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33 milliseconds to form an impression: 7 tips for making it count

Updated: Dec 29, 2021

It takes as little as 33 milliseconds for someone to form a first impression of you — so what are you doing to make sure you stand out? Here, top professionals from across the country share how they put their best selves forward

BY GEORGE CHMIEL They say first impressions are everything — and for good reason. Researchers at the University of York have found that other people form lasting impressions of you after just milliseconds. In the study, participants rated others on their perceived trustworthiness, status and attractiveness in as little as 33 milliseconds.

Every sales and service professional knows that making a first impression is crucial. But how do the best in the industry ensure they always put their best selves forward? To find out, I asked some real estate leaders from around the country. Here’s what they told me.

1. Make things more fun Not many agents have taken making a great first impression to more of an extreme than Rob Johnson, who spent $150,000 buying and customizing a large Mercedes Sprinter van. Johnson is a licensed associate real estate broker with Brown Harris Stevens Connecticut, part of the Luxury Portfolio International network. He takes van life to a higher level with his Wi-Fi-enabled mobile office and living room. The vehicle boasts a bathroom, fridge, microwave and two separate TVs. Having two large screens instead of one enables him to review listings with clients while also giving their children the chance to entertain themselves with Netflix.

“In a competitive luxury market, I was looking to add practical value to my buyer customers who are often juggling kids with looking at houses,” he said. “The van also doubles as a mobile office and is great for client entertainment on golf days.” You can see Johnson’s van in this YouTube video.

When Johnson slides open the door to his luxuriously appointed van, clients can immediately see that he has gone out of his way to make a great first impression on them. That’s probably one reason he is one of the state’s top three agents in 2021, according to Real Trends.

2. Understand that it’s not about you If you drive east about 200 miles from Johnson’s market in Connecticut, you will arrive in the lovely Cape Cod town of Osterville, Massachusetts. Osterville is the backyard of Jack Cotton, Jr., who is a top agent at Sotheby’s International Realty Osterville Brokerage.

Working in a high-priced second home market as he does, Cotton understands the need to make an excellent first impression on buyers who might never have met you before. Cotton makes a brilliant first impression by delivering a pre-appointment or pre-listing presentation before even showing up for the meeting.

“It’s not so much about introducing you, the agent, as explaining your process.” he said. “It tells them what you will do to prepare for the appointment, what will happen at the appointment and what will happen after.”

This is more work than most agents do, but Cotton says it’s essential — and not because it gives you a chance to talk about yourself. “Your best impression comes from conveying a process that speaks to the client’s pain points and interests,” he said.

3. Be prepared Probably the best and easiest way to make a first impression is to have a sincere attitude of respect and appreciation for the other person. Nothing demonstrates respect more than being prepared and on time for a meeting.

Kathleen Wilks, chief marketing officer of The Long & Foster Companies, told me the most critical part of making a great first impression with a potential seller is what you do long before you walk through their front door.

“Do your homework,” she said. “Do the research. Understand the competitive landscape. This might seem basic, but all too often, agents don’t dive deep enough into the data. Knowing all this information takes what can be a subjective conversation and turns it into an objective, fact-based conversation.”

I believe your research should also extend to learning more about the person you will be meeting. Check out their social media profiles. Look for things you have in common or that you find interesting.

You should also assume that other people will read up about you, so keep your profiles and webpage up to date and be careful about what you share in a publicly available manner.

4. Dress to impress Your clothing and grooming are probably the most visible and vital elements of nonverbal communication over which you have conscious control. As Wilks pointed out, “Dressing professionally matters. You are the real estate expert, so you had better look like one.”

Niki Vale, an agent with Sotheby’s International Realty Sunset Strip Brokerage, is even more emphatic.

“Dress to impress!” She exclaimed. “Clean, pressed, and well-fitted clothing, shoes and accessories — plus styled hair! This goes a long way in showing others that you respect yourself. This is how, in turn, you command their respect.”

5. Listen, don’t talk Many in the real estate industry are exuberant extroverts, and this type of person sometimes finds nothing more difficult than holding their tongues. Fight the urge to fill every silence. Restrain yourself from talking over the people you meet. Rather than trying to sell them, engage them in a joint discussion on how to find solutions to their problems.

Some sound advice on this came from Jordan Bridges, Vale’s colleague at Sotheby’s International Realty Sunset Strip Brokerage and a young agent who sold millions within his first 12 months as a Realtor.

“Aside from discussing real estate itself, I try to focus on creating a genuine rapport,” he said. “It’s not just about the daunting details of the transaction. For my clients, I’m there as a friend first and their adviser second.”

6. Look good on camera All of these tips work nearly as well for in-person as for virtual meetings, but there are some skills that relate specifically to video calls.

For video calls and virtual presentations, the first challenge is to make sure you have good lighting and a clean, plain and appropriate space. Some of the best advice I’ve seen for setting up a video call was reported in the BBC. This is advice I follow when I’m interviewed on CNBC.

The next and higher level of skill involves engaging with the others on your call. For example, we have talked about how important it is to listen when in conversation, but — on a video call — how do you look like you’re listening?

The answer is simple: Looking straight into your web camera makes those watching your image feel like you are looking directly at them.

And, just as with in-person communications, be conscious of your posture and positive body language. Before I start a video call, it sometimes helps to stand up and walk around my desk, before sitting back down with my spine straight and body relaxed. Advertisement By far, the most important thing you can do to make a good impression on a video call is to give others the same degree of attention, consideration and respect as you would if they were sitting across the table from you.

7. Thank-you notes go a long way In my career, I have consistently been surprised how little thank-you notes can have such a huge impact.

Vale said we should “Follow up with genuine thanks and gratitude. Write a note with at least one specific thing you learned or loved about your experience with the other person. It will show that you were listening and appreciate them.”

Berkeley University published research showing that people want to link themselves with others who express gratitude. Subconsciously, they perceive the grateful person as a good social and business partner.

And don’t imagine you are too busy to write thank-you notes. Legendary former Home Depot CEO Frank Blake was a busy guy who turned around a failing company and more than doubled profits and the share price.

He also found time to set aside several hours every Sunday to write thank-you notes to employees. By the time he retired, he had written at least 25,000 notes. “I’d see the notes framed at the stores,” he told Fortune magazine. “So I knew it mattered.”

Georg Chmiel is chairman of Juwai IQI and chairman of ASX-listed iCar Asia.


Article originally published on Inman on December 6, 2021.

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