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?
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?
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.
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.:
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.