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Commentary By George W. Mantor

RISMEDIA, Sept. 18, 2008-I joined my first real estate office in 1978. I felt like I was watching a television sit-com. Nothing in my journalism career prepared me for a cast of characters like this.

Back in the day, the typical real estate office was little bigger than a stage. Ours was no exception, conveniently located in the strip mall, strategically positioned between a donut shop and an auto parts store. Imagine a thousand square feet with 20 desks wedged in. The cubicle had yet to be invented. Nor the fax machine. Nor the cell phone.

As a matter of fact, the only phone was at the broker’s office and it was that phone number that was printed on our business cards. This made the office the hub of real estate activity. We went there everyday to work. Like a job.

As a journalist, I’m hard-wired to observe. I pay attention to what people say and do and I analyze the information. This was a target-rich environment, almost too rich, to the point of distraction.

So I watched, and I listened and I was eager to learn what I needed to do to succeed in my new career.

The office manager maintained a chalk board on which he recorded the monthly sales and listings, indicating which agent was responsible for the transaction. Among the most frequently cited name on the sales board was a man who had worked in real estate since 1949.

Walter had come to real estate after 10 years as a Fuller Brush man. He was from the school of persuasion. A warm smile and a firm handshake were his value proposition. He was accustomed to going door to door and he was accustomed to selling. Really selling. He told me, “Nobody wakes up in the morning thinking; today I’m going to buy a boar’s bristle hair brush, assembled by a blind man and backed up by a lifetime guarantee.”

I think he was probably right about that.

Then he paused for a moment, leaned close and in a stage whisper asked, “If I were to tell you that there is a simple little secret, as simple as ABC, to making a lot of money selling real estate, is that something you might be interested in?”

Who could say no?

“ABC!” he barked. “ABC! Always Be Closing. You gotta ask for the sale, boy! Don’t talk ‘em to death. Just close ‘em. Always Be Closing. ABC!”

In the months that followed, I was schooled by Zig Ziglar, Mike Ferry, Tommy Hopkins, and a whole bunch more. I learned about the Ben Franklin, the Alternate of Choice, the Tie Down, the Puppy Dog, the Pregnant Pause, the Take Away, and the Columbo. In fact I listened to Tommy Hopkins’ cassettes until several people remarked that I was starting to sound like him. They were right.

I am grateful to Tommy Hopkins, because his scripts allowed me to survive in real estate long enough to actually learn something about it.

There are certain types of sales where the customer won’t be back. And if you only have one shot at a prospect, you probably ought to throw everything you have at them before they leave. The real estate business isn’t like that, it isn’t a one-night stand, it’s an ongoing courtship.

As my experience increased and my knowledge and confidence grew, I began to see real estate in a different way: not as a commodity that had to be sold, but as a limited opportunity that if fully understood wouldn’t need to be sold but instead would be deeply desired by those I touched…when they were ready.

I became increasingly uncomfortable with not only the limitations of the scripts but also the sort of contrived feel of mouthing someone else’s words.

While real estate has become increasingly more complex, the consumer has evolved and become more sophisticated. More sales people from other industries are trained in the same closes. Use of sales closes could alienate a potential client. It tends to put them on the other side of the table.

There was a time when the real estate business was perceived as Sinclair Lewis wrote of it in his 1921 novel Babbitt, whose main character, George F. Babbitt was a real estate broker: “…he made nothing in particular, neither shoes nor butter nor poetry, he was nimble in the calling of selling houses for more than people could afford to pay.”

I take it Lewis didn’t care much for real estate brokers, but he shared Walter’s vision of real estate as a sales occupation.

I wanted something more. I wanted clients to come to me. I didn’t want my job to be searching for people I could talk into to buying a house. I wanted to be their guide and mentor as they implemented a lifetime plan for real estate ownership.

When I discovered that referrals were the key to building a long-term business, I noted that Walter didn’t get many even though he was practically a fixture in his farm area.

Walter believed that buyers were more valuable than sellers, and while he brought many buyers to his area, when they sold they typically listed with someone else. Walter was always looking for someone new to sell to “now”. His perception of what he did prevented him from seeing the future potential in past clients.

Many practitioners still see the real estate business as being about trying to connect with a buyer or seller who is “ripe.” As a result, agents frequently abandon a potential client after two to three weeks.

But now the jury is in.

A study commissioned by House Values, Inc. revealed that home buyers and sellers took anywhere from 1-5 years considering their options prior to finally making a move. A lot of salespeople will pass through the business during that time.

Listings come to market because of predictable life events in the weeks, months and years surrounding those events. It is in times of great upheaval and stress that people wonder who they can turn to for guidance. If you have positioned yourself properly, people will call you. It may not always be directly related to real estate, but remember that these events have real estate implications eventually.

According to NAR research 74% of sellers list with the first agent they meet. If you have been regularly providing information and fulfilling the role of trusted advisor, they are not likely to think of anyone but you.

The new ABCs…Always Be Counseling.

Safely building wealth through real estate requires planning. Life events drive real estate activity. It isn’t easy or cheap to get into or out of real estate at the best of times, let alone during a predictable market downturn. The history of real estate appreciation is that it surges forward in spurts, then surrenders a little of that gain. But only for those who are forced to sell during the trough.

That is why life planning is the key to all good financial planning and that certainly is true for real estate.

Life planning is the process of discovering the client’s wants and needs and helping them fulfill those with your guidance. Because that is a lifetime process not an event, closure seems inappropriate. A close has a finality to it that isn’t in alignment with what the client needs or wants.

And lest you think that this is just some sort of “new-age” marketing gimmick, pay attention and you will hear a rumbling for more mandatory consumer counseling.

One certainly has to wonder if some of the subprime suffering might not have been avoided if more of us really knew our ABCs.

George W. Mantor is known as “The Real Estate Professor” for his wealth building formula, Lx2+(U²)xTFP=$? and consumer education efforts.

During a career that has spanned more than three decades, he has amassed experience in new home and resale residential real estate, resort marketing, and commercial and investment property. He is currently the founder and president of The Associates Financial Group, a real estate consulting firm.

Prior to launching his own firm in 1992, he had been Director of Training and Customer Service for Great Western Real Estate. In addition, he has served on virtually every real estate committee, including a term as a Director of the California Association of REALTORS. He is the creator of the Personal Best System, a business and life planning process, and the Red Zone Time Planning System for Business Professionals.

Mantor can be reached at