The Unsecret Shopper Goes Shopping: Real Estate Agents


 

Hello shoppers…

“A house is made of walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams.”…and the housing market has come apart at the seams.   – Author Unknown, except that last part

Owning a home was once considered the ultimate symbol of status. Buying a house was what every American adult did, along with getting married (to someone of the opposite sex) and having kids (not created in a third party’s womb, or petri dish).

Then the 60′s screwed that up.  

Yet for the next 30 years, we still looked at buying a home as a good socio-economic investment.

Then 2008 screwed that up.

Yet for all the yetting, the percentage of us who own a home has remained steady – between 65 and 70% – since 1985. (Click this sentence to read the numbers on housing vacancy and homeownership, put out by The U.S. Census Bureau.)

Sure there are lots of us die-hard societal-fringe renters, bringing down your property values. But for the most part, and particularly in Central Iowa, where housing demand is strong, there are thousands of house hunters, looking for that Crib, Sweet Crib.

And plenty of crib pimpers – in the form of real estate agents.

In order to sell a $170,000 34 year-old 4-bedroom 2-story home in Urbandale, with 934 square feet of living space, 2-car detached garage, pleasantly sloping backyard and location convenient to schools, church, the MTA and oxygen, to a prospect who has already seen 17 of them since breakfast, a real estate agent, perhaps more than any other retailer, one would think, has to lay on the charm.

Smile? I’ll grin till my teeth shatter. Greet? I’m Mr. York, and you just landed on Fantasy Island. Engage? I’m a six-foot Pillsbury Dough Boy, and you’re the dough. Thank? I’m a Hallmark Greeting Card made out to you, with four pics of Bullwinkle on the front, saying “Thanks a lot!” “Much obliged!” “Greatly appreciate it!” “You’re the best!” and inside, it says, “Mooses Gracias.” Follow up? I’m Lindsay Lohan’s agent, you’re directing dinner theater in Havre, Montana and you just watched her audition for the part of “Rizzo’s next door neighbor” ‘in “Grease.”

Long-time readers of The Unsecret Shopper will immediately recognize my side-splitting metaphors and Five Pillars of Great Customer Service - smile, greet, engage, thank and follow up - subtly imbedded in the above ramble. Which means you’re all just moments away from a Secret Shopper review of real estate agents.

I selected five of what seemed like the largest real estate agencies in the Des Moines area, based upon number of listings: Iowa Realty, RE/MAX, Next Generation Realty, Coldwell Banker and Prudential First Realty. I looked through the Sunday Des Moines Register on one particular 7th day of the week, when God is resting and real estate agents are open housing. I picked two open houses for each company - one in Des Moines, one in Urbandale – for a total of 10 Secret Shopper visits in one day.

While you were boating and bar-b-q-ing, I was eating Oreos and asking about rodent history.

The “Car-fax” info on the house, the financing, the hoops to jump through - real estate agents have to know a lot to get their realtor’s license, and to stay in biz, after its ink dries.

So how important are the Five Pillars of Great Customer Service, to a realtor’s success?

Let me quote from Tom Franklin, President and Founder of Next Generation Realty in Des Moines. I interviewed Tom back in April for an Unsecret Shopper post, which you can read by clicking any of this sentence.

He told me this:

“The most important skills (for realtors) are communication skills, and empathy…that’s what all great agents possess.”

I wonder if being (W)right all the time is as much of a burden for Tom, as it is for me.

Besides asking the usual home buyer questions – how many square feet is the house, what year was it built, do you read my blog – I also threw in this one:

Are there any minorities living in the area?

Why did I ask it?

First and foremost, I wanted to see if the agent would answer it. Many did, by pointing to where minorities in the area lived, or by saying there weren’t any around, to their knowledge.

You’ll read each realtor’s response to the question, in the upcoming reviews.

My opinion is that such a question probably shouldn’t be answered specifically. Yet what the law says, and what the guidelines for realtors say, may surprise you. I’ll talk to two experts in each of these areas, who will give us some answers, this Saturday morning from 8-9am, on The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, on 1350, KRNT.

Yes, I’m a stinker.

Read each realtor’s review, below, which includes how they answered their phone, how they greeted at the door, how they engaged, how they responded to the minority question, if and how they thanked and who has followed up with me since then. Then judge for yourself how they did, based on everything they said and did.

Speaking of judging, here’s how we do it, via the Secret Shopper rating system:

  Horrific – a customer service nuclear bomb that’s every owner’s worst nightmare. The kind of service you call your friends to complain about.   

   Weak - a lot of work to be done, but there’s hope.   

   Forgettable – not great, not bad. This is where most businesses end up.   

   Strong - some very good things are going on. Just needs some tweaking.   

   Stellar - first-rate, exceptional, off the hizzle. The kind of exemplary service you call your friends to brag about.

The reviews are in the order of the visits.

I started with some houses priced in the 120′s, on Des Moines’ east side, and moved west, young house shopper, up the price tote board, until my Secret Shopping spree ended, in a half-million dollar palace.

The question is: Would I be treated like a prince along the way?

I’ll grab my Burger King paper crown, you grab the Sunday paper real estate listings, and let’s go find out. 

1/2

Realtor: Steve Roberts, RE/MAX

Location: 2563 Tiffin

Time: 12:53pm

Phone greeting: (no answer)

Greeting at the door: “Come on in.”

Smiled? Yes, slightly, at the door only

Answer to minority question: “It’s a mix. Probably not as much of a mix as other neighborhoods, but a mix.”

Thanked at end? No

Followed up since visit? No

Comments: Steve was pleasant enough as I walked into the house, which was equally nice.

But he didn’t shake my hand, didn’t introduce himself, didn’t ask me my name, didn’t ask many questions, didn’t thank me, didn’t shake my hand at the end and hasn’t followed up.

Maybe it was me.

He made some nice chit-chat, and very funny asides, out by the pool, and I could see that there was a very friendly, outgoing guy inside Steve. But that fun dude inside, seemed like he wanted to stay there, instead of coming out to play. And that’s too bad, because the surprisingly nice house – and it’s wonderful sunken pool – was looking for a playmate.

When sellers get excited, so do us buyers. When sellers don’t, the house seems 25% less fun. Let your inner fun dude come out and hang out, Steve, and the next prospect will write you a check for that fun house, then and there. :) 

Realtor: Kevin Huerkamp, Next Generation Realty

Location: 2548 East Tiffin

Time: 1:02pm

Phone greeting: “This is Kevin, can I help you?”

Greeting at the door: “Don’t forget to sign in.”

Smiled? Yes

Answer to minority question: n/a

Thanked at end? Yes.

Followed up since visit? No

Comments: Kevin, even with his closed-ended greeting, was very nice on the phone, and was very enthusiastic about the house, and neighborhood.

Unfortunately, I found out that Kevin wouldn’t actually be at the open house. “Our owners show their own home,” he explained. 

Unfortunately squared, he then said, “I am showing a home in Norwalk.”

Wow. I bet it’ll be a lot of fun at that place! 

It was sad at the home I went to.

The 82 year-old owner, the only person in the house, greeted me warmly at the door, and invited me to look around.

He started to walk alongside me into the bedrooms, hunched over, slowly shuffling his feet. I asked him to sit down while I looked around. He did, and talked to me about the house.

He and his wife had been its only owners. She was now in ill-health, and was living in a retirement community. He would soon join her, because he could no longer keep up with the yard. He struggled to get out of the chair to shake my hand as I left.

It was heart-wrenching.

His response to the minority question is of no consequence here. What is, is the fact that a kind, sweet, frail old man sat in an old, dark, empty house, alone, on an otherwise beautifully sunny Sunday afternoon, forced by deteriorating health to sell the only place he and his wife had ever called home.

I’m sure there was more to all of it, than what met the eyes. There always is. But the bottom line is that it looked bad, felt worse and still hurts to think about.

I’m quite sure Kevin is a very skilled, engaging realtor, and there is no blame to be placed. I just think he chose the wrong open house to attend.

1/2

Realtor: Dawn Foster, Coldwell Banker

Location: 2511 Mansfield Drive

Time: 1:11pm

Phone greeting: “This is Dawn.” (Don’t forget the “hello!”)

Greeting at the door: “Hi!” She also shook my hand, introduced herself, got my name and used it throughout our conversation. Great job!

Smiled? Yes, and often

Answer to minority question: “I think it’s predominantly white. I know the school is lily-white. I haven’t seen any blacks.”

Thanked at end? Yes, and then said, “Have a blessed day,” which I loved!

Followed up since visit? No

Comments: Dawn was wonderfully engaging and very friendly. She walked with me throughout the house (something several realtors didn’t do), and thoroughly described the features of the home.

Probably a little too thoroughly.

As we toured the house, Dawn occasionally spoke in less than flattering terms about particular elements.

“You should have seen this house when I first got this listing,” she said, pointing with her hand around the finished basement. “It was a disaster.”

Okay, she pretty much trashed it. And it wasn’t just the basement. Dawn also made her views known about other design elements and color schemes the owners had chosen.

When she turned on the water in the kitchen sink, she heard a “gurgle” sound (I wasn’t paying any attention at the time) and then got my attention by saying, sarcastically, “Ohhh, great.” 

Never let ‘em see you sweat, kid.

And sure, I’ll be the first to admit that some of the shag carpeting, spot lighting and dark paneling was a bit off-putting. I understand her desire to connect with me, to “be on my side.” But as the old saying goes, carefully sterilized for your virgin ears, you can’t go potty where you dine.

When a person working in retail talks bad about the product they sell, or the company they work for, it makes them, not the product or the company, look bad. Plus, who is to say that what Dawn thinks is poopy, is what I, or anyone else, would poopily agree with? Shag carpeting and dark paneling might be my thing. Yeaaah, baaabee, yeaaah!

Dawn did a wonderful job of highlighting the kitchen, which she said, and I agree, was her, and my, favorite part of the house.

As for the rest, we never have to apologize for what we do for a living, and that includes the things we sell to make that living. Especially you, Dawn, someone who is so bright and engaging and vivacious! Because there’s always at least one person out there who will love the shag.

Yeah, baby.  

Realtor: Sandra Estrada, Iowa Realty

Location: 1615 York

Time: 1:37pm

Phone greeting: “Sandra speaking.” (Spruce it up with a “hi.”)

Greeting at the door: none (She was with another house shopper)

Smiled? Yes, occasionally

Answer to minority question: “I know that the neighbors there (pointing), there, there and there are white. The blacks really don’t start until 6th Avenue.” (pause) “This is a good neighborhood.” Probably not the right direction to go.

Thanked at end? Yes.

Followed up since visit? No

Comments: When I pulled in front of the house, the front door was wide open – awesome! I tell business owners all the time to prop open their front door, to create a more inviting feeling for customers. Great job, Sandra!

There was music playing on the first floor, which was also full of the beautiful smell of potpourri. Great job, II!

Sandra was upstairs, showing it to another house browser. As she walked down the stairs, I looked up at her, making eye contact. She could and should have said, “I’ll be right with you,” but instead, turned away and continued chatting with the other dude. Probably not the strongest way to welcome someone into “your” house.

Upstairs, the unwelcome feeling continued, as no music was playing, no potpourri wafted, and what did was stale cigarette odor – so there went some of the great vibe created as you came in.

Back downstairs, Sandra was now finished with another house browser and engaged me nicely, shaking my hand, and introducing herself.

She did a great job of selling the features of the home: the beautiful kitchen lighting, the spacious deck, the wood floors, plus lots of little extras that might have went unnoticed, had she not pointed them out.

She was also the first realtor to ask me about me. “Are you renting?” I prefer to think of it as owning, except I have to eventually give it back. “Have you owned before?” Yes, the home was named after me: Terrace Hill.

Sandra engaged me, asked questions, did an awesome job of describing features of the very pretty home and was pleasant and friendly. She did ask for my name, but didn’t use it again during the conversation and didn’t get my follow-up information, even though I put out some strong buying cues, including, “I’m very interested in this house.”

As I walked back out to my car, I saw a red Dodge Charger parked just down from it. An African-American woman sat inside it.

I wondered if she knew she was in a white neighborhood, and that hers was some distance away.

.

Realtor: Mick Hindley, Prudential First Realty

Location: 3416 Oxford Street

Time: 1:56pm

Phone greeting: (no answer)

Greeting at the door: “Come on in.”

Smiled? Yes, and often

Answer to minority question: “No, not there (pointing). There’s a family there (pointing). They’re caucasian (pointing). There’s some Africans over there (pointing). And no Mexicans around that I know of.”

Thanked at end? Yes.

Followed up since visit? No

Comments: Mick welcomed me into the house with a very nice smile, which he continued to share throughout our conversation. There was pleasant music playing on the first floor, and this was the first house that offered food – cookies, peanuts and such. Those elements helped create a nicely inviting vibe.

Unfortunately, the vibe was short-lived, as Mick forgot to shake my hand, didn’t introduce himself and didn’t ask for my name - welcoming actions that could have magnified his already bright smile by a thousand.

He invited me to “feel free to take a look around” but apparently didn’t feel as free to come with me. While he drank his beverage in the kitchen, I wandered around the house – the upstairs, the basement, the entire home – unattended.

Mick also didn’t ask me any questions; whether I owned, if I was selling, where I lived, how I might be financing, what brought me out that day, how it felt to host a sparsely listened-to radio show.

Mick has my follow-up information, but has never done so.

Mick was, and is, a very nice guy. But if all a real estate agent is going to do is welcome someone into the house, then real estate agencies would be better served to invest in talking welcome mats and leave it at that.

I’m being hard on you, Mick, because I KNOW you can do sooooo much better, and certainly have, with other prospective buyers. You picked a bad day to have an off day. I suspect you’ll read this review, and have more, and better, on days. :)

Realtor: Tiffany Lofland, Prudential First Realty

Location: 4497 88th Street, Urbandale

Time: 2:30pm

Phone greeting: “This is Tiffany.” (How about a “hi”?)

Greeting at the door: “I’m sorry, the signs got stolen. I put them up Thursday.”

Smiled? Yes, as I was leaving

Answer to minority question: “I think it’s diverse. I think it’s just mixed.”

Thanked at end? No

Followed up since visit? No

Comments: I’d left Des Moines and was now in Urbandale, where Tiffany wasn’t having a terribly good day, and indicated as much, with the first words out of her mouth, upon “greeting” me at the door:

“I’m sorry, the signs got stolen. I put them up Thursday.”

Real estate signs get stolen. Sign poop happens. People take them and…uh…put them in their own yards, when they decide to sell, thus saving themselves tens of tens of dollars in signage printing fees…?

Certainly, there are more optimum ways to start a conversation with a potential home buyer.

The second thing out of Tiffany’s mouth was, “We just reduced the price today.”

Oh. Did someone toss one of the stolen signs through a window?

Tiffany then invited me to take a look around the house, which I did, down into the basement, then upstairs, while she remained on the first floor, by the front door, staring out of it, and at her cell phone, perhaps concerned that the sign thieves, having discovered their booty had little street value, might return to swipe her Blackberry, or whatever she was packing.

Whatever it was, I heard it ring, while I was wandering around upstairs.

Without even trying, I could hear her part of the conversation:

“I’m going to be leaving early. Someone stole all the signs. Probably the cops. I’m probably going to get a fine. I’ll call you right back.”

That solved one mystery: There was a massive sign-fencing ring inside the Urbandale Police Department.

Tiffany asked me no questions, told me no features and acted like all she wanted to do was sign off on this open house and get her agent keister out of there. She did have a nice smile at the end, which told me she probably had a lot more of them to share, had she not been so intensely preoccupied by the signage theft. And she did one great thing that no other agent did.

After I’d finished looking at the house, she asked, “Well…what do you think?”

Awesome job, Tiffany!!!! That’s the one question that should be asked, and you asked it. Great work! She also answered all of mine, and competently.

As for the rest of Tiffany’s presentation, well yeah, it needs some polish. Did the signage theft affect the turnout at her open house? I’m sure it did. Was that out of her control? At that point, absolutely. Did she sell to the guy who was there? Not terribly.

Thus it proves what I tell my trainees all the time: We can hang signs throughout the store till who laid the rail. But in the end, the most important sign is you.

Remember that, and embrace it, Tiffany, at your next open house. Then use that great smile of yours throughout the convo, ask more questions, including the great one you did ask, point out features, live in the buyer’s world, and you won’t need any stinkin signs. :)

Realtor: Lisa Schoening, Coldwell Banker

Location: 4128 122nd Street

Time: 2:53pm

Phone greeting: “This is Lisa.” (Maybe toss in a “hi!“)

Greeting at the door: “Hi I’m Lisa Schoening let me tell you some information about this house the basement is wired for central vacuum but it hasn’t been installed yet it’s recently been painted…”

Smiled? Yes, slightly

Answer to minority question: “It’s Urbandale. It’s representative of the rest of Des Moines.” (Great answer!)

Thanked at end? Yes.

Followed up since visit? Yes, twice, via phone and email. Awesome job!

Comments: Lisa smiled as she answered the door. She then decided to skip with the initial pleasantries upon opening the front door of the house, and instead jumped in immediately with rapid-fire details about it. I wasn’t being welcomed by the house, I was being attacked by it.

After apparently running out of facts to recite, Lisa handed me a fact sheet, and invited me to look around, by myself, as apparently I now knew enough about the home to take a tour of it, without needing a cumbersome tour guide.

Lisa didn’t ask me my name, didn’t shake my hand, beginning or end and didn’t ask me questions about myself, but did thank me twice, which was nice. And Lisa is the ONLY agent who followed up with me. Great job!

She also handled the “minority” question with major aplomb.

Toss in a stronger attempt to get to know a potential buyer, do proper introductions first, get their name and use it throughout, and don’t forget to ride along with the browser as they cruise through the house, and you’ll go from being very good, to the rarified air of extraordinary, Lisa!

Realtor: Toren Luloff, RE/MAX

Location: 3819 128th Street

Time: 3:10pm

Phone greeting: “Hello.” (As a business owner – which is what a real estate agent really is - I’d go with something a bit stronger than this.)

Greeting at the door: “Come on in, take a look around.”

Smiled? Yes, slightly

Answer to minority question: “It would be a violation of our ethics code.” (Yes! That’s the right answer!)

Thanked at end? Yes.

Followed up since visit? No

Comments: Toren was pleasant at the door, showed a quick smile, told me to ask any questions I had, and answered them, as I asked them.

Unfortunately, he didn’t shake my hand, give his name or ask for mine, which means he didn’t use it throughout our conversation - all things that should be automatic for real estate agents at their open houses, as they engage potential buyers.

For each agent who neglected to do these fundamental things on that Sunday - and most dropped those particular balls - there truly is no excuse. The house can’t shake a home shopper’s hand. It can’t get the prospect’s name. It can’t smile. All it can really do is just sit there. The agent is trained, assigned and paid to fill in the gaps, to do what the house can not, to execute the heavy emotional lifting.

Their title may be real estate agent, but without heart and empathy and engagement and love, they might as well be software.

Toren was, in fact, almost completely silent as he watched me walk around inside the house. Pleasant, but silent. I understand the idea of letting me take it all in – that’s awesome. But I know nothing about this house. It and I are complete strangers. And since we’ve established that it can’t talk, Toren needed to do at least some of the talking for it.

Toren’s was also a little too casually dressed: his long-sleeved white dress shirt was untucked and hanging out over his dress pants. Appearance of the house is everything, and the agent’s isn’t far behind.  

To break the silence, I asked the minority question. Toren hit it out of the park.

“It would be a violation of our ethics code.”

Home run, Mr. T! Not just a great answer, the answer.

I decided to let the Secret Shopping cat out of the bag at that point. I explained what I was doing, that I was a Secret Shopper, secret shopping real estate agents at open houses that day, and that he’d been the first one to really answer that question in a way that I thought was appropriate.

“I’ve been selling real estate for 22 years,” Toren replied. “I have to know how to answer that question.”

Indeed, he did, at least in my ethical book. Did the rest of his presentation need some work, even with over two decades of house selling under his belt? Yes, based upon my experience with him, pre and post cat outta the bag. But I’ll give him very high marks for giving an awkward, rude question, the most professional of answers.

Great job, Toren.

Realtor: Bob Wood, Next Generation Realty

Location: 3825 122nd Street

Time: 3:25pm

Phone greeting: “Hi, this is Bob.”

Greeting at the door: none

Smiled? No

Answer to minority question: “What difference does that make?”

Thanked at end? No

Followed up since visit? No

Comments: There is only one way to describe the home owner who showed his home: Captain Poo-Poo Pants.

He didn’t come to the door, he waved me in. He didn’t say a word to me as I entered and walked around. I had to ask him, twice, about the number of bedrooms. That’s because his face was glued to ESPN on his big screen TV. (Tiger’s 37 shots off the lead, dufus - flip it to The History Channel.) His body language and tone were horrifically uninviting.   

First, a reminder that Next Generation home sellers, according to Kevin, above, show their own homes.

But the name of record on these open houses is the real estate agent who works for Next Generation Realty, not the home owner. Therefore, the responsibility for the home owner’s demeanor, lies in the hands of the agent – in this case, Bob Wood.

Apparently, nobody from NGR sat down with this dude and explained that acting like a jerk to the potential buyer is a less than optimum way to sell your house, dummy.

Because this was just too much fun, I continued to try to ask him questions about the house he’d lived in for years.

“How many square feet is it?”

“It’s on the sheet.”

 “What year was it built?”

(perturbed) “Look on the sheet.”

“Is the reason why you’re being a jerk, also on the sheet?”

The conversation pretty much ended there.

The guy had been relocated by his company, to Austin, Texas (and you’re upset by this?) and so perhaps he was stressed out about it. I know I wouldn’t enjoy showing my own home to a potential buyer, if I felt like I’d basically been forced out of it. I’m feeling your pain, J.

But if he did manage to sell it, it’s strictly because of the house.

I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that his new job down south is in Customer Service.

1/2

Realtor: Ken Whitehead, Iowa Realty

Location: 3310 146th Street

Time: 3:42pm

Phone greeting: “Ken Whitehead.” (I’d suggest offering up a bit more caller TLC.)

Greeting at the door: “Please come in.” (very cordial)

Smiled? Yes

Answer to minority question: “According to the law, we can not discriminate, based upon race.” (slight pause) “What kind of minorities?” (My answer: Blacks and hispanics) “I’ve sold six houses in this area, and I’ve never seen any.”

Thanked at end? Yes.

Followed up since visit? No

Comments: Ken was very cordial, very pleasant and very polished. He needed to be – we were standing in a house that cost more than twice as much as the 2nd most expensive property I looked at that day.

The home was absolutely extraordinary. Someday, when this blog things takes off…

Regretfully, Ken jumped right in to the home’s features, without shaking my hand, giving his name or asking for mine.

If you’re pimping a 1967 mobile home with rotting floors, dangerous copper wiring, leaking ceilings, even during dry spells and dead mice holding the sides on (I grew up on one) then okay. But not a $500,000 home. You gotta reach out with proper introductions, Ken – come on man, you’ve been selling homes for 35 years, longer than I’ve been renting them!

The rest of the time, he was as cool as the other side of the french silk pillow, smooth as Waterford crystal, and it’s late and I’ve run out of analogies.

Ken walked through the home with me, pointed out some of its extraordinary features, asked if I had questions, answered those I supplied and smiled as he did so. He was gracious and kind, engaging and likeable.

But he never used my name, because he’d never asked for it. I sent out strong buying signals but he didn’t ask for my contact information. He didn’t shake my hand at the end, and didn’t thank me for stopping by. Again, in a different neighborhood, he’s money. But at that address, he really should have been monnnneeeeeey. 

As for his answer to the minority question, he was heading for a touchdown (“According to the law, we can not discriminate, based upon race.”) but then sorta seemed to drop the ball. (“What kind of minorities?”)

I responded: “Blacks and hispanics.”

Ken: “I’ve sold six houses in their area – and I’ve never seen any.”

Wheww! That was a close one!

Ken has the sort of calm demeanor and presence that comes from selling homes, and a lot of them, for nearly four decades. I suspect the handshake and name thing were oversights, and not representative of how he normally does his biz. If this little reminder helps him, groovy gravy.  

Just let me see that 20 foot long closet again, Ken. Could we ask the new owners if I could rent it?

Let’s tally up the real estate agents’ numbers.

How many smiled? 8

How many greeted with an actual greeting? 6

How many asked me questions about me? 2

How many thanked me at the end? 7

How many asked for my name? 1

How many shook my hand? 1

How many followed up? 1

I’d call those results good, but mixed.

Smiles and thank you’s were abundant. Good, solid greetings were at just over half. Those three categories were strong.

Names were hard to come by, as were hand shakes.

Considering the power of hearing our name, and of being touched – both actions release endorphins, which put us in a happy place – I would have expected many more of both.

Here’s another amazing stat: as I called each of the agents (to find out how to get to their open house) none of them, not one, asked me my name.

Wouldn’t you, as an agent, almost automatically respond to a phone inquiry about your open house location with, “Who am I talking to? Jonnie? Well hey, Jonnie, thank you for your interest. It’s a great house – you’ll absolutely adore it! I look forward to meeting you this afternoon, Jonnie. And call me right away if you have any trouble at all finding it!”

I’m now 15% closer to selling this house to this Jonnie cat.  

All of the agents were very knowledgeable about the houses they were selling. The two home owners were under trained, and maybe even none-dertrained.

In all ten instances, each person brought something positive to the table – sometimes many, many positives - that would have been missed, without them.

The final lessons here seem to be:

A. Keep up the great smiling – maybe even add some more.

B. Shake hands – it’s old school, and powerful.

C. Get their name, and use it – that means something.

D. Don’t forget to follow up.

E. Continue your gracious habit of thanks.

F. On questions of minority make-up, politely defer. (MUCH more on this during Saturday’s Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.)

It can’t be particularly easy to sell a home. Not in this economy. Not in any economy. Yet these dedicated, hard-working agents, along with the hundreds of others in Des Moines, do it, and do it well. Our strong local home ownership numbers, bear that out.

A house may not be a home. But thanks to the efforts of those who have earned the right to be called real estate agent, we all have a shot at turning one, into the other.

That must be why there is no place like it.

No place, indeed, like home.

 

 

 

  

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.   

Ways to contact Jonnie:

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog

Click to email Jonnie (jonnie@theunsecretshopper.com)

Phone: 515-480-4190 

 

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13 thoughts on “The Unsecret Shopper Goes Shopping: Real Estate Agents

  1. Jonnie…let me tell you about OUR realtor. Her name is Diane Ward and she works for Coldwell/Banker. My wife happened on her when she was looking at a Regency Home. Diane for the few months that she helped us through the whole process, became like a member of our family. We ended up buying a Hubbell Home and even though it wasn’t a Regency (which probably cost her commission) she was really happy and thought it was the best fit for us. She also helped my folks buy a house and that process took about 4 years. I don’t believe she made a ton of commission off of our house, or my Mom and Dad’s house that we purchased, but she was ALWAYS available for questions or concerns. I would recommend her to anyone in the market for a place to live.

  2. I think it’s funny how you gave the highest rating to the person who clearly gave the most racist answer to the minority question. “The blacks really don’t start until sixth avenue” Really!! She said that, and you still give her 3 masks! Obviously there were some customer service issues here, but I think the main focus should be on any matters involving ethics. Giving a higher rating to a racist comment over someone who does not greet you propertly raises a question on if your head is in the right place here. Maybe your a racist who just can’t stand poor customer service, who knows!! Leave the secret shopping to the professionals, and stick to announcing the weather on the radio. -Chris

  3. Jonnie – Thank you for your interest in the real estate industry in Des Moines. REALTORS® are required to understand Fair Housing laws, which are addressed in mandatory ethics and law update courses. However, your findings may indicate that there are still opportunities for improvement. We will continue to make these top priorities among our nearly 7,000 REALTOR® members. We look forward to discussing the topics brought to light in your recent shopping with our REALTOR® members at upcoming training sessions and meetings.

    Amy Smith, PR Coordinator, Iowa Association of REALTORS®

  4. I am writing in response to this blog that was written by the (un)secret shopper, Mr. Jonnie Wright entitled, “The Unsecret Shopper goes Shopping: Real Estate Agents.”

    I will start by saying that the whole portrayal of me in this blog is inflamed and exaggerated. In fact, Mr. Wright’s blog is bordering on defamation given that it leaves out important parts of conversations and unfairly portrays parts of conversation out of context. Additionally, I would like to explain why my behavior, specifically in regards to Mr. Wright, on that day was not the epitome of customer service and salesmanship.

    To put this incident in the proper light, I will let you know that I had an traumatic incident at an open house last year with a man. During this incident, the police had to be called and the person ran off and was not found. This was a very frightening experience for me as I was alone at the open house at the time of the incident. This man entered the open house, appeared to be locking the door. He then began approaching me menacingly and would not say anything. I then ran out the back door, calling my husband and approached through the front door. As I came in the front door, this man was coming up from the basement and told me that I had to go in the basement with him because there was a water leak. There was no leak. I told him that I would not go to the basement with him and asked him to sign in. He wrote down, “Mike Myers” and stated that I did not need his information. He then left before the police arrived.

    Mr. Wright called prior to arriving at the open house. He had asked directions from me to the house and I gave him directions. People ask directions all the time but this is also how the above mentioned incident also started. When I approached the house, I observed that the signs I had placed on Thursday of that week had been removed by someone. When I got to the house, I noticed that even the sign in the front had been taken. I then attempted to call Mr. Wright back to inform him that the signs were not there to guide him but he did not answer the phone and I did not leave a message.

    About an hour and a half later, I observed Mr. Wright approach on the sidewalk so I met him at the door. After having a little conversation with him, it was readily apparent that he was not actually interested in the home. I would describe him as acting odd. His questions seemed strange and rehearsed. This made me wary as there seemed to be no legitimate reason for him to be at the open house if he was not interested in the house. Additionally, the rehearsed nature of his questions put Mr. Wright in a “creepy” light. I felt totally uncomfortable with him being there. As such, I did not accompany him when he briefly toured the house. At the time Mr. Wright was in the house, I felt that my safety was more important than making the complete sales pitch to some creepy guy who obviously was not interested in the house to begin with. Mr. Wright was right about one thing though: I did smile when he left. I smiled because I felt relief that he was leaving and since he was leaving I could then relax enough that my normal customer service returned a little.

    Mr. Wright had made me so uncomfortable that I brought him up at an ethics class that I took on the following Tuesday and Wednesday. Additionally, I told the homeowner, and family and friends about him and his behavior as well. Normally, I would not have behaved in such a way with a potential buyer. As a realtor, I do not have to work with someone who makes me uncomfortable. Therefore, I did not engage or try to gain Mr. Wright’s business.

    I would also like to mention that some of the quotes were not complete. For example, Mr. Wright wrote “The second thing out of Tiffany’s mouth was, ‘We just reduced the price today.’” In fact, this sentence was in response to a question from Mr. Wright. The question was asking what the listing price was. I am pretty sure that is a proper response to such question.

    This is my business and I am self-employed. I may work under the Prudential name but I only work off of commission. Perhaps, before Mr. Wright speaks again on a subject, he can write truthful quotes that are in context. Additionally, Mr. Wright should practice his “script” prior to arrival so he appears more interested in the house and comes off a little less creepy. Given that Mr. Wright stated that I answered all of his questions “competently” and my only flaws were matters of customer service, I do not think that his rating of “horrible” stands. This portrayal of me is potentially injurious to my reputation and business.

    Finally, speaking of professionalism, it seems to me that Mr. Wright is using the unsecret shopper and KRNT to drum up business for his training classes. As such, I believe that he is portraying me in such a poor and exaggerated manner to get Prudential and Iowa Realty Co. to hire him as a trainer. Evidence that supports my thoughts is the fact that he did not speak to me about my alleged customer service problems but felt is necessary to email Prudential and Iowa Realty. His first sentence identifies himself as a “customer service trainer” yet he was not acting in that capacity when he performed his “investigation.” This type of business practice is underhanded and should not be condoned by KRNT.

    I therefore request that, if Mr. Wright is to speak of this incident on KRNT, I would like the opportunity to discuss this with him on the air in order to defend my reputation through organized and informative dialogue.
    Sincerely,
    /s/
    Tiffany Lofland

    • Come on Tiffany, did Jonnie get your panties in a bunch? Face it, you sucked at this open house, maybe you do well at all of the others, but this time you blew it. No biggie, Jonnie was not going to buy it anyway. Your 2000 word reaponse just shows you let him get to you and probably did more damage than good. (nobody is going to read all of it anyway) He may seem a little wierd, but this is what he does and your comments will only fuel his fire. Watch the movie Glen Gary Glen Ross and then get back to selling homes!

      • Whoa! Jay Brown! I don’t know Tiffany but I have to agree with her after reading the review and her response. I have been in business for 16 yrs and I have learned NEVER FOLLOW a lone man around an empty house. I am friendly, ask them to sign in, will answer any questions they have, etc. BUT will not follow them around into isolated areas of the home. I usually put my finger on speed dial with my phone in my pocket and I stay by an easy exit. It may not be good business, but it is good sense. When a woman is tramatized in the way she has been, it will affect your behavior and procedures in the future. Give her a break!

  5. Jonnie..thank you for all of the positive comments you made about me. Even though you misquoted me about the “lily-white school” (as that phrase isn’t even in my vocabulary), I am taking the comments about my being bright, engaging and vivacious as a compliment! I am glad that you liked the kitchen as well! I’m still hoping to sit down with you and get that offer written up! And, Jonnie, have a blessed day!

  6. Maybe some of these agents thought you were weird and didn’t want to do buisness with you? LOL

    and for the Next Gens… come on… you really secret shopped the homeowners? Of course they were pathetic… they are not agents and there are trying to save a buck using Next Generation and not a real firm. If you need a tooth pulled you go to the dentist… you know…you don’t go pay a guy to tell you how to pull the tooth out yourself and who will charge you for the tissue you use to clean up the blood when you do it yourself. Although the one guy you asked about being a jerk… THAT WAS AWESOME! I sure hope he reads your blog someday… maybe I should send it to him.

    Minorities… WOW… shut your mouths AGENTS! Be glad that wasn’t someone from the gov or you would be DONE!!!!!

  7. Johnnie:
    After reading your blog for the first time ever I have come up with the conclusion that:
    1) You are a Jerk
    2) You are a lazy (expletive deleted) who will not go out and get a real job.
    3) You are not very smart…you have never owned a home? Sure just throw your money down the drain each month. Oh, I guess it’s probably because you can’t get qualified for a loan when you don’t have a job and don’t make any money…lmao!
    4) There is no doubt if I was a real estate agent I would be creeped out by you and would have treated you with “poor customer service” as well just to make you go away.
    4) You are sarcastic and think you are funny but you are NOT!
    5) You are against same sex marriage and fertitity treatments for people who found the love of their life and want to get married to them and for people who for some reason canno’t have children of their own…You are probably single yourself and do not have children. If you do, I feel bad for them.
    6) The relo-seller you talked about being a “jerk” is nothing compared to you and the reason he does not care is because he is going to get a relocation-buy out which is probably better than he would get if he sold it on his own anyway.
    7) It’s not really fair you told the agent Toren what you were up to but not anyone else, so they were all just creeped out about you and probably thought about it and how they could have and would have responded differently.
    8) I have seen the listing at 2511 Mansfield Drive (and you can see pictures of it online) and it does not have shag carpet in it anywhere, so really that makes you a liar. I wonder what else you are lying about. I think it was a pipe dream you had on night.
    9) Since it is illegal to record voice, I take it you are quoting all these quotes off of memory. That’s not very safe…only a matter of time before you get yourself suied for slander…humm…good luck with that.
    This will be the first and last time I read your blog. Your blog will never pay off and you will never be able to afford that half of a million dollar house…so sorry!

  8. just thinking a little more about this… seriously you are a lifer renter… obviously you have your own set of issues… maybe you should work on cleaning up your credit one Sunday afternoon instead of messing with hard working real estate agents.

    and you know… I went ahead and checked out the house on Mansfield Drive… seriously YOU ARE A LIAR… there is no shag carpet so NOW we all KNOW you are not honest… so go away.

    and now we all know who you are so when you walk in an open house I am fairly sure you will be asked to leave.

  9. Overall, an interesting piece. A couple things, though: first, Next Generation agents are not Realtors. They hold Iowa real estate salesperson licenses, but are not members of the Board of Realtors which among other things, requires a commitment to a code of ethics.

    I am disappointed in the answers to the ethnicity question. I plan on using this as a teaching tool to my agents. That question should never be answered! Congrats to Toren for handling it properly.

    We all have our ways of doing business. Your article has merit, along with some questionable conclusions, but overall, beneficial.

  10. Sometimes, as Real Estate Agents, we need to be reminded about little things that enhance our performance as workers in the housing community and your recent venture into our world certainly did that. However, I would like to visit with you about one particular part of your review. As a female agent, I have been cautioned many times by various law enforcement and safety officials that I should NEVER accompany a potential buyer through the home that I am showing, especially if we are the only two people in the home. If you had visited my Open House last Sunday, I hope I would have greeted you warmly and professionally, gotten your name and information for follow-up, and answered all of your questions correctly. I would NOT have walked through the home with you. Please remember, we are dealing with complete strangers and sometimes must error on the side of caution.

    Thank you for making us take a serious look at ourselves as Agents.

    Betty Veenstra
    Broker Associate
    Iowa Realty Company, Inc.

  11. Why didn’t you ask if there were any of ‘the gays’ in the neighborhood? Since you actually are biogoted against gays, that would have come off as more sincere.

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