By Chris Stroisch
My agent never calls me.
I’m not sure what my agent is doing to sell my house.
My agent is never available when I am.
These consumer complaints of agents using the wrong communication methods, communicating less frequently than expected or communicating at the wrong times show how buyers and sellers can be left feeling confused and frustrated.
Kim Daugherty, a popular industry speaker and director of training and education at Coldwell Banker Gundaker, said confusion can be avoided if agents have meaningful conversations with their clients at their first meeting about how and when they are going to communicate.
“Good agents talk about communication at the very first meeting and then again a couple days later,” Daugherty said. “Agents should be prepared to text, email and even pick up the phone and call their clients. However, you need to have these conversations and decide what the best method is for your client at the first meaningful buyer consultation or first sit-down meeting where you discuss the market realities and expectations.”
While there are a number of traditional communication methods available for agents, such as email or phone, the use of text messaging, social media and virtual platforms are growing in popularity.
Many agents rely solely on email to communicate with their clients but often clients do not want to use this method, said Terri Murphy, an author, consultant, trainer and public speaker on the real estate industry.
“Email is tiresome, overused and overall, spammed out,” she said. “Just because you’re on email 24-7 doesn’t mean your clients want to be communicated with in that way. It’s not about how you want to be communicated with. It’s about how your client wants to be communicated with.”
Despite its overuse, Murphy said email is still a primary way she and other agents communicate with clients.
REALTOR® Kyle Killebrew, broker and partner with The Real Estate Group in Springfield, said email is a good way to document communications with clients, but it does have its drawbacks.
“You can’t tell tone or personality through email, and we can’t be certain when an email will be received,” he said. “We always accompany them with a phone call. Phone calls are more personable and they’re real time.”
Plus, he believes phone conversations are more effective than other communication methods.
2. Text messaging
The use of text messaging is on the rise, especially with Gen X and Gen Y clients. Many agents, like Karen Irace, a REALTOR® with RE/MAX Synergy in Orland Park, uses text messaging to quickly and easily communicate with clients.
“When I receive earnest money for a seller’s contract, a simple ‘earnest money arrived today’ text makes the point and takes virtually seconds,” Irace said.
Text messaging can also be used to quickly confirm meetings between agents and buyers or sellers.
However, text messaging should not be used to communicate important topics that require any type of lengthy discussion.
“We are cautious not to lean on the ‘easy’ communication such as text or email if we have something important to discuss,” Killebrew said. “We prefer to meet in person if we really need to get to the bottom of an important issue. But again, a phone call at the very least helps ensure people are on the same page.”
3. Social media
Some agents are also turning to social media to interact with clients and establish themselves as the REALTOR® of choice for future clients.
“If you have a geographical area, it makes sense to be that celebrity in your area (using social media),” Murphy said. “The challenge, however, can be if you’re working with someone who wants to be hand held and talked to every minute of the process.”
Using social media can be challenging for one-on-one conversations with clients but it can be a good tool to develop long-term relationships.
“Facebook has made us think more strategically because it’s not an avenue to get business in the short term,” Killebrew said. “It’s all about building a long-term following of people who will hopefully think of us when it comes time to buy or sell.”
Before interacting with clients or potential clients on social media, agents need to first ask the client’s permission to do so. REALTORS® have a duty to protect a client’s confidential information. A July 2013 D.R. Legal News article, “Social Media and Real Estate,” covers the topic at www.illinoisrealtor.org/node/3323.
“In order to protect their privacy, I do not tweet or post the actions of my clients, unless I have their permission,” Irace said. “Maybe they played hooky (from work) to look at homes. Maybe my clients haven’t told their neighbors or family about their decision to move. Many people are very private and it isn’t my place to tell other people their business.”
Video usage has skyrocketed over the last decade due in part to the popularity of YouTube and the development of smart phones. While it may be challenging to communicate with clients one-on-one using video, younger generations are turning to video to learn about new properties on the market.
“Most agents don’t want to use video but Gen X or early Millennial buyers may want to see a video of the newest property to just come on the market,” Murphy said. “Walk through the house and shoot video with your iPhone or iPad. Show your clients why they should consider the property.” (Of course, REALTORS® will need the consent of the property owners to do this.)
She also recommends using video to give potential buyers a lifestyle snapshot of the area of interest.
Videos can also be used to show a potential buyer the building process.
“I recently did a video to feature a spec home that I’m building,” Killebrew said. “The video served a two-fold purpose: market the property and give clients insight into the building process.”
5. Virtual platforms.
Virtual platforms, such as Skype, Join.me and ScreenLeap.com, can allow agents to communicate with clients or prospects from a distance.
Skype works extremely well when the agent has a client or prospect who is not local, Murphy said. Join.me and ScreenLeap.com work well when sharing MLS information and comparative market analysis updates with a seller.
While there are many tools available, it is important for agents to select the ones that best meet their clients’ needs.
“Because agents have so many tools available to them, they need to narrow their focus,” Daugherty said. “Pick the tools that make the most sense to you and the clients you serve. Then come to an understanding at the first meeting.”
Besides the method of communication, agents need to find out how often the client wants to be communicated with and at what time of day to eliminate future confusion and frustration.
“Agents need to know what the customer wants,” Daugherty said. “Give it to them how they want it and when they want it.”
Many REALTORS® and real estate trainers say sellers should receive some form of communication from their agent at least weekly.
“As a seller, you should get a brief communication from your agent at least once a week, if not more, about showings, newly listed properties in the area and any other information the seller needs to know,” Daugherty said.
“With sellers, there are definitely times when agents take their listings and then the sellers never hear from them again,” Daugherty said. “Agents need to do their due diligence and select the right communication method, frequency and timing to make sure their clients’ needs are met.”
Buyers, on the other hand, need to be communicated with almost daily to ensure they have the newest property listings available on the market.
“I like to communicate almost daily with buyers, even if it’s simply a text or email to let them know nothing new came available that day,” Irace said. “This way they need not wonder if I remembered they are looking for a house.
“Once we are past attorney review and inspection and all loan documents have been submitted, I will contact the buyer and explain they may not hear from me for a couple weeks while their loan process plays out,” she said.
Stay on track by prioritizing
Making contact with every buyer almost daily and every seller at least once or twice a week requires prioritization.
“Because agents have so much to do, they have trouble prioritizing their workload,” Murphy said. “Without prioritization, clients will never hear from their agents. This leads back to the number one complaint today, people complaining ‘I never hear from my agent’.”
Murphy recommends putting together a Monday through Saturday schedule and plugging in times to call clients.
“If you can plug in 96 minutes, you’re already 10 percent ahead of most agents,” she said.
No matter what communication method and frequency agents and clients agree on, stay connected.
“It’s not just about communicating with clients during the process,” Murphy said. “You need to stay connected with them after the deal is closed.”
About the Author: Chris Stroisch has been a freelance writer for daily and weekly newspapers, business magazines and not-for-profit publications for nearly a decade. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t dazzle your prospect with real estate terms they are not familiar with.
Develop a clear communication plan and have your prospect sign off on it. The plan should include a checklist with the following details.
Establish who your property owner should contact in advance if they have any issues. This can include brochure box restocking, sign repair and updates on repair completions.
Review your comprehensive calendar of activities for marketing of their property. Include initiatives such as virtual tour photos, video filming, brochure completion, single property website launch, broker tour and public open houses.
Get in writing the seller’s expectations for the marketing services they anticipate you will be using to sell their home. This will clarify their ideas and what you actually plan on providing.
If possible, try to determine what the seller’s motivation is for selling their house on the initial call. This will help you determine their level of commitment to getting the property ready to sell and their idea of pricing their property at present market value.
If you commit to a calendar date, make sure you comply! This will build trust and confidence that you are working on their behalf.
Do not hesitate to offer a list of resources to help the seller get the property ready for marketing. Offer a list of multiple professional services, such as painters, contractors, repair people, stagers, decorators, movers, legal counsel, top lender partners, cleaning services and landscapers.