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Are you giving your vendor advice that makes them feel useless?

When Kylie Davis worked in newspapers a debate raged about ‘useless news’. What is the definition and are you guilty of doing the same with your clients?

Useless news is when a story evokes a strong negative emotion in a reader – such as concern, despair, alarm – and the journalist walks away cold, leaving the reader to deal with it.

Research had discovered that readers left with such negative emotions reported feelings of powerlessness and anxiety after such stories and flagged that such negativity could rub off on the newspaper brand.
The opposite to ‘useless news’, however, is ‘useful news’. Useful news is where the story turns those strong emotions into a powerful positive action.

Here’s an example: a heartbreaking story about the battle of a young child against an aggressive cancer could make you feel overwhelming sadness for children suffering from such a disease. But a ‘useful news’ approach would result in the journalist directing readers to donate money to children’s cancer research.
On a larger scale, reading stories about climate change creates feelings of helplessness. However, following such pieces with a second piece, such as ‘Five Ways to Save Energy’, helped readers realise that, while they could not fix everything, there was something they could do.

What’s this got to do with real estate?
It’s been my observation that a lot of agents give their potential vendors ‘useless news’ –walking around a property and identifying for the owner all the things that are issues and need to be fixed or which will bring the value of their home down.

Agents may think they’re being helpful – and they are. No one is denying the good intentions. But the insight from useless news is that in most people you are also creating feelings of negativity and anxiety. In effect, you’re giving vendors a pile of problems; and let’s face it, most vendors are conscious of these problems and have been avoiding those projects for years, if not decades!

But it’s the subtext of the conversation that is particularly damaging, because you are effectively telling your clients that if they don’t fix these issues, they can’t blame you if the property doesn’t sell as expected. And that can create feelings of helplessness which vendors then associate with you as an agent.

One of the insights from the Perceptions of Real Estate Agents report launched last month flagged just how easy it is for most agents to change this impression.

The report showed that only 31 per cent of vendors felt the overall experience of selling their home was Excellent (although a further 35 per cent did say they had a Good experience) – because only roughly a third of agents were able to genuinely delight their clients. They did this by not just getting the price they expected, or higher, but by showing intelligence, accountability and understanding towards their vendors.

One of the behaviours that was called out by multiple satisfied vendors in the Comments section was how their agent, after identifying issues with the property, helped them address those problems by coordinating the work through their property management team. Genius!! They didn’t do the work for free to win the business. They didn’t slash their commissions. They didn’t send their client a fruit basket or bottle of champagne after the event. They worked with their strengths and the capabilities of their businesses – they already had a property management service that specialised in getting small property repairs done – and they offered to give vendors a quote and help manage the project.

The end result was the client could rest easy that they’d done everything possible to get the price they wanted and the house looked as good as it could.

In most cases, it wasn’t the cost of the repairs that had necessarily prevented the work; it was vendors being time poor and unable to deal with the emotional upheaval (or the risk of choosing the wrong colour, the worry of getting halfway through the job and being unable to finish it, and so on).

In recognising the emotions of their actions in listing property issues, a handful of agents have worked out they can turn this into a very strong positive emotional connection to their agency – for no more effort than creating a process with their property management team.

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