, and then toot your horn a little about fixing the problem to reassert that you are, in fact, the expert here.
Last two notes on this subject. First, it’s still ok to be friends with your clients. It’s supposed to be a great experience for them and you can make it so by being their friend. That being said, at the end of the day, you have a job to do and they expect you to do it. Don’t let them down or you sure as hell won’t be their friend. Finally, sometimes people are just crazy and there’s nothing you can do about it but learn and hope to avoid them next time.
Be the expert. Be the best you can be for you and for your client.