By Alex Vorro
In the residential real estate world, success can mean many different things. It could mean selling the most units or the highest volume. It could also mean ranking in the top percentile of agents or just being so well known that you become a household name to potential sellers. To others, success may mean being an expert on a particular region or specializing in a certain segment of the industry.
With so many divergent meanings, it’s no mystery why success is truly difficult define and more difficult to achieve. Chicago Agent has spoken to some of the top producers of 2005 to share some of their expertise about success and their best practices. Our panel includes: Robert John Anderson, The Habitat Company; Amy Bendigkeit, Koenig & Strey GMAC; Barbara Dudeck, MCL Companies; Sharon Friedman, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage; Mario Greco, Rubloff Residential Properties; Dennis Huyck, Century 21 Sussex & Reilly; Leslie McDonnell, RE/MAX Suburban; Barbara O’Connor, Baird & Warner; and Tina Porterfield, Prudential Preferred Properties.
Most agents agree that negotiation is one of the toughest skills to master. Our panel shares some of their best advice:
Tina Porterfield: Negotiating is really best considered a conversation between the buyer and the seller. The job of the agent is to facilitate the conversation, making each party feel good about themselves and about the other person. If you take a cooperative attitude, rather than a confrontational one, you’ll have much better success. Language is of the utmost importance. Instead of “the buyer wants this” or “the seller wants that,” try finding areas of agreement and work from there. It’s often helpful to give a little to get a little, i.e. “If the buyer will ___, the seller will ____.” At the end of the day, if the seller gets a little less than they wanted, and the buyer pays a little more than they wanted, you probably have a fair deal.
Barbara O’Connor: [It is imperative to] know what is out there as far as pricing, and use the pending and closed sales as tools to help get to the number your client wants to spend. [Any] lack of knowledge can come back to haunt you. Also, if you are not familiar with a neighborhood, refer to someone who is.
Another tip is to listen to the other agent for clues that tell you if their client has more room for movement in pricing. A lot of agents give away information without their even knowing of it.
Amy Bendigkeit: Convey a sense of urgency by [immediately] answering phone calls. This is the moment your sellers have been waiting for and the reason you’ve been on stand-by. Give it your undivided attention. During negotiations, keep following up with all parties every two hours, even if you haven’t heard any news. It shows you’re on top of trying to make it happen, plus cellular phones aren’t always reliable with messaging.
My favorite line when an offer comes in and is less than the seller hoped for:
“Well, this certainly is much better than the offer we had yesterday.”
“We had an offer yesterday?”
“No. That’s the point! No one has made us an offer, which is why we need to work with this one!”
BOLSTERING YOUR CLIENT LIST
Adding new clients to one’s roster is a key to becoming a top-producing agent. Here are a few suggestions on how to build your client list:
Mario Greco: Treat all of your clients as if they’re the last or only ones and they will refer you more business than you can handle.
TP: The best way to build your base of clients is to get out of your office and get involved with people. Whether it’s school, church, garden club, not-for-profit, etc., there are lots of people out there to meet. It’s important that you’re involved in activities that you really care about. If you’re only involved to pick up business it’s very obvious and tacky. Get a reputation as a hard worker, as someone who can be trusted to do what they say, as someone who is generous with their time or money (or both), and as someone that is enjoyable to work with. When the time comes for people to need a realtor, they’ll value those same attributes in the agent they choose.
Barbara Dudeck: Getting new clients is all about going back to the basics. You must keep regular contact with past buyers, by way of phone calls, personal notes and newsletters. Your past buyers can be a wealth of business, not just for themselves but from all of their contacts via referrals. It also helps to work new leads received from ads, the internet and signs. The key to new prospect leads is to counsel the prospect. Ask the client questions and listen to their answers. Learn as much as you can about their present situation, both their needs and their wishes. Find out what their real motivation is for moving. Once you have done this, the buyer will go from a prospect to a client and they will close the sale themselves. Contacting and soliciting relocation companies can benefit you. Ask them for one referral. If you do a great job, you will get continued business. Developing a business relationship with two or three good lenders is also helpful, as your business is their business and their referrals will be yours.
Keeping motivated is necessary in any profession, but it is paramount for agents. Our top producers suggest the following for keeping your spirits high when the market is slow:
Dennis Huyck: I believe when the market is slow, this is the most critical time to turn your efforts towards marketing to your existing clients as well as your “farming” area. Being slow is all the motivation (i.e. fear) that I need to make sure I am making 20 to 30 phone calls per day to existing clients as well as investing in new ways to market to new prospects.
AB: Get out there and preview properties; don’t leave a home until you can think of the perfect buyer for it. Whether you know someone that meets [the ideal] description or not, contact the local garden club who has someone that might value a half acre yard, or research doctors who’d value the close-to-the-hospital estate.
MG: Activity is never down, it just moves to different areas. When I have the rare day without many showings, I might, for example, fine-tune my supplemental marketing plan or follow up with buyers and/or sellers that are planning to move in the next quarter and get a status update.
BD: Keeping motivated when activity is down is a challenge. Getting together with other agents to brainstorm generally gets the creative juices flowing. Another idea is to find a high-power seminar to attend. I always come away with a new idea to try which gets me back into focus. In lieu of the seminar, read a motivational book or socialize more. Do things that you never have time for when you are busy. It’s amazing how business comes to you when you least expect it.
Realtors need market knowledge about the homes they show, the neighborhoods they represent and the interests of their clientele. However, some topics are best addressed by the experts. Here is what one agent had to say:
AB: One of the most important lessons I learned is the importance of having professional referral sources. Not just a pool of reliable experts to fix things at a moments notice, but a carefully selected professional referral source who understands that our relationship is a two way street providing mutually beneficial leads for each other.
Longevity is crucial in the business of real estate. Our top producers shared a few of their secrets to building longevity:
BO: The real estate business is getting harder and harder to break into. Treating people as one would like to be treated is the first criteria I believe in. I never let the client think that I am more interested in my commission than doing the best job for them. People think that I am different from most other agents in that (I will suggest to them that) selling or buying a property may not be in their best interest at that time. I do not come across as an aggressive agent to clients and customers, but am perceived as someone who really listens to clients needs.
Also, keeping abreast of the pricing in the areas I work is a must for longevity. One needs to know who their competition is at all times. I love working with buyers for this reason. They keep me abreast of what is out there.
I also am not afraid to ask for the client’s friends business. Most of my business is referral-based.
MG: It all goes back to treating clients so well that they can’t help but refer you business, so they think of you when they, or anyone they know, needs a real estate question answered, a property sold or a new home. Also, I keep in touch with all past and present clients with bi-monthly emails and quarterly mailings. I also try to add one marketing avenue (i.e, advertising in a new magazine or Web site) each quarter so my materials and methods don’t get stale. It is important to be ahead of the curve in order to have longevity in this business.
BD: Building longevity in this business is special. You need patience, perseverance, hard work and most of all, to love what you are doing.
TP: It is important to be trustworthy: get a reputation for honesty, straight talk and ethical behavior. Take the high road every time. If there’s a difficult situation, get it out in the open and deal with it. Show that you can be trusted with confidential information. Find ways to serve your clients best interests without it being to the detriment of someone else.
Leslie McDonnell: Buyer indecision can be extremely frustrating and detrimental to business. Here are some tips for alleviating the hand wringing and closing the sale efficiently:
It helps by not pushing [the buyer], but by merely restating their needs, wants, desires and not being argumentative or pushy.
Robert John Anderson: I listen to buyers and ask them what they want, watching what they react to the most. Very often they are just learning what that is at the same moment I am learning it. It is also enormously important to ask questions and to continue to ask questions about their lifestyle, specifically: Who cooks? Do you entertain? Where do the kids do their homework? Who walks the dog? Do you garden? I always listen and am mindful of my client’s needs and wants. This is the key. In the end, the client will make the decision based on sound advice. More often than not, patience and time work to everyone’s advantage.
BUILDING DEVELOPER RELATIONSHIPS
Working well with developers is essential for the well-rounded, successful Realtor. This suggestion can help you to get developer listings:
MG: I work with several developers and they’re no different than traditional buyers and sellers, other than that with them it’s more of a hard numbers game, (i.e., does the deal make sense financially?) I have to be ready to answer that question with support from the comparable sales data as well as drawing on my educational background as a lawyer and engineer and my experience in the business.
Developers want to rely and be guided by me for advice. As with any client, especially developers, I never over-promise or under-deliver; in fact, it’s usually the opposite.
Effective handling of multiple offers can be dangerous territory for agents, but there are ways to correctly and gracefully juggle numerous offers:
Sharon Friedman: The key to handling multiple offers is honesty and fairness. The old “do unto others” adage is still important. Think to yourself: “how would I like this handled if I represented the buyer?” Then make sure you fully explain to your seller how multiple bids can be handled, pointing out the choice or choices which might work best in the given situation.
For example, in a seller’s market going back to all offers asking for their highest or best may work well, but in a buyer’s market, simultaneously working each offer on it’s own merits and not pitting the offers against each other might work best. The offer with the best price and terms at the conclusion of negotiations will be the winner. You must then make sure all buyer agents involved in the multiple bid understand how the seller will handle the bids so that all buyers are treated respectfully and fairly throughout negotiations.
Making sure everyone is fully informed at all times, specifically so you can reach the other agents and they can reach their clients is important, especially to ensure that all timing is fair and workable for all involved. Also, be very sympathetic to the bidding losers and thank all involved for all their efforts.
DH: I believe that the right way to handle multiple offers is to make everyone aware of the situation and then give all of the buyers one more opportunity to make a best and final offer. As long as the seller likes the results, it is the most fair and honest way to handle the situation.
BO: When working with multiple offers, as I am right now, I make sure that all presenters are aware that there are other offers being presented and to give their best offer. I also tell the Realtor with one of the offers that the seller will probably work with the offer that they feel is the better offer. Unless the offers are so far off the asking price, I do not cause a bidding war where I pit one contract against another. Even if one of the offers is my own, I present the offers to the seller and go over the pros and cons of each. When the seller chooses one of the offers, I call back the other agents and tell him that either his offer was accepted or rejected. I also tell him that if for some reason the property comes back on the market, he will be the first one to know.
RJA: As the listing agent, I love to be in this situation. Typically the best results come from a multiple offer scenario for the seller. It is important to treat all parties fairly and to fully explain the options to the seller as far as choosing how to respond to the offers. Keeping the seller’s expectations realistic is also important so that both buyers do not disappear. Keeping all buyers engaged in the process is key and to try to keep the door open for the one who is not accepted so that you can go back to them if anything happens with the first contract.
PREPARING FOR YOUR FUTURE
Top producers are always preparing for the future. Our panel suggests the following:
MG: I prepare for next year every day by always being on the lookout for new marketing and PR ideas and by not being afraid to implement them, even if it costs a little bit of money. I look for ways to simplify my life and increase the efficiency of my business throughout the year so that I can hit the ground running each year. I try and keep my marketing materials and Web site fresh throughout the year so I don’t feel pressured to make any changes at a certain time of the year.
LM: Using the systems you already have in place, and attending Star Power conventions annually helps me get new and fresh ideas for the coming year. Re-working the sphere and farm that I have worked for the last 20 years faithfully and consistently also helps me to prepare. C.A.
Congratulations to some of the top producers of 2005:
Baird & Warner
Century 21 New Heritage
Sara Mitchell Team
Century 21 Sussex & Reilly
CMK Development Corp.
Coldwell Banker Primus Realty
Coldwell Banker Residential Mortgage
Keller Williams Realty
Koenig & Strey GMAC
Emily Sachs Wong
Prudential Preferred Properties
Rubloff Residential Properties
The Habitat Company
Robert John Anderson