I like to say that residential real estate is a relationship business disguised as a transaction business. If you don’t build trust with your customers and clients, if they don’t feel confident about your knowledge and integrity, you have nothing. Maybe someone will find your listing on line, as they used to find it in the paper. Maybe they will contact you for an appointment, and maybe you will even sell them the property they come to see. But it doesn’t happen all that often. To make it in residential brokerage in New York City, which has almost as many licensed agents as it does real estate sale transactions in any given year, agents need repeat business and referrals. The agents who are successful, year after year, are those who have built a reputation for professionalism which translates into referrals. Many of them have so many referrals they cannot handle them all, sharing their business with assistants or junior colleagues learning the ropes.
To earn that trust, there are many things agents have to do. If absolutely necessary, they make beds and clean bathrooms. They sometimes endure the contempt of attorneys and the threats and blame of unhappy would-be buyers and sellers. Their time is wasted because it is “free.” And most importantly, they build real relationships, as facilitators of one of the most personal and significant decisions in the lives of their clients.
A colleague and I were recently discussing the unique relationship which exists between the residential agent and his or her client. For a while, we as agents become intimately involved with the lives of those we serve. We know all about their kids, their jobs, their earnings – we have to know the full story to advise them successfully. And usually, along the way, we share some facts about ourselves. We find points of commonality: schools, interests, beliefs, life situations. The relationship becomes quite intense, and it lasts as long as the transaction takes to consummate, which is almost always months and sometimes years. Over this period a bond develops. The agent and the client both seek the bond: it enables them to work together more effectively, to develop a shorthand which expedites the deal and helps to move it across the finish line. Sometimes a real friendship develops.
Then the deal is done. The agent moves on to the next transaction, the buyers to renovate and move into their new home. Speaking for myself, I always want to see how the new place turns out. I like to stay in touch, both because it is good business and because I feel connected to the lives my work has touched. Although the agent/client relationship is intense but (relatively speaking) brief, it is resonant. Agents feel a residual sense of connection to those to whom they have sold property and whose properties they have sold, and we hope they feel it too. We hope it will reach across the years to us when they are ready for another deal, or their friend or relative calls us to say “We need an agent, and so-and-so said you were the one to call.”
So are we friends? Sometimes, though not always. But the shared experience connects us long after the deal is done.