September, 2017
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Real Estate Office Discussions That Matter

ALAN CARSON

Most home inspectors and marketing consultants agree that home inspectors should make presentations to real estate agents. (For the purposes of this article, we will assume that real estate agents are useful colleagues for home inspectors, although we understand that’s not universally true.) Most real estate offices have regular meetings, some weekly, often falling on Monday or Tuesday mornings. That meeting frequency presents many great opportunities to tell your story to groups of real estate professionals.

This all sounds logical but, like most things in life, it’s not all as easy as it sounds. Let’s look at some of the challenges and approaches to overcome the challenges.

Getting a Foot in the Door
Let’s face it: Most real estate professionals don’t spend much time wishing they could hear from a home inspector. They especially don’t want to hear a home inspector talk about how great their inspections are. When brokers and managers are approached by a home inspector offering to give an office presentation, their first instinct is to decline. Real estate agents are in sales, of course. They understand how “sales” works, and they do not want to be sold. That’s why we typically don’t label our presentations as “presentations”; instead, we call them “discussions.”

You’re not a salesperson, you’re a resource. Using a consultative approach is best. You want to bring your audience something of value, solve a problem for them, make their life better or easier in some way. Whether you send an email or phone them, you want to be clear that you have valuable information. We often provide a list of topics from which the decision-makers can choose and we invite them to suggest any topics that are not on the list. It’s great if your topic titles are attention-grabbers and we think it’s okay if the topics even seem a bit controversial.

It’s important to speak to the right person. It might be the owner of the real estate company, a lead broker or an office manager. It may be clear from the real estate company’s website whom you should contact, but if you are unsure, call the office and ask who organizes and sets the meeting agendas.

Less is more. Make it clear that your presentation will be short, useful and not promotional. Suggest a time frame, but be flexible. You could say, “Would a 10- or 15-minute presentation at your next meeting be appropriate?” We find that if the agents are engaged, the conversation can go on much longer, but very few people will welcome the idea of a 60-minute presentation.

Offer breakfast—food always works! We regularly offer to bring breakfast for the meeting. It’s a great door-opener. It’s ideal if you can arrange to have the food delivered before the meeting starts so your audience can be enjoying the breakfast when you are introduced. It makes for a warm welcome and an easy introduction.

The spread doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy. You could go with decadent (fancy muffins), standard (donuts) or even healthy (fruit, granola and yogurt). We don’t worry about providing drinks. People coming to regular office meetings generally bring their own coffee, tea or whatever. The goal is to give your audience something they probably do not usually have or are not expecting.

If bringing breakfast or a special treat sounds too expensive, you might want to reconsider your marketing approach. Spend some time thinking about the life value of a relationship with a successful real estate salesperson. You generally don’t get a return without making an investment.

Caveat. We focus on presenting our information in successful offices that have a number of top producers. However, you should understand that many top real estate agents do not regularly attend office meetings. Inevitably, you will miss some of the best agents, so we do not recommend that this should be your only marketing strategy.

About the Presentation
Don’t think of yourself as a presenter or a salesperson. Think of yourself as a problem-solver, an expert, a consultant. You are not talking about home problems; you are talking about solutions. You should have a sense of the sticking points for real estate agents. What things get in the way of their deals? What things are scaring buyers away?

Whenever possible, try to defuse any negativity. The media is pretty good at overplaying things. Generally, you can find that there are some timely real estate issues that are not really big problems, but the media has made them seem catastrophic. During your presentation, you should strive to present a calm, authoritative voice of reason.

Prepare and practice your presentation. Should you use PowerPoint? Absolutely, as long as the office can accommodate it, with a screen, computer and projector. You may be able to bring your own equipment, but you might not have a chance to set it all up in advance, since it’s likely that you’ll speak partway through a meeting, rather than at the beginning. Bringing your own remote control or laser pointer may be useful.

If a PowerPoint presentation won’t work in the office where you are going, bring handouts instead.

If you struggle with giving presentations, seek some help and practice beforehand. There are lots of people available to help make you look good. Remember that you are presenting both your personal and your professional brand, so it has to be good. Plan to leave copies or handouts behind for your audience and for any agents who could not attend. Providing an electronic copy to the meeting coordinator can help ensure that your presentation gets distributed.

Keep it short—using 20 slides is plenty. It’s better to leave them wanting more. You never want them wishing you would hurry up and finish. If people start to leave, it’s time to wind it up.

Discussion tips. Come up with an engaging title that will draw in your audience. Have no more than three points per slide. Keep the print large so the people farthest from the screen can see. Bullet points make for easier reading by the audience, and they remove the temptation for you to simply read your slides. Use lots of visuals. Many experts recommend using a dark background with light-colored text for best readability.

Include an introduction and summary. As a general rule, tell them what you’re going to talk about, talk about it and then tell them what you talked about. Include your contact information on the first and last slide, at least.

Your goal is not to make a presentation, it’s to start a discussion. One of the easiest ways to do that is to ask questions. It can be awkward to finish a presentation, ask for questions and receive none. You should always have a couple of questions that you can ask the audience if no one has a question for you.

Your goal is to become a trusted advisor, a resource and a person who offers solutions to their problems. You should strive to be approachable and authoritative, in that order. Invite your audience to call or email you with questions at any time on any topic. You are looking to build a relationship. Relationships don’t happen overnight. Relationships are built on trust. It’s going to take more than one visit.

Coming back. You want to be invited back. A great way to close the discussion is to ask if there are other topics that would be of interest. If anyone throws out a topic, you should accept the invitation publicly and follow up with the meeting organizer to set up your next visit.

You should close with a sincere thank you, and you should wind things up well before they ask you to shut it down. If the office meeting will continue after your discussion, you should leave promptly, unless someone pulls you aside. If the meeting ends with your talk, then take your time putting your things together. Often, this is a time when agents will approach you with specific questions, giving you a great opportunity to build relationships.

Giveaways. Some home inspectors offer prizes at meetings. A drawing or raffle is a good way to create some fun while collecting business cards, although there are lots of ways to find out the names of all the agents in the office. Gifts can be anything—a book, a restaurant coupon, a bottle of wine or even a free home inspection.

Follow Up!
Your office discussion is the beginning, not the end. Follow up with the person who put the meeting together and express your appreciation. Let them know you look forward to your next visit. You might even suggest a date and a topic.

If the office is part of a group or franchise, ask for an introduction and a referral to another office.

Follow up with your audience in writing. You should have a list of attendees. If you did not distribute handouts, you can send those along, either electronically or in hard copy. If there were questions that came up during the conversation, you might follow up with specific answers and reference material.

Be the Professional Consultant and Be Persistent
Don’t get drawn into discussions badmouthing other home inspectors, clients or real estate professionals. When an agent complains about someone else, it is tempting to say something like, “That was a very foolish thing to do.” It is better, however, to avoid the temptation and remain professional. A critical comment may alienate part of your audience, and it could come back to you in unpleasant ways.

Office discussions are an important element of your marketing toolkit. Like anything else in life, the more you do something, the better you get. Practice makes perfect. Keep it simple. Keep it friendly. Keep it consistent.