Ask Dr. Real Estate
Do I Need Help Getting Dressed?
by Dr. Kenneth W. Edwards GRI
I've been in the business less than a year, and I am actually doing better than I expected I would. My problem is that in one area I seem to be a little out of step with most of my associates. I'm from a rural community originally and I feel more comfortable dressing very casually. I hate neckties. I've noticed that most of the successful men REALTORS® around here, including those in my office and our broker, wear coats and ties, and the women wear dresses and suits. I guess I could adapt, but is it really that big a deal?
Whether we consider it fair or not, people do judge us and react to us based on our appearance. Let me give you an example. Over a period of a year or so, I had a consulting job with the state of Oregon Real Estate Agency. They were revising their official Real Estate Manual and I was hired as their "Consulting and Contributing Editor." I traveled to nearby Salem, Oregon about once a week to pick up editorial material and deliver my copy. The folks with whom I worked were professionals and were always dressed extremely well. I decided that when I went up for my weekly sessions I should wear a coat and tie and generally try to look as presentable as reasonably possible.
After the weekly meetings, I typically hit all my favorite haunts before heading home - the bookstore, a couple of large department stores, a bakery, a coffee shop, and the library. Here's what I noticed. I got a whole lot more respect when I was in coat and tie than I did on other occasions when I was in my standard, somewhat less impressive attire. Clerks were more pleasant and anxious to wait on me. Salespeople were more respectful. Everyone smiled more. The reaction was definitely different.
Having said that, let me put it in perspective. Although important, how you dress will likely not be the most critical factor in determining whether or not you succeed in real estate. I recall helping our daughter shop for her first new car. She had decided what model she wanted, so it was just a matter of shopping for the best deal. The main reason we ended up buying where we did was that the salesman impressed us as an honest, trustworthy person. It really didn't matter that he dressed like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz.
If you're honest, work hard and creatively, and are bulldog persistent, you are going to succeed in real estate - or any other profession for that matter. But some things take talent and hard work and some things do not. Dressing in a neat, acceptable manner to the prevailing standards of the business community takes no hard work at all, just a modest attitude adjustment.
Although I am somewhat reluctant to offer specific guidance on how to "dress for success" (my wife choked on her corn flakes when I told her I was giving advice on the subject), I think these suggestions will be helpful:
1. FOLLOW THE LEADERS: Take a look at how the successful REALTORS® in your office and in your town dress. What you will likely find is that the situation you describe is typical: coats and ties for men, and dresses, fancy pants outfits (I'm getting shaky here), and suits for women. Now if you specialize in farm properties and spend your time riding the range in your four-wheel drive and tromping through cow pastures, you'll obviously adapt to the circumstances. And in some areas things are much less formal. One REALTORS® to a survey I did once in which I asked respondents to identify characteristics needed to succeed in real estate said this regarding the importance of dress standards: "...coats and ties arouse suspicion around here."
2. DON'T DRESS FOR EXCESS: What you want people to remember about you is your professionalism, not your cashmere jacket or your mini skirt. If you are brand new, do not feel compelled to rush out and spend thousands on a new, upscale wardrobe. Unless you live in Gucci Gulch, people are not going to be checking your labels to see whether it's off the rack or not.
In a real estate class I teach at the local community college, one of my students called me and said he couldn't recall the name of a fellow student he wanted to invite to a group study session. I didn't know who he was referring to, so I asked him to describe her to me. "Oh, she is the petite lady who is always so neatly dressed," he said. I knew immediately who he meant. People do notice.
Clothes do not make the REALTOR®, but if you've got a great product, why not package it in the most attractive manner possible?