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Don’t Ignore Client Needs, Instead Become the Educator

December 13 2010

dreaming for a home 200pxHave you ever had the pleasure of relocating from one city to another? You have the stress of the move compounded by the fact that you are losing all of your trusted resources and most importantly your “local knowledge”.

Let’s say you’re moving because you’ve been promoted to run a new division out of state. You have a young child so you’re looking for good schools within your area and a family-friendly neighborhood.

How about if you are a young professional moving for a great job opportunity? The last thing you want is to “live in the burbs” with people like your parents. What if you have lived in the city, in the “happenin’” part of town, but now you’re expecting your first child and want to find a quieter place with a backyard?

Your logical first place to go to begin your research is on the web. You can find boatloads of places to look at information about home pricing, number of bedrooms, number of baths and even if the house has a fireplace or not. But what if you want to narrow your search a different way? Perhaps you want to find a home near a dog park for your new puppy, or close to a health food store because you’re a vegetarian and you thrive on organic vegetables? What if you are retiring to a new area and want to be sure there are several golf courses nearby?

Finding a Home – A 3-legged Search Stool

A homebuyer's fundamental, baseline needs are the same whether they are moving across town or across the country.

1 - Property Details – Every homebuyer will search based on standard home features like: 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, $175,000-$300,000, 2-story.

 

2 - Lifestyle Needs – Consumers want to understand the neighborhood “context” for a home. A beautiful home that fits their property structural criteria perfectly can be in a bad quality school district or too far from the office or the church of their choice.

 

3 - The local culture and vibe – Consumers are also looking for that somewhat intangible feeling or “vibe” that resonates in a neighborhood. They want to know things like – Does the neighborhood have an outdoorsy feel? A creative/artsy vibe? A family friendly scene? Doggie paradise?

As an industry, we do #1; we do it well - it's called IDX. That's about it. We rely on REALTORS® and customers to navigate their way around the web, the Chamber of Commerce, the pavement, etc. and gather tidbits of information to make #2 and #3 come to life in some accurate, reliable manner. So, essentially, we're doing 1/3 of our jobs for homebuyers...is that good enough for you?

 


 

Consumers today are often more interested in the neighborhood they like and the lifestyle it provides than the minute details of a home. They want to live in a community that meets their physical, emotional and even spiritual needs.

Traditional property search offered by REALTORS ® just doesn’t cut it. If REALTORS ® want to stay in the center of the home buying process they need to become advisors on a lot more than the size of the lot and the number of garages.

Don’t ignore the needs of RELO Customers

 

I remember when we moved to California several years ago from Buffalo, New York. We were absolutely lost. We were moving to a new culture, climate and community and leaving our “cushy” corporate jobs to come and run a start-up.

Talk about uncertainty! We drove our REALTOR ® crazy because we were so unfocused in our search.

We had a few rules: 20 minute commute, close to shopping, ocean view, large yard, professional community, great restaurants. These criteria didn’t help much though because there was no way for us to do research using those types of criteria. Had we had the ability to learn more about these community factors important to us, the process could have been a lot more productive and certainly a lot less stressful.


Now many would say that is the role of the REALTOR  ®. They are best suited to provide “insider knowledge” of an area and guide their customer in finding a home that meets all of their needs. This is absolutely true. The problem is that many consumers do not want to engage with an agent until they have done their own homework. They will go to the Chamber of Commerce, their social network sphere and even to third party real estate websites NOT offered by REALTORS    ®. Every time a consumer has to seek out a non-real estate professional to help them in the process of finding a home, the value of a REALTOR ® is diminished in some way.

Stop letting others meet the needs of homebuyers!

Let’s do a quick history lesson here….

Several years ago when the market was hot and home valuations were changing rapidly, consumers were looking for a way to regularly monitor the value of their home. They were having fun tracking the equity growth in their homes.

Organized real estate could have provided that information to consumers. After all, the industry has better data than any third party source to determine legitimate valuations of homes. At the time though, the collective industry judgment was that valuing a home was the clear pervue of the REALTOR  ® and frankly we just didn’t want to share our valuable information with consumers.


Guess what happened, though…. A smart, well-financed company from Seattle saw this unmet consumer need and jumped on it. Fast-forward a couple of years. Now the “Zestimate” is the consumer’s gold standard for home valuations! REALTORS ® have to defend against third party home valuations regularly now. Even today, many MLSs are still fighting about releasing sold data as part of their IDX solution. We’re still burying our heads in the sand and hoping consumer information demands will simply go away!

Lifestyle Search is just the latest example of where the real estate industry may be burying its head in the sand. While we might like the consumer to come to REALTORS  ® to learn about the local market, many consumers – especially those under 40 - want to conduct business on their terms using the most modern technology tools. They are not looking to become close friends with their REALTOR  ® or any other service professional for that matter. They want to get the facts, and then get “on with it”. If the real estate industry is going to remain vital over time, agents and brokers must adjust their habits and offerings to build relationships with consumers in the way they want to be communicated with – not the way we would LIKE to communicate with them. If we don’t provide consumers with what they are demanding somebody else will, and again the relevance of the REALTOR  ® will be eroded.


WAV Group recently completed consumer focus groups on behalf of the National Association of REALTORS  ®  where we asked consumers about how REALTORS ® can serve their needs better. They told us in no uncertain terms they want to do a lot of their property research on their own. One interviewee said:

 

“I need real estate companies to help me identify the areas of the city that will work best for my needs so I can do my own research and get comfortable BEFORE I engage with a REALTOR ®. The REALTOR ® that demonstrates they have the best information and the most local knowledge on their site that does not BUG me until I’m ready is much more likely to get my business.”

Stop Advertising and Start Edutizing

Consumers simply do not want to be “sold” anymore. They have become cynical about advertising claims and “it’s all about me” advertising. They don’t want to hear an agent’s claims of greatness. They want to understand what you can do for them that is backed up by legitimate information or insights you can bring to them. They want you to prove why you are the best agent or broker for them.

Simply making promises of greatness is not enough to attract consumers anymore. In fact, only 14% of consumers today trust what they hear in advertising today, according to the Socialnomics group.


The real estate industry needs to listen more closely to what consumers are asking for and deliver information and services that are interesting and relevant.

According to the 2009-2010 California Home Buyers and Sellers Survey from the California Association of REALTORS®, consumers are asking REALTORS® to provide more support throughout the real estate transaction. They don’t simply want a nice marketing campaign. They want true support throughout the entire process - especially early on in their search when they are have not yet locked into a neighborhood or area. They are looking for better information to help arm themselves with the tools they need to make a sound real estate purchase decision.

This is the first installment of a five part series called "The Lifestyle Search Opportunity." This white paper was written and researched by WAV Group, Inc.

To learn more about WAV Group, please click here.

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