Counselors Like to Be Needed

In the mid-1970s, it was early in my real estate career when I attended a six-day seminar presented by Jim Brondino and several other skilled instructors. That seminar changed my life and the way I thought about myself. Until that event, all my training related to real estate had been focused on salesmanship, with an emphasis on overcoming the buyer’s or seller’s objections. The hard-sell, door-to-door encyclopedia salesman’s approach offended me when such sales tactics were focused on me as a customer. Further, with my twenty-year engineering background and analytical temperament, it was absolutely impossible for me to conduct any real estate business in the traditional hard-sell style.

During the six days, a new attitude and a new way of seeing myself as a real estate professional began to emerge. Near the end of the week a point-by-point comparison was made between a salesman and a counselor. The instructor pointed out that salespeople were often extroverts and counselors were often more reserved. The instructor pointed out that effective salespeople are people oriented, but counselors are more focused on technical issues. The instructors expanded the list with other contrasts between salespeople and counselors. At the end of the long list of comparisons, the instructor summarized the differences between salespeople and counselors by stating: “Salesmen need to liked and counselors like to be needed.”

Wow, what a simple but powerful revelation to me! From that moment on, I knew that I wanted to be a counselor. Rather than trying to “sell” my services, I wanted to possess knowledge that people would need. Acquiring a working knowledge of Section 1031 during the week-long seminar was the start of acquiring valuable information that most other brokers did not possess.
The first day back at my office, one of my salesmen, Dave, came to me and said that he had a “client,” Anderson, who was a long-time friend but who was reluctant to list his commercial building with Dave. Anderson had recently listed the property with a residential broker for six months and the property was never shown during the entire listing period. Anderson said he did not want to go through that fruitless process again. Dave asked me if I could help him get Anderson to list with our firm.

Recalling material from the seminar, I said, “Dave, you don’t have a client, you only have a friend. Let’s try to convert the friend into a client.”

Amazingly, on my very first day back from the seminar, here was an opportunity to exercise my new-found attitude toward potential clients. Dave and I put in a call to the property owner, Anderson. Dave was sitting near me at my desk. I told Anderson that I understood that he had been disappointed with the other broker’s lack of performance and invited him to come to my office to discuss how we would market the property. Anderson said he was willing to have me come to his home to discuss listing the property. I said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t go to owners’ homes to discuss listing property. I always conduct business in my office.” Dave’s jaw dropped, but he said nothing.

Anderson said that he would talk to his CPA and get back to me in a few minutes. He called me back and said that we could meet in his CPA’s office.

I told him that would not work for me, but that his CPA was welcome to join Anderson when he came to my office. I added, “Does your CPA make the final decision on whether or not you list the property with our firm?”

Anderson replied, “No, no, that’s my decision. I just want his input on the tax impact of selling my property.”

I said, “I understand, please ask your CPA if he is familiar with tax-deferred exchanges under Section 1031 of the tax code.” I again suggested that Anderson invite his CPA to join us in our meeting at my office.

Anderson replied, “Let me call you right back.”

In a few minutes, Anderson called back and reported that his CPA was unwilling to drive to my office, but that he had renewed his invitation to hold the meeting in the CPA’s office.

I told Anderson, “I’m sorry, but no, if you still want to meet, after our meeting and before you sign any listing contract, I would be happy to discuss with your CPA the tax aspects of listing the property.”

Anderson paused for several very long seconds, and then said, “Well, yes, I guess that would work.” We scheduled a meeting for the following week.

At the end of this series of phone conversations with Anderson, Dave, who, like most salespeople, was willing to comply with every whim of the owner to get a listing, was absolutely stunned. He asked me, “How did you have the brass . . . to convince him come to your office?”

“Simple, it was obvious to me that he needed us. My attitude made it clear to him (or at least gave the impression) that he was talking to a professional and that we were used to solving problems and that our time was valuable. Further, even though he is your friend, your approach in soliciting his listing did not work. Therefore, there was absolutely nothing to lose with this approach.”

At the first meeting with Anderson, we reviewed several alternatives, including keeping the property but improving management, reducing expenses, and acquiring more favorable financing.

Anderson was impressed that we did not press to list the property for sale and that we were sincerely willing to discuss solving his problem even if it meant receiving no commission. Eventually, after determining that his need for cash trumped all other considerations, including a tax-deferred exchange or creating a charitable trust, we called his CPA and reviewed Anderson’s tax consequences of selling. At the end of the two-hour meeting, Anderson chose to sell the property and listed it with our company, with Dave as the listing agent. The property sold and closed escrow in about ninety days.

The fact that I can vividly remember those conversations with Anderson some 35 years after the fact is an indication of the importance to me of that simple but, to me, profound revelation, “counselors like to be needed.”

One Comment »

  1. Very good article! The illustrates that trust can be sold without catering to the traditional view of having to “sell” yourself is the priority togain listings.