July, 2018
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Relationship Building: The Real Estate Agent Lunch

ALAN CARSON

The importance of building and maintaining high-quality relationships cannot be overstated. Buying lunch for a real estate agent is a great way to interact because it’s an even trade. You ask a real estate agent to give you some of their time in return for you buying them lunch.

We’ve found that asking a real estate agent to lunch works better if you set the stage first. First, the real estate agent has to know you. Giving an office talk is a great way to become known. It positions you as the local expert. At the very least, the agents who attend your talk will know who you are. Very few people will want to have lunch with someone they’ve never met. 

A note of caution: Top-producing agents do not always attend office meetings, so you may not become known to them by speaking at office meetings. You may need to approach them individually. The broker or office manager can tell you which agents do not attend the meetings.

The People You Know
Start with real estate agents you already know. You might think this is a waste of time and money, but consider the following reasons for having lunch with an agent:

  • Get more of their business. Not only will you reinforce an already good relationship, you may even get more business. Some real estate agents give several names when referring home inspectors, some don’t. If the agent does not refer all of their business to you, there is room to get more referrals. If the agent strongly believes they should give several names, you should not try to change their mind. But, if the real estate agent likes you, your business card may go on the top of the stack. The real estate agent may give their client three names, but add a few words about you: “Here are three good inspectors. John Smith is interesting because he specializes in old homes like the one you are buying.”
  • Cement the relationship. The lunch date is an opportunity to periodically strengthen the relationship and remind the agent about the benefits of your service. The agent, in turn, can explain your service benefits to their clients. If the agent tells prospects how good you are, not only is it easier to turn prospects into clients, but it also may set the stage for raising your prices.
  • Ask them how you are doing. Is there anything they particularly like about your service? Anything they dislike? Anything you might do differently? Positive feedback can become a testimonial. Negative feedback can be used to improve your service. Both are valuable. Either way, your agent will see that you are being sensitive to their needs and are willing to receive feedback.
  • Ask for an introduction to another agent. One of the best ways to meet a real estate agent is to get their name from an agent with whom you already do business. 

The People You Don’t Know 
If you call a real estate agent you know well, it’s easy to say, “Let’s do lunch, I have something I want to run by you.” But if you are calling an agent who has only met you at an office talk and has never referred business to you, you should take more care.

When you offer to take someone out for lunch, they usually respond with the fear that we all have—that “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” To get beyond this perception, you have to try to remove any skepticism from the start. We’ve found that giving something concrete up front is better than having the agent wonder what they will have to give in exchange later. For example, you can do the following:

  • Gather information. Explain that you are meeting with top agents to find out what ancillary services homeowners would be most interested in.
  • Introduce something new. Say you’d like to show them how pre-listing inspections can be a great tool for them.
  • Tell them you want their business. Say that you’d like a half hour of their time to explain how they will benefit by referring you, in exchange for you buying them lunch.

Don’t expect that every real estate agent will agree to a lunch meeting. The best you can hope for is that some agents will agree to meet. In our experience, those who don’t want to have lunch with you don’t turn you down completely. The more likely scenario is that they say they are too busy to have lunch with you, but that you could drop off information at their office. You should use this response to your advantage. If the agent seems to be looking for an out, ask the agent if he or she would be willing to give you five minutes of their time when you stop in at their office instead.

An invitation to send material may not be what you had in mind, but it can be a good opportunity. Material that combines a compelling message with a call to action can be powerful, and it is likely to be well received if it is accompanied with a handwritten note and a useful token of appreciation. Follow-up is a key to success. People may appreciate the material and the gesture, but few will change their behavior based on this alone.

In our experience, agents are hard to nail down for a particular date. They are not like office workers who go to the same place every day and eat lunch at noon. Their schedules are always changing. If you call an agent and book lunch for next Wednesday at 12:15 pm, there’s a fair chance they may cancel. By Wednesday, they may have booked a meeting with a client. 

The key is to respect the way agents work and work with it. Here are some approaches you can take:

  • Call at the last minute. You could call an agent and ask if they are available that same day (or the next day) for lunch. If you always carry a contact list of agents, when you have an inspection appointment that is unexpectedly canceled and you have three hours on your hands, you can call an agent and arrange to meet.
  •  Use a “tentative-booking technique.” In other words, call to book a tentative time. Get the agent to commit to a date and time, and offer to call them that the morning to verify whether it still works for them.
  •  Ask an agent when you meet at an inspection. Let’s say you do an inspection for a client and you have not met the agent before. Offer to take them out for lunch to explain how your system can work for them. The secret is to offer a benefit for the agent. It’s not about you; it’s about them. The only caution is to not ask the agent in front of the client.

Another option is to offer to drop in at an open house they are hosting and make the presentation when there is no one else in the home. This requires flexibility and patience on your part, but it is often a rewarding approach.

Do not be timid when it comes to sales. If you have lunch with an agent to explain how your service will help them, you can’t drop the ball there. You have to then “ask for the order.” If you have addressed all of their questions and concerns, try the following tactics:

  • Ask if the agent will add you to their list of inspectors.
  • Ask if the agent will refer business to you.
  • Ask if the agent will refer their next inspection to you.
  • Ask “What would it take?” This does not ask the agent to commit, yet it obliges them to try you out if you satisfy the following conditions:
  • What would it take to get you to refer your next client to me?
  • What would it take to get all of your business?

You’ll have to decide how aggressive you are willing to be, but in general, remember that most of us have a tendency to be too timid when it comes to asking for business. Try extending yourself a bit, and don’t be afraid to hear “no.” You don’t have anything to lose.