Tag: realestate

The Truth Behind a Review

In some industries, customer service isn’t nearly as big a deal as it is in others.  For example, when I roll my garbage can out to the curb the night before trash day, I really have no other expectation than the woman or man driving the truck the next day will extend out the big mechanical arm, grab my garbage can, empty it into the gaping maw in the back of the truck, and return the can in the same spot (or within a reasonable distance of the same spot) for me to retrieve and put it back behind my fence later in the day.  The only other expectation I have is that someone in a similarly equipped truck will come back the next week and repeat the process.  End of story.

In the mortgage and real estate world, customer service is a HUGE deal, of course, and a lot of the reason is we’re guiding a person or group of persons through a process that takes more than a day or two.  On top of that, no transaction is exactly like another one, so we’re constantly “on call” to face whatever curve ball the underwriter throws at us or overcome whatever roadblock an unwitting buyer (or seller) throws up in our path.  But you knew all that, right?

Whenever I see someone post a review from a client on Instagram or Facebook, I laugh a little to myself.  The source of my subtle mirth doesn’t stem from the typeface they chose (while I would strongly recommend against Comic Sans) or the format in which they created the post but from the fact 99.9% of the people leaving these glowing reviews (because who’s going to post a bad review) only know about 10% of what went on to produce such a positive result.  It’s the iceberg phenomenon: 10% is what you see, 90% remains below the surface and invisible to the casual observer.  And that’s the way it should be!

I’m reminded of a transaction I did last year that looked like the most generic real estate purchase you could ever find.  It closed in 30 days, and both the listing agent and the buyer’s agent walked away very pleased with the whole thing.  I can’t speak for the seller, but I know the buyer was ecstatic over how easy it seemed.  That’s the 10% everyone else saw.

However, during that 30 days, all sorts of nasty stuff was flung at us, figuratively speaking.  Had we called all parties involved with our hair on fire each time another negative thing occurred, we would have caused a great deal of unnecessary panic.  This is where TRUE customer service plays out: behind the scenes that no one knows about.  That’s not being sneaky.  That’s being smart.  And in those moments when we did need to bring a problem to everyone’s attention, we already had a solution or group of solutions in place.

So, the next time you read a rave review about a real estate agent or a lender, ask yourself what she or he kept back from the customer to ensure that positive experience.  What’s NOT said is going to tell a much more interesting and compelling story!

Don’t Talk to Strangers

Regardless of how you generate your new business – there are SO MANY different ways to do it – there is one common thing that applies to all the referrals generated: they need to be qualified.  (Even if they’re buying a home with cash, someone is going to step up in the beginning of the process and ask for proof, right?)  When we make contact with prospective buyers to get them qualified, we experience a lot of different personalities and approaches to the process.  Some are an open book and give you all their information without your even needing to ask – that can be a good thing, but it can get a bit cringe worthy when they go from providing information about their finances to providing information about their last colonoscopy, their divorce, which of their kids was fastest at potty training, and so on.  Others, when you ask them for their personal information, act like they’re trying to determine whether you’re a spy from another country or some creep who’s going to stalk them.

Recently, an agent asked me to contact one of her prospective clients and help him qualify for a mortgage.  We had a very pleasant conversation where he told me about his family and what they enjoy doing on the weekends (nothing weird, fortunately).  However, when I asked him for his Social Security number, he went dead silent.  I wasn’t sure if it was my phone going on the blink or not, so I asked if he heard me ask for his number, and he told me that he has never met me and didn’t feel comfortable giving me that piece of information.  Before I could walk him through the process and the reason this piece of information was so vital, he hung up on me.

I called the agent immediately and told her what had taken place, and she assured me that when she had originally spoken with her client, she had told him that I would need these items to help him qualify.  She promised to call him at that moment while the situation was still “fresh” to see if she could smooth things over.  No more than five minutes later, she called me back and said he was less than helpful – she then recommended we wait a bit before running this one up the flagpole again.

For the most part, I don’t have trouble getting what we need to pull the credit report and determine whether a borrower qualifies or needs some help building/repairing their credit.  Occasionally, though, I get folks who just don’t feel comfortable sharing their personal data with a stranger.  (While I don’t find myself all that “strange”, I’m willing to accept the fact I’m an unknown entity to these good people, and they may have ample reason to be wary.)  Because of that, we’ve come up with something that, I believe, everyone is going to love (prepare for the shameless promotion).

On our website, we have a short application that doesn’t ask for a birthdate OR a Social Security Number.  Just the person’s first and last name, phone number, physical address (no PO Boxes), and email address.  Yeah, that’s it.  Once they’ve input and submitted that information, we can pull a credit report and have enough information to call your clients and start discussing options at that very moment.  Sure, birthdates and Social Security Numbers are going to be needed at some point, but if we can call your clients and get them excited about their prospects, sharing those pieces of information won’t seem strange.

I shortened the link, and it’s easy to remember.  Here it is: bit.ly/ezqual.  Yeah, that’s it.  They’ll type that in, click on the EZqual box, and there’s the application in its entirety – just the four pieces of information.  Once they click on “Next”, they’ll get an email letting them know that we’ve received their information and will be contacting them shortly to discuss their options – that should warm up even the coldest of folks, right?

Having this option should practically eliminate a potential borrower being leery to share their information with us.  It might even help cut down on the number of people who overshare, and that’s not a bad thing.

A Fantasy’s Reality

Contrary to popular belief, I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist, and I don’t play one on TV.  However, over time, I have come to learn that there’s a great deal of psychology involved in sales – all types of sales – but this is especially true in the real estate/mortgage world.

Buyers don’t “pay” for a real estate agent to represent them in the purchase of a home.  Because of this arrangement (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it), we could say the Buyer’s Agent is like a Fairy Godmother (or whatever is the male fairytale equivalent – I’m not up on my ‘tales jargon these days, sorry), helping dreams come true.

Lenders on the other hand, unless we’re a sterling referral from a friend or family member whose recommendations have never failed and whose views are unassailable, are viewed as a necessary evil.  To some, we’re seen as the old crone living in the forest who holds the one item standing between the home buyer and their dream.  To others, we’re one of a handful of shady characters living down by the docks who will take their soul if they don’t choose the right shady character.

We as lenders can tell people about great products and programs until we’re blue in the face, and we might attract a few stouthearted individuals who are curious, but we don’t have the “credibility” of the Buyer’s Agent in the eyes of the average home buyer.  I don’t say that to complain or to advocate better conditions for us on the lending side – it’s a statement of fact in more than the majority of cases.

Because Buyer’s Agents have the Fairy Godmother effect, they have that built-in “credibility”, and we as lenders would do well both to recognize that and team up with agents to become advocates to home buyers for the programs and products we see as being the best fit for market conditions.  Let me give you an example – it’s one I’ve sort of been harping on for the last little while.

A Reverse Mortgage Purchase is a REALLY good thing for certain people whose home buying goals and objectives align with what a Reverse Mortgage has to offer.  However, due to some less-than-honest people in the past, there’s a lot of lost credibility and we lenders get lumped in with the bad apples.  An agent, on the other hand, who has sold two or three houses to the same individual over the last thirty years is in a perfect position to bring this up and plant the idea in their client’s head.  The same words could come out of both a lender’s mouth and the agent’s mouth, and they’ll be “heard” completely differently by the buyer: the former might make the buyer cringe, the latter could make them smile from ear to ear.

I’m going to date myself here, but I’m okay with that.  In the old Saturday morning cartoon “Super Friends”, there’s a sibling team called the Wonder Twins.  They had powers that were distinct to each individual, but those powers could only be activated if the two came together.  Apart, they were mere mortals with funny names.  Together, they could take on the world.

THIS is the psychology of the sale in the real estate/mortgage world.  Lenders and agents SHOULD be a perfect complement to one another and play to one another’s strengths.  Too often, though, individuals on both sides of the table think they don’t need their counterpart or that they’re more important than the other.  Following the psychology theme, that’s crazy!

The Value of the F Word

Rest assured, this article isn’t going to devolve into something reserved for late night or cable television.  The “F” word of which I speak is “free”.  In many instances, free is not necessarily a good thing.  I’m reminded of the saying, “You get what you pay for,” and that often means the thing you get out of a free transaction is absolutely worthless.  Along those lines, I present you the term “gluten free”, which usually means it’s free of taste.  But I digress.

Recently, I was following up with a couple who was referred to me by an agent, and the wife said she and her husband wanted to put off applying for a mortgage until they’ve worked on their credit.  And then she went on to say that they were scheduled to meet with a credit counselor to start that process.

I smiled and asked if this counseling service was going to charge them for this meeting, and she confirmed that they would be.  Sensing that there was a reason for my asking such a question, she felt the need to justify this by explaining that this counseling service was going to help them pay off some debts to clean up and improve their credit.  Well, yeah.

At this point, I described to her the process the counseling service would go through and what the couple would need to do, and then I dropped the “F” bomb: I told them that I would do all of those things for the couple for free.  While she was letting this new piece of information sink in, I told her that whatever the counseling service or I directed them to do, it would be up to the couple to do it.  Meaning: neither the service nor I can pay off their debt or physically do anything else that is going to help them repair their credit – they alone would have to do it.  And then I gave her this analogy.

Many people who need credit repair can be compared to someone who needs to lose weight.  In both cases, they hear about this person who helped their friends, and the cost of the service wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t outrageously expensive either.  So, they sign up and sort of breathe a sigh of relief feeling that their situation would soon be a thing of the past.  They plunk down their money and have their first meeting with the expert.  She tells them what they need to do, pats them on the head, and shoos them away so she can work with the next client – she got her money up front.  Whether it’s credit improvement or weight loss, it’s the client who has to do all the work.  In the case of weight loss, the expert can’t lift the weights for them or eat the right foods for them – she can only advise them.  And the same goes for credit repair.  It would be a whole other thing if the payment arrangement were such that the expert didn’t get paid UNTIL the client reaches their goal.

With me, on the other hand, there’s no up-front payment because my incentive is to get them qualified for a mortgage – I get paid when the client reaches their goal of not only repairing their credit but realizing their dream of buying a house.

As a real estate agent, if you have a lender who works directly with folks in need of credit repair instead of referring it out to a service, you could do very well with a marketing campaign that tells people they can get FREE counseling services to repair their credit to help them get into a home.  This campaign can take many forms ranging, of course, from social media to directly reaching out to past clients asking them if they know of anyone who needs this kind of help.  So, go ahead and start dropping the “F” bomb in mixed company – you’ll turn heads, in a good way.

Nothing Average About Being Similar

Back in a high school or college history class, your teacher/professor probably shared the following piece of information with you concerning life in the Old World back in the 1600s: the average life span back in that day was 35 years (or something like that – exact accuracy isn’t my point).  And when you heard that, if you were like me, you thought, “That means if I were living back then, I should be having my midlife crisis right about now.  Ouch!”

Your instructor wasn’t lying to you.  He or she just wasn’t qualifying the statement correctly.  The AVERAGE life span was, in fact, very short, but that didn’t mean that people were keeling over right and left after blowing out 30+ candles on their cakes.  The truth lies in the word “average”.  At that time, you had quite a few people living into their 60s and beyond, but there were equal numbers of infant deaths due to disease and poor living conditions – if you average the life spans of everyone in that time, you naturally get a number that skews much younger than expected.

For this and other reasons, statisticians like to use the median of a number set rather than the average (or in statistic speak, “mean”).  The median is the exact middle of a number set.  By going with the number that falls smack dab in the middle, you’re able to omit the outliers.  For example, you’re looking at income data for a marketing project, and you have someone who falls into the data set who makes $1 million.  Everyone else is ranging between $30K and $75K.  Your average by including Ms. Million Dollars is going to be MUCH higher than what you’re really seeking.  By going with the MEDIAN number, you’re going to come up with something that falls within reason.

I told you all that just so I can present you with this little piece of data I got from the National Association of Realtors:

If I’m being honest (when have you known me to lie?), I was a bit surprised by these statistics.  I would have thought the ages were slightly younger.  And because I assumed the numbers were slightly higher, my past marketing efforts, most likely, have been a tad misdirected.  For example, in running a Facebook ad, I was reaching out to people in their mid 20s.  Why would that make any sense?  Sure, you could make the argument that I’m planting seeds for future buyers, but that argument is full of holes because marketing really should concentrate on getting customers NOW (or at least in the next few months).

On another front, I’ve toyed with the idea of going to college groups to educate them about saving for a down payment and the advantages of homeownership.  It’s not a bad idea if it’s not going to take a lot of my time or cost me much (or anything) dollar wise – this is where planting seeds isn’t a bad thing.  But if this or a similar exercise is going to cost me time and money, I need to abandon that idea and go where I’ll see a much quicker ROI!

For those who already knew this, may the gods of real estate continue to smile upon you.  But for those of us who are JUST having this lightbulb moment, I hope this helps.  Either way, give your history teacher a call and let him know you want a refund for his class.