Chicago Agent analyzed the most prevalent complaints about the industry and how they related to agents’ clients, then put together this list of 50 – yes, a whopping 50 – ways that agents fail their clients. From showing a dirty house to having a website that is not user-friendly, we pinpoint the things agents should be doing to their best abilities.
The following list is not arranged in any particular order – no matter which way you look at it, these are all important to avoid. Read through all 50 of our “fails” and make sure you’re not doing any of them – you might not even realize you’ve been failing your clients with some of the things you’ve been doing!
BY PETER RICCI AND STEPHANIE SIMS
Not returning agent’s calls/e-mails promptly
A lack of a rapid response does not communicate a lack of time; it communicates a lack of consideration. All agents have the same goal: get the deal done. By not returning an agent’s calls, you’re hurting your chances at helping your clients buy or sell their home. Additionally, this is the No.1 complaint agents have about working with agents, because it causes them to fail their clients. Try to set a “return all calls by the end of the day” policy and see how much better you business will be!
Not returning client’s calls/e-mails promptly
Similar to the “fail” above, consistent communication with clients is critical to maintaining that partnership. If communication is lax, Nina Fotopoulos, managing broker of Coldwell Banker in Hinsdale, says, “it raises the question in the consumer’s mind of, ‘Am I with the right person?’ And what is going on that I don’t know about?’” You may be busy, but late responses only communicate a lacking of consideration, not a busy, flourishing real estate practice. To ensure that doesn’t happen, use all the methods of communication available to you. Fotopoulos says she always opts for whatever communication method her clients use the most, whether it be e-mail, traditional landlines or even text messages.
Being Disrespectful of Time
“My time is valuable. The days of being willy-nilly are over,” Mary Marcus, associate broker with @properties in Winnetka, says. In fact, everybody’s time is valuable. Consider what people could be doing besides meeting with you. Managing the many tasks we have each day is difficult enough without having to allow for late agents, and being late is simply rude and a huge complaint about the industry. If you are a serial late arriver, everyone knows and it counts against you. C’mon, plan better! You can do it!
Not Keeping Agents Updated on Situations
It’s a failing situation when agents don’t let other agents know how a deal is moving along or what is needed to get it moving along. It could not only cost them the deal, but also damage their reputation. By keeping other agents informed of situations pertaining to their business, you ensure a healthy working climate that can only benefit your future dealings with other agents. With all the ways we have to communicate, there is no excuse for failing here.
Presenting offers/counteroffers in an untimely manner
It’s shocking to think that after all agents do to get a property under contract, this is still an issue. Yet, we hear about it all the time. This is a serious error and a violation of your fiduciary responsibility. Get with the program!
Being a poor liaison between his/her client and trades
Having a great list of affiliates requires more than just connecting your client and a good painter. You need to make sure that all is going well, the job is getting done and your client is happywith the work. The people you recommend are a reflection of you. An additional note: don’t recommend relatives or friends unless they are amazing – it’s hard to cut ties with an affiliate if you see them often.
Sending Assistants or Colleagues With no Knowledge of a Property to Show it
Agents are busy, we know. Sometimes you might have an assistant or colleague show a property. The least you can do is make sure they have reviewed the brochure, know about the area, any problems, features and benefits, etc. Again, communication is key, so communicate with your assistant and help prepare them! You can’t undo a bad showing experience.
Not showing the listing properly (not telling the “story” of the home, or communicating it to another agent)
Every home has its own story – its own type of architecture, its own history, its own unique amenities and things about it that make it great. Without learning these things and communicating these points to another agent and his/her client, you’re not doing enough to sell the home. “Communication is huge,” Marcus says. “Gone are the days when you can simply sell a property. You have to communicate with buyers and really sell them on a property.” An easy fix? Learn everything there is to learn about the home, tell this to buyers and their agent, and make the home’s history and unique story a deal-closer.
Not learning how to handle new situations as the market changed
The real estate market of 2011 is radically different from the market of 2006, just like the 2006 market was different from the market of 1995. Real estate has never been a static industry; it has always changed with other market forces, and it is up to you, the Realtor, to adapt to those changes. The same Realtors who incorporated subprime lending into their business models in 2004 should be able to do the same thing with REOs in 2011. “The casual agent is going away,” Fotopoulos says, emphasizing the multi-faceted approach Realtors must take. “There’s an educational responsibility, there’s a closure responsibility, there are agency responsibilities – no one can afford to do the business casually anymore, it will come back and hurt you.”
Showing a House That is Not Clean
You know that you must be showing the property at its best, introducing potential buyers to a home they would want to live in. Dirty floors, disheveled furniture, kitchen grime, streaky windows, stained carpeting, dusty furniture – they all contribute to an image of the property that is both sloppy and disorderly, and they all make selling a property much more difficult. “The houses have to be presentable,” Fotopoulos says. “Homes that sell are in good condition, they’re clean, they’re modern and up-to-date … and if they’re not, they’re going to fall into the percentage of homes that do not sell.” Instead of showing a messy home, be honest with your clients and give them the name of your
favorite cleaning service.
Not having a full range of quality affiliates
Clients hire you because they think you have what it takes to get the job done. Surviving in today’s marketplace requires that you have a full range of people to help make anything they need happen, whether that be a handyman or roofer. “It’s a big job to get a home sold, and to sell it at the highest price,” Fotopoulos says. “The people that you surround yourself (with) will either elevate your career or take you down. It’s as simple as that.” Also, make sure you have several trusted contacts in each field, and not just for a variety of opinions – if the downturn has taught us anything, it’s that even the most successful of professionals are susceptible to economic constraints, so it’s invaluable to have more than one source to help when your clients need something.
Agreeing with the seller’s opinion of price when you think it should be lower
Our expert panel agrees across the board: telling your client that they can get a price above the market just to get the listing is a costly and time wasting error. Your clients rely on you for expertise, so to be anything less than clear about prices and market times is simply bad business. Often you just lose the listing and the second agent lists and sells it with the correct price. Yes, it’s hard to tell get some clients to be realistic, but getting pricing right is the key to success in today’s market. “It’s better to not get the listing at all than to give them false hope,” Gus Mendoza, an agent with Better Homes and Gardens Gloor Realty, says. He’s right: educate your prospective clients about neighborhood home values, show them reports and how you determine their home’s perfect price point before you take the listing, or you’ll end up reducing the price in two weeks anyways.
Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
Overpromising and under-delivering
Customer service is a key to surviving in any business. Overpromising but not quite delivering results is an easy way to let clients down. Besides keeping in touch with clients and holding their hands a bit (another one of our “fails” listed), agents have to go above and beyond to really make an impression. Never overpromise or boast about what you’ll do for the client and how it will help them. Instead, surprising them with over-delivered results – an open house with four interested prospective buyers, for instance, is the best way to impress clients.
Not getting your client pre-approved for a loan
One of the first things all agents should do is make sure their buyers are pre-approved. Otherwise, all the time spent looking at homes – and possibly getting all the way to the negotiating process – is wasted. A great agent not only makes sure of this, but also has preferred lenders to make this process go smoothly. “I let my preferred lender know everytime I send them a client to make sure everything is there before they send me an approved letter,” Mendoza says. Lending is much more complicated than it used to be. Even those seemingly obvious candidates can have all kinds of red flags when it comes to the loan. Its best to learn about problems before you get started and to only look at homes that are attainable.
Failing to keep up with technology/apps/social media to promote properties
Your job is to sell your client’s home no matter what. You’ve priced it competitively, you’ve sent out mailers, held open houses, etc. But buyers today look online more often than they’ll check the paper for open house announcements. Buyers often peruse Zillow, Trulia and Redfin – you should be on top of all sites that could help you sell your client’s home. In addition, promoting it on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn doesn’t hurt, either – you never know which of your followers, friends or connections will know someone who knows someone who’s looking to buy.
As the Realtor, it is your job to use your training and research to inform your clients of every step of the real estate process. What if they are unsure about financing options? What if they are skittish about the appraisal process, and want guidance on that? What if, two weeks after you begin looking for properties, they want to consider a new neighborhood, one with uniquely different demographics? As Fotopoulos puts it, you must be a “master of your craft,” a professional who can provide lucid, informed advice for whatever questions the client may have.
If you do not have an answer or know how to solve a problem, tell them you will look into it, and get back to your client with some real answers.
Dressing inappropriately doesn’t necessarily mean agents should always be dressed to the nines. But dressing appropriately for the showing and the client is imperative. Showing a condo at Trump? You’d better be dressed professionally. Showing a town home in Lemont? You may not need the suit. This also depends on the attitude your client has – it’s always best to look the part of a professional when dealing with clients, even if they prefer to dress casually. If you appear sloppy or poorly groomed, other agents and key industry people won’t take you seriously. In addition, the way agents present themselves ultimately dictates the type of clients they attract. But it all boils down to the client, how the client dresses and what the client expects. Therefore, take your cue from your client: if the client dresses up, make sure you’ve got blazers and dress slacks in your wardrobe rotation; if the client dresses down, a blazer and jeans will probably be fine. But please dress in fashion and have a current hair style. This is an image business!
Not using sales techniques to close the sale
It’s amazing, because it’s a big part of the job, but agents often forget how important sales techniques are. The way you say things and the things you say – like “Can you see your kids playing in this room?” or “Where would you put your furniture here?” – are powerful when it comes to getting the buyers to decide to buy. Getting the buyers to buy is ultimately the end goal; don’t let your lack of sales techniques cause you to miss out on that!
Not respecting the lock box or returning keys
You need the keys to someone’s home to show the home, but remember, those are the keys to someone’s home. Therefore, you have to be careful! You can’t get lazy with that lockbox – make sure it’s closed and locked correctly. We’ve heard stories, too, where agents have opened back doors or side doors while showing the home and then forgot to re-lock those doors. That’s a huge security issue. In addition, many agents sometimes forget to put the key back at all. Just be mindful of those keys!
“Just listed.” “Just reduced.” Just stop with the e-mails, mailers and marketing materials, already! Don’t get us wrong, we aren’t contradicting ourselves – you should have a communication plan with clients and keep them up to date on things. But find a happy medium – too many e-mails, phone calls and mailers will have them avoiding you. Keep your clients updated on the matters that are important to them, but don’t go overboard.
Wasting time and energy focusing on details that do not matter
We all know that the agent who focuses on the details, especially the details that most Realtors miss, will be the agent who ultimately succeeds. Be wary, though, of fixating on those details and losing scope of the larger picture. A specific, detail-driven campaign can work wonders, but an obsessive, demanding voyage for perfection can alienate your clients and frustrate your assistants. Practice smart moderation, or as Fotopoulos says, “Work smarter, not harder.”
Not working together to close a deal cooperatively
All agents should have the same goal: to close the deal. Therefore, it’s baffling as to why some agents make it difficult for this to happen. Granted, a short sale or foreclosure will get messy. But you fail your client when a deal should go smoothly, yet it’s not moving forward. Maybe it’s because the other agent isn’t getting back to you or is being difficult, and maybe it’s because you’re the one being difficult. “I can call an agent seven times sometimes before they call me back,” Marcus says. “Personally, I don’t know how they stay in business. I’m trying to do something for my clients, and they for theirs.” Regardless, you’re probably aggravating your client. Confront the other agent or solve your own issues as to why the deal is dragging on.
Not keeping clients informed
Your clients don’t want to be kept in the dark or feel like they’re just another client to you – they want to know you care about them. They also want to know exactly what’s going on with prospective homes they want to look at, or what’s going on with the home they’re trying to sell. Not hearing from you will cause them to panic, become annoyed, and ultimately, not think you’re working all that hard for them. “You should call clients at least once a week to check in. I’ll email and text them, too,” Marcus says. “I send sellers market reports for their area, I update clients constantly by sending mail and updated newsletters, too. You have to constantly hand-hold.”
Not listening to clients
If your client wants to move into a new home within two to three months, don’t pursue short sales or foreclosures. If they are FHA-loan approved and are interested in a foreclosure, don’t try to deter them even though REO deals are notoriously messy and long. Your job is to serve your client, and that means listening to what they want and helping them achieve that.
Not using listing syndicators
Since most people search property online, your listings should be on all the websites that makes sense. For a small fee, syndicators like Point2 Agent take your listing and place it on 30-plus appropriate websites. If you have a listing and nobody can find it, does it really exist?
Every agent has seen photos so bad that they have to forward them to a friend for a good laugh. But even photos that are good but not great can have a detrimental effect on the rate at which homes are viewed, seen and purchased. A dark, grainy photograph does little to enhance the unique qualities of the property, and can spell certain doom for its chances on the market, especially for potential homebuyers perusing Trulia, Zillow, or any number of online listing resources. Great photography, Fotopoulos says, brings out the “emotion” in a property, meaning the personal, anecdotal details that attract potential buyers. An example she used was a stone patio overlooking a lovely pond. Does the photography enhance the narrative of that setting? Does it communicate how the seller would drink coffee on that patio every morning, while admiring the pond? Such photos ultimately answer what a buyer would love about the property. There are so many resources that teach good basic real estate photography. Just find a few good tips and tricks and your clients will be impressed!
Keeping away from technology
Being adaptable is key in any market – stay stuck in your ways, and that’s a sure-fire way to get left behind. The industry is actively using technology, and agents who are keeping up with new technologies – iPad apps, computer systems, e-mailing databases, using listing syndicators – are ahead of the game. If you want more business, online and mobile are the names of the game today; almost all buyers and sellers find agents on the web, and if they are referred to you through someone, they’ll definitely be checking your reviews, success rate and testimonials online!
Not having sufficient approval time
In today’s market especially, processes are taking longer – appraisals, inspections, and of course, loans. Make sure you know your client’s full financial situation before choosing deadlines and contingency dates for them to be approved for a loan, or they may end up giving you their escrow before they’re approved – without you realizing this could happen. “You have to look at all conditions, and if there’s an issue that will contradict a loan or a long process, you probably should reexamine it. It makes your job easier,” Mendoza says.
Not renewing designations/making sure websites are up to date with accurate designations
Do any of your marketing materials say GRE or ABS even though your dues are not paid up? All designations need to be renewed and paid up before you can use it on any marketing materials. This means cards, websites, flyers, etc. Sometimes it costs less to update the designation then to re-do all your materials. Whatever you decide, neglecting this can be a costly violation.
Failing to maximize your network
Having a continuously growing sphere of influence is the single best way to get the word out about your listing, find new clients and learn about new opportunities. Agents need to make sure they are networking at schools, neighborhood committees, local theatres, clubs and wherever else they can. “Every time I’m at a property or see something going on in a neighborhood or my own neighborhood, I’ll ask for a business card. That’s how I obtain a lot of contacts I have – flooring experts, contractors, etc. – and also come about leads for business.” Failing to use your network can result in lost opportunities for you and your client. Make friends, give and gather info. Potential clients are everywhere!
Not using the full resources of the office
Does your office offer you signage? Brochures? Listing syndication? Postcards? E-mail blasts? If you aren’t using all the resources of your office to practice your business, you are probably not doing all that you can for your client. “Agents who complain about how business is not good, well, they’re not taking advantage,” Mendoza says. “There are lots of free marketing tools that offices help agents with.” Make sure you are up to speed with the products and services that your brokerage offers. Attend those office meetings and keep up with what everyone else is doing to market their business.
Telling the other agent too much info about his/her client’s situation
It is wonderful to work with agents who have become your friend over the years. Letting your friendship interfere with best practices can lead to losing the upper hand in negotiations, change of terms and loss of a sale. “You have to distinguish whether sharing information will hurt or help your client, and you have to get the client’s permission to disclose info,” Marcus says. “Other agents always try to dig and fish and find out what’s going on.” Bottom line: keep all private client information private.
Not previewing properties before taking out clients
Do your homework; simple as that. Research, investigate and find properties that meet most, if not all, of your client’s needs, and then be prepared with all the info. From the number of rooms, to recent remodeling, to the guest house in the back that doubles as a storage unit, be aware of all the relevant details of the property, and develop what Fotopoulos calls a “sensitivity” to the buyer’s needs. “You develop a sense to whatever that buyer needs so that you can actually identify, after seeing the house, ‘This is Bob’s new house. I know it!’”
Not being respectful of other agents’ clients
By not returning another agent’s calls and e-mails, you’re also disrespecting their clients. Another agent’s clients may be the buyer for your client or be selling your client’s dream home. Find out by respecting both the agent and client and returning those phone calls to answer questions and set up showings.
Filming Bad Videos for Listing
Short videos are an excellent way to showcase the strengths of a property. By giving potential buyers a video tour of the property, you can provide a live visual story of a home, an introduction to working with you and an important marketing tool to show future clients. That can only occur, though, if the videos themselves are cleanly shot and edited. Shaky camera work, confusing editing and especially low-quality images are more likely to give homebuyers headaches than excite them about the property. Though videos must be professional, they can still be informal, a distinction Fotopoulos points out. “YouTube makes that so possible today … you could become the king or queen of a small subdivision or a community by simply posting information online with very quick, little two- to three-minute videos on a weekly basis.”
Not knowledgeable about the financing
Since 2008, banks have been as conservative in their lending as they were liberal during the housing boom, and as a result, financing has become really, really tough in the ensuing years, with lending restrictions acting as a make-or-break for some housing deals. Agents must, now, more than ever before, have a strong understanding of what financial options are most appropriate for a given situation. There are so many great lenders out there who want to work with you and will give you all the education you need as often as you wish! Take advantage of their knowledge and be a hero for you clients. If you’ve been relying on the co-op agent to get you loans through, stop it! Get yourself educated!
Being difficult when it comes to scheduling showings with buyers, agents, or clients
If an agent wants to show your listing, or a buyer wants to go looking, you have to say yes and say it quickly. If you can’t, then you are in the wrong business. Okay, once and a while everyone has a conflict. But if you find that you are not mostly able to say “yes,” then you need a showing assistant, a partner or a team. Be flexible. This is a service business!
Not giving clients enough advice on how to sell/stage their home
Staging can turn a good property into a great property, transforming the appeal of the house in ways that not even the client may have ever visualized. That kind of success is impossible, though, if your client is uninformed on the successful strategies of a staging, such as removing clutter and excess furniture or props; ironing out wrinkles, such as patching drywall or sanding chipped paint, and so on. Your client should be aware of the importance of all such considerations. Sometimes it’s hard for a seller to believe their home is not wonderful as is, so it’s your job to let them know how buyers need to make a home their own. Buyers want to fall in love with the home, so you need to make sure that it is being shown in its best light. If you don’t know how to do this, hire a pro or read one of the million books, websites or blogs on the topic.
It’s every Realtor’s worst nightmare: you’ve almost closed a property, the buyer is itching to sign the necessary documents, and the client informs you of foundational damage to the property that compromises the entire sale and jeopardizes any future with the property. Such last minute disclosures happen, but they can – and must – be avoided. So before you agree to take on a property, be absolutely certain that you know all of its details and subtleties. “The objective … is to go through that home very thoroughly with the sellers/owners and really investigate with (your) professional eye,” Fotopoulos says. “Know that home as well, if not better, than the current owners of that property.” And it effects more than just one sale. Fotopoulos warns that if such revelations occur post-closing, the effect could be litigious for the Realtor.
Using/showing bad listings to help sell another listing
Educating your buyer about the market is one thing, but showing a property that you know you client will not like is not serving your client. Sell your properties based on their strengths, not on the weaknesses of other properties. Instead of going negative, be positive! Every property is unique; accentuate those positive features.
Your website is horrible
Your website should be a one-stop location for every facet of your real estate career. Along with contact information, it should also contain your real estate philosophies, sales statistics, and, naturally, client testimonials. Think about what the user and potential client will be looking for! What it should not contain is excessive hubris. “Sometimes web pages are developed by people that praise themselves,” Fotopoulos says. “Only about four percent of consumers care about the qualifications of the agent. They care about the statistics, about what the agent has done (and) about their capabilities.” Regardless of the information provided, though, none of it will be important if it’s featured in a poorly designed website. Websites with broken links, aggressive colors and clunky designs are not edgy; they’re frustrating, and a buyer will simply exit your page rather than wade through its poor design. “You always have to look through the eyes of the consumer when it comes to web design,” Fotopoulos says. If your website is more than a few years old, its probably time to give it a facelift. Ask your clients how they use real estate websites and see if yours measures up.
Not keeping up with practices/rules
This one impacts both clients and fellow agents. By maintaining your understanding of the laws and rules that govern real estate, you earn both the respect of your clients and peers. The real estate industry is always changing. If you do not remain on top of the rules and regs, you risk your reputation and cause problems for everyone involved in the transaction. Admittedly, it’s not always easy. “We’re in a profession that changes and we’re in a market that changes,” Fotopoulos says. “Rules have changed so that all agents will need to be a broker by April of next year; that puts a higher level of responsibility for knowledge (and) for professionalism on the shoulders of the agents.” Reading websites like chicago.staging312.com and your association’s website can help you keep current on a daily basis.
Not setting expectations properly
Even if your clients have bought and sold several homes, this market is going to be a new experience for them. It’s your job to inform them of all the things that are going to happen, may happen and won’t happen, and to set their expectations properly. Better to be realistic and correct. If you can set the proper expectations about price, market time, condition of the home, the current marketplace, lending issues, appraisal issues and potential problems, you will have clients who appreciate your knowledge, will refer you and be happy in their experience working with you.
Believing agents know everything there is to know already
Not asking for help is different than thinking you don’t need help, and while neither scenario is desirable, over-confidence is a tricky trait to balance with an effective approach to real estate. “That’s when you begin to see agents decline in their business,” Fotopoulos says. “This is not an industry that you can stand still in: because of licensing changes; because of rules and regulations changes; because of changes in the economy and how it impacts housing; (and) because of changes in tax laws and how it impacts buyers and sellers alike. Agents that don’t grow move back.” For instance, USDA loans are zero percent money down financial options that may be a backdoor mortgage possibility with today’s tight credit markets. Do you know all there is to know about a USDA loan, and if your client’s property could meet its standards? Or should you contact a mortgage broker for more information? Just remember: it is never wrong to seek expert help for the sake of your client.
Using LinkedIn/Facebook/Twitter incorrectly
Social media platforms are wonderful, user-friendly outlets that allow you to contact mass amounts of people with unprecedented ease. If you are not using social media to help move property, you are doing your client a disservice. The fast-growing group of social media users are seniors, so stop making excuses and learn how to use everything. From hashtags to default landing pages, FBML to SEO, make it a top priority to comprehend and practice the features of the medium. You’ll wonder how you ever operated your business without Facebook!
Most agents are optimistic, kind and have a winning personality. Your professional attitude will speak to how successful you are in your entrepreneurial endeavors. With a positive attitude, you are a pleasure to work with. Employees respond to your direction, clients enjoy your presence and you succeed as a result. With a negative attitude, the reverse is true. Your negativity wears away at your clients and co-workers alike. The market might not be ideal, but that’s life. There are still opportunities out there – stay positive!
Not asking for help when it’s needed
Good agents become great agents when they learn how to utilize the resources around them. The trick, simple as it may sound, is asking for help. It’s better to admit you don’t have the perfect answer, call someone who does, and pass that expertise on to your client. In the end, that entire situation creates happier clients, better-informed agents, and, as Fotopoulos put it, a successful real estate experience. “Without other professionals that work at your level, whether it be a great real estate attorney or a good title company it can make (the closing) process very difficult.”
Taking a listing that you shouldn’t
If you specialize in the North Shore, do you really think you are the person to list a home in Broadview? Yes, times are tough, but taking every client even when they are not a good match is bad for both of you. Refer someone who can do a better job.
Failing to keep up with the local market data
Hyperlocalization is the buzz word. Do you know the new principal at the school? The new grocery store that is planned to open next year? The best local dentist and a great local hairstylist? You’d better, and your website should reflect your local market expertise. In boom times there wasn’t always time to keep up on all the nuances of a neighborhood, but in today’s market, clients are hiring you for your expertise, and you should know inside details they can’t find online.
Not submitting news and blogs to Chicago Agent’s website
You should always be working to enlarge your sphere of influence, and an easy way to do that – which benefits clients – is using reputable and expert websites, like Chicago Agent, to help. Not to toot our own horn or anything, but agents who publish blogs on our site look like more of an expert in the industry than those who don’t. A byline can take you far! In addition, news about you and your brokerage online makes you look more reputable. By enlarging your sphere of influence, more people will know about you and therefore, more people will see your client’s properties. It’s all about who knows you sometimes! C.A.
Did we miss anything? Do you agree with this list? Comment on this story on our website at ChicagoAgentMagazine.com/Current-Issue and let us know what you think.
OUR PANEL OF EXPERTS
Better Homes & Gardens Gloor Realty, Oak Park
Coldwell Banker, Hinsdale