Are you more honest than a used car salesman?


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One of my agents came to me recently with a question from a client. He asked her, “What’s the difference between a real estate agent and a used car salesman?”

Now, that sounds like the beginning of a (probably upsetting) joke, but her client’s a straightforward guy, and he sincerely wanted to know. And if you look at the data around the most and least trusted professions, among those who rate our trustworthiness “average,” we’re not that far apart: 44.9 percent of respondents see used car salespeople as having average trustworthiness, as opposed to 56.12 percent who see real estate agents that way.

We fare a little better at the ends of the spectrum. More people see us as high or very high on the trustworthiness scale and fewer see us as low or very low, but there’s certainly a lot of room for improvement.

There’s a level of professionalism that some real estate agents don’t hold themselves to. In the real estate industry, some people see themselves as salespeople and get focused on the commission — what I like to call getting “commission breath” and chasing that dollar. 

That’s different from acting as a trusted fiduciary and thinking about what’s in the best interest of the customer. The level of professionalism you bring to the table sets you apart, and it helps define you.

If you have to compare yourself to a car salesman, at least be a high-end car salesman, like a BMW, Mercedes or Lamborghini — someone who’s selling the exotics at a higher price point. They’re not as worried about the commission as the typical used car salesman.

All joking aside, this is a common analogy, and I’m not surprised that this client asked this question. Just think about it: Studies show that we have similar levels of trust, yet we’re selling somebody’s house or helping someone buy a house.

That should give us all pause.

Setting the expectation and establishing a level of service

So why does that perception persist, and how do we overcome it? I think we start by defining ourselves differently right out of the gate, setting the level of expectation and service that we’re providing right up front with that first client communication.

We’re never going to be able to change negative perceptions about our industry unless we all start changing how we operate, how we act, how we view ourselves. The negative perception is almost a reflection of the self-perception of some agents.

I’m a big believer in valuing your own time and behaving in a truly professional manner. 

When my son isn’t feeling well, I have to call the doctor at 8:30 a.m. to get an appointment for the day. If I don’t, the doctor will book up. The doctor’s office won’t stay open late so we can get in, and they’re not going to rush in early to look in his ears.

When you’re jumping through hoops to meet a client at 7:30 p.m. to show them a house 15 minutes after they called you, or dropping everything you’re doing whenever they tell you to, that’s a little more used car salesman than what your doctor, your attorney or another professional would do.

We can’t, as individuals, change all of the stigmas that exist around our industry. It’s out there that agents are commission-hungry, that they get paid too much and so on. But you can change the perception on an individual basis by the way you conduct yourself and the level of service that you provide to your clients from Day 1.

Information-gathering vs. relationship-building

When someone walks into a car dealership or onto a used car lot, the information they give is all about the nuts and bolts of the type of car they’re looking for and the money they have available for their purchase. If that’s the way you’re approaching the initial buyer or seller meeting, you’re acting like a car salesman.

Our job is to create a relationship and evaluate the criteria around their goals to determine how we can help that client. Instead of looking to qualify them for a loan, we’re helping to determine how that client fits into the vast spectrum of the real estate world. Our job is to guide, not to sell.

The house (condo, co-op or lot) will sell itself once we present it, as long as we know the client and their needs.

That also means we’re not here to “soup up” that property. We’re here to ensure that buyers and sellers are making the right decisions, giving them the knowledge and the value they need to make those decisions.

We’re not just here for the numbers because we know that if we treat them right, those clients will come back later. They’re going to have children; they’re going to have sisters and nieces and friends who they’ll want to refer to us. We’re going to build those relationships to build that long-term referral network.

So, we’re not application-based. We’re criteria- and relationship-based. And that’s one thing that I think even our clients forget about. It’s more than just the sale.

Let me say that again: It’s more than just the sale.

So what is (or should be) the difference between a car salesperson and a real estate agent? The only thing they will offer their customer that has value is the car. We’re offering a lifetime of knowledge and experience, and that’s what separates us. 

Like many of you, I take so much pride in my work, and I value the friendships and relationships that I develop with each and every one of my clients. Remember that everything you and I do reflects on every other agent and broker in the industry. It’s worth showing up at our best every single day because that allows us to make our little corner of the real estate world better.

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