Imagine If Everyone “Sold” This Way…

* Republished from Nov. 2008, because… property markets might be looking a little more “up” these days, but… remember when? Enjoy…

While my wife and I were Stateside recently, we went to see a piece of property. Just for fun. As disclosed in the ad, the place in need of some tender loving care (TLC). But the neighborhood was right… and maybe, we thought, it would work as a rental property.

 So my wife got the broker on the phone. Sure, we could schedule a walk through, they said. Whenever. I’ll bet. After all, in many markets, real estate has seriously backpedaled from the boom of years past.

 Newly minted property brokers all over the U.S. got their licenses expecting to flip hundreds of properties a month. Instead, suddenly, they find themselves spending more time waiting for the phone to ring, and honing their skills in solitaire.

 “Hi there!” said the agent, lighting up as we drove up to the property with two babies and my mother along for the ride.

 “Listen,” she told us, “before we go in, I have to tell you that we’ve had at least 50 people see this place in the last 20 days… it’s going to move fast. I just wanted to warn you.”

 Ah yes, I thought, create urgency. She’s off to a running start. But given what we were about to see, it might as well have been a sprint into the Grand Canyon.

 “It’s been empty for awhile.”

 No kidding. The wafting sent of rotting carpet was unmistakable. The curious brown stains on the walls, on the other hand, I couldn’t place. And I’m not sure I’d want to, either.

“Sorry about the cold,” said the agent, “the utilities were turned off when the previous owners vacated the property about a year ago.”

 “Wait,” said my wife, “is that an abandoned car out back in the driveway? It looks like it’s jammed with junk.”

 “And this container of cream in the fridge…” I said, as I peeled the carton from a puddle of black muck that held it to the glass shelf, “does that expiration date really say ‘JULY 2005?'”

 “Um…” said the agent, “yes, well, I’ll have to look into it a little more for you. I only know attorneys are handling the sale. I think it’s a question of mental unsoundness.”

 Yeah, I thought, maybe the prior resident went nuts after the poltergeists put up this wallpaper. In one room after another, it became clear. The place was a dump. Had Charles Manson and friends been looking for a hideaway, they would have filed this one under “too spooky” to take up residence.

 “It’s really priced to sell,” said the agent, clinging to her chipper-ness as best she could. “They’re looking for a cash deal.”

 “Mind if we go see the bodies… er, I mean… the basement first?” said my wife. “Sure,” said the broker, looking for the door heading downstairs. It was clear she, too, had spent as little time in this place as possible.

 The best selling point was, perhaps, how easy it was to get the front door open again so we could step outside.

 “They’re looking to do this quickly, without all the contingencies. You know, like a house inspection and stuff.”

 I took a glimpse at one of the windowsills on the outside of the back porch. It was half-eaten by termites.

 “So,” I said, “just in general terms… how’s the market around here lately? Moving fast?”

 “Oh, the slowdown isn’t really hitting us at all,” she said. “We’re seeing demand and prices still going up.”

 “Yeah? Interesting. I’m writing a promo right now for a financial advisor who’s looking at the real estate bust… so I’m seeing lots of these stats myself… how do sales this past year compare, number-wise, with the year prior.”

 “I’d have to email those numbers to you,” she said. And less than an hour after we bid our goodbyes, she did. “Here you go…” said her email, “…and it looks like 2006 was even better than 2005!”


 My father, a semi-retired attorney, had a different set of trend figures from a real estate agent he’d helped out some years ago. Out of seven or eight zip codes, only one saw a 1% increase in property prices in 2006. Another stayed flat. The rest had plunged by 11%… 20%… even as much as 29%.

 And here’s the funny thing.

 The ghost house alone was enough to convince us something had turned sour in the property market. But what is it that really sticks in my craw now, a week or so later?

 The reflex clichés, the lack of key information, and the wobbly statistics coughed up by the market-challenged sales agent.

 I couldn’t help thinking… there IS a way to sell that property. But this wasn’t it. Re-price it for the market and to reflect the condition of the place. And then, heaven forbid, educate the broker to sell it for what it is — weakness, warts, and well-buried merits combined.

 Could you imagine if everybody sold that way?



  1. We tried to buy a property in UK, London all summer.

    Having viewed around 30 flats and houses, put an offer in on three, and had one excepted to fall through at survey stage, we finally managed to buy.

    How did we manage it? By avoiding the salespeople altogether. We saw the house on the net, drove up and the vendor happened to be outside and said ‘come on in’.

    We’d suspected the agents had actually been getting in the way of the sales in these troubled times – and this kind of proved it for us.

    The vendor didn’t bullshit us and even told us what they’d accept under the asking price (which was already a great deal under what the agent had recommended to them.)

    Or so they said. Which brings me to your point of perceived value. We THOUGHT we were getting a good deal because we didn’t have to talk to unbelievable agents who just came across as con artists. Our salesperson (the vendor) had credibility.

    If an estate agent can’t make a deal happen, what can they do? Nothing is often better than a bad something.

  2. @Hayes Thompson:

    Great example… and it just goes to show you, Hayes, how important TRUST is in all seller-buyer transactions. It’s popular these days to identify ‘trust building’ as solely an online selling principle, but you demonstrate that well right here. The bottom line is that relationships are relationships… and never was anything sold honestly or well, in my opinion, without cultivating one first, with credibility being the cornerstone of how those relationships begin.

  3. The challenge is most realtors are only looking for a one time, front end sale. Imagine if they were to realize there was a tremendous amount to be made on the backend. They could become the hub not just for the sale of the home, but for all the services a new homeowner will need, i.e., carpet cleaning, A/C maintenance, plumbing. They could negotiate a 10% referral fee, and either pocket the money or pass it back to the person who buys as a pre-negotiated savings. Imagine the word of mouth or repeat business they would get!

    In this case the realtor could line up all the service providers needed to get the house in shape, and sell it all as a package deal.

    Hmmm…, the plot thickens.

  4. @Bernie:

    That’s a terrific idea. I’ll bet it exists on the high, high end of home sales… but today, when realtors have… er… a lot of free time on their hands to work on their business models, I see no reason why some enterprising soul couldn’t put something like this together. Less of a property sales service and more of a total property service manager. It wouldn’t take much more than creating a pool of sub-contractors in a kind of home prep care package.

  5. I have been selling a lot of different types of services and products for most of my life now. And the single biggest thing that will influence a sale is whether the customer trusts the sales person or not. You can sell anything to anyone as long as they trust you to tell them the truth. Now here is the real catch, it does not matter if the sales person is trustworthy or not, of course it helps in the long run, but the buyer has to trust them in either case. The sales person has to establish trust and then has to keep it by not trying to hoodwink the buyer. You, as the sales person, never know what sources of information the buyer has access to, as illustrated by some of the above stories. Most people have access to the internet so probable have more information the most sales people. Sell the thing just get and keep the trust of the buyer.

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