It was 9:45pm and she was running through the dark streets of downtown Minneapolis, 4 of her kids in tow, ages 2-11. All the while she was on the phone with me, talking about the type of parent she was and the things that were very important to her regarding the care of her children. She was heading home from a friend’s house that particular night, and as my wife and I would be watching her son for an extended period of time in the coming weeks, she felt it wise to share with us some of her top parenting principles. It was a school night, and this wasn’t the first time she’d called this late with all of her kids still up. What she said next, though, required all of my concentration not to laugh: “I think it’s really important that the kids get to bed by 8:00pm… 8:30pm at the latest.” She said it in deadly serious tone- she actually meant it. As a mother, she felt that the kids needed a good night’s sleep so they could do well in school the next day. This was a principle she maintained, and this is the “kind of parent” she saw herself as- a responsible one who cared about education and sleep. I’m not sure the kids had ever gotten to bed by 8:00pm, at least not until they came to visit our house.
Psychologists tell us that we all have these images of ourselves, and we often fight to protect them, even to our own peril. And while this momma’s self-image was obviously pretty far from the reality, we all do this to some extent. What’s really interesting is that these ideas about the way things “ought to be” don’t always come from a logical look at the world. For example, it took my wife and I a really long time to feel comfortable charting our own course on Thanksgiving and abandoning the idea that each Thanksgiving we should have to attend every traditional event at BOTH of our family’s homes in another state. Finally our “principles” about what we “ought to do” for Thanksgiving ran hard into the reality that we had a dog, an adopted teenage son with special needs, a two-year old, and an infant, and interstate travel and sleeping on floors just wasn’t a logical thing to fight for.
Every so often while I’m talking with an agent about their business they’ll make a broad sweeping statement about the kind of agent or person they are, and no matter how many times I hear these sorts of things they still take me by surprise. I’ve heard most of them: “I don’t believe in all that stupid marketing stuff.” Or “I think agents who send email advertisements are really annoying.” I’ve heard “I don’t hold open houses” and even “I would never let a client buy a condo in that development.”
When I was new in real estate I also had a lot of “principles” about the kind of agent I was and wasn’t going to be. Some of these principles were very costly. For instance, I didn’t carry business cards- ever. I was extremely concerned with appearing to be “the kind of agent that ‘works the room’ at parties” and so I never had a card on me, and when people happened to ask for one, I had to hand-write my information on a napkin or something. Real professional. I’m not sure why I let the one principle about appearing slimy override another principle I could have chosen about appearing incompetent and bush-league. There’s a good middle ground, and eventually I learned it.
The longer I’m in the business, the less likely I am to have blanket ideas about what “should be” or “shouldn’t be”. Do you have a buyer that wants to buy in a condo development that you find distasteful? It’s not your job to keep them out of it- it’s your job to provide them real estate information and let them make the best, most informed decision they can, even if they choose to make a stupid choice. Also, what if the price was $1.00? Then would that condo be worth it? Ok, so this principle of yours about the development needs some parameters, because under the right conditions it might be a perfect choice for the right buyer. Your principle about this particular development might have just cost you a sale. You don’t want to be “the kind of agent that sends out mailings”? Ok, I’ll market to your friends and family and take their business- I’m not so principled as you.
You see, many principles that we carry into our businesses are not moral imperatives- they’re simply pre-conceived ideas about ourselves that we dreamed up one day. Why can’t you wear a tie to showings? Or, why can’t you wear jeans to a listing appointment? When you decide that something can never be acceptable, you close doors that needn’t be closed. You might have an idea about the type of business you’d like to run, and those are good principles, but they should be guiding principles, not moral imperatives. When you get stuck in a “way things ought to be” attitude, you risk leaving a lot of money on the table. Maybe you think you’re “above” farming a neighborhood. I once worked with an agent who felt that way, but after talking with me he decided to try it anyway. He’s making a lot more money now. He probably still wishes stuff like that didn’t work because it wouldn’t work in his ideal world, but in the real world it does work, and now he’s making money doing it.
I used to work at RE/MAX. I’ve also worked for Twin Oaks Realty. And now I run my own smaller company. Many agents are principled about things like that: “I’d never work in a small company.” Or I’ve also heard: “Big real estate firms are a waste of money, I’d never pay that much for a company name on my business card.” Those are both potentially expensive principles. In my experience every company offers plusses and minuses, and depending on an agent’s business plan, one might fit better or worse. RE/MAX brought a lot of positive name recognition to my business, and the office administrator there was a significant asset to me because she helped me stay organized in a way that previous companies hadn’t. But one day she left, and then it made sense for me to hire an assistant and work at a smaller, less expensive company so I could afford it. Did I lose business? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I’ve never even had it come up at a listing appointment. And for the amount of money I’m saving, I can afford to lose 4-5 listings a year and still have the same income by doing that much less work, so I’m pretty happy. But every agent is different, and has different needs- what I’m doing now wouldn’t work for everybody.
You should still have your line-in-the-sand moral imperatives. I don’t lie. Ever. I don’t lie to other agents about offers, I don’t tell white lies to clients when I’m late or forgot to do something I said I was going to do. I just don’t. That’s a principle of mine that might cost me a sale or referral every once in a while, but it’s a principle I’m willing to lose money on. I do have a few of those. But I’m not going to lose money because I think three-level splits with the living room above the dining room are ugly and impractical. It’s none of my business what my client prefers in their next home- I’m their real estate agent, not their dad.
What principles are you harboring for no real good reason? Are you living in fear about what a change might bring- good or bad? Do you have marketing principles that are stifling your growth? I’d encourage you to re-think your hard-and-fast “rules” for your business, and stop leaving potential sales and referrals on the table for silly reasons. Want your business to grow? Be willing to consider change, but don’t sell your soul either. Figure out which of your values are insecurities you have, and which ones are worth losing money over. You’ll be a better agent and a better person for going to the trouble.