Viewing by month: March 2009

Customer Service is Key

I’ve talked about the importance of customer service previously, and I can confidently say that CENTURY 21 Australia prides itself on the level of customer service we provide. Even when times were booming, our Offices were striving to work harder and smarter for their customers. Now in the current market where many people are facing property challenges, there are no excuses not to be going above and beyond when it comes to helping people through these often stressful transactions. 

 

The core of the customer service attitude exercised by CENTURY 21 is the belief that selling real estate is more than those three words imply. Working in this industry, we are charged with assisting people through what is considered one of the most significant and stressful events in a person’s life. In particular, the process of moving house involves a lot more than just your real estate agent – you will be possibly be considering storage, removalists, cleaners and insurance amongst a myriad of other things. If your new home needs work you’ll be looking at trades people, or if you’re purchasing a house with a pool you’ll be considering pool security and maintenance. For many, this growing list of things to do means the process can become a daunting one. 

 

CENTURY 21 partners with relevant and trusted suppliers to help ease as much of this stress as we can. Being able to put you in direct contact with the likes of surveyors, instant storage and utility connection services can reduce what is otherwise a very long list of things to do! Talk to your agent about how we can assist with more than just finding you your dream home.    
0 comments | Posted by Charles Tarbey on 16/03/2009 at 8:46 AM | Categories:

Real Estate Cliches

Last night I was forced to sit through a variety of TV shows about doctors and nurses while I was hanging out with my teenage daughter. Funnily enough her favourite scenes were the ones that included characters with nicknames like Dr McDreamy and of course the apparently timeless George Clooney who I was told is like, totally hot in a doctor’s coat. I believe one scene in particular possibly used slow motion, where an incredibly attractive woman had her life saved by the previously mentioned hot doctor and I was told off for laughing at such a stereotype. And then I realized how many clichés have been applied to those of us in the real estate industry over time, and I stopped laughing. 

 

 

I’ve mentioned in my blog before that certain industries do attract a certain type of person – to somewhat of an extent at least. And whilst many stereotypes may ring true in some cases, many of us painted with the same brush aren’t too pleased about it. The clichés of the real estate industry are certainly in that category. 

For many of us at CENTURY 21, we can admit that the actions of our industry predecessors have resulted in the clichéd agent that springs to mind when a lot of people think about real estate. Images are conjured up of the fast, flashy car-driving agent, typically a white haired middle aged man dripping with gold…sorry, just had to remove all of my rings to keep typing…who will happily spin doctor the biggest of details to make a sale. Does this type of agent still exist? Sadly I have to say yes, but for the most part the answer is no and I am proud to say that the CENTURY 21 network is full of committed, professional experts who are dispelling this type of cliché in their everyday dealings with customers. 

 

However, the clichés also don’t stop with the people in this industry; there are catch cries that people in the property market hear time and time again. “Bring your paintbrush” for example. I have gone to inspect a home that required me to “bring my paintbrush” and it turned out not only did I need that, but a bobcat, jackhammer, an apprenticeship in joinery and the ability to relay a concrete slab would have also been useful. Even if a cliché gets people in the door initially, they won’t stay inside very long - a lesson many of us have learned from our predecessors, but sadly one that some agents still need to be taught.   

I know from being in this game that when you’re making as big a decision as which home should be your new abode, you want to stay as far away from stereotypes and clichés as possible, and you want professional service from a real person with genuine advice. As much as what I’m about to say sounds like a cliché, these people do exist in this industry! Dedicate the necessary time to finding out enough about your prospective agency and you will be sure to avoid becoming part of the cliché. We’ll keep trying to make the stereotype a thing of the past, but in the meantime when you do come across one, at least it will provide a bit of a laugh.   

Now, where did I put my gold chain?


1 comments | Posted by Charles Tarbey on 13/03/2009 at 8:56 AM | Categories:

Honesty Policy

Despite what my teenage daughters would have the world believe, I don’t dwell under a rock nor do I regularly have my head in the sand. And that means although I may not really know who Lady GaGa is, I am aware of some of the less than flattering opinions the public has about real estate agents. This has been on my mind since I blogged yesterday about the stereotypes that have haunted our industry for a long time now. But out of all the clichés associated with this industry,  the one that gets me the most is that real estate agents are dishonest.

Honesty, although it seems a simple enough concept, is actually fairly open to interpretation. For example, if a seller doesn’t think the crack he patched over on the ceiling is worth mentioning to his real estate agent, but construction work next door later brings that part of the roof down on the new owner, was his omission of this detail dishonest? I actually don’t believe so, because people’s perceptions of what is and isn’t important – and as such what is or isn’t dishonest - varies significantly.  

Who amongst us has never told a white lie, or omitted certain details with nothing but the interests of another person at the forefront of our minds? I think most of us are guilty of this, which is where I believe it is the intent that decides the case of honesty versus dishonesty.

When charged with the selling of a person’s home, it is the Agent’s responsibility to be honest in their assessment of the property and honest in the way they conduct themselves. As an Agent, it is our responsibility to only make promises we can keep. It is doing otherwise that makes us dishonest. Honesty also means tackling the hard part of the job and never being uncommunicative with clients. Even if the news is bad, the vendor deserves the truth. That said, if petty unconstructive comments about the property for sale have been made during home opens or property inspections, sharing every detail of this with the seller is just unnecessary and possibly hurtful. The decision to keep these details to yourself does not, in my eyes, make you dishonest.

Equally, an Agent is relying on honesty from the vendor. In this industry, we need honesty in relation to service feedback, issues with a property, or what a seller’s expectations really are. The cornerstone of honesty is communication, and it’s certainly a two way street.


0 comments | Posted by Charles Tarbey on 12/03/2009 at 8:46 AM | Categories:

From fantasy to reality

Many of you may not be aware that this week saw Barbie turn 50. As I am an avid consumer of news, and not of Mattel toys, I am aware that her birthday fell on Monday and that the big 5-0 resulted in some interesting celebrations. For me, the most amazing was the real life creation of her Malibu Dream House.

Having raised daughters, I am not completely ignorant when it comes to Barbie’s wide range of accessories and life changing status symbols. Although my personal favourite was always the Change Around Home and Office, I have to admit the Malibu Dream House has always been impressive, and a career in real estate makes you realize how spectacular a real life version of that home would be. It seems someone had the same thought, as interior decorator Jonathan Adler decked out a real-life 3,500-square-foot pad overlooking the Pacific Ocean to look like the doll's home.

 

 

The decoration of the home was actually commissioned by Mattel Inc for Barbie’s birthday bash which happened on Monday (who says nothing good ever happens on Monday, hey?) and took six months of planning. The home is already regularly rented for film and photo shoots and getting all the glitz into the property took weeks. Apparently the designer sang Barbie’s praises as the ideal client who is always happy and loves everything. If only everyone we dealt with in this industry had the same temperament! Although I have to admit her taste is slightly questionable. The chandelier made of blonde wigs is a tad too creepy for my liking, however I have to admit that if someone was prepared to donate a Malibu pad perched over the ocean for my 50th (which is of course still very far away) I’d be less than picky about the light fittings.  
0 comments | Posted by Charles Tarbey on 11/03/2009 at 8:16 AM | Categories:

If I Knew Then...

When I stop and reflect, I realise that I have indeed been in the real estate industry for a very long time, and my first step into investing in property is something that seems very long ago. Maybe it actually was...and like everything in life, hindsight is a wonderful thing. If I knew then what I know now, I probably would have done things a little differently and as a result, here are my first property purchase notes to my twenty year old self, which might prove handy for others considering entering the property game.

 

 

Take emotion out of it. This is a very hard ask, and one that’s actually not just applicable to first homes. People get attached to properties in a very short period of time, even if they already own or have owned several properties, and that’s understandable. When you’re searching for weeks through homes that at times you just find appalling, when you finally come across one that ticks all your property boxes, it is very easy to immediately fall in love with it, become instantly and aggressively competitive with everyone else at the home open, and be prepared to stop at nothing to make it yours. This is not very wise and can lead to some bigger issues, and this leads me to my next couple of points. 

 

Stick to your budget. No-one begins to house hunt with an unlimited budget. Okay, maybe some people have the kind of wealth to be able to do that, but I like to pretend they don’t exist for my own sanity. It’s fine to give yourself a little bit of flexibility in your budget if you know you could stretch it if you really, really found the house of your dreams, but there absolutely has to be a ceiling, and you absolutely have to be prepared to walk away if an asking price won’t match or go below that. It will most definitely be of benefit to you in the long run. 

 

Don’t get carried away. I read a wonderful quote recently – don’t rush the monkey and you’ll get a better show. Not that I am referring to anyone involved with a property purchase decision as a monkey, of course (although in my time I have come across a few that haven’t been far off…) but it rings true for many things in life. If you do decide you’ve found a property you’re interested in buying, don’t rush the process. Give yourself the cooling off time you need to be sure this is the one you’re prepared to put all your hard earned cash into – for possibly the next 30 years of your life according to many a mortgage document. Go and see it again, get the relevant checks done so the roof doesn’t collapse around you the day after you move in, and allow yourself time to negotiate the best price. 

 

Most of this seems like common sense now, but when you’re caught up in your first property whirlwind, the simple things can sometimes be forgotten. I only wish I could say the Paul Mylott of today is as wise in other areas as I am in this one. Maybe then I wouldn’t have been talked into that second bottle of red last night…
0 comments | Posted by Charles Tarbey on 10/03/2009 at 8:54 AM | Categories:

It's Not Easy Being Green

There are many times in life I think Kermit hit the nail on the head with his bold statement “It’s not easy being green”, like the time many years ago I wore a safari suit to a black tie dinner. But if we think it’s tough being green in our day to day lives, imagine how the real enviro-crusaders feel. They take the expression to a whole new level.

Thankfully the environment, and our need to reduce our impact on it, has become an increasingly prevalent issue, and one that more and more people are taking on board at a personal level. Minimising our carbon footprint is changing the way we think and behave. We’ve already accepted the introduction of energy efficiency ratings on our white goods, and if you’re anything like me, the guilt associated with buying a product boasting just half a star is enough to make me pay a premium for the more efficient model.

These types of green influences are beginning to translate directly to the real estate industry. As I mentioned yesterday, the desire to be green influences what buyers are looking for in a home, and what they’re prepared to fork out additional hard earned cash for. It is likely that a similar efficiency star rating system will be introduced for homes in the future. In fact, demographer Bernard Salt has gone so far as to say that energy ratings will become mandatory for all dwellings in coming years and I don’t doubt that this will become a major selling feature for many homes. Here in Australia in particular we have access to enough sunshine in some northern parts that could power the entire continent and people are beginning to want to see that translate over to home efficiency. 

 At a basic level, features like good insulation are a green step that most people take, and want to see offered in a home. Other features that home buyers are already actively seeking are energy efficient lighting, rain water tanks and solar energy such as solar heating. These types of green features are already beginning to make it onto the ‘in demand’ list of house-hunters and will become increasingly important for both buyers and sellers in future.

As much as I like to think all these initiatives are gaining momentum because we’re all doing our bit to save the Antarctic, the truth of the matter is that many green initiatives also save money in the long run. Houses which churn through an excessive amount of electricity are of course going to have a negative impact on the owner’s wallet as well as the planet. At the end of the day, even if it is money that drives us all to be green, I have to say the end justifies the means. And on that note, I best go tend to my compost.      
0 comments | Posted by Charles Tarbey on 09/03/2009 at 9:02 AM | Categories:

Happy Mardi Gras!

As a person living in Sydney, I have to say that for a few weeks now you’d have to have been living under a rock not to know that the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has hit town, and the biggest party of the festival takes place tomorrow night. With literally thousands of people descending on this city to celebrate, it got me thinking about firstly what a well adjusted and, for the most part, accepting and friendly city this is, but secondly about what out of towners think of this place that I, like many others, call home.  

 

I imagine for the hundreds that arrive for the festival via cruise ship, the impression of Sydney is a good one. Cruising into Circular Quay with the views of the city’s two icons is breathtaking even for locals, and I don’t know many people who can look at the apartments hugging the quay and not instantly think they’d love to live there. But that said, I think ultimately when many people travel, they compare their destination to wherever it is they call home and question if they could live in the place they’re in. Realistically when you’ve made a life for yourself somewhere, it gets pretty hard to imagine living elsewhere, no matter how amazing your holiday may be. This rings true even for Australians, where I believe because of the sheer size of our country, even the decision to move from one side to the other is one not taken lightly.  

 

Of course certain cities attract certain types of people, and this is when I think people are more inclined to make a more permanent move. That’s when things like real estate become a focus as opposed to festivals and sightseeing, and people joining a new community need advice from the likes of real estate agents as to where they’d most feel at home. Which leads me back to Mardi Gras - Sydney is definitely on par with San Francisco when it comes to housing the gay community, and is internationally recognized as a gay-friendly town, which explains why a worldwide pilgrimage takes place to participate in our Festival every year, what helps to make it such an amazing event, and one that this city is so proud of.  

 

Happy Mardi Gras!
3 comments | Posted by Charles Tarbey on 06/03/2009 at 8:27 AM | Categories:

What People Want

Figuring out what people want is the bane of many an existence. This was on my mind as I drove to work this morning because I am having trouble deciphering exactly what it is my teenage daughter wants me to do after we have an argument – the cause of which is of course always my fault. What women want is a perpetual mystery and source of angst for males everywhere, and when it comes to my work, what buyers want is the constant focus for sellers and real estate agents alike. There’s no doubt that just as there are trends in every aspect of life that influence what you want, trends in real estate dictate what is and isn’t in demand on the market.

There are often surveys conducted to determine what buyers are demanding, which impacts on builders as well as vendors. When you’re actively engaged with the real estate market in the way that our CENTURY 21 Australia Agencies are, these trends are obvious even without referring to the findings highlighted in these surveys. Some of the most noticeable trends of late are related to technology, but in varying ways. For example, the trend of buyers demanding home cinemas has diminished and whilst the push for plasma screens and wall mounted units continues to rise, dedicated home theatre rooms are becoming a less important factor in the home purchase decision process for many in the market for a house.

The internet is also influencing buyers, and not just in the search for property. As the importance of online capabilities grows in many aspects of peoples’ lives, so does the demand for broadband access at home. Still on the technological front, home security is becoming increasingly important and home automation is beginning to creep up the list of priorities too, although as yet not enough people are comfortable with their home anticipating their every move to make this a truly high demand feature yet.

Encouragingly, more and more people are also looking for ‘green’ features in a home, or are prepared to spend money after purchase to add these types of features to a property. Not an easy decision when a property purchase is usually an expensive exercise in itself, especially in currently volatile market conditions, but one that has to be made more often as we face ongoing climate issues. Sheesh, you’d think one crisis at a time would be enough! 

I’ll be talking more about green property tomorrow, and until then I’ll be working out how to get back into my daughter’s good books…  
0 comments | Posted by Charles Tarbey on 05/03/2009 at 8:26 AM | Categories:

Email is a Tricky Thing

Although I may have mastered this blogging thing, I have to admit that technology isn’t really my personal forte and I did have to recently ask my daughter to show me how to upload songs to my iPod. Yes, I only just got an iPod, but at least I got there eventually. Although the trendier of the techie developments may stump me now and again, there is one element that is second nature for most people these days, and its email. But that doesn’t mean email isn’t also fraught with issues of its own. 

 

 

The reason I got thinking about this is because I received a response from an email I sent yesterday where my original message had been taken completely out of context and the recipient ended up thinking I was annoyed, which as I’ve discussed before is somewhat of a rarity. (Although at times I could be considered sarcastic…maybe…) But it made me realise, email is a tricky thing. Tone becomes almost impossible to detect unless you’re into using emoticons, which I’m not, and if you’re like me and you accidentally get caps lock stuck on and don’t have time to retype everything, PEOPLE THINK YOU’RE SHOUTING AT THEM. 

 

Aside from considering basic netiquette when it comes to email, in the real estate game, customers are relying more and more heavily on email communication to speak with agents and salespeople, as I suppose most of us are in other aspects of our lives. As more and more people turn to online sources for property information, it makes sense that the number of enquiries sent via these online mechanisms will also increase, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen happen at CENTURY 21. Having worked in real estate for a good many years, I do have to admit that past behaviour of some agents in days gone by hasn’t done a lot for our reputations, and often people don’t want to give away phone numbers when they have the option of providing another less confrontational method of contact. This makes email the perfect alternative. 

 

However, the problem with email and real estate agents seems to be that many in the industry haven’t picked up on the fact that anywhere up to 80% of enquiries about property are now being generated online, and many simply don’t respond to email enquiries. At CENTURY 21, we know that if you don’t respond, your customer will go somewhere else, and rapidly. The other thing about online communication is that people expect an almost instant response. With the prevalence of Blackberries in the industry, this problem is alleviated somewhat, and they do say that real estate is a 24/7 job – let me tell you it’s the truth! But more to the point, people just want a response, even if it does take you a day or two.  The biggest bug bear for most people is the resounding silence that often follows an email enquiry, and that happens a lot when it comes to real estate. Well, at least until recently. Since the economic slow down of late last year, I know property hunters whose email enquiries had been ignored for months, and now suddenly they are being bombarded with emails from the agents who had previously been mute. Although this is not the ideal way to commence email communications with customers, I can only hope that this willingness to e-communicate continues once the economy picks back up!       

 


1 comments | Posted by Charles Tarbey on 04/03/2009 at 10:59 AM | Categories:

Happy Employees Mean Happy Customers

I did some food shopping on my way home from work last night, and like most people, its not one of my favourite tasks. After negotiating my way around aisles crowded with other after work shoppers, many of whom seemed inexplicably irate about choosing cereal, I stood in line for an excruciating amount of time before coming face to face with what was surely the world’s most surly sales assistant. I am sure that like me, she’d just had enough for the day, but when you work in customer service, those two words are supposed to mean something and her bad day wasn’t actually my fault, despite my being made to feel like it was. 

 

Working with an office full of staff, a nation full of franchise offices and the general public, I am acutely aware that an employee’s attitude has a real impact on customers. Most of the time, happy employees mean happy customers and this principle applies across the board, whether you work at a checkout or like me, you work in real estate. When you are dealing with another person’s purchase decisions, you owe it to them to be pleasant and helpful. We’re all human and there are some days when bouncing off the walls with glee is just beyond us – in fact, according to my PA it’s beyond me every day, but people understand that, and it doesn’t mean you have the right to resort to being sour. (And for the record, that’s one thing I never am. Sarcastic maybe…) 

 

One thing many people forget is that customer service expectations can change dramatically and quickly. A service provider may assume they know what their customer is after and act accordingly, but if you don’t find out what your customers actually want and need, things could go wrong. Of course the level of service expected when it comes to scanning a person’s groceries is vastly different to the service you’d expect when selling your home, but the basic principal of being helpful and friendly certainly remains. 

 

For the most part, you can safely assume that most customers want very reasonable things, just as I do when I am in the market for a particular item. For example, I want to be treated with respect; I want dedicated attention and to be listened to by whomever I am dealing with. I want direct responses and not to be passed around like a hot potato. I don’t want to be treated like I know nothing but I want knowledgeable advice without the industry jargon. Ideally I also want an anticipation of my needs and helpful suggestions and advice, and to be kept informed with follow through. Nothing out of the ordinary, just like the expectations of most people, and none of which   are all that hard really, which is why we get so upset when these expectations aren’t met. 

 

At CENTURY 21, we pride ourselves on offering all of our customers clear, expert and accessible advice and service. And that’s very hard to do if you’re busy sulking about your personal life or holding a grudge about how someone stole your parking spot this morning. I am fortunate to work with an amazing national network of people who understand that their moods have a direct impact on the experience their customers will have. In real estate, we are dealing with one of the most important purchase decisions most people will make in their lifetime. That’s pretty serious stuff, and deserving of the most helpful and professional service possible – which is exactly why we’re committed to providing it.   
1 comments | Posted by Charles Tarbey on 03/03/2009 at 7:30 AM | Categories: