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What Must We Do to Restore Consumer Confidence?

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consumer_confidenceRISMEDIA, July 1, 2009-Some of you may remember a few years back when a Harris Poll survey found that REALTORS(R) were named among the Top 12 Most Trusted Professionals in America. This was several notches below nurses, doctors and pharmacists, but comfortably above attorneys, stockbrokers and sales professionals in a number of other industries. In fact, while sales professionals as a whole rated somewhere midway on the “most trusted” scale, Realtors consistently garnered the top rating among the entire sales group. That is a reassuring statistic to remember at this particular point in time, when our industry is beginning to pick up and dust off after a challenging economic downturn. With several indicators suggesting, the economy is set to rebound, what must we do to polish our image as trusted advisers and restore consumer confidence going forward? In this month’s NAR Power Broker Roundtable, we have gathered a panel of veteran brokers to address this most important issue.

Moderator: Virginia Cook, Special Liaison for Large Firm Relations, NAR

Participants: Jon Coile, President, Champion Realty, Chesapeake Bay, Maryland
Helen Sossa, President, Prudential Palms Realty, Sarasota, Florida.
Vince Leisey, President, Prudential Ambassador Real Estate, Omaha, Nebraska

Vince Leisey: To begin with, I think we need to recognize that consumer confidence fell for a variety of reasons that had nothing to do with our ability as sales professionals. Consumers lost faith because as home prices dropped, equity was eroded. At the same time, unemployment was going up as the stock market was tanking. But we need to remember that, as always, what was a challenge for some became an opportunity for others and I think we’re seeing that opportunity come into its own today.

Helen Sossa: I agree, because pending sales are clearly picking up. We’ve had more unit sales over the last couple of months than in the entire history of our company. People-especially young people-who have good jobs and haven’t overspent the last couple of years are qualifying for some of the best home values available in years. I overheard a conversation the other day between two young women sitting in an airport coffee shop. One of them said the recession was “the best thing that could have happened to her” because it enabled her to buy her first home.

Jon Coile: That is especially true in light of the $8,000 tax credit for first-time buyers. That alone is a confidence booster, and it’s bringing in a lot of buyers who had been waiting on the sidelines. Granted it’s starting things moving at the low end of the market, but we need to capitalize on that activity. No more media doom and gloom. We’re turning that around, meeting actively with reporters and editors to update them on what’s happening. There is plenty of activity now.

VL: The mentality has shifted. Consumers are looking ahead, not back, and as Realtors we need to take that ball and run with it.

HS: That’s true. And there are plenty of ways beyond the federal tax credit to help boost consumer confidence-things like mortgage protection programs that are beginning to pop up, and homeowner counseling and assistance programs we can offer our customers.

JC: But we have to do more than change consumer attitudes, we have to manage the attitudes of our agents. When one of our top producers was lamenting the market a couple of months ago, her branch manager threw some numbers out that made her sit up and take notice. Once she understood the opportunities in the market, she wrote three contracts in three weeks.

Virginia Cook: Does all this activity mean we need to find new ways to reach out to consumers?

JC: I don’t think so. I think the ways to reach out are already in place, and by that I mean the tech revolution. As an industry, we are finally using technology and social networking to be more proactive, to build up our databases, and to be instantly responsive to our clients.

VC: What does that say about our marketing outreach programs?

VL: It means a shift there, too. According to the statistics, reaching a market of 50 million people would take 38 years by radio, 13 years by television, four years on the Internet, and three on iPod-but only two years via Facebook. What does that tell you?

HS: It tells me technology is the new way to win friends and influence people. But we must not lose sight of the fact that consumers trust us, by and large, because we build and sustain relationships. If we combine technology with our well-honed people skills, we can boost consumer confidence off the charts.

VC: Thank you all for your insight on this ongoing challenge. The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (NAR) offers a number of tools and resources to help brokers and their agents communicate the value Realtors bring to the transaction, including the publication “It Pays To Work With A REALTOR®,” available to members for download free of charge as part of the Right Tools, Right Now initiative. In addition, NAR’s Public Awareness Campaign uses a comprehensive mix of television, radio and print advertising to educate consumers about the benefits of homeownership and buying opportunities in a changing real estate market. Learn more at www.realtor.org.

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