When I was a real estate agent I stowed a pair of muck boots in the trunk of my car. When you sell real estate in a rural area and carry vacant land and ranches in your listing inventory, it’s best to always be prepared – unless, of course, you don’t mind getting horse poop on your Manolos.

For real estate agents, first impressions matter, and wardrobe and car choices are part of their "curb appeal"I did not, however, show up for listing appointments for high-end homes donned in flannel shirts, blue jeans and muck boots, and it’s probably safe to assume that you don’t either.

What we wear to work, what we drive to work, our hair, makeup, profile photos and even our websites are all aspects of a real estate agent’s “curb appeal.”

Ah, you know that term, don’t you?

Curb appeal is a concept agents try to drill into their clients’ heads every time they take a listing. First impressions are vital, whether it’s a house about to hit the market or a real estate agent about to hit a house. You only have a fraction of a second to make that impression.

There is a fine line, however, between projecting a professional image and intimidating a client. How you straddle that line depends on the region, the customs within that region, your niche clientele, and good old common sense.

How Should Real Estate Agents Dress?

Folks have been pondering what to wear at least as far back as AD 95. “To dress within the formal limits and with an air gives men, as the Greek line testifies, authority,” Quintilian penned in “Institutio Oratoria.”

Shakespeare’s Polonius warns his son that “the apparel oft proclaims the man.” Contemporary thinkers agree, to a certain extent. “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society,” joked Mark Twain.

Research has shown us that those first few seconds after meeting someone, the computer in our heads spins and whirs and spits out a judgment. Interestingly, although the judgment might be based on what the person is wearing, the impression is something entirely different.

Ben C. Johnson, professor of occupational and health psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK, performed a study to determine the ways in which clothing influences our impressions of people.

After only three seconds of viewing a picture of a man in a custom-made suit and another in an off-the-rack suit, test subjects formed their judgments. They rated the man in the custom-tailored suit as “more confident, successful, flexible and a higher earner,” than when he wore the off-the-rack suit, according to Johnson.

While many folks think that fashion is nothing more than an extravagant indulgence, and that a sunny disposition will overshadow an uninteresting wardrobe, Johnson disagrees. “Dressing to impress really is worthwhile and could even be the key to success,” he claims.

Before you freak out, thinking you need to wear custom-tailored suits to be successful in real estate, check this out:

A 1986 study finds that “conservative and casual clothing styles are more likely to portray a more reliable and self-controlled personality.” Dressier clothing, on the other hand, conveyed an “unfriendly personality and created a sense of unease in others.” Sure, the study is two decades old, but when it’s common to see people shopping at Wal-Mart in their jammies, it’s a safe bet that folks still view casual attire favorably.

Atlanta real estate agent Ann Bone has an easy approach when it comes to what to wear to meet clients. “The higher the price of the property, the higher the heel,” she suggests.

Watch this video to get some tips on how to dress from agent and San Francisco real estate fixture Herman Chan:

What Style of Car Should Agents Drive?

Real estate agents and cars – it’s a hot topic whenever discussed. There seem to be two schools of thought among those in the industry when it comes to wheels:

  • My car gives potential clients the impression that I am successful.
  • All that matters is that whatever I drive is clean and reliable.

The first way of thinking assumes that real estate clients only want to work with mega-agents – the über successful in the market. The second assumes that what we drive doesn’t offer a first impression. Who is correct?

If what we drive is a measurement of our success, and thus a reflection of our skills, why do many physicians in the U.S. drive Toyotas or Hondas rather than luxury cars?

Why does Mark Zuckerberg drive an Acura, and fellow billionaire and co-founder of Facebook, Dustin Moskovits, drive a Volkswagon hatchback?

The same question can be asked of those to whom we entrust our hair, our pets, our finances and our teeth. Do you choose them by the car they drive? If your lawyer drove a 5-year-old Camry, would you ditch her?

The truth is, the best car for you, as a real estate agent, is one that matches your community and also targets your niche market.

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Senada Adzem, an agent who sells ultra-high-end property to members of the Boca Raton, Fla. high-society set, drives a Maserati. If she specialized in first-time buyers or condos, however, that car may be viewed as a bit ostentatious.

What type of car should real estate agents drive? Certain agents should drive luxury cars while others should drive more modest ones.Although New York agents with Modern Agent also deal with luxury property, they drive clients around the city in “Daphne,” the company’s Fiat 500 C convertible ($19,000 when new). Mukul Lalchandani says they settled on the Fiat because it’s small and easy to park – hello, this IS New York, after all.

Then, there’s Shawn Monshaugen, “Austin’s first zero-emissions Realtor®,” introduced to us by Paul Hagey at Inman. He took a vow to go completely carless for one year and now offers clients a “bike-level view of real estate,” according to Hagey. This tactic wouldn’t fly in New York or Florida, but it’s amazingly compatible with the young homebuyers in Austin, Texas.

Finally, consider Edina Realty super-agent Kris Lindahl, who swears by his Jeep Overland and claims that tons of agents in town drive SUVs. Ever spend time in the winter in Minnesota? Being able to navigate snowy neighborhood streets is a must.

It seems as if “appropriate” is the word when it comes to choosing a car. Agents in Michigan wouldn’t be caught dead driving an import, while those in Miami, Beverly Hills and Midtown Manhattan, who deal with international clients, should probably be driving something similar in comfort and style to what their Dubai clients drive at home.

Most of the online chatter among agents includes the following musts for real estate agent’s cars:

  • It must be late model and dent-free with shiny paint.
  • It must be clean, inside and out.
  • It must seat at least two other adults.
  • It must be reliable, safe and insured.

That fine line mentioned earlier is the one between curb appeal and staging. The former is real – it remains with the home even after it’s sold.

The latter is, well, phony. Sure, it’s enticing, it’s distracting, but it isn’t real.

Some agents believe perception, not reality, is everything in the real estate business. Yet, in the next breath, they’ll swear that an agent’s highest duty is one of honesty and integrity. Is the $36,000-a-year agent who drives a luxury car in order to create a perception that he’s more successful than he is being honest?

Do your wardrobe and your car offer curb appeal or staging?

Let us know what you think.