I had the unique opportunity to sit in on several focus group sessions of interviews with past buyer and seller consumers. These focus groups were administered by Anne Randolph Murray from Murray Marketing. They were held in a the Facilities at Fieldwork Denver. It was there that we sat behind the glass and were able to observe real life buyers and sellers as they were interviewed by Anne. I had participated in these type of groups before, but I had forgotten the frankness that consumers can have. Every broker should have to experience this.
Sitting from behind the glass reminds you of how poorly and how wonderfully some brokers run their business. I think the key word here is "business". One of the best quotes I know is that people say they want to "try Real Estate" and I know that in fact , the "Real Estate Business will try them"! For the professional brokers in this business, we realize that this is not a hobby. The fact of the matter is that people getting into this industry to do one or two deals a year (Average number of broker transactions in Denver for 2005 was under two) are making it tough for professional brokers but more embarrassingly the buying and selling consumers.
Another undeniable focus truth was that all of the attendees used the Internet as part of their normal everyday lives. (yes, that's right Virginia, the Internet and e mail is not a fad) The age spread in the groups was from 27 to 55 years old. They were very accustomed to using the Internet to gather information and did not find it at all in-personal to receive status updates, information and feedback using Internet based tools. In fact, some made business model recommendations for Internet transaction services that are already in use...just not by all brokers.
So below I have included the top ten concepts that I gleaned from the focus group attendees.
What we should all know:
1. Communication and Accessibility by any means is critical. COMMUNICATE! Number one compliant was the lack there of. This includes a myriad of tools from the telephone to IM, email, on line transaction management, secure transaction portals and automated information systems . This means response times within minutes to at the most two hours and with 24 hours being unacceptable. People want response and follow up NOW!
2. Negotiations. People want strong negotiators. To negotiate you have to know something about something. You have to have confidence to stand with conviction based on facts. Most of this comes from transactional experience and regional or geographic real estate knowledge (not available on the web). There are thousands of small nuances involved in every transaction and that is what the consumers are willing to pay for! Experienced professionals will become more valuable and part timers will work for peanuts!
3. Website and information gathering and access to data is critical. Consumers want everything! Sold Comparables, floor plans, days on market and lots of photos- ON LINE. Mostly, they want photos. How hard is it to have photos on a site and tours or video. What's hard to believe is sites like Realtor.com and even our local MLS, MetroList, have limitations on photos.. They claim they don't have the storage for all these high res photos...hmmm, I wonder if Google base or Zillow are worried about digital storage? What has Realtor.com done with our billions? Why is the Denver MLS sitting on millions of our dollars and limiting us to 10 photos?
4. Have flexibility in compensation or fees. Most all of the attendees were perplexed and hostile about brokerage fees. So, if you are still thinking that 2.8% or 3.0% coops are some God given attribute to your existence on earth, you had better start rethinking your future business model. You will need to reinvent yourself, or it will be done for you. People don't mind paying you. They just mind paying on a method that has not really changed for over 40 years or because that's what your companies policy is! Please...spare me. Remember how they used to sell cars? You know they would take your offer to the mystery sales manager in the back office and then come back with another offer....pretty stupid. Even more stupid with the Internet! Make note to self, that the coop field is not present on Zillow.
5. Stay in communication with your clients after the closing. Nothing seemed to be more distressing and unprofessional to the consumer than not hearing from their broker after the sale. Only 20% of the attendees even remembered the broker's name that they worked with. That is a really sad, sad state of affairs. There are some many low cost ways to stay in touch with past clients. You really wonder what is going through most brokers minds when they do not have a mail list or worse yet, they have one and don't use it?
6. Explain the process and educate them better. Once again, people want information. More listening on our side, less condescending attitudes. They want lots more information concerning the loan process, title insurance and any and all documentation ahead of the closing. Which really leads to the next point...loser lenders! Most all of our closings and problems in some way or another lead from unprofessional lenders. Make sure and educate your clients the problems of working with loser lenders!
7. Don’t work with loser lenders. The focus group parameters did not want to focus on lending...it just happened! Like it or not, you are only as good as the loan officer involved in the transaction. Working with a poor quality or poor performing lender can taint not only your professional career, but the entire real estate industry. Real estate brokers not professional enough to work with high quality professionals are as much at fault as the loser lender! It appeared that the worst deals were the ones where the loser lender gave the real estate broker a "qualified buyer client" and the real estate broker was hungry enough to take it!
8. Listen to what they are really looking for or what they really want out of the transaction. This is probably the most difficult thing for the real Type A sales folks. Over time it comes to us just due to survival in this profession. Most of the people were looking for a little more empathy and understanding. An interesting thing is that you can rely this through a number of the points I have pointed out in this post. Having the systems and staffing and communication tools to give the impression that you CARE about them.
9. Staffing and systems. According to the attendees, nothing seemed to bring magic to the transactions like having support staff and follow up done by people that were office based on behalf of the broker. It is critical to have the true backup to make it in this industry. The old adage of "if you don't have an assistant, you are one" is now been raised to a whole other level. If you don't have IT support, you are IT! If you don't have information gathering, you are the gatherer. If you don't have people to staff the back office IT services....well you will have to do it. If you want to provide "High Tech-High Touch" service, YOU CAN NOT DO IT ALONE.
10. No need for the huge ego based photos. Yep, another big annoyance to the consumers were glamour shots (dated 10 years) of brokers larger than the house photo they had listed! Some of the attendees brought actual ads in with them. I have no idea were this tradition comes from, but I am sure it will no the way of newsprint. People want information in the form of property information and they want "Caring, Experienced Professionals". Most of the broker heads shots portray the complete opposite. Use discretion, keep any photos honest and up to date. Remember that most consumers really don't care. It can also be used against you...maybe you look to young, too old, too manly, too womanly, too beautiful, too ugly and a number of other Blink Based judgments!