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    I bought my first home in the spring of 1984. The interest rate was hovering around 14% and at the time, I was working in retail and my wife was a sales rep in the book business. Walter, our real estate agent, had been in the business for many years; he was in his mid-40’s and drove a top of the line Mercedes. And, though most of his clients were the newly-affluent, willing to pay big commissions and even bigger bucks to buy in the small towns of southern New Hampshire — fast becoming suburbs of Boston — he agreed to work with us.

    Keep in mind, the Internet was still a decade or more away. There was no and no Zillow.

    Like most first time homebuyers, we knew nothing about the mortgage loan process, down payments, or negotiation. We knew the sort of house we’d like to buy — an arts and crafts-style bungalow — but aside from driving around neighborhoods trying to spot “For Sale” signs, we didn’t have a clue what a comp was.

    That is, until we sat down at our dining room table with Walter.

    The first thing Walter did was focus on understanding what we were looking for and reconciling that with what we could afford. He answered our questions about interest rates, down payments, and provided a good overview of what we’d need to qualify for a mortgage.

    Then, he took us to look at houses. On that first day, we saw some houses we loved but couldn’t afford — and others we could afford, but would never want to buy. Walter made himself available should we come across a listing we were interested in, while he supplied new listings almost daily for us to consider.

    Ultimately, we found a little bungalow on a quiet street in Manchester — New Hampshire’s largest city. The house was in decent shape structurally, but needed some work. The oak woodwork had all been painted over and the 1970’s style kitchen was almost a deal-breaker for my wife. That is, until Walter said he’d help me with the renovations.

    Walter worked closely with our loan officer and recommended a home inspector. He was there for the inspection and the appraisal and managed to take $4K off the asking price. We closed at the end of May and moved in to our starter home on June 1st.

    Walter made us feel like we were his only clients at the time. He had a done terrific job. Even after the sale was final, he would come by to see how we were settling in — he had become a friend. And though I doubted he’d be able to free up the time to help with those much needed renovations, we would go on to recommend him highly to all our friends who, like us, were just starting out.

    It was a very hot summer that year and my progress was slow. I’d painted the kitchen and we’d laid down a black and white checkered floor. I still had to install the new sink and countertops once they arrived.

    Then, much to our surprise, over a sweltering 4th of July holiday, Walter appeared, toolbox in hand, ready to help me finish the job.

    Now, I’m not suggesting that every real estate agent should do what Walter did for us. But, it was the spirit in which he did everything that was so remarkable.

    • He truly cared about helping us find the right home, yet he also managed our expectation based on what we could afford.
    • He took the time to educate us and worked hard to close the deal to our benefit.
    • He was always a phone call away and always there when we needed him.

    Looking back on it now, I realize that Walter had no more marketing than a business card — and yet, he was immensely successful. In fact, at least four other couples we knew worked with Walter to find their first home.

    The moral of the story

    The Internet has changed the way agents need to be marketing themselves — unfortunately, a business card is rarely enough — but the overall sentiment is still the same today as it was in 1984. Focus on providing the best possible service tailored to the unique needs of your clients, and referrals will follow.

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