Is Your Image Undermining Your Success?

How prospects perceive you, and how you perceive yourself, can mean the difference between making sales and needing a new line of work.

May 1, 2003

Real estate knowledge and customer service may be what really counts in concluding a successful sale, but if you don’t convey a professional image to prospects and clients, all the skills in world probably won’t get you in the door. If your physical or mental images need some makeover, our two image experts will help you get started.

Feeding the Inner You

While image improvement often focuses on the physical, the mental picture you project to prospects and peers is equally important, says Joan Burge, CEO of Office Dynamics Ltd., Las Vegas. (

RMO: What specific impacts can your attitude have on your image as a professional?

Burge: When you have a good image of yourself, you just look different. Self-confidence gives you an aura and leads people to trust you, which is critical in selling real estate. You’ll also be more approachable when you’re confident, so clients feel more comfortable dealing with you. If you’re slouching or not making eye contact, you’ll make prospects uneasy.

RMO: What steps can you take to build self-confidence and a positive mental image?

Burge: People often expect outside things to pump them up, but self-confidence and a good internal image are really an inside job. Attitude is a choice we make. People tend to spiral up or down. If sales are up, their attitudes are up and vice versa. But you can choose to not let a negative event or person affect you negatively. It’s all in how you choose to perceive it. If you can make the shift in your thinking from “problem” to “opportunity,” you will actually enhance your creativity and your ability to solve problems.

For example, it would be easy to feel negative if you’ve just spent the last two days showing buyers 10 homes—none of which they liked. But instead of saying “I’m never going to find a home for these people; it’s hopeless,” you can turn your problem into an opportunity by saying, “Based on the responses to the homes they’ve looked at, I have a much better understanding of what these buyers want. Tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll be able to show them the perfect home for them.”

RMO: No one can be up all the time. What quick-fix techniques can you suggest to help a salesperson overcome negative feelings and maintain a positive mental image during a client presentation?

Burge: Put yourself and your needs aside, and focus on the needs client. They don’t care if you’ve had a bad day; they want to be the center of attention and get the service they need. If you can’t really feel self-confident, fake it until you feel it. If you do this, you’ll find that the customer will often start responding to you, and your self-confidence will start coming back.

It’s important to remember that you only have one chance to make a positive impact on a client. You probably won’t get a second chance. Even if you don’t feel it, smile, put out your hand, put your shoulders back, have some energy in your step. When you change the physical, you also change the way your feel. The two go hand in hand.

RMO: Are there other ways you can combat negativity you feel?

Burge: Self-talk is a big one. Listen to what you’re saying to yourself inside your head, as well as how much you use negative words with other people. If you’re thinking negative thoughts, you have to learn to immediately catch yourself and turn those ideas around. Instead of saying, “Nothing seems to be going right today,” mentally rephrase it to, “Wow, I’m really being challenged today to think creatively.” You are in control of your own thinking. You can change that old record and stop feeling like a victim. You can get support from family and friends, but you ultimately have take responsibility for your own attitudes.

Having goals and a specific plan and direction for your career is another way to foster your positive image. Otherwise, you don’t have a sense of progress and control of your life. Working for a broker with a good business plan and adequate training and support also reduces the frustrations that can lead to negativity.

I also believe in feeding your mind with something positive every day. Just like our bodies need good food, our minds need positive images to renew themselves. We’re surrounded by negative images and complaints—in the newspaper, on TV, at work--so it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Don’t wait until you’re really down; take time each day to reinforce the positive. You can read a page of a motivational book before you go to sleep, keep an uplifting quote a your desk, or watch a positive news story. I suggest taking a one-day news break; you’ll be amazed out how refreshed you’ll feel. You have to counter the negativity that drains your energy if you want to maintain a positive inner image.

Grooming the Outer You

Looks matter. But don’t despair if you’re not supermodel material. Successful real estate practitioners should strive for a polished professional image that reflects the taste of their clients, says Anna Wildermuth, Personal Images Inc. ( Here’s how.

RMO: Why is your physical image important in real estate sales?

Wildermuth: More than half of the first impression you make depends on the your physical image. Your visual image builds chemistry with prospects and helps you connect. If you remind clients of someone they like or mirror their own taste, customers are more inclined to respond to you. When you have two individuals with the same skills, the person who makes the best visual impression usually gets the job.

RMO: What do these visual messages tell prospects?

Wildermuth: A good physical image shows that you respect yourself and your clients. It tells prospects if you’re well-organized, detail oriented, pulled together, and professional.

RMO: What’s your “dress for success” formula?

Wildermuth: There really isn’t one “right” way to dress when you’re selling real estate. The best strategy is to mirror the style of your clients. If you’re selling $1 million homes to older buyers, dress conservatively in a suit. If you’re selling starter homes to low-income families, dressing like a banker will only intimidate them. What’s most appropriate to wear depends on the age and income of your clients, on whether they’re urban or suburban, on what position they hold in life. A relocating corporate executive expects you to dress differently than a retiree buying a resort condo might. Look to see how your peers and their clients are dressed. They will give you a clue on where to start. Look at role models in your community with the same physical size and coloring and copy them.

RMO: What are some of the biggest professional images mistakes you see today?

Wildermuth: I think that the trend toward business casual has gone to far; people have gotten too sloppy. Business casual for men means a jacket without a tie or a sports coat in a strong pattern or color. It doesn’t mean jeans and running shoes. For women, business casual translates into sweater sets and pants, maybe with a more casual fabric like twill in a dressier cut. It doesn’t mean a sweat suit.

Another huge mistake for both sexes are dated haircuts and glasses styles. People never want to change these things, but they can make a lot of difference in your visual image. Look for people on the street with haircuts you like and ask where they had it done. Another big error is too much cologne, especially on men. Men are less sensitive to smells than women, so they tend to overdo.

RMO: What sorts of advice would you give real estate practitioners on how to improve their physical image?

Wildermuth: Avoid anything that’s too flashy or too provocative. Err on the side of conservative if you have any doubts. Buy fabrics that will last—silk and some synthetics can look tired in a hurry; buy worsted wool, and get the best you can afford. Choose friendly, approachable colors—a city, browns, blues, burgundies, and olives. If you must wear black, mix it with a softer color.

Buy a wardrobe that’s flexible, that will mix and match. Get at least three good jackets, and be sure they have pockets to hold keys and business cards. Be sure everything is easy to take care so you won’t waste time and money on wardrobe upkeep. Accessories are important too; invest in good-quality comfortable shoes and a quality briefcase or purse.

Having a professional visual image doesn’t have to be difficult. Just follow the five As—affordable, attractive, appropriate, assured, and with the right attitude.

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