Many industry decision makers and leaders believe that the challenge of the century for the contemporary American real estate industry will be its willingness and ability to create and deliver a real estate transactional experience that meets the needs and expectations of the broker, buyer and seller.
Over the years, this column has presented and commented many times on the subject of consumer experiences. It has discussed a wide range of both positive and unsatisfactory consumer real estate experiences. Hence, it is with the greatest of satisfaction that we now get to tell this story of an absolutely spectacular real estate service experience.
What is a real estate service experience? The Merriam Webster dictionary describes an experience as something personally encountered, undergone or lived through. For purposes of this column, the term “experience” is used to describe the sum total of the elements, both intentional and unintentional, presented to a buyer or seller as they make their way through a real estate transaction from search to contract, from contract to closing and from closing to ownership.
There are many industry insiders who find the whole subject of real estate service experiences to be a non-subject. These folks believe happenstance, luck and environmental factors rather than professionalism and brand management determine what matter of experience any particular consumer might have on any given day.
There are others, however, who believe that a perfect real estate experience is the result of a carefully considered series of well planned, properly executed and masterfully managed tasks, interactions and challenges.
With these thoughts in mind, it must now be disclosed that the real estate adventure that is the subject of this column is not just any random series of events, but rather a very special and unique series of events that this author and his wife went through over the past three months.
The adventure began during our annual visit with our kids, Jared and Edith, who live in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. One afternoon, our long-standing thoughts about owning a second home suddenly turned into actions as we noticed an open house sign three doors down the street. We met the agent holding the open house and proceded to make every effort to impress him with how sophisticated and worldly we were.
Since there was no risk of being talked into purchasing this particular property, we found ourselves feeling safe about engaging the agent with respect to our fantasies about owning a second home. The conversation resulted in a great relationship with the hero of this story, a Better Homes and Gardens real estate agent named Erick.
Marlene and I are, by any standard, an agent’s worst case scenario. We believe we are immune to persuasion and influence. We have the bad habit of overvaluing our expertise. Moreover, we are genuinely convinced that we can master any subject within seconds.
Erick appeared to take no notice of this behavior and began what turned out to be a long and detailed explanation of owning second homes in south Florida. Within minutes, we were in full learning mode. Images of agent ranking and rating evaporated as he demonstrated a truly impressive knowledge of and sensitivity to the marketplace and our needs. In response to our sense that condos were not our style, we spent the next day viewing a number of single-family properties while Erick gently evolved us to an understanding that, heaven forbid, condos were created for people just like us.
The following morning was spent viewing condo units.Within two hours, Erick demonstrated that he had been listening to us by finding a unit that didn’t just come close but in fact met every single requirement we had been describing through our constant babbling, with one exception. (The attached boat slip was 38 feet instead of 30.)
This is where the real adventure began. It turned out the seller had made a number of tactical errors in his acquisition and improvement of the property during the previous year. He had paid too much, bought the wrong unit and had invested in the wrong improvements. He had compounded his mistakes by selecting a listing agent who had interpreted Christmas in south Florida as the perfect occasion to take a two-week vacation abroad leaving his secretary in charge.
The next three days were a nightmare of unavailability, inaccuracy and a general state of unwillingness to face reality. We went through four offer rounds only to be met with an increasing level of resistance. Throughout these long hours, Erick was constantly available, being very professional, responsive, encouraging and reassuring. Unfortunately our efforts were of no avail. This seller was convinced he could be made whole.
Over the following month, Erick stayed in communication, providing us with options that all failed to capture the special nature of the initial unit. One afternoon, Marlene arrived home and announced that it was time to bang on the seller’s head and make the deal happen.
Erick responded with what can only be described as a heroic effort. Three more offer rounds later he got the seller (and his new listing agent) to come to the table. Upon reviewing the seller’s closing requirements, Erick’s superior negotiation skills became very apparent.
But the trauma was still not over. It was during the pre-closing period that Erick demonstrated a whole new array of skills. The seller had demanded a 10-day closing period that no mortgage provider could match. Erick came up with ideas for interim financing, arranged for all the inspections, made us safe and the deal was closed.
After the closing, Erick stayed with the project. He arranged relationships with a super mortgage company that actually worked with us on a Sunday night, a dynamic plumber who understood the idiosyncrasies of the south Florida contracting scene and a world-renowned air conditioning contractor who understood that a six-week delay wasn’t going to work. Each of these services saved us from costs, delays and hassle.
Nobody had to tell Erick how to create and execute on a superb consumer real estate experience. It was just something that he did. We still believe in ratings and wish there was some way we could give Erick a solid 10 across the table.
With respect to all of the Ericks out there, we thank you. For those consumers just beginning the search, keep in mind that the right agent can make all the difference in the world.