The customer is always right … but the client is not.

It doesn't happen often, but about once a year I anger a potential client.  Usually it's a prospective renter. I throw this story out to my fellow realtors and real estate agents, because I don't like it when people get mad at me and I like to re-examine what I did so that the next time this won't happen.

About Me and My Business

Nesbitt Realty focuses largely on condominiums.  We sell all types of real estate, but a large part of our business is condominiums. As I often tell people, Dairy Queen sells hamburgers and McDonald's sells ice cream. Once you're in the door, they'll sell you what you need. It is the same with us. We are focused on condos because our office is located on the first floor of a residential high-rise condominium community called River Towers. To folks who don't know anything about condominiums or real estate, River Towers looks a lot like an apartment building. About a year and a half ago---the last time I dealt with an angry renter---I followed up with an article that explained the differences between apartments and condos, and I posted it prominently on our website. Because our building looks like an apartment building, our office might seem like a rental office to some people. I say all that in fairness to the prospective renter that I angered.  We look like a rental office, but we're not a rental office. As for my personal state of mind, I've been working back-to-back-to-back seven-day weeks for a pretty good stretch now.  I purposefully did not schedule any appointments yesterday because I've been so busy and wanted a little break.  However, without any appointments scheduled and with the phones a little quieter than usual, I slipped into the office to get a tiny bit of work done. I didn't shave. I was wearing shorts.  I even paused to play a computer game. It was quite nice.

Enter Jane

That's when this lady, we'll call her "Jane", walked in.  I was a little surprised to see her because visitors at our building have to be buzzed in. Jane said, "I'm here to take a look at rentals." Nesbitt Realty in Alexandria VAI said, "When are you moving?" Jane said, "November or December." This is September. I told her, "Anything you will see now will be rented before November or December. This is a condominium community, not an apartment complex---"  I wanted to explain to her why we only assist prospective renters who have an immediate or very specific need.  We're not in the business of giving world tours to renters who might rent a few months. This might sound tough to some, but many agents won't help renters at all. Jane didn't want to hear about this or why we do business the way we do business. Instead, she interrupted me.   What she wanted me to know as that she was here to look at places and by golly she wanted to see some places. I was too exhausted, too tired, to really sugar-coat my response. I told her, "I'm happy to answer all the questions you'd like. I'll tell you prices. I'll show you pictures, but I'm not going to wander around showing you places that you won't rent." Jane was indignant and shocked.  I tried to explain to her more. I tried to explain to her why I was telling her this but she didn't want to hear it.  She demanded to see some "samples". I replied, "There are no samples. These are condominiums." Condominiums are individually owned and thus each condo is unique. Because she was so insistent, I agreed to show her around, "I'll be happy to show you something but you'll have to pay a $100 retainer.  If you rent something you can apply this money to your rent. If you don't rent that's the charge for seeing a unit."

Jane gets angry

That was enough to push Jane from upset to angry. She crossed her arms and demanded to see units in River Towers. My wife, who has a desk nearby injected herself into the drama.  Julie told her, "I'm sorry for him. He's been working for more than 30 days straight, what's he's trying to say is --- " Jane cut her off. My work schedule is not her problem.  In fact, Jane wanted me to know that she works hard too. Julie Nesbitt --- Condominium Mortgage I understand that sentiment and I don't blame her for feeling that way. In fact, I told my wife, "She doesn't care how hard I work. Nor should she.  The important thing to understand is why this business works this way."

The resolution

I then tried to begin to explain how rental agency works, but Jane was too angry at this point to listen.  She demanded to speak to my boss.  I was perhaps a bit of a smart-ass when I reached across my desk and handed her one of my cards. Jane said, "I don't want to talk to you! I want your boss." If I wasn't so tired, I would have thought fast enough to refer her to my wife, but instead I told her the truth. "I own the company, ma'm." Well, this is an outrage.  She's never seen anything like this in her life. She was now tirading. But at this point, it was my turn to interrupt her, "Ma'am if you really are off from work, you're just wasting your precious time by yelling at me.  That shopping center over there has a Wiechert office with agents that will be glad to help you." I sort of felt guilty for the newbies working desk duty at Wiechert, but maybe she will rent something off of them so maybe I did them a favor.

The lesson

In retrospect, I know where we had our disconnect but I'm not sure how to avoid it in the future. Jane had been trained by her experience in retail to believe that the customer is always right. What she doesn't understand is that the customer is always right, but the client is not always right. By that I mean, customers make purchases from retailers.  I am not a retailer.  I am a professional providing a service to my clients.  My clients come to me because they want my advice and expertise.  I often give my expertise away, but I am not required to give my expertise away. Furthermore, I can't give you the benefit of my expertise if think that I'm a retailer. Whether they are renters, buyers, sellers or landlords, I provide my clients with honest, direct and factual advice. I explain to them as best as I can the facts as I understand them. I let my clients make their own decisions. I can't make their decisions for them. But I have been around too long to have a client use me as a personal door-opener in their quest to find what they seek. I've learned the hard way that folks who insist on seeing things that aren't what they want are a waste of my extremely valuable time.  If you tell me you want something specific and then I tell you that what you want to see isn't what you want, then I know that you are either not telling me the truth about your needs or you have no respect for my opinion and time.  I cannot help a client who wants to use me as a tool rather than as a professional. This is most especially true when that potential client is a renter, which means they are very small potatoes for me.
Will Nesbitt About the Author --- Will Nesbitt is the principal broker of Condo Alexandria and Nesbitt Realty. Will specializes in condos, townhouses and single family residences in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax County, Crystal City, and Kingstowne. Will resides in Belle Haven Estates just outside Alexandria VA in Fairfax County.