Standing Her Ground

Shakirah Johnson's first client had her heart set on one particular two-story home. Talking the client into a more realistic option made for a tricky first sale.

May 1, 2010

Shakirah Johnson has overcome many challenges in her life. Her first real estate transaction was no different. A first-time home buyer came to Johnson by way of a down payment assistant workshop and clearly knew what she wanted in a home.

“She wanted a certain two-story home in a specific area and refused to budge. But even with short-sales and foreclosures, the homes in that area were completely out of her price range,” explains Johnson, a sales associate with Weichert REALTORS® Hallmark Properties in Orlando, Fla.

“It was a real struggle for everyone involved in the transaction. She kept calling to ask me about this one specific house. When I didn’t give her the answer she wanted, she would call the lender. The buyer became frustrated because she couldn't have the home she wanted. So the lender and I agreed that we would not talk to her for a few weeks until she considered some more realistic options,” Johnson says.

The risky move paid off: Two weeks later, the buyer called and said she was willing to look at some single-story homes in another area, within her price range.

Johnson took the client to see a four-bedroom, two-bathroom, single-story short sale listed at $155,000 in Waterford Lakes, an Orlando subdivision. The home had fallen out of a recent escrow because of a financing problem with the previous buyer.

“We looked at the home on March 13, 2009, and made an offer that day,” Johnson says. “Before I knew it, we were under contract for $145,000.”

How did you start building your client list as a new sales associate?

JOHNSON: Not coming from Florida, I really didn’t have a sphere, so I had to develop my client list from scratch. My mentor was doing workshops a few times a month for first-time buyers and would invite me to the presentations and introduce me to potential clients. I casually worked the room — asking people if they had any questions or if they were working with a real estate professional. It was a subtle approach, but I found that people responded to it and started asking for my card.

How did you get started in real estate?

JOHNSON: The real estate practitioner who helped my husband and I purchase our Florida home said I would do well in real estate. She told me about the business. I considered it for several months. I then enrolled in real estate school. Although I am not with her agency, I owe her my start and believe she was my guardian angel.

I moved to Florida in June 2005 after my boss of eight years died suddenly. He was my mentor and friend. I was devastated by the loss. I stayed in New Jersey for a year to assist with the nonprofit’s transition, and then moved my daughter, now 15, and my dog, Angel, to Florida. My husband, James Johnson, a minister, stayed behind to care for his ailing mother. She passed away in 2007. James finally joined us in Florida in September 2008.

When I got to Florida, I worked as an executive assistant for two companies: The first was bought out, the second downsized. I got my real estate license in July 2008, about five months prior to losing my job in the downsizing.

How long did this first transaction take?

JOHNSON: I got the client in January 2009. We made an offer in March. The seller was prepared for a 45-day escrow, but we closed April 10, 2009, in 27 days.

What were some of your biggest fears about your first real estate transaction?

JOHNSON: The decision to not give in to the buyer’s unrealistic expectations about her first home was risky, especially in this market. I could have lost the client. But it is better to hold your ground and consider the best interest of the client — even if they don’t recognize the value of what you are saying at first. By listening to the client, I understood her lifestyle. My client really enjoyed her life before buying the home. I kept reminding her that if she spent all her money buying a house above her price range, a house was all she would have. I told her that if she bought something she could afford, she could have a home and continue to enjoy life and her lifestyle.

What did this transaction do for your professional career?

JOHNSON: I am self-confident by nature. But this first sale kicked my self-confidence up a notch. It let me know that I was on the right path. My first client and I still talk on the phone and stay touch via e-mail almost monthly. I like to hear about her latest home-renovation projects.

Did you have a specialty or niche when you started?

JOHNSON: I had no specialty when I started. But now, I consider myself a neighborhood and short-sale specialist. Even though short-sales can take considerable time and effort, I enjoy helping clients in distress. I also enjoy assisting first-time buyers. I guess I am somewhat addicted to seeing that wonderful look on the client’s face when they get the keys to their first home and realize a dream that many people feel is completely unattainable.

What did this transaction teach you?

JOHNSON: It taught me the value of listening to the customer. It also showed me the value of being honest no matter what. Even if you think you may lose the client, you have to know when to stand your ground. You are the real estate professional. And you will gain more by being honest with your clients. They have to know upfront that you are working with them, not against them. When you set the ground rules in advance, your clients will respect you and refer you to others.