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It’s no secret. The biggest challenge we face in our business today is a consumer population that is largely crippled by fear, uncertainty, confusion, a loss of confidence and a lack of trust.

We are dealing with a trust crisis and it’s completely understandable. Just look at what we were dealt in 2011: the debt crisis in Europe; the response to Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami; China’s high-speed rail crash; the infamous debt ceiling debacle in Washington; and an overall, worldwide loss of faith in government.

This current consumer condition has made trust the new principle of power for real estate professionals and has forced our role to change if we want to compete and remain successful. We can no longer be transaction coordinators; today, we need to be credible advisors. We do not sell real estate anymore. We sell our ability to be a trusted advisor. The ultimate purchase of a home is simply a reflection of the buyer’s trust in us.

As real estate professionals, we are always looking for the next, best competitive advantage. Well, today, that would be trust. As Warren Buffet says, “Trust is like the air we breathe—when it’s present, nobody really notices; when it’s absent, everybody notices.” To become the REALTOR® that people truly trust is suddenly a very powerful role in the current climate.

There have been numerous studies on the power of trust among the consumer population. Loss of trust and loss of confidence are the biggest deterrents to economic growth. The 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer showed:

• 79 percent refused to buy products and services from companies they distrusted
• 74 percent criticized a distrusted company with a friend or colleague
• 58 percent will pay more/premium to buy from a trusted company
• 76 percent recommended trusted brands to others

Our trustworthiness is a critical constant in today’s real estate business. There are four basic pillars to trust that agents must follow to build their credibility:

• Focus on the client, not on the commission
• Seek collaboration
• Focus on long-term goals, not short-term victims
• Be transparent

The most important skill in high-trust selling is the ability to pose meaningful questions and be an active listener to those considering a relationship. There are also important trust-building behaviors that must become part and parcel of your everyday business habits:

• Straight talk
• Be honest
• Use simple language
• Call it like you see it
• Demonstrate integrity
• Don’t distort or manipulate
• Create transparency
• Be genuine and open and verify what you put out there
• Always err on the side of disclosure
• Clarify expectations
• Use power of questions
• Replace judgment with curiosity

Don’t forget the basic premise of sales: Most people can discern the difference between a salesperson who is out to make a dollar and the one who is out to make a difference. To create a loyal, lasting client relationship, we must take the time to really know them, not just know about them. Success is built with the stuff on the inside:

• Who we are
• Who we want to be
• Why we want to sell
• Who we want to help
• What we want to leave behind

Ultimately, trust cannot be established without building a relationship. Next month, we’ll look at the best ways to build a trusting relationship with your clients.

George “Gee” Dunsten, president of Gee Dunsten Seminars, Inc., has been a real estate agent and broker/owner for almost 40 years.