Nicole Slaughter Graham is a freelance journalist and writer based in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Secret to a 22-Year Client Relationship
How Florida real estate pro Charlotte Hedge turned a chance referral into a loyal client who has filled her pipeline with new business for decades.
October 8, 2018
Twenty-two years ago, Charlotte Hedge picked up her client, Karen LaBossiere, from the airport in Sarasota, Fla. It was their first time meeting in person after several phone calls, and LaBossiere, who was referred to Hedge through her company’s relocation department, was in town looking for a home in which to relocate from Massachusetts. “It was like we already knew each other,” says Hedge, CIPS, PMN, GRI, TRC a broker associate with Premier Sotheby’s International Realty. Little did Hedge know she was embarking on a journey that would make her the agent of choice for four generations of LaBossiere’s family.
LaBossiere decided to build new and lived in her grandmother’s Sarasota home for several months while her 2,700-square-foot, four-bedroom, three-bath property was under construction. Shortly after LaBossiere, along with her husband, Steve, and three children, moved into their brand-new home, her grandmother passed away. LaBossiere decided to sell the property and called Hedge for assistance. “My team and I sold her grandmother’s home not long after we listed it,” Hedge says. The home sold in approximately 30 days, which was largely due to its desirable location, she adds.
A couple of years later, LaBossiere’s parents, Sandra and Fred Fuller, were looking to purchase a second home in Sarasota to spend the winter months close to family, and Hedge helped them decide on new construction in an upcoming neighborhood.
From Professional to Personal
LaBossiere’s family wouldn’t need Hedge’s real estate services again for another 20 years, but in the interim, they built a long-lasting friendship that cemented Hedge’s place as their go-to real estate resource. LaBossiere also referred several friends to Hedge in that timeframe. “I’ve really been a part of every phase of [LaBossiere’s] life,” Hedge says. “I watched her children grow up.”
The secret to maintaining a meaningful, long-term connection with clients, Hedge says, is being willing to get more personal with the information you share. During a transaction, your communication with clients will undoubtedly center on the deal at hand. But once it’s over, if you expect to keep them in your business pipeline, you have to slowly drop the professional façade and reveal yourself to them as a person. “I make it a point to foster an environment of honest, open communication every chance I can”—even when it’s not about real estate, Hedge says. As a result, LaBossiere and Hedge have become long-time friends. She and her husband, Tom, have spent many days and evenings at the LaBossiere’s home and vice versa.
Then, in early 2018, LaBossiere’s daughter, Danielle Forbes, and her husband, Jared, both of whom are in their early 30s, had been hired on by the Sarasota County public school system and were in the market to buy a home. Hedge was the natural choice to be their agent because of her longstanding relationship with the family. But Hedge knew she needed to establish an individual relationship with Forbes and couldn’t serve her the exact same way she served her mother, Hedge’s original client. “I spent hours on the phone with Karen in 1996,” Hedge says, “but her daughter really likes to text, which is pretty normal for her generation.”
Adapting to the different communication styles of LaBossiere’s family members has been integral to Hedge’s ability to show them both her professional value and personal commitment to meeting their needs. “Communication works best when it’s tailored to the client,” Hedge says. Whether communicating by text or email, at 8 p.m. at night or at the crack of dawn, Hedge made sure to adapt to Forbes’s communication style.
When they reached out to Hedge, the Forbes’ weren’t entirely ready to look for a home straight away. “They needed to do a few things before we could start our search so I introduced them to a mortgage representative to get them pre-qualified, and obtained a wish-list from them in the meantime.” At the end of May 2018, and after viewing about a half-dozen houses, Hedge was successful in helping the Forbes’ find a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home with a pool.
And Hedge is already lining up the next transaction. “Karen and I are currently having conversations about the next phase of her life and what she might need going forward,” Hedge says.
A System for Building Lifetime Bonds
Hedge says regular client contact is part of her and her team’s marketing model. “We send them something of value on a monthly basis,” she says. She’ll send pertinent neighborhood updates and other information that would be useful when it comes to living in Sarasota. “In our area, flood insurance is key, so we update our clients on what’s happening in that realm.” Hedge also sends market analysis reports, information on which home renovations have the best returns, and local community news and events.
For clients like LaBossiere and her family, who have been an important part of Hedge’s business for a long time, Hedge adds a personal touch to communication. “I often send personal emails, make a phone call to check in, and invite these clients out for lunch or coffee,” she says. She also sends handwritten notes to clients. “Our marketing dollars are largely spent on making sure we have contact with our database on a regular basis.” This commitment to relationship building has made Hedge and her team the “Google of real estate” to their clients. “When they have a real estate need or they have a friend with a real estate question, we’re their first thought,” she says.
Of course, not every client will be in your life for the duration of your real estate career, but some have that potential. Hedge points out that in this business, you never know who you’re going to meet, so you have to be ready with a plan to nurture every client. “When you speak with someone for the first time, you can usually tell within that first contact if there’s a bond,” Hedge says. “As an agent, it’s important to nurture those relationships.”