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Commentary by Lelia Chapman

RISMEDIA, April 14, 2008-As vice president of real estate sales at American Home Shield, I’ve witnessed the booming housing markets of the past, as well as some of the most volatile and fragile this country has seen in decades. Periods of flourishing home sales require real estate industry professionals to create the infrastructure necessary to service a rapidly growing customer base and differentiate their service in a competitive market. The moves made during flourishing times should position your company to continue growing when real estate sales slow down.

During the fast housing market, home warranties had a great impact on new and first-time home buyers seeking the best value. By fixing anything from unforeseen repairs to major appliances at minimal cost, a home warranty could provide a degree of financial stability to new homeowners who may have just spent their entire supply of cash on a down payment or new furnishings.

From 2001-2005, we saw a dramatic rise in the number of new homeowners. For AHS, that meant continuing to nurture and grow our contractor network to efficiently serve them. Our real estate partners enjoyed increased sales, but we also heard of the challenges they faced in delivering the best possible customer service to a larger-than-normal group of clients.

As the housing bubble has deflated, sellers have looked at home warranties in a new light. Listing homeowners view the service as an attractive differentiator when competing with their neighbors to sell their homes to a dwindling number of buyers. When dealing with the issue of excessive inventory, partnering with the right home warranty provider is essential.

Including a comprehensive home warranty on their listing allows sellers to proactively address a prospective buyer’s financial worries. The savvy seller knows that the buyer is already concerned about getting a good rate on a stable mortgage. Providing protection from a major system or appliance failure after the close of sale can help motivate a buyer to move forward with the purchase.

Partnering with a home warranty service with a distinct commitment to the homeowner allows real estate professionals to supplement the customer service they provide their clients post-sale. When a major home system fails, warranty providers handle the situations and effectively eliminate the real estate professional from the repair equation. Providing this extra layer of protection allows real estate professionals to be free to focus on the next sale and know their clients are being cared for.

Home warranty providers have a responsibility to their partners in real estate to innovate the service in order to offer our common customers flexible and customized service. In this competitive market, the new homeowner and home warranty customer needs financial protection and assistance in managing their home, which makes personalized service the natural evolution of our industry.

Many experts assume the number of legitimate buyers will continue to shrink for the foreseeable future. Working with a strong home warranty partner provides brokers with an opportunity to strengthen their teams’ capabilities. Perceptions of brokers’ customer-service offerings will benefit from the financial protection given to clients by a warranty service provider with a thorough network of contractors and valuable bargaining power with suppliers and manufacturers.

Effectively, the partnerships between brokers and their home warranty partner can be a great tool to support sales and enhance your clients’ customer experience (before and after the close of sale) in a cold market.

Lelia Chapman is vice president of real estate sales for American Home Shield.

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