I have read with some interest on the recent blogging debate on how much we should cross polinate business with our personal lives. On one side you have people who feel it inappropriate to be very forthcoming about family and personal matters in a professional relationship, and then there are folks who see being open as an asset in building rapport and trust.
Is there a hard and fast rule? No. There are two rules:
- People are tuned to 1 station: WIFM (What's In it For Me)
- People do business with people whom they like and trust.
I recall, as a consumer looking for a rental in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1995 being put off by a rental agent who was an impersonal robot. But I also hate waiters who try and get me to like them when all I want is for them to shoo and bring back my order. Which brings me to a few lessons I learned back when I was a bartender in 2000-2001.
We were trained to never discuss religion or politics. Beyond that and mixing drinks fast and well, the job was to listen. I believe that it is the same thing in real estate. The old adage goes that we have two ears and one mouth. Identify the clients needs, listen, and get them what they seek. They don't care about you unless they know you care. When bartending, I witnessed, firsthand, waiters who worked hard to get their customers to like them in an effort to maximize their tip. It didn't work. What worked was hustling to get their food to them as fast as possible. We can chat over dessert or coffee. Agents should never make it about themselves.
However, people DO want to know who they are doing business with. Building rapport is pretty crucial. And real estate is a relationship business. But how one shares oneself, and when it is time to discuss anything of a personal nature are important judgments to make. My rule of thumb is that I mention my background or kids as it relates to filling a need or answering a question for the client. If a prospective client in Somers or Katonah is worried that I as a Briarcliff Manor -based agent don't know their area well, I'll let them know I went to JFK High School in Somers. If a dog or child is disruptive, I'll reassure them that I have a 80 pound German Shepherd and 4 kids of my own. When the time is right, that helps. It makes me a real guy.
And I have had many a client tell me that I was hired because they knew I was working for my dinner, not spending money.
By the time I was married September 29, 2001 I was tending bar only part time. I had a fairly large crowd of regulars, and they knew me pretty well at that point. I got quite a few good wishes from my customers, and to this day if I run into one they'll ask me about my family. But we only got to that point because I already knew about them.
I advise my agents to go with their gut about what they share with clients, but to always put the clients as the focal point of the discourse. The proof that the plan works shows in the progress of the company and our growth. People vary, and the only way to know what to say is to listen first and foremost. And no matter where you stand in this debate, I think we can agree that listening is always the best foundation to serving a client well.