Why cold calling is a valid tool for some realtors — or — an account of the longest spam call I’ve ever been on

Looking west from the top floor of the newly-completed Country Club Towers, Aug. 16, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

country club towers; residential real estate; apartment building; denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty; denver architectural foundation; cityscape; skyline;
Looking west from the top floor of the newly-completed Country Club Towers, Aug. 16, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) country club towers; residential real estate; apartment building; denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty; denver architectural foundation; cityscape; skyline;
Looking west from the top floor of the newly-completed Country Club Towers, Aug. 16, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

First, the Front Range real estate boom came to Boulder and I said nothing. Then it came to Denver and I said… well, quite a lot, actually. But now, it’s coming for Mead, the dumpy Northern Colorado town that I grew up in, and I’ve got more to share.

Here’s the deal: Two weeks ago, I got an unsolicited call asking me if I knew anybody selling a home in my neighborhood. This is a time-honored real estate practice, but it was my first encounter with it. And after almost an hour on the phone, I felt like I’d learned a few things about lead-generation.

What follows is an edited transcript of my call with Peter Terneus, lead generator for the Wise team of Keller-Williams. 

Minute 4: For the first few minutes, I was just confused about why someone from Keller Williams who I don’t remember called me. Now I’ve transitioned into being confused about why the hell anyone would willingly give out their neighbor’s contact information to a realtor they don’t know.

Me:

Yeah but like you still haven’t answered what… like, like in this world where I encounter this person and I connect you… like what is my incentive to do that, like what do I get in exchange?

Terneus:

Your incentive?

Well, you’re… I’m not asking you to go out and search for anything or do any work. It all depends on if you happen to talk with someone and to have a conversation with somebody, then, you know, you just be a good person and give them the number. I could give you a Starbucks gift card if you really want.

Minute 7: We’re still discussing why I would connect this random stranger with any of my theoretical neighbors and it’s getting tense. 

Me:

Yeah but I guess what I’m trying to understand is… I’m far from the only person that you’re calling, so like the way this whole system works is like… People just will give you the contact information and there’s like… there’s not… like you’re not like really proposing any sort of exchange, you’re just merely saying if you know someone, call me. But there’s like, no real additional reason that would incentivize me to do that.

Terneus:

So what do you mean incentivize? First of all, that’s not even a word.

Me:

Incentivize.

[overtalk]

I’m trying to understand how this system works.

Terneus:

It’s not complicated. Do you know anybody who might be thinking about selling? If you don’t, then you don’t. If you do then, you feel free to either give them my information or not, you know it works like that. [laugh that may or may not have been derisive]

Are you trying to… are you trying to like… like this whole thing is just simple questions.

Minute 8.5: A breakthrough after I explain that I’m a reporter and that’s why I am interested in this.

Terneus:

Well I’ll be straight with you, the real estate agent who’s not cold calling probably only sells about twelve houses a year.

When we have inventory that low, on behalf of some of our clients, I reach out to people in the areas that they like and then sometimes if I don’t even have a buyer also reach out to people in the neighborhood to see anybody might be thinking about selling. Because eventually they’ll turn into buyers. They’ll sell the house and then they’ll need to buy a house as well so just think about it as lead generation marketing. Cold calling is not dead. Cold calling is not dead.

Minute 11: Our understanding evaporates after I carelessly drop the s-word: scam. Furthermore, in a broader parallel to my entire career in journalism, I’m continuing to insist that information has value, and it’s not going well. 

Me:

I’m with you, not a scam, not a scam.

I understand you when you’re saying like you’re not saying like your new job is to knock on doors. But it is like you are getting a service for free in the event that I would say like, ‘Hey I know somebody.’ So like when I was trying to understand what —

Terneus:

I don’t know why you’re thinking it’s a service.

Me:

Because it’s information. If I’m giving you a lead, by virtue of you cold-calling me —

Terneus:

But you didn’t work for that. Hold on. You didn’t work for that lead. I’m working for that lead, not you.

I’m reaching out to people in the neighborhood to happen to — that’s how that works and so you are not getting the lead. If you don’t know anybody then you don’t know anybody. If you already happen to know somebody, then you already have that information, you go out and you’re actually helping your neighbor.

If you give them my information, then they have somebody who can help them sell their house. It’s really simple, it’s not like this is a complicated thing.

Minute 32: Around this point, I’ve started to get interested in the inner machinations of a real estate phone salesman. It seems we’re back on the same page too. 

Terneus:

I’ve been working here three months, of course you get people who are going to yell at you. So you have to be prepared for that. A lot of people don’t realize what you have to deal with trying to find people like that. People are going to yell at you, cuss you out, and everything.

Then I get those phone call where I talk with somebody high, smoking a blunt or something and just going on and on and on about everything. There’s not one particular phone call that’s more interesting than the other.

Me:

So people do tell you their life stories though? You catch someone in the right mood and even on a real estate cold call, someone will tell you their life story.

Terneus:

What I mean by that is that they go on and on about what they did. I talked with a biker guy about how… he was just like talking about how he’s a biker and how this younger generation is so like… soft.

A lot of people don’t know how to interact with people any more. They don’t know how to have a simple conversation or answer a simple question, they just want to cuss you out, yell at you. They think you committed a crime or something by calling their phone. It’s interesting.

I just think people need to be a little nicer to each other. When people call my house, when I have people call me, I’m nice to them and I’ll answer their questions, even if I can’t do anything, it’s the way that you handle it because I’ve been working on the phones for 10 years doing this.

Minute 40: I learn how this actually works in a bit more detail. 

So usually what happens is, I have a buyer and they say you know, I like this neighborhood or I like this area. Well, I’ll put in a street from that neighborhood that they like in a realty resource that I have that basically just pull maps out of the area and numbers from the area, like records.

And so what we do is I’ll put in a street name from the neighborhood that my buyer likes. And then it will show me a certain amount of prospects and then I’ll just map it and canvass the entire neighborhood. It will pull the numbers from the area, from the neighborhood and then I’ll reach out.

And sometimes that information could be outdated. I have to make sure that I clean up and you know, generate those those good leads with the correct information as well.

Minute 43: I learn that we have been talking about Mead this whole time. 

Terneus:

Let’s just say I’m looking in Mead. Which is what I’m looking at today.

Me:

Mead? No, you weren’t looking at Mead. Right!? That’s just where my folks live so that’s why that’s why I’m associated with that city.

Minute 49: I thought I was slick. I really did. But in the final four minutes of this call, Terneus proves himself to be the consummate professional, the real puppet master of this call. 

Terneus:
Do your parents still live in Mead?

Me:

Mmm no. [That’s a lie, they do.]

And I should probably get going, but I wanted to get your name one more time. It was Peter, right? And can you give me, could I get your last name?

Terneus:

My last name is Terneus. T-e-r-n-e-u-s. And my name is Peter, with the Wise team at Keller-Williams and our office is in Longmont, but we try to go into some of the more northern areas but still like I said, I have done appointments in Denver.

Me:

Yeah, yeah. Well great thank you so much for your time. I think I have your contact information, right?

Terneus:

So, so right now, you rent a house? Are you renting right now?

Me:

I live in Denver. I live in Denver and I’m renting, and I’m happy renting.

Terneus:

You’re renting? Now, I do want to ask these questions. I know you asked me these questions, I just wanted to ask you couple questions.

Me:

Yeah, yeah.

Terneus:

So have you ever thought about actually buying a home?

Me: 

No. [Another lie.]

Terneus:

And why is that?

Me:

Uhh, because I like the place that I live.

Terneus:

Well okay you like the place that you live. Did you know you can actually be saving hundreds of dollars a month if you bought instead of rented? And you would be making money year over year. When you rent, you’re not making any money year over year, you’re just paying somebody else’s mortgage. Right? And so you actually could be paying less every month if you bought instead of rented. Literally you can save hundreds of dollars.

And obviously, as you know part of our team specializes in buyers finding the perfect home. And you know I honestly think it would be worth maybe twenty minutes of your time to find out exactly how you can buy a house for a less than you’re renting right. Now, we can put a plan in place and you know, at least you can see.

I know you said you liked the place you’re in right now, but what if he can put you in a place that you like and you’re saving money at the same time? I mean would you be at least interested in in a twenty minute phone call and not right now, I know you have to get out of here. I have to move on as well. But it’s what we call a buyer’s consultation, Bruce will give you a call and he’ll just tell you how you can save money, how you can buy a house for less than you’re renting right now and then he’ll kind of go over what he did. He’ll give you a proposal like what we do and we’ll do a phone call since you’re in Denver. So —

Me: 

Yeah, I, I think probably no. [overtalk]

I really am not interested but I do appreciate you checking.