Deaf Realtors Offer Three Cs

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With today’s booming real estate market, it’s difficult to find a realtor who can communicate clearly with you and is knowledgeable about your needs, and who you can explicitly trust. Enter Deaf realtors. They’re able to sign to you, they know the community inside and out, and they’re familiar with all the aspects of the real estate market.

Mum’s the Word: Confidentiality
Confidentiality is always an issue for any professional who works within the Deaf community, especially if that professional is also deaf. But that doesn’t seem to be a problem for realtors like Barbara Willigan or Tom Anderson.

“When I meet with clients for our first face-to-face meeting, I always explain that Maryland law requires that no matter what, I am not allowed to discuss their information with anyone. Even if this law didn’t exist, I’d still keep their information absolutely confidential,” says Willigan, an Ellicott City, Md., real estate agent who is Deaf. “I explain that any information shared with anyone else will not be from me; it will come from them.”

“I tell my clients that they don’t have to share their financial history from A to Z; I only want to know if they’ve been pre-approved for a loan and the basics of their information,” agrees Anderson, a licensed real estate broker. ““I do things right and in the long run, I’m able to sleep well at night. That’s how I’ve been in business for 14 years.”

Anderson, 35, owns a RE/MAX franchise in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. He is believed to be one of the first, if not only, deaf licensed real estate brokers, in the nation. Supervising nine agents, including one who is deaf, Anderson has seen firsthand the effects of the “housing bubble.” “It’s difficult sometimes, because clients will come to us thinking that because they’ve been pre-approved by some company at a high price, they can buy a bigger house than is really wise,” he says. “And unfortunately, this often happens with deaf clients who have not been able to communicate easily with mortgage companies or realtors. This is where I feel I make the biggest impact. I’m able to communicate directly with them in American Sign Language and answer their questions immediately.”

Making Sure Clients Know Every Detail
Communication is another essential factor of being in the real estate business. “So many times I work with clients, both deaf and hearing, who come to me thinking they can buy anything because they’ve been pre-approved for a high loan amount,” Anderson says. “This is largely due to Internet mortgage companies offering fast, pre-approved loans. But I remind them that they also need to consider the costs of day-to-day living, and to look carefully at hidden costs. Although that isn’t really my job to advise them on financial risks, I do have a conscience. I also recognize that many clients may never had this discussed with them in the past, so I try to cover this kind of information with each client.”

Willigan uses various solutions to alleviate her need of communication with hearing clients. “Although I work mostly with deaf clients, I do have hearing clients. I leave my phone number, and they’re able to leave voice mail for me. I then either listen to the messages if I’m able to understand the client, or use relay to retrieve my messages,” she says. “My new pager/cell phone is wonderful; it allows me to call hearing people, unless they have a strong accent or there are other noises. But really, most communication issues are easily resolved in today’s technological age.”

This ease of communication is also an asset in being comprehensive with information. “So often I have deaf clients coming to me and saying that they never had this kind of communication accessibility to housing information,” Willigan says. “For instance, I had a client once come to me and tell me how an agent acted as a dual agent for both the client and seller. The client didn’t quite understand the role of the dual agent, and I explained that. It was disappointing to learn that the agent never once took time out to explain the ins and outs of buying a house. That should never happen, regardless of if you’re hearing or deaf.”

Staying Ahead of the Game
Anderson fell into real estate by chance. “I was studying to be a chiropractor, and took a course that was cancelled so I decided to find another course that would fit within my schedule. That class happened to be an introductory real estate course.” Anderson’s teacher encouraged him to become a realtor. Upon earning his license, he immediately began making sales; three months later, he quit his job as a cook. “The people at the restaurant said I’d be back soon,” he recalls. “14 years later, I’m still not back.”

He then decided to pursue his broker license, taking courses to pass the test. “Since I can hear somewhat well and speak well, I didn’t ask for an interpreter for the courses,” Anderson said. Licensed in 1991 as a sales agent, then a broker in 2000, he may also be the first deaf person to own a real estate franchise. His biggest client is a Mexico-based developer building on 530 acres of land. “We’ve already opened the first phase, selling 111 single family homes and 90 condos. We’re halfway sold out, and will have a total of 200 lots for sale. It’s really exciting to be able to partner with this client like this.”

Willigan’s experience is slightly different. As a child, her father had her sell flowers from the garden. She has also worked as an insurance salesperson, sold Tupperware, and was the recruitment coordinator at Gallaudet University. “Sales have always been in my blood,” she grins. Willigan, 61, had an interpreter for her five-week realtor course, paid for by Long and Foster Realty. She then decided to sign on with Coldwell Banker, where her daughter also works as a realtor.

Realtors generally face fierce competition for sales. “You have to be aggressive, definitely,” says Willigan. “It takes between 12 and 18 months to establish yourself and recruit clients. Upon signing with Coldwell Banker, I had to take a six-week fast-start training program. I started working in December, where sales were a bit slow. So I focused on developing a solid client base for the next few months, with sales here and there. In June alone, I had over $1 million in settlements, for four sales.”

“One of the most common complaints that any realtor or broker has is when a house in a neighborhood is sold faster than your client’s house,” says Anderson. “Your client then may come to you and complain that you must be a lousy agent if you haven’t sold his house yet. The real issue is whether the client is selling his house at a realistic price, if the house is in good shape or not, and many other factors. I’ve been fortunate, though, because most of my clients understand the factors that go into selling a house, so this isn’t really a problem. It’s a matter of making sure clients are aware of all the details involved in selling or buying a home.”

Deaf realtors also face the stereotype that they make millions of dollars off sales. As a result, they’re often perceived as “being rich” in the community. “What clients don’t realize is that even if we make a great commission off a sale, we still have to pay for little things such as advertising, lockbox fees, licenses, and so on. We also have to share that commission with our company, other agents involved, and so on,” says Willigan. “So it really evens out to a regular income, not a luxurious income.”

The Bottom Line
Still, selling houses brings great satisfaction to both Anderson and Willigan. “It’s wonderful being able to share what I know about the market with my clients,” Anderson says. “It’s great because I’m really familiar with the Twin Cities area and can easily tell clients what neighborhoods best fit their needs. It doesn’t matter whether you’re deaf or hearing; the house-buying process is a major step. I like making the selling or buying process a bit less daunting for people.”

“The real reason I sell houses isn’t for the money,” Willigan adds. “It’s for one simple reason: the satisfaction I get from it. There’s nothing like seeing people who have struggled to get a home for so long finally get their own place. That’s a great feeling.”

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