Value First: Internet-Influenced Clients Who 'Don't Need You'

The internet has spawned a wide range of behavioral changes in consumers. People are more willing to buy things sight unseen. They’ll give up the comfort of in-person inspection for the convenience of a simplified shopping experience. Consumers trust the reviews of unknown individuals in making their purchase decisions.

a couple viewing a home listing online

We’re more and more willing to make our financial decisions based on information online, without the input of physical experience or the guidance of our real-life sphere of influence. Convenience and objectivity rule web-based consumption.

It’s no surprise that some of these consumption trends have trickled into the habits of real estate shoppers. We’ve known for years that property search was trending more and more toward online and away from print. Today, that transition is almost complete. While broker-driven marketing generates some additional exposure for properties, consumer-initiated real estate search is virtually always begun online.

We’ve come to expect that we can get our research and make our purchases without the intervention of an intermediary salesperson in so many facets of our lives. These experiences color the expectations of today’s real estate consumer in many ways. Their satisfaction (or lack thereof) with their home search is based upon the ease with which so many of their other transactions take place. They don’t need a salesperson to help them along (or so they initially believe).

Any broker who works with online leads understands the paradigm shift. Home buyers online, especially first time buyers, merely want access to a property. There’s no request to “sit down and talk at the office,” and often a salesperson who pushes that avenue will quickly be abandoned by the inquiring lead. They’ll just call the next broker. Someone will answer their questions, set the showing quickly, and make the process efficient. If it’s not you, it’s the next broker’s turn to try.

Of course, personal referrals from our sphere will continue to be valuable—likely, even more so than in the past. In-person relationships carry their weight in gold. But don’t think that your friends, associates, and past clients aren’t being sucked into the temptations of the online world. They’re browsing websites, asking questions, and getting listing alerts from other companies. Anyone with reasonable real estate experience has had a sure client end up closing on a home with another broker, or no broker at all, because they showed up at an open house or just ended up choosing different representation. Digital tools are changing even our most loyal clients’ behaviors. They’re not calling you to ask. They’re asking Google.

This may sound depressing to some, but it’s the reality of a changing dynamic in many of our clients’ expectations. It’s also a great opportunity to renew our focus on providing value to our clients.

Why should that client want to spend time with me? What is my value in the process to this consumer? When we focus on these questions, we not only improve our ability to generate more business, we also elevate the services that our profession is providing to the public. An increasingly detached online world of real estate consumers provides us the platform to prove that what we do is valuable. When we do it right, it is a benefit to our clients, and they will step out of their 1-click Amazon purchase mode because we’ve proven to them that what we do is so much more important than saving a few minutes.

So, how to engage with these tech-savvy consumers who often seem to want to run past us rather than work through us?

Provide value first. The consumer owes us nothing. It’s their choice to work with a REALTOR® or try to go it alone. Until we give the consumer our expertise, our time, our professional guidance and prove to them we have something they need in their pursuit of a home, we don’t have a reason to expect their loyalty.

Provide the services you’d want as a consumer, and take the chance with your time and your expertise that you’ll generate that loyalty because of the value you deliver. We’ve always done business this way: CMAs, listing presentations, general advice and recommendations for potential clients who haven’t yet decided to sell or buy. Giving of our services without upfront compensation, on the opportunity for them to become a commission-compensated transaction, has always been the model for real estate brokers. Working with clients online should be viewed in the same light.

Take a different approach the next time you receive that online lead with the same “selfish” inquiry: “I just want this information and I don’t want to talk to an agent.” View it as the opportunity to provide your knowledge and help a potential client understand what they don’t yet realize is important. Consumers aren’t opposed to working with us. Often, we just haven’t shown them our value yet. It is our collective job as an industry to continually prove that our services are valuable. That’s why we put our skills on the line every day, taking on the risk that we may not be compensated—because we know that the rewards will be worthwhile if we provide enough value to our clients.

Consumer behavior is changing, but the value of professional guidance in a real estate transaction is not waning. We merely have new platforms and challenges within which we must continue to show consumers our value. That’s a challenge we can bemoan, or take on with a value-first, positive outreach. Real estate brokers have been resilient as our industry has changed over the past century, and those who choose the latter will continue to thrive.

About the Author:

Sam DeBord

Sam DeBord is managing broker of Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth and President of Seattle King County REALTORS®. You can find his team at SeattleHome.com and BellevueHomes.com.

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