Honesty… Is Such A Lonely Word

But I don’t want some pretty face
to tell me pretty lies.
All I want is someone to believe.

- Billy Joel

I had a very interesting conversation with a realtor friend of mine today on the topic of personal branding.  She said something like:

You know what phrase I hate the most?  “To be honest with you.”  Like, what else are you gonna be?  And since you’re now going to be honest, does that mean you’ve been lying to me up until now?  I never want to tell someone I’m trustworthy; I want them to know that I am some other way.

A recent buyer’s survey I vaguely recall reading (at 2:10AM, I ain’t gonna go look) said that the number one reason why buyers selected an agent was “trustworthiness”.  It seems that consumers above all value someone they can trust to look out for their interests in the biggest financial transaction of their lives.

So why does it seem that when one thinks of real estate agents, honesty is rarely the first word that pops into one’s head?  (The same goes for, incidentally, marketers….)

Could it be because they (and we marketers) spend so much time telling people that they’re honest and trusthworthy?

It’s A Matter of Trust

This time you’ve got nothing to lose
You can take it, you can leave it, whatever you choose
I won’t hold back anything
And I’ll walk away a fool or a king

- Billy Joel

One reason why social media — and the Cluetrain principles that underlie social media — has been so transformative may be that we have finally found people we can trust through our networks.  We don’t believe the professional marketers who craft elaborate advertising messages, but we believe a friend of a friend on Facebook who says buy XYZ cellphone coz it rawks.  We ignore the professional food reviewers, but flock to Yelp to find out where to eat.  We distrust the newspapers who pretend to be objective, but trust the partisan bloggers who have no such pretensions.

Maybe the reason is that we believe those bloggers, those strangers on Yelp, and those friends of friends on Facebook have nothing to gain or lose.  They won’t hold back anything, and you, the reader, can take it, leave it, whatever you choose.  That carefree attitude may be the secret to trust.

Going back to my realtor friend for a moment, she told me that one of her secrets to success is that she never, ever accepts a listing she believe is overpriced.  And she’ll tell them, “If you listen to me, you will sell this house.”  If the client insists, then she’ll walk away.

Which then begs the question, why would anyone accept a listing they believe is overpriced at all?  Is the idea that once you get the seller to sign on the dotted line, you can talk them into price cut after price cut?  Is it that some agents are so desperate for transactions that they’ll do anything to get a listing at whatever price?  Is it that agents and brokers take listings they know won’t sell because those listings will attract buyers to whom they can sell other, more appropriately priced homes, and at least get the buyer’s side of the deal?

A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action

Part of the problem is too much talk and not enough walk.  Check out this copy I lifted directly off of a realtor website:

I want to be YOUR Realtor. As your trusted, professional real estate partner, I will help you find the best home in your area within your price range. And together we will sell your home, for as much as the market will bear, and as quickly as possible.

Really, you’ll be my trusted professional real estate partner?  Sez who?  I don’t know you from Adam, but you know that I’ll be trusting you?  You’re a photo on a website and you’re telling me you’re a professional?  Like my doctor?

Copy like this is so reminiscent of pizza boxes that say, “You’ve tried the rest, now try the best”: amusing in the breathtaking untruthfulness of marketingspeak, but ultimately sad and depressing.  It’s as if the pizzeria knows that the quality of their pies are subpar at best, and have to pump themselves up with words.  If the pizza really were the best ever in the history of cheese, dough, and sause, they could have packaged it in a brown paper bag and the customers would still be lined up around the corner, no?

In contrast, look at a company like Nordstrom’s.  They are renowned for their superlative customer service, but there are no banners hanging from their storefronts: “We provide awesome customer service!”  The website doesn’t mention the word, and their catalogs don’t go on and on about how they want to be YOUR retailer of choice, a trusted professional shoe partner.  No, Nordstrom’s just does it.  They provide superior service, time and time again.  Their actions prove what no amount of ad copy can.

Proving It

So how might a real estate agent actually prove that she is trustworthy, rather than saying that she is?

One suggestion would be to eradicate the following phrases from your vocabulary, from your website, from your marketing materials, from your listing presentations etc.:

  • Trustworthy
  • Honest
  • Frank

Don’t utter the phrase, “Let me be frank with you.”  Or “To be honest….”  Just speak.  If you are telling the truth, it’ll come through.  If you are being honest, that too will shine through.

Two, have data — lots of data.  Try not to say things like, “Oh, this neighborhood has a great school system.”  Great according to whom?  Show me test scores, teacher-student ratios, and where the graduating seniors go to college.  Want to tell me you’re an “experienced local expert”?  Just show me the data: your years in the business, your transactions per year, your days on market, your sale-to-list price ratio, your detailed market reports that weren’t pulled off the MLS like every other agent in the area.

Three, please avoid marketingspeak.  Here’s an actual property description from a listing detail page on a realtor website:

Own a real piece of history for $XXX,XXX!

This genuine Craftsman style bungalow has been completely renovated with all of the latest features and amenities, without sacrificing any of the original charm and style!

Come on now.  Real piece of history?  Really?  Can you cite references, show me books, periodicals, something to indicate what the history is?  If not, then why call it a “real piece of history”?

Genuine Craftsman style bungalow?  As opposed to the fake Craftsman style bungalows that have so plagued our nation over the years?  All of the latest features and amenities?  What’s wrong with a plain factual list of the features and amenities?  Original charm and style?  Really?  Am I supposed to believe that?  How about you just post a lot of photos and let me make up my mind as to whether the house is charming and stylish?

Maybe this is fantasy; maybe realtors need to embellish the property up to make the seller happy.  Maybe it’s too much to ask that realtors act as if they have nothing to gain or lose.  Maybe agents simply can’t help themselves from telling me to trust them, rather than showing me why I should.

Fine.  But honesty is such a lonely word.  And I don’t want some pretty face to tell me pretty lies.  All I want is someone to believe.

-rsh

  • http://www.BrandCandid.com/ Ken Brand

    Your post is sorta like looking into a Kaleidoscope. when you twist it and hold up to different light it changes colors.

    I think offenders could be broken down into 3 categories.

    1. You have your opportunists who work hard, only they their hard work is pointed at fooling people. These people aren’t interested in learning how to connect or deliver, they want to take, not give.

    2. You have your lazy. If they can write or speak a shortcut, they’re all over it. These folks aren’t interested in earning trust, they want free lunches.

    3. I believe the majority are those that want to deliver, impress, please, connect and serve. Their challenges are; lack of education on how to present their value proposition and fear of change – so they mimic what they see successful others do.

    Let’s face it, this issue is not a “real estate” agent issue specifically, it’s an issue that effects all industries; autos, hospitality, airlines, retail, etc.

    Calling it out and sharing alternatives is one way that group 3 can learn what steps to take to elevate them above the sea of sameness.

    Nice post. I’ll be sharing this with out team. Thanks.

  • http://www.BrandCandid.com Ken Brand

    Your post is sorta like looking into a Kaleidoscope. when you twist it and hold up to different light it changes colors.

    I think offenders could be broken down into 3 categories.

    1. You have your opportunists who work hard, only they their hard work is pointed at fooling people. These people aren’t interested in learning how to connect or deliver, they want to take, not give.

    2. You have your lazy. If they can write or speak a shortcut, they’re all over it. These folks aren’t interested in earning trust, they want free lunches.

    3. I believe the majority are those that want to deliver, impress, please, connect and serve. Their challenges are; lack of education on how to present their value proposition and fear of change – so they mimic what they see successful others do.

    Let’s face it, this issue is not a “real estate” agent issue specifically, it’s an issue that effects all industries; autos, hospitality, airlines, retail, etc.

    Calling it out and sharing alternatives is one way that group 3 can learn what steps to take to elevate them above the sea of sameness.

    Nice post. I’ll be sharing this with out team. Thanks.

  • http://www.realcentralva.com/ Jim Duncan

    This is one of the reasons that blogging/social media have become such powerful tools – consumers can decide for themselves if an agent is (or appears to be through his or her writings) – honest.

    I’ve always believed that marketing oneself as “honest, trusted, full of integrity,” etc. is counter-productive. The insinuation is that in a sea of sharks, I’m the only one who can save you.

    Some people are smarter than a lot of us give them credit for.

    You know how to show people that you’re honest and looking out for the clients’ best interest? Be honest and do what’ right for the clients.

  • http://www.realcentralva.com Jim Duncan

    This is one of the reasons that blogging/social media have become such powerful tools – consumers can decide for themselves if an agent is (or appears to be through his or her writings) – honest.

    I’ve always believed that marketing oneself as “honest, trusted, full of integrity,” etc. is counter-productive. The insinuation is that in a sea of sharks, I’m the only one who can save you.

    Some people are smarter than a lot of us give them credit for.

    You know how to show people that you’re honest and looking out for the clients’ best interest? Be honest and do what’ right for the clients.

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  • http://www.sandiegolifestyle.info/ Jeffrey Douglass

    Rob,

    As Jim states above the blogging/social media has given the consumer the opportunity to get to know those agents doing such, without ever picking up the phone. I’m sure after reading some blogs/websites the consumer will do everything to avoid that particular agent. I have been to Jim’s site many times and feel I have a pretty good idea who he is and that he is trustworthy.

    As you state providing facts and good content is KING, trust has to be earned – the consumer has to test you answers that you should support with independent evidence/facts/neutral sources. I never assume trust in a Client relationship – I always back everything up with facts, figures, and third party sources.

    I don’t know if you have been following the new book coming out by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, but it should be on order for any REALTOR that wants to understand building trust and why you don’t want to use the work directly.

    I disagree with your statement avoid market speak – As a listing agent it is important to market a property – it’s not just about being factual but to build a visual picture and a reason for the buyer to call and see the property.

    Honesty, is there really any other way? Thanks for the post.

  • http://www.sandiegolifestyle.info Jeffrey Douglass

    Rob,

    As Jim states above the blogging/social media has given the consumer the opportunity to get to know those agents doing such, without ever picking up the phone. I’m sure after reading some blogs/websites the consumer will do everything to avoid that particular agent. I have been to Jim’s site many times and feel I have a pretty good idea who he is and that he is trustworthy.

    As you state providing facts and good content is KING, trust has to be earned – the consumer has to test you answers that you should support with independent evidence/facts/neutral sources. I never assume trust in a Client relationship – I always back everything up with facts, figures, and third party sources.

    I don’t know if you have been following the new book coming out by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, but it should be on order for any REALTOR that wants to understand building trust and why you don’t want to use the work directly.

    I disagree with your statement avoid market speak – As a listing agent it is important to market a property – it’s not just about being factual but to build a visual picture and a reason for the buyer to call and see the property.

    Honesty, is there really any other way? Thanks for the post.

  • http://www.AdlerBenjamin.com/ Sue Adler

    Thanks for putting this out there Rob.

    Well, can I be honest with you Rob? ( ha ha) … You may be overreacting a wee bit on the particular example you gave about the craftman house. If you’re pulling from idx there isnt alot of room for realtors to cite references – there’s just enough room for a few key features in the remarks section. Plus,you’re trying to appeal to the buyer’s emotions in this short section by painting a picture in their minds of the house. I’m not convinced that your example embellished the house. Would be better if they took out the word “real” unless it does in fact have historic significance.

    “Is it that some agents are so desperate for transactions that they’ll do anything to get a listing at whatever price?” Unfortunately there are agents who “buy” listings by to beat out other agents on listing appointments because they are insecure, desperate and have no value proposition, and yes, they know the longer they sit with it the more buyers they can pick up from marketing it, they then try to get the price down when it obviously doesnt get offers at its original list price. Sellers need to ask during the listing interview what the agent’s average days on market is and what is the agent’s sale price to list price ratio.

    ~ your no B.S. realtor friend :-)

  • http://www.AdlerBenjamin.com Sue Adler

    Thanks for putting this out there Rob.

    Well, can I be honest with you Rob? ( ha ha) … You may be overreacting a wee bit on the particular example you gave about the craftman house. If you’re pulling from idx there isnt alot of room for realtors to cite references – there’s just enough room for a few key features in the remarks section. Plus,you’re trying to appeal to the buyer’s emotions in this short section by painting a picture in their minds of the house. I’m not convinced that your example embellished the house. Would be better if they took out the word “real” unless it does in fact have historic significance.

    “Is it that some agents are so desperate for transactions that they’ll do anything to get a listing at whatever price?” Unfortunately there are agents who “buy” listings by to beat out other agents on listing appointments because they are insecure, desperate and have no value proposition, and yes, they know the longer they sit with it the more buyers they can pick up from marketing it, they then try to get the price down when it obviously doesnt get offers at its original list price. Sellers need to ask during the listing interview what the agent’s average days on market is and what is the agent’s sale price to list price ratio.

    ~ your no B.S. realtor friend :-)