Without them (or sellers, of course), we have no business. Consider: 1) Nearly all of our advertising is directly towards securing customers. 2) The vast majority of our daily efforts - developing relationships, contacting folks, providing information and photos, discussing needs and desires, giving general area information, and a myriad of related things - is customer-focused. 3) Our daytime travels are largely customer-dictated. I drive, year in and year out, 30000+ miles in my business, and it is nearly all toting around customers, taking care of their needs and wants, and finding new places to attract them. That never ends. When I am not showing property, I am looking for it. 4) Easily 80% of my working day is customer-driven, they are that important. 5) In our area, for 8 or 9 years out of any 10, it has been customers, not sellers who drive the market.
So, customers are what it’s all about.
I hate to waste a customer. We have invested too much time, money and effort to lose one. Business is never equally distributed. Many good properties fail to attract folks. Most are attract a few, but not enough to get the appropriate share of them sold. But there are others that are perceived as better buys or for various reasons able to attract enough attention. And they bring in many buyers. Once we have made contact, we start the business of building rapport with the customer, finding out what they want, what will work for them and what they can afford.
The trouble is, only one person buys each place. When multiple buyers contend, all but one of them are going to be disappointed. If it were up to me there would be just one buyer for each place, so we can get “better coverage” from our customer base. And, historically speaking, disappointed customers rarely come back, even when they know it is not our fault that their bid was not the successful one. Call it "superstition" if you will. I have seen this repeated so often, and it's foolish to abandon someone who now knows what you want and has invested his time and energy to help you.
In fact, I had been selling for 20 years before I ran into Ben Garrett. He was the exception to many rules and had made his money the hard way, starting off by selling magazine subscriptions and Bibles, door to door. He had grown this into a very successful business and now he was ready to retire and have some fun with a farm. Able to afford whatever he wanted (there are not many like this!), he wanted a very well-kept farm, one of the few really good ones. Realizing that he was both serious and well-qualified, I was willing to spend whatever time was needed for him to find what he wanted. This meant a lot of travel with him, hours and hours of conversation and debate with him while he zeroed in on just what kind of operation would be best.
He had been sort of thinking of beef cattle until the conversation got around to registered dairy cattle and embryo transfer and some of the other procedures that have revolutionized this industry. That struck a spark with Ben and we began to focus on dairy farms and, in our conversations and emails, dairy farming methods and madness. Finally, he found what he wanted, a real showplace, 900 acres, 200 cows, 5 homes and all the bells and whistles. There was already a buyer for it, a farm family from the Philadelphia area, but no final commitment had been made by either side and nothing was in writing. Realizing there was competition, Ben made an offer too good to refuse: $100,000 over the asking price PLUS $60,000 more for the owner just to consult with him during the first year. Needless to say, that got the owner's attention. So I drew up a contract, went through several modifications until it got to the lawyers, who all had their own ideas on how they wanted it drawn up. It was not a simple deal and would have taken time even if the lawyers were not involved at this stage. Finally, on a Friday, I was told that all differences between the lawyers had been resolved and it was ready for signature on Monday. But, Saturday, the owner called me and told me he had signed with the Philadelphia people after all. A call to his attorney on Monday revealed that this was done without consulting him - he was as surprised as I was.
Let me interrupt the thrust of this chapter by telling a bit of the story of the Philadelphia folks. They were a farm family, used to getting their hands dirty, not an investor like Ben was, and the owner had made the decision that he wanted his farm to go to farmers, not to a rich guy, even though it cost him a bundle to do that. Good people. And with some bad luck coupled with family problems, they went bankrupt a couple years later, but that's another story.
Back to Ben. I was sure he would either abandon his search or give up working with me. But, no, he proved to be loyal and we went back to looking at property. He later wanted the farm the VanDeLigt’s eventually bought (that's yet another story) and doggoned if history didn’t repeat itself. After weeks of wrangling, we got the contract all finalized between lawyers, and someone else who had seen it months earlier stepped in and bought it out from under him. But Ben, after two such setbacks, remained undeterred in his desire to buy a farm and stuck with me as the man to sell it to him. I really appreciate such loyalty; it is so rare in this business. The problem was, he had now seen it all, everything that was out there and Ben would not settle for something less than the two he had liked before. So, weeks later, I got wind that one such place might be ready to sell and I went right over to check out the rumor. It was true, Ben came up and looked at it and agreed then and there to buy it. He was the first party to see it. The owner must have thought I made a bundle with very little work. He had no idea how much time and effort I had spent with Ben, but he was pretty happy to get full price (which was fair), to get it immediately, and then have no hassle with the closing.
Later on, watching Ben handle his help (who got their hands dirty), I was impressed. He paid them well and demanded a lot in return - he and got it, just like he did from me. And you ended up really liking him. This was an ability that, while rare, had served him well in his business and went on to serve him well in the new venture. Some years later, Ben had filled his ambitions and goals on the farm and asked me to sell it for him, again at a fair price. We quickly were able to find a farm family from Maryland who were just perfect for the place and they have done well there, not only keeping it up, but improving it.
I told you the Ben story as an exception which proves the point. Far more common is a case we just finished working on. Suffice it to say, I worked long and hard to get a sale, finally found a buyer, not the best, just the best we could find that would take the place. After 2 months of legal wrangling, the deal fell apart over a small technical legal issue, one on which either party should have readily capitulated - not that either one was about to. To try to keep that deal going was like beating a dead horse and as stubborn as I can be about not giving up on people, I was forced to do so here. I felt that I had a enjoyed a cordial and good relationship with the buyer and made it abundantly clear to him that I valued his patronage. When we parted, when he let me know he was not giving up on his search, I asked him point blank if he would be willing to continue to work with me. I went on to say that most buyers seem almost to be superstitious about failed deals and won’t work with the very party that knows them the best, blah, blah, blah. He was guarded in his response and said that if I had something that interested him, that he would contact me. Yeah, sure. I could see wings sprout on him as we talked. Our investment in him is out the door.
If a customer remains loyal to me, I will do the same for him and if we can't find it for him, I will look elsewhere. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen often that a buyer realizes the value of a rapport already established, that he doesn't have to re-explain just what "good" means to him, how useful it is that I can now see things through his eyes, and how important it is to understand you can trust my judgment.