Real Estate

My Top Back To Basics Tip? Answer The Damn Phone

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Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent over six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.

It’s April, which means it’s Back to Basics Month at Inman. We’re only halfway through April, and already the contributors and staff at Inman have pumped out an insane amount of Back to Basics content. Just look at the first week alone — 32 articles and seven Back to Basics 101 videos. 

Inman is publishing some great, actionable content, with more is on the way. Go forth, read, listen, absorb, and act. Whether you are a grizzled veteran of the real estate trench wars or the ink on your license isn’t dry yet, there is something to be learned from going back to basics.  

Look at it this way: Professional athletes of all varieties spend an excessive amount of time practicing their sport’s fundamentals. Last week Japanese golfer Hideki Matsuyama became the first Asian-born winner of The Master’s tournament. How many hours do you think Matsuyama has spent on the driving range and practice greens? 

NFL coaches run blocking and tackling drills with players that have been blocking and tackling since they were 8 years old. Why? Fundamentals. Back to basics. If it’s good enough for pro athletes making more money than every reader of this column combined, it’s good enough for the pros this column addresses.

I think, though I couldn’t guarantee it, that I’ve read every article and watched every video Inman has published in this Back to Basics month. No one has disagreed with anything read or watched. Although there haven’t really been any shocking reveals of new ideas, after all this is back to basics, it’s not surprising that every tip, technique and reminder has been solid advice. After all, fundamentals are what they are because, by definition, they are the foundation upon which everything is built 

What has been surprising is no one has mentioned my personal favorite. Brian Walker came close in his 101 video when he told us to pick up the phone and dial for listings. 

Way back in 2015, I had the honor and privilege to be the first guest on Bill Risser’s podcast, The Real Estate Sessions. Risser’s podcast won the 2019 Inman Innovator Award for best podcast, and in every one of its 279 episodes, Risser has closed by asking his guest, “What one piece of advice would you give an agent just getting started in the business?”

It’s a great question (and a great podcast, seriously, listen) and a pertinent question for both that new agent and the grizzled veteran. It drives home the point of back to basics. 

My answer? Answer your phone. 

I suspect someone will read this and think, “lame,” followed immediately by, “I always answer my phone.” 

Good for you! You’re in the minority. I bet you have been on the receiving end of an agent that doesn’t always answer the phone. Frustrating, isn’t it?

At least you have the professional knowledge and resources to follow up with that silent agent. You can contact their broker, have your broker contact the other agent’s broker. Maybe you can find an alternative phone and email address in some professional directory. You have additional options. 

Imagine how consumers feel when they can’t get an agent to answer the phone. 

Not answering the phone (or text messages, DMs, emails, faxes, carrier pigeons, smoke signals) is rampant in this industry. Take a quick stroll through any real estate-related social group, and you’ll see agents complaining about impossible to reach agents. 

Some trainers and coaches teach the absurd practice of setting up your voicemail and autoresponders to say, “I only answer from 3-4 p.m., please leave a message, and I’ll get back to you.” 

Ostensibly this is done to give the appearance of looking busy. Here’s an idea — instead of faking business, actually be busy. Maybe answering your phone promptly will increase your business level and relieve you of the need to fake being too busy to do an essential part of your job.  

Yes, professionals are complaining about the lack of response from other “professionals.” I can assure you there are also consumers complaining about the lack of response from supposed pros. 

Heck, I was personally affected by the rampant lack of communication and response when I was recently a homebuyer. As mentioned when I wrote about finding an agent, I reached out to three agents. One responded within two hours of my inquiry. One responded 25 hours after we closed a transaction with the responsive agent. Almost a year after my inquiry, the third agent has yet to respond. I’m pretty confident in saying that agent has completely ignored me. 

I was a “paid lead” for all three agents. The two who couldn’t bother to respond might very well have earned a commission check from my transaction, plus an additional commission from someone I referred to our agent. But nope, they blew off a very qualified and valid lead. A lead they paid for.

Unfortunately, my experience with lack of contact isn’t unusual. 

Long ago, in early 2014, consulting firm WAV Group published Agent Responsiveness Study Reveals Critical Flaws in Real Estate Lead Response. That critical flaw? Slow, infrequent, and even complete lack of response to potential buyer inquiries. Forty-eight percent of the inquiries they made through online contact were never responded to by agents. 

In other words, half the time buyers raised their hands and said, “help me!” they heard nothing.

“But Jay, that was in 2014. That’s eons ago in technology time. Surely it’s different today?” 


Major lead generation sites, providers and franchisors, including Zillow, and Keller Williams, report almost identical findings.

NAR got data, and Jessie Beaudoin with CallAction analyzed it, finding that:

  • 49 percent of email leads never receive a response. When they did, it took an average of 5 hours and 35 minutes.
  • 51 percent of text inquiries never were responded to.
  • 29 percent of phone call inquiries never got a callback. Agents returned calls in an average of 1 hour and 45 minutes after the initial call.

Sales training classes, lectures and keynote addresses have for years been chocked full of shouts from on high that you must reply quickly to inquiries and diligently follow up those replies with further frequent outreach. That isn’t bad advice. 

But you know what fundamental action you have to take first? What’s far more critical in building your business than a speedy reply or dropping someone into a system that will pound out messages to a contact database? 

You actually have to answer the phone.

Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree living in the Texas Coastal Bend, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on FacebookInstagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.

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