What Makes a Realtor Good: An Answer

Few months ago, I asked “What Makes an Agent Good?” and triggered a bit of a conversation.  I was after an objective standard of quality by which a particular real estate agent can be measured, but ended up in a discussion (which is still ongoing one way or another) about professionalism, understanding technology, perspectives, and viewpoints, and so on.

Marc Davison, of 1000watt, even wrote a post somewhat in response and concluded:

A bad Realtor is one whose marketing effort for a six figure listing pales in comparison to a seven-year old’s playful regard for his $11.95 pet dinosaur.

A good agent is one who says “no problem, I’ll take care of that” when asked to compensate for the bad agents job.

As much as I like that colorful description, it still raised more questions than it answered and didn’t provide a framework for analysis.  In what way does a bad Realtor’s effort pale in comparison?  If comparing two Realtors with each other, does the one who puts out more effort automatically trump the one who doesn’t?  Would the agent who hires a skywriting airplane be “better” than the one who doesn’t?

Over the weeks, I’ve been turning the question over in my head.  Then I found the answer today.

What Makes A Realtor Good: Ease of Use

The answer came from a law blog I read periodically. Dan Hull of What About Clients is one of the finest commentators on issues of client service, from a lawyer’s perspective, but other service professionals can learn much from him.

His post, Ease-of-Use for Services: Will we ever get there? is an eye-opener.  Read the whole thing.  Dan posits that companies in every sector are competing more and more on concepts of ease of use, and advocates that services companies also embrace the concept, as difficult as it is:

Law firms, of course, have always sold services. And we are a small but powerful engine in the growth of the services sector. We strategize with and guide big clients every day. While that’s all going on–day in and day out–what is it like for the client to work with you and yours? Are clients experiencing a team–or hearing and seeing isolated acts by talented but soul-less techies? Do you make reports and communications short, easy and to the point? Who gets copied openly so clients don’t have to guess about who knows what? Is it fun (yeah, we just said “fun”) to work with your firm? How are your logistics for client meetings, travel and lodging? Do you make life easier? Or harder? Are you accessible 24/7? In short, aside from the technical aspects of your service (i.e., the client “is safe”), do your clients “feel safe”?

What if law firms–or any other service provider for that matter–“thought through,” applied and constantly improved the delivery of our services and how clients really experience them?

And then competed on it…? (Emphasis added)

A lightbulb went off in my head.

Following Dan’s lead, I am ready to advocate that what makes one realtor superior to another is ease of use.  Her services are easier to use for the client than another realtor’s services.

Ease of Use in Real Estate Services

What constitutes ease of use as it comes to real estate services?

I’m going to attempt one answer, recognizing that more conversation and refinement need to happen before consensus can be reached.

Ease of use is the degree to which the client achieves peace of mind about the real estate transaction.

Ease of use must encompass communication.  Communication must be relevant, at the frequency at which the client achieves peace of mind, and by a method the client wants. If I want to be called, then don’t email me.  If I want to hear from you every day, then contact me every single day.  Contra Depeche Mode, words are most definitely not violence, and clients do not enjoy the silence. (Unless they really do for some bizarre reason….)

Ease of use must encompass guidance.  Clients recognize that they need help; otherwise, they wouldn’t hire a realtor at all.  That help then must be authoritative, educated, and capable of being explained.  “Because I said so” or “Just trust me” are not good responses to a client who wants to know why you are recommending that he repaint his living room from fuchsia to white.  Explain the advice so the client also understands.

Ease of use must include anticipation.  The best client service is proactive.  It anticipates the client’s need and addresses it, often making recommendations.  One of the best salesmen at Bergdorf Goodman Men I worked with would go find a suit for the customer, but at the same time pick out a couple of shirt and tie combinations that matched that suit perfectly.  Then he would ask the customer how the rest of his wardrobe worked with the suit the customer had just selected.  More than half the time, the customer would want to see what the salesman had in mind.  (It didn’t hurt that this was an extremely effective way to cross-sell merchandise.)  In real estate, anticipation can take many forms.  Perhaps the buyer client was looking for homes in a good school district — anticipate her need and ask if she’d like to do a short tour of the local elementary school.  If you know that a client is going to ask for something, don’t make the client ask; just do it for her.

Lastly, but not least, ease of use encompasses delivering the result the client is seeking, or at least helping the client understand why that result was not achieved.  If what the client wants is not something you can deliver, and won’t change his mind even after you’ve explained, then ease of use dictates that you send the client somewhere else.

What About Skills?

In the original post, a number of commentators spoke about things like market knowledge, technical skills (such as knowing the law, doing paperwork, negotiation), and the like.  Surely what makes a realtor good includes some measurement of the craft of brokerage?

It does.  But not to the extent one might imagine, and perhaps not for the reasons one might imagine.

The technical skills and market knowledge are critical, of course, but… a realtor who doesn’t possess these basics could hardly be considered a professional at all.  Issues of client service can hardly enter the picture if the realtor in question doesn’t know local market conditions and can’t negotiate her way out of a paper bag.  We are better off considering such individuals as realtor larvae, as we think of first year law associates to be lawyer larvae.

As a rule of thumb, may I propose that a realtor whose technical skills and knowledge can be matched by a consumer who spends a day on Google looking up information, data, and the real estate process needs more basic training?  Or to find some other line of work.

Competing on Ease of Use

I believe that ease of use is the perfect grounds for competition.  It is easy to understand, obvious to the client, and easier to differentiate than the alternatives.

Consider something like “market knowledge”.  There is no real way for the consumer to judge whether one realtor has more market knowledge than another unless the consumer himself is an expert in local market conditions.  Negotiation skill is another thing the consumer can’t possibly judge without sitting in on a bunch of negotiations by a bunch of realtors.

But the frequency and quality of communication is something the consumer can judge.  Whether one realtor takes the time to explain the advice whereas another one doesn’t, or does a worse job, is something the consumer can judge based on his own understanding of the advice and issue after having it explained.  “Joe made that really clear, but Jane not so much.”

The consumer, after interviewing a few different agents, can decide whether one agent gives him a greater feeling of peace of mind.

That’s Great, But How?

I’m not really sure.  I have ideas that I plan to explore in future posts, since the whole insight was new to me as well.

Offhand, however, it occurs to me that most realtors and brokerages focus most of their investment into getting more eyeballs on listings.  There’s a lot more energy spent on thinking about random visitors from Google than there is on people who have entrusted their biggest asset to the agent.  That might be a place to start.

I’ve got things to think about.  What about you?

-rsh

  • Marc

    Rob,

    Not sure this post clears things up any better than my simpler offering that essentially defines a good agent as one who takes up the slack and gets the job done, swiftly, properly and makes it look effortless to the customer.

    A bad agent is one who by default, allows the good agent, as I have described, to rise to the occasion and shine.

    But the conversation sure is good and my guess is there are about as many definitions to describe good and bad as there are agents in the business.

    But maybe, to find a final resting place for this discussion is to offer this: A good agent is one who never believes they worthy of their compensation and continues throughout their career to be better, smarter and more customer service oriented.

    A bad agent is one who finds fault with this definition.

    15 love.
    Marc

    • http://www.notorious-rob.com/ Rob Hahn

      Hey Marc :)

      Not sure that my working definition is ‘better’ in any real sense. For me, it provides a bit more clarity because I think it’s more actionable. You’re surely correct that a bad agent makes good agents look good. But that bit of insight in and of itself doesn’t let me know what I need to do to become a good agent, or a better agent.

      I also don’t know that I would say a good service provider is one who never believes she is worthy of her compensation. Continual learning, continual attempts to get better — yes, I agree with that. But all truly good professionals know that they are worth whatever they are charging. David Boies charges $750/hr without blinking an eye or losing a minute’s worth of sleep over whether his services are really worth that or not. But what he provides his clients is maximum peace of mind in what is a high-stress context: do or die litigation.

      I know I need to do more to flesh out this concept. But I do feel that the ‘axis’ of ease-of-use is one that can be useful, and provide actionable direction to those who consider it.

      -rsh

  • Marc

    Rob,

    Not sure this post clears things up any better than my simpler offering that essentially defines a good agent as one who takes up the slack and gets the job done, swiftly, properly and makes it look effortless to the customer.

    A bad agent is one who by default, allows the good agent, as I have described, to rise to the occasion and shine.

    But the conversation sure is good and my guess is there are about as many definitions to describe good and bad as there are agents in the business.

    But maybe, to find a final resting place for this discussion is to offer this: A good agent is one who never believes they worthy of their compensation and continues throughout their career to be better, smarter and more customer service oriented.

    A bad agent is one who finds fault with this definition.

    15 love.
    Marc

    • http://www.notorious-rob.com Rob Hahn

      Hey Marc :)

      Not sure that my working definition is ‘better’ in any real sense. For me, it provides a bit more clarity because I think it’s more actionable. You’re surely correct that a bad agent makes good agents look good. But that bit of insight in and of itself doesn’t let me know what I need to do to become a good agent, or a better agent.

      I also don’t know that I would say a good service provider is one who never believes she is worthy of her compensation. Continual learning, continual attempts to get better — yes, I agree with that. But all truly good professionals know that they are worth whatever they are charging. David Boies charges $750/hr without blinking an eye or losing a minute’s worth of sleep over whether his services are really worth that or not. But what he provides his clients is maximum peace of mind in what is a high-stress context: do or die litigation.

      I know I need to do more to flesh out this concept. But I do feel that the ‘axis’ of ease-of-use is one that can be useful, and provide actionable direction to those who consider it.

      -rsh

  • http://www.rebuildingrealty.com/ Marc Diaz

    Rob,

    Thanks for continuing the discussion on how to define a good agent – it’s absolutely key for the business I’m going to launch and alluded to in my preso at RETechSouth with regard to agent ratings. I think it is has to be multifaceted, objective and subjective, and include peer comparison. And, as you point out – it needs to be clear enough so that it can be actionable.

    I was excited to hear about the HAR initiative but I don’t think it goes far enough – but I applaud them for a good start. Should the client (buyer/seller) have the final say on the agent rating? I think the client review should be only one of several components. On some levels, performance should be a measure of exceeding expectations. If a client insists on listing a property too high, the agent needs to either refuse the listing or clearly set the expectation that the house may sit on the market for 9 months. Likewise, clients need access to more data and peer comparisons for list price/sales price ratios, days on market, and other statistics.

    Agent ratings are needed and many formulas will undoubtedly be hatched – and so will they evolve, iteration by iteration.

    Keep the dialogue going.

    ~Marc D

  • http://www.rebuildingrealty.com Marc Diaz

    Rob,

    Thanks for continuing the discussion on how to define a good agent – it’s absolutely key for the business I’m going to launch and alluded to in my preso at RETechSouth with regard to agent ratings. I think it is has to be multifaceted, objective and subjective, and include peer comparison. And, as you point out – it needs to be clear enough so that it can be actionable.

    I was excited to hear about the HAR initiative but I don’t think it goes far enough – but I applaud them for a good start. Should the client (buyer/seller) have the final say on the agent rating? I think the client review should be only one of several components. On some levels, performance should be a measure of exceeding expectations. If a client insists on listing a property too high, the agent needs to either refuse the listing or clearly set the expectation that the house may sit on the market for 9 months. Likewise, clients need access to more data and peer comparisons for list price/sales price ratios, days on market, and other statistics.

    Agent ratings are needed and many formulas will undoubtedly be hatched – and so will they evolve, iteration by iteration.

    Keep the dialogue going.

    ~Marc D

  • http://www.mostlygeek.com Benson Wong

    I’ve done some thinking on this before, some of which I’ve written about on my blog.

    My latest philosophy is that the realtor these days is pretty much a commodity. As a consumer I find it hard to differentiate one’s service from the other. Some might have better service, some worse but overall the same services.

    There is this concept of the fourth economy, http://www.managingchange.com/masscust/experien.htm, one that is based on selling an experience instead of a service.

    I think you’ve touched on this. Personally, I think the cult of personality around the top agents is rather strange. I for one would like to see a company come in be the Apple of real estate.

    The customer service and the products are high quality. No matter where you buy it is the same level of price and service. And the whole buy/sell experience is more enjoyable and memorable.

  • http://www.mostlygeek.com/ Benson Wong

    I’ve done some thinking on this before, some of which I’ve written about on my blog.

    My latest philosophy is that the realtor these days is pretty much a commodity. As a consumer I find it hard to differentiate one’s service from the other. Some might have better service, some worse but overall the same services.

    There is this concept of the fourth economy, http://www.managingchange.com/masscust/experien.htm, one that is based on selling an experience instead of a service.

    I think you’ve touched on this. Personally, I think the cult of personality around the top agents is rather strange. I for one would like to see a company come in be the Apple of real estate.

    The customer service and the products are high quality. No matter where you buy it is the same level of price and service. And the whole buy/sell experience is more enjoyable and memorable.

  • Adrian Sherwood

    Hey Rob,
    This has been a central theme in my attempt to build a Real Estate platform that actually works. I actually answered parts of this question in one of your earlier posts( something about White Elephants).My research led me to believe that superior communications will/can play a major role in this industry. The platform is not finished, but I’m getting closer everday.

  • Adrian Sherwood

    Hey Rob,
    This has been a central theme in my attempt to build a Real Estate platform that actually works. I actually answered parts of this question in one of your earlier posts( something about White Elephants).My research led me to believe that superior communications will/can play a major role in this industry. The platform is not finished, but I’m getting closer everday.

  • http://philadelphiarealestatevoice.com/ Chris Somers

    What a great post. Is great to read something on this topic outside of individual Realtor blogs. I think it was broken down nicely for that “ease of use”. There have been so many times when I have been told by a seller who interviewed a number of agents that “you explained it well to me so I understand and felt more comfortable having you list my house” .

    I am not sure that it is coming to a point of being a commodity. The service is critical and necessary for buyers and sellers. A great Realtor can save a consumers thousands of dollars, in some cases tens of thousand of dollars but also the point that you make “ease of use” and helping a consumer with a seamless transaction is “pricless”. Saving someone stress and ogoda is very appreciate as well. Last week I just had a deal for a seller who commented that “I cannot believe how smooth this went” . To sum it up, when I hear that, I know that we did a good job !

    Just subscribed to your blog via email as well.

  • http://philadelphiarealestatevoice.com/ Chris Somers

    What a great post. Is great to read something on this topic outside of individual Realtor blogs. I think it was broken down nicely for that “ease of use”. There have been so many times when I have been told by a seller who interviewed a number of agents that “you explained it well to me so I understand and felt more comfortable having you list my house” .

    I am not sure that it is coming to a point of being a commodity. The service is critical and necessary for buyers and sellers. A great Realtor can save a consumers thousands of dollars, in some cases tens of thousand of dollars but also the point that you make “ease of use” and helping a consumer with a seamless transaction is “pricless”. Saving someone stress and ogoda is very appreciate as well. Last week I just had a deal for a seller who commented that “I cannot believe how smooth this went” . To sum it up, when I hear that, I know that we did a good job !

    Just subscribed to your blog via email as well.

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