For Smooth Closings, Don't Drop the Ball

Make sure every step of the transaction is handled with care and your clients will reward you.

February 1, 2006

You spend considerable time and money to bring in qualified buyers and sellers. But once new clients are safely in the fold, you can’t just sit back and put customer service on cruise control. You need to be actively engaged, pay attention to every element of the transaction, and make sure nothing is overlooked.

If any details fall through the cracks — due to a lack of organization, follow-through, or communication — you can jeopardize the deal, your professional reputation, and your potential for referrals. Follow these practical tips to make sure that you never drop the ball in a transaction. Your clients will appreciate your diligence and will reward you with future business.

Get Organized

It would be embarrassing to show clients a Cape Cod, only to have them remind you that their hearts are set on a Victorian, or to schedule a public open house on a date they previously told you would not work for them. Avoid such blunders by being organized and keeping a detailed record of all of your clients’ preferences.

Start by conducting a written needs assessment during your first meeting with new clients. A good way to do this is by developing buyer and seller worksheets that capture key information about each client and each transaction.

My buyer worksheet includes all of my clients’ needs and wants for their future home; each principal’s contact information; and any lender, attorney, or referral information. My seller worksheet includes house-specific information related to placing their home on the market, such as information about condo declarations and by-laws, title insurance policy, property tax records, and needed repairs. It also has marketing timelines, checklists for required disclosure documents, and other details that need to be addressed to get to closing.

You can use these worksheets throughout the transaction as a reminder of clients’ special needs and to recall important contact information at a moment’s notice. Forget using scraps of paper for note-taking; worksheets will keep you organized and ensure that your clients’ needs are being satisfied.

Be Proactive

You’ve seen the crazed practitioners who always seem to be running late or forgetting something. Don’t become one of those people. You need to take charge of yourself and your business by being proactive instead of reactive.

Being proactive starts with paying attention to the little details that help a deal move forward smoothly, such as making sure that the keys actually open the doors of your new listing. I’ve shown many homes where the listing agent assumed the keys worked but they didn’t, or where there were no keys in the lockbox at all.

In addition to keeping your buyer or seller worksheets with you at all times, always keep a binder of contract documents with you — you never know when you’ll need them. A couple of years ago, a salesperson in my market received a floor call to show a $1 million home. The salesperson showed the home and the buyers wanted to write a contract right there. The salesperson stood on the threshold of a transaction and said, “I don’t have one.”

Follow Through

The steps leading up to a closing are usually the same. You probably know the contingency periods for home inspection, mortgage approval, and inclusions and exclusions. Clients look to you as real estate professionals to guide them through the process. If there are unforeseen problems, they expect you to follow through and get the deal back on track quickly.

When the mortgage commitment is delayed, the first thing you should do is call the lender and the buyer’s agent to see if there are any red flags. When your buyers find a home and they have some questions before going to contract, find answers as fast as possible. When sellers want immediate feedback from a second showing, provide it.

If your buyers e-mail you with a list of MLS numbers and want to know if they can see those homes, respond right away to at least acknowledge that you received the e-mail, then follow through in a timely manner. Remember, the less your clients have to guess about their home search or sale, the more satisfied they’ll be with your service.

Actively Listen

Once you develop worksheets to use with buyers and sellers, become proactive, and always follow through with clients, you should focus on improving your active listening skills.

Active listening is more than just letting your clients talk. It requires you to pay close attention to not only their words but their nonverbal cues. The back-seat smiles of clients may be an indication that they've bonded with a home, while a frustrated look may mean that you need to reformulate their home search.

It’s easy to tune out your clients when you’re multitasking, reacting to transaction problems, or thinking about your own personal issues. But you’ll miss important details if you’re constantly on your cell phone or text messaging someone else. When you’re with clients, focus all of your attention on their needs. Your focus will pay off.

It’s also good practice to verbally review where you are in the transaction and then ask clients if they’re in agreement with you. Rather than make assumptions about what you think you heard, clarify clients’ needs and issues throughout the transaction. That eliminates the possibility for miscommunication and ensures you all are on the same page.

Keep the Radar On

From the first meeting with clients to the moment you walk out of a successful closing, your real estate radar always should be engaged, sweeping for client questions, transaction communication breakdowns, and incomplete documentation.

The more aware you are of your clients’ needs and where the transaction stands, the less likely you are to overlook a detail. Take the time to eliminate dropped balls, and you will reap the referral rewards.

Mark Nash is the author of Reaching Out: The Financial Power of Niche Marketing and The Original New Agent’s Guide to Starting & Succeeding in Real Estate. He is a broker associate with Coldwell Banker Residential, Central Street Office, in Evanston, Ill. He can be reached by e-mail at