By Carla Cross, CRB, MA

We all talk about the need to qualify buyers and sellers. But, in addition, buyers actively qualify agents to figure out who to work with. (Or, they should. If they just take any agent who comes along, they are disappointed because ‘the customer doesn’t know what he’s getting, until he doesn’t’.)

A Huge Trend

 A vast majority of ‘buyers’ today check out the business/service on the Internet before you commit. Think of Angie’s List. You can run, but you can’t hide!

Agents: Check out the emerging agent evaluation websites to see what consumers are saying about the agents they’ve worked with (and check out your own evaluations). If you weren’t a real estate agent, what would you think about the professional standards of our industry? Google yourself, and see what’s there for everyone to see. Is that the image you want?

Why Meeting Buyer Qualifying Criteria is Important

 Buyers today have many choices of how to find homes. You need to create competitive reasons to help buyers choose you.  It will save you time and money, and help you create that trust and confidence which is the foundation for all sales decisions .If you’re a newer agent, creating solid reasons to help buyers choose you will increase your self-confidence 200%.

Consumers Not Very Happy with Their Buying Experiences

We in the real estate industry talk about pride of professionalism, value-added service, and customer satisfaction. While all that talk has been going on, the customer satisfaction levels with agents have been pummeling. According to a 2009 California Association of Realtors’ survey, buyers, when asked, “How would you rate your satisfaction with the overall service you received?”, rated agents at a stunningly low 4%!

What This Means to Us

To continue receiving the level of commission dollars we  want to receive, we’re going to have to raise our own performance criteria and expectations. In addition, having a bad reputation as an industry makes it much harder for the hard-working, dedicated agent to create trust and confidence with the client (the reputation unfortunately precedes us!).

Looking at It from the Consumer Perspective

Let’s stop our ‘inside out’ look at our business, and start looking at it from the consumer perspective. That way, we will build our businesses, instead of unwittingly making it more difficult to get to ‘yes’.

Four Critical Questions Buyer Should Ask Agent ‘Candidates’

Here are five critical questions I believe buyers should ask agents to assure they have a ‘match’ between what they are looking for and what the agent provides. In addition, I’ve added what I believe buyers should look for in the answers (that means that we agents must be able to qualify on these terms). I’ve also given advice to agents on how to prepare to meet that criteria.

1. “Is selling residential real estate your full-time career?”

My advice to buyers: Listen to be sure the agent specializes in residential real estate. You want someone selling homes for a living, not apartment houses. Listen to see if this is the agent’s full-time career. Ask additional questions if the agent’s answers need more clarifying

Agents: You must really, really know your market, your statistics, and be able to provide prioritized knowledge to your client, not the same things the consumer can get on the web! You need to fess up to the client, now, if you’re not committed to the profession and them full-time, so they won’t be disappointed later (read the stunningly low buyer satisfaction levels with agents below).

2. “How many homes did you sell last year?”

My advice to buyers: You want someone successful; that means, at minimum, the agent sold homes to buyers at least six times in that year.

Agents: You need to practice enough that you are really good at it—and committed to your profession. If you don’t aspire to more than 6 transactions a year, how valuable are you to the client?

3. “How long have you specialized in residential real estate in this area?” “Describe the work you do in our price range and area.”

My advice to buyers: Be sure the agent has been working in the area where you want to purchase for at least six months, so you know the agent has expertise and interest in that area.

Agents: Even if you’re new, you must prove to the client that you are worth that prioritized knowledge. Become a buddy to an experienced agent. Make yourself the area expert; do not try to ‘cover the whole state!’

4. “Tell us how you will work with us.”

My advice to buyers: Listen as the agent describes the buying/selling process, as he views it. Does it reflect what you’re looking for?

Agents: Be sure you have a Professional Portfolio, to  give the consumer an idea of your work. Remember, we believe what we see, not what we hear. Organizing your portfolio also shows your commitment to our profession. Include testimonials; we believe what others say about us, not what we say about ourselves. Also, be sure all of your statistics, truisms, stories, and presentations are in writing. See The Complete Buyer’s Agent Toolkit for the ready-to-use presentation packages and training buyers are looking for.

Agents: Think These Criteria are Too Tough?

Did some of those questions and my advice to buyers make you defensive and argumentative? That’s because we agents tend to look at things ‘inside out’ (from our perspective). Instead, pretend you are a discriminating buyer. You’re going to spend $60,000 on a car. What kind of customer service do you expect? Now, think in terms of the real estate buyer. What kind of service should a real estate buyer expect?

Newer Agents: Panicked Because You Think You Can’t Qualify?

Relax. You don’t need to qualify on all terms. But, you need to have answers and explanations ready so you can provide buyers reasons to work with you. Advice: Educate yourself so that you are as well-prepared to help a buyer as an agent who has sold 100+ homes in his/her career.

Resources to Help You Compete to Qualify for a Buyer

The Complete Buyer’s Agent Toolkit

Your Professional Portfolio

Not only do you want to gain buyer loyalty, you want to create such a strong professional relationship that the buyer works with you through numerous transactions, and refers you to his circle of influence. Think long-term, not just short-term.

Raising the Bar: Professionalism Pays Off

Whether we realize it or not, we are in a fight to preserve our profession. We don’t have information anymore that made us worth the commissions (or, at least we thought it did). The consumer can get information from the Internet. So, we must step up our profession to a higher level: Go way past information to prioritized knowledge. Commit to a professional, full-time career so that the consumer knows what he’s getting, and is willing to pay for it, because he knows he is getting more value than the commission he paid.