Lesson Learned: Listen more than you speak

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In this column, real estate agents across the nation share stories of the lessons they’ve learned during their time in the industry.

Before beginning her real estate career, Diana Sutherlin spent more than 20 years as the president of Image Impact, Inc. and Creative Touch Media, giving her unique expertise in sales training, body language interpretation, communication styles, and objection handling is highly valuable in real estate. This unique background allows her to provide hands-on, full-service design, sales and marketing expertise that sets her apart from other agents.

Sutherlin has been the top-selling agent for new construction and waterfront properties for over 14 years, with projects including 77 Hudson, Gull’s Cove, Trump Plaza and more. She has received numerous awards, including Platinum level awards for 13 years and four consecutive Triple Platinum Awards. Diana’s record-breaking sales include the highest-priced waterfront condo in New Jersey’s history.

Name: Diana Sutherlin

Title: Licensed broker associate

Experience: 20-plus years

Location: Jersey City, New Jersey

Brokerage name: Compass

Rankings: No. 1 in Hudson County for new construction sales

Team: The Diana Sutherlin Group

Awards: For the past 11 years, Sutherlin has received Platinum-level awards from the NJAR Circle of Excellence. Over the past four years, she has been awarded the Triple Platinum Award.

Q&A with Diana Sutherlin

1. What’s one big lesson you’ve learned in real estate?

The client has to have full confidence in me. Whenever a client is interested in a property in Jersey City, Hoboken, Weehawken, and West New York, I do everything I can to discover the background and all elements of the property.

For example, at condo high rises in Jersey City, many agents do not ask or inquire about vacant sites next door. I keep my clients informed of all developments that could impact their views or resale value. It’s never just about comps.

Agents have access to more information than buyers and it’s a huge reason why they come to us. Studying the tax system as an agent is particularly vital because it can confusing/misleading, especially to people relocating. It’s critical to call the tax assessor and have clients verify with the tax assessor directly, too.

Current taxes on a listing are based on the purchase price the previous owner paid which is likely far lower than the new price. This is a deal-breaker for many, but it’s easy to overcome early on by educating the client.

2. What’s the most important thing you learned in school?

The most important thing I’ve learned actually came from my background in acting. Listening skills learned while acting are a huge part of what I used to teach in my sales training career. Focusing on the other person, listening and asking pertinent questions is vital to success as an agent.

Too many people are focused on impressing the other person and want to show how knowledgeable they are. The most important thing is to find out your client’s actual needs, and drives and focus on them. If you don’t really listen to objections you cannot overcome them.

Keep checking in to know how they feel about something and how they respond on walkthroughs. Ask follow-up questions and you can significantly reduce the time it takes to find the right home. A developer once told me I had the ability to take clients to the best property for them on the first shot because I already committed to truly understanding their needs.

3. What would you tell a new agent before they start out in the business?

Be in this business for the service, not the commission. If you are truly operating to serve your client, the money will follow. A quick commission is never worth it if it ruins a relationship. If you really care about the client and want to help them find the home of their dreams you feel the excitement and they will feel it, too.

Clients know when agents are only in to make money. Sell them the absolute best home for them even if the commission is far lower than another property. Referrals are vital and this is the only way to win them. It’s really the lowest-effort way to fill your pipeline too.

Clients who trust you come back. And, the other benefit is that you enjoy the process so much more. It doesn’t feel good to push property on people.

4. What do too few agents know that would make their lives easier?

If buyers or sellers have extremely unrealistic expectations, cut them off as soon as possible. Agents waste so much time making offers for clients that are unreasonable. Always do your best to hear their fears and help them overcome them but know when to move on from a situation.

5. What is the one thing everyone should be doing to make their life better?

Really know your strengths and weaknesses. Delegate your weaknesses and your time. For example, technology is not my thing but my team is proficient. Lean into your strengths and surround yourself with the people that fill in those gaps.

When I started in real estate, I tried to do everything myself, and I never would have lasted if I maintained that approach. Investing in yourself may seem scary, but if you save time, it’s for the betterment of your business.

Do you want to be featured on an upcoming “Lesson Learned” column? Reach out to us here.

Christy Murdock is a freelance writer, coach and consultant and the owner of Writing Real Estate. Connect with Writing Real Estate on Instagram and subscribe to the weekly roundup, The Ketchup.

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