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Commentary by Tracy Berger

RISMEDIA, Nov. 29, 2007-It is understood that real estate professionals who find success in the coming year will be those who identify and capitalize on opportunities to differentiate themselves from other agents. An obvious, though tremendously important, opportunity for differentiation presents itself in the form of customer service practices.

The top real estate agents in 2008 will engage in effective customer service activities that maximize their own efficiency and develop stronger relationships with clients by offering access to resources and services that buyers may not have access to otherwise.

Homeowners are expecting exceptional customer service at higher rates than ever before. Recent studies from Yankelovich MONITOR show 85% of homeowners refuse to settle for anything less than stellar service from their real estate agent. By capitalizing on the homeowner’s desire to receive top-notch customer service, the savvy agents will differentiate themselves with a dramatic, long-term impact.

Efficient Competition through Customer Service

Traditional customer service may come in a variety of more common Realtor activities, such as neighborhood market analysis and participation in closings. However, another simple but often forgotten way for an agent to improve customer service practices is to become well-versed in home warranties. For many, a home warranty is an often-assumed add-in to most contracts, but one that carries with it the impression of ongoing service beyond the close date. Proactively advising clients to purchase a home warranty (or requesting that sellers include a warranty in their listings) will enhance agents’ relationships with their clients.

By having the necessary knowledge to thoroughly explain the home warranty, agents will put their clients in a position to have favorable interactions with their home warranty provider. Homeowners that know what to expect from their home warranty and how to get the most out of it can reflect positively on the real estate agent making the recommendations.

Dave Crawford, president of American Home Shield, says that understanding what a home warranty covers and knowing how to use it can be especially important for the buyer when the little new-home “hiccups” start to emerge-often in the first months of homeownership.

“We handle the phone calls from homeowners when their covered systems or appliances break down-that’s what we’re here for,” Crawford says. “We save our real estate partners the time spent fielding calls from unhappy clients, and those clients will receive immediate attention.”

Time is Money

In addition to saving the agent a significant amount of time and headaches, a home warranty can conserve valuable time for a homeowner. Because of the viciously competitive buyer’s market, yesterday’s curb appeal and fresh coat of paint are no longer enough to attract offers on a home. Sellers need to take additional steps to help their property stand out from the multitude of other listings.

A home warranty can add value to any listing, stimulating attention and reinforcing offers. Crawford says American Home Shield offers comprehensive coverage for many home systems and appliances, regardless of make, model or age, which is extremely reassuring and attractive to buyers as they commit to such a huge investment-homeownership.

New homeowners will also find comfort in the added financial security provided by a home warranty. For new homeowners who may have stretched their financial resources to the limit in order to purchase their new home, having a warranty pay for the repair or replacement on a covered system or appliance breakdown means one less worry when the budget is tight.

The value a home warranty adds to a listing can be the perfect addition to a home that may have been sitting on the market for some time. Including a home warranty from a reputable company will provide a newly tailored appeal to the 2008 real estate customer.

It Takes a Village

Today’s homeowners have many diverse needs that can be met by an entire team composed of a variety of business professionals. Smart agents develop sound relationships with professional partners in order to maximize resources and operate effectively while growing their businesses.

“We have found that homeowners, especially those who are new to an area, appreciate the link American Home Shield can provide them to some of the city’s most professional, reputable contractors,” Crawford says.

Successful brokers look for professional partners that share their commitment to providing customer service excellence in addition to offering a variety of services to enhance an agent’s capabilities. According to Crawford, American Home Shield is continually looking to find new ways to provide additional services to their business partners.

“For example, at AHS, we not only help agents maintain their positive relationships with clients after the close of sale, we also offer tools to help agents grow their businesses. OnMark Pro is an added online service that provides agents professional-quality marketing tools, templates and discounted printing opportunities,” Crawford says.

Having sound professional partnerships will help any real estate professional provide excellent customer service during the most competitive market swings. With continually increasing demand for top-notch customer service, the real estate professional who stays ahead of the curve will be able to meet the needs of the 2008 real estate client.