By Craig Shawn Williamson
There’s a growing threat to vacation rental property buyers that I want to discuss today: unqualified, unscrupulous, and—once in a while—even criminal salespeople.
The question of who exactly you are dealing with when you walk into a vacation rental property development is a big one. Some developers are hiring just about anyone to sell their homes, and this can be very bad news. I’ve met salespeople with dangerous police records and others who have been fired by four or five different companies before landing in their current role.
I can’t stand by and keep my mouth shut about this because it’s a safety issue for VRP buyers.
These guys are being left alone with women walking into homes. As an industry, we need to be aware and speak out about best practices.
A friend of mine explains the issue exceptionally well when he says, “It takes six months of schooling to cut hair, but it takes seven days of real estate school to become a real estate agent.”
The fact that a real estate agent has a license or that they were hired by a big company does not automatically mean they are competent or of high moral character. And in addition to the safety issue, we are also seeing a big surge in what I like to call “heat sales tactics” right now. Buyers need to educate themselves.
Why So Many Heat Sales?
Anytime a particular market gets popular, the growth of that market creates more inventory. In real estate, there’s a shifting back and forth between buyer and seller markets, yet the solid upward trajectory of vacation rental property developments in the last five years has created more opportunities for more salespeople. Some of the developers in this industry simply don’t have a best practices policy regarding their hiring. Some don’t even have a human resources department. They may have one person in their office who primarily does purchasing and also has to wear the HR hat. But it’s not a real department. There’s very little vetting of sales job candidates, and very little training once someone has been hired.
Companies may tell buyers that they do background checks for example, but in reality, it doesn’t happen. In some places, there is a revolving door of salespeople right now. Once you’ve got a license, a salesperson can pick up and go to any place they want. An individual may apply in 20 developments and then just go through and find a find one that says yes. Vacation rental property is a sector of the real estate industry that is expanding so fast that some developers have lowered their hiring standards, simply because they feel they need to get somebody working—selling—right now.
This kind of approach is unacceptable. There is a better way.
When I was first approached by Four Seasons, for instance, I went through seven different interviews. I went through a deep background check, a psychological evaluation, and several competency evaluations. This all took about two months before they made me an offer.
Not all development companies are the Four Seasons, and that’s too bad. Most will say they don’t have the ability to take that kind of time, so they don’t properly vet the guy who walks through the door and says, “I was a top salesman over at fill-in-the-blank, but I needed to leave because they don’t have insurance.”
The Problem for Developers
Developers may read something like this and think, “There is no way we can do seven interviews with a potential hire. It’s not realistic.” But the thing is, their lack of care on the hiring front is costing them sales. And they don’t even realize it. Why? Because customers very rarely complain if they have a poor experience with somebody, or notice some things about that salesperson that make them feel uncomfortable or pressured.
The thing they actually do is leave.
The developer won’t even notice. But it’s happening, so I’d encourage anyone in this industry who is hiring salespeople to do it very carefully. The consequences of rushing are just too big in terms of lost sales and liability.
My Advice for VRP Buyers
If you are a customer who visits a property and somebody treats you in a way you don’t appreciate, it’s very important you pay close attention and take notes. Don’t just record facts about the property they are showing you. Take notes about what you notice, what that salesperson says, and their behavior in general.
Never, ever sign anything on a first visit. You’re making a $250,000 or even a $1 million purchase! Take your time.
Assembling a skilled team to assist you throughout the VRP purchase process is crucial—and an important way to avoid making a rash decision. You will need an attorney, an accountant, and a strong Realtor who will advocate for your interests. Your Realtor isn’t doing their job if they simply deliver you into the hands of the salesperson at a development. I am a huge advocate of Realtor representation for the buyer when dealing with new construction in big projects.
At all stages of a VRP buying journey, you need to know who you’re working with. When you have that first interaction with a developer’s salesperson, get the person’s name. Ask for their real estate license number. Go online and verify it. In Florida, it’s pretty easy. You can see if there are any complaints; you can see if the license is active or inactive. You can see if they have a license at all.
Do your own background check using truthfinder.com. You can pull a background on anybody. Public records don’t show everything, but if you find some negative public records about a particular agent, you can bet that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll be shocked at what you can find. I do want to caution you, however, that if you find something about a salesperson on truthfinder.com, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the product you’re looking at is bad. It doesn’t mean that the property won’t work for your family economically.
It just means you want to work with a different individual to purchase that VRP if everything else checks out.
Pick up the phone and call the sales and marketing director of the company. Say you have found the following information about a particular salesperson, and you don’t want to work with them. You prefer to work with somebody else and need a name or an introduction. It’s perfectly acceptable for you as the customer to ask that of the developer, yet most people don’t feel this way. They’re worried the salesman will be mad at them. But if that sales and marketing director is doing their job, they will want to have the facts. Because if something happens, if that salesperson happens to say something negative, inappropriate, or in any way harassing, attorneys could get involved.
There’s a significant amount of liability for that developer to have a salesperson in circulation who has not been properly vetted. So, you’re really doing a company a favor if you find something questionable and let them know. You’re doing what they should have done when they hired the individual.
Heat Sales Tactics
A heat sale is a sales experience in which someone is pushing you urgently. For instance, saying things like, “There are only so many of these left,” or “Act now. Let’s get you on this document so that we can hold one for you.” You feel the heat when you hear: “Our prices are increasing! You better get a hold of this thing right now.” “You need to make some moves,” or “What are you waiting for?”
Bullying, harassing, or pressure that is put on you are signs of a heat sale in progress—and I’d encourage you not to stand for it. Anything that is making you move faster than you feel comfortable with is not okay. This is completely and utterly your purchase on your timeframe, on your schedule.
Never forget that. And if they don’t like it and you’re made to feel pressured, you need to walk away.
To learn more about purchasing VRP, please check out my new book LIFE AS A VACATION: THE ULTIMATE BUYER’S GUIDE TO VACATION RENTAL PROPERTY: 2020 EDITION.