‘What Renters Want’ with Jessica Fiur: What Not to Do as a Broker

There’s an old Seinfeld episode, “The Wig Master,” where Jerry is guilted by a salesman to buy a blazer, only to try to return it “out of spite” when he feels slighted by the salesman. Why am I thinking about a sitcom episode from 16 years ago? First of all, reruns of Seinfeld are shown all…

There’s an old Seinfeld episode, “The Wig Master,” where Jerry is guilted by a salesman to buy a blazer, only to try to return it “out of spite” when he feels slighted by the salesman. Why am I thinking about a sitcom episode from 16 years ago? First of all, reruns of Seinfeld are shown all the time on like 50 channels. Seriously, turn on the TV right now, and I guarantee you’ll either find an episode of Seinfeld or Law and Order. Second, I clearly have too much time on my hands. And third, this weekend I was helping my brother find an apartment in Manhattan, and while the apartment was pretty nice and the building was awesome, I told him to forget about it because the broker was just that terrible, and I didn’t want her making any commission off of my brother.

Most potential residents probably aren’t as crazy as I am, and wouldn’t cut off their nose to spite an awesome apartment, or however that saying goes. However, your brokers do represent your company’s brand, and they give renters their fist glimpse into how you operate (or at least how they perceive you operating). Are your brokers up to snuff?

Here are some of the things this broker did that might have cost her a potential renter. (Vacancy rates are low right now for multifamily—yay!—but still, in an age where absolutely everything is scrutinized on social media and everyone comments and ranks all of their experiences, do you really want to risk bad press?)

The broker was 20 minutes late. In my family, we are early for everything. Everything! You don’t know how many times I’ve had to help a host set up more chairs because she wasn’t ready for the party yet, or how many times we’ve had to sit outside in our car because a store wasn’t even open yet when we’ve gotten there. But, of course, not everyone is this crazy. We’ve come to accept people coming 10, 15 minutes late. But 20 is pushing it. In business, that’s not “making an entrance,” that’s “being inconsiderate.” So when the broker traipsed in to the building lobby 20 minutes late, without so much as a call or a “sorry I’m late,” we were already annoyed. Lesson: You have an appointment time for a reason. Try to be on time, or let your client know if you’ll be running late (or at least have a good excuse ready: traffic, another appointment running long, Ryan Gosling took too long saving you from being hit by a car…)

The broker didn’t make small talk. Renters don’t need to hear your entire life story. (I once worked with a broker who—no joke—made me watch a youtube video of her cat using the toilet, like the cat from Meet the Parents.) But they should feel comfortable. The silence became so awkward during the elevator ride to the unit that I was tempted to ask her that Simpson’s classic question, “So…do you like stuff?” Lesson: Put people at ease by talking with them while you’re showing off the apartment. Ask questions about them. Maybe you’ll find out something important, like if they have a pet, and then you can suggest a more pet-friendly building.

The broker seemed annoyed by apartment-related questions. I found this experience similar to looking for a wedding venue. Sure, you might hear the same question 1,000 times a day. And maybe it’s not a big deal to you, but it was my special day (and, OK, my husband’s too)! I wanted to be treated like you think it is a special day too. Same with apartments. So if someone asks you the square footage or the amenities, put a smile on and get excited about it. Lesson: Renters are nervous and want to make sure they’re making the right decision. Answer their questions. And show some enthusiasm! You might not care who lives there, but they certainly do.

This apartment is perfect for you. It has a ceiling. Hold on, I just got the Q in Words with Friends.

The broker was on her Blackberry the entire time. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Seriously, what do potential renters have to do to get some attention around here? Lesson: You’re there to get people to lease an apartment, not to find out where you’re meeting friends for happy hour after work. Cell phones are annoying during the movies. They’re infuriating when a renter is trying to get some apartment information.

The broker acted like it was an imposition to show other building features. “[Sigh] Yes, there’s a gym in the building.” [Looks at watch.] “I guess I can show you.” Geez, lady, you’ve got somewhere else to be? Amenities might be the swing factor when it comes to deciding whether or not to rent an apartment. So show them off! Lesson: If you got it, flaunt it. You should be bragging about the building. After all, you’re trying to convince people to live there. If they want to look at the laundry room, even if it looks like every other laundry room on the planet, show it to them!

The broker wouldn’t show similar apartments. The apartment we looked at was “similar” to the apartment that would be available soon to rent. But it was bigger. And faced a different side of the building (so it had a completely different view). When we asked if we could see something closer to what would be available for rent, of course the answer was no, because she was “too busy.” Lesson: If you can’t show them the actual apartment, get as close as you can to it. Imagination is for reading, not real estate.

The broker had a “judge-y” face when we went to take candy from the leasing office. It’s out in the bowl for everyone, right? Lesson: If you don’t want people eating your candy, put out jelly beans, not Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

What are some of your experiences with bad brokers? Would it keep you from renting an apartment?

-Jessica Fiur, News Editor

Photo credit: Supri Suharjoto

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