Roles Change

empty nest
Creative Commons License photo credit: booleansplit
It’s Mother’s Day, and I am looking forward to a day of being regaled and honored by the family unit. This will be followed by an evening of guilt when the realization sets in that haven’t done a darn thing recently to deserve a “day” of my own. Sure, years ago, I considered myself worthy. I did all of those mom things; I cooked and cleaned, and I nurtured and doted. But roles change. Today I just show up.

My role has changed because my clients, the offspring, have changed. Where they were once my wide-eyed needy charges who relied on me for virtually everything, today they are my eyes-rolling needy ones who rely on me only to lob the checkbook and get out of their way. Occasionally, I am still called on to “find something” (their homework, their shoe, their “You aren’t the boss of me!” T-shirt). Mostly, though, they are cruise missiles on an unguided course to the refrigerator, and then the car keys and, next, college.

I have also found that my role as a real estate agent is changing. It seems like only yesterday that our buyer clients were wide-eyed and almost totally dependent. The expectation was that we would take them by the hand and help them find their home. Today, we are no longer needed to fill this role, at least not to the same extent. We do much more as agents, of course, than drive the tour bus and always have, but until now this has been the most visible part of our job. As an industry, we were codependent, and we placed far too much emphasis on this one stereotypical definition of our role, forgetting that our true value runs much deeper.

More and more, our buyer clients do not want our help, at least not in the traditional sense. E-mails we send with new listings are met with, “Thanks, but I already saw that on-line” to, worse, silence. They are wearing their own iconic back-off T-shirt. Don’t call us; we’ll call you — when we need you.

As my child-clients grow up, our relationship is evolving. It is much less one of superior-subordinate or teacher-student, and much more of a cooperative venture. They still need stuff, but now they don’t need me to prepare the entire meal. They simply want me to keep the fridge stocked. It’s a bit of a struggle for independence, really. They want it, and I’m having to get used to the idea.

So adapt we must. Buyers just want a fully-stocked kitchen. They want resources, they want access to homes and information, and then they want to cook up their own home tour. Buyers’ agents are on the verge of becoming empty nesters. Your clients are growing up, and you can fight it, or you can give them what they want. Don’t make them fill in a contact form when all they want is the address. Don’t make them sign a guest book to get permission to go to the search screen or enter the home. They will just rebel.

Buyers are developing at different rates in our tech-enabled world, but developing they are. I think it is a mistake to fight their desire for independence. The MLS is still our car, but we have relinquished the car keys, so let them drive. I hear too many agents suggesting that providing the information buyers want, no strings attached, is self-defeating. If you just give it away, what will they need you for? Well, if you have to ask that question, they won’t need you, because you don’t understand your role.

I received an email from a reader yesterday who wanted to appeal his property taxes. He needed comparable sales data, complete with parcel numbers, closing dates, and all of the other little vitals that go along with a recording. He didn’t ask me to do it for him, but simply asked me where he could find the data. I did it for him. What’s in it for me, you ask? Well, probably nothing. Or maybe something. If nothing else, I might have gained some respect and trust. But what a satisfying feeling it is to know that I provided all of the tools — in this case, the blog post with information on the tax appeal process and the open search feature on the web site — which inspired this gentleman to ask the right questions. Next time, he might need to buy or sell a home, and he might think of me.

As our children and our potential clients leave the nest, our roles change. We can no longer enforce our house rules. We have given them the tools to take control. At some point in their journey, they will still need us, but in a different way. They will eventually need to tap into our intellectual property and life experience; there will come a time when they need our help and support. What started out as a relationship based on dependence is developing into a more mature one of mutual respect and understanding.

I want this to be the place they want to come home to.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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