In Chicagoland, every agent strives to be a top producer. But in this ultra-competitive market, few can boast yearly sales of more than $30 million. Rising to those ranks takes perseverance, integrity and an ability to “work smarter.” Keep your nose to the grindstone, and you may just find that it’s not so lonely at the top.
By K.K. Snyder
When asked for insight on making it big in Chicagoland’s realty industry, top-producing agents typically have a personalized gem or two that they swear by. Across the board, these winning agents attribute success to a number of things, including honesty, knowledge, strong marketing and communication with clients. While these points may seem obvious, the challenge lies in focusing on these tactics consistently throughout one’s entire career.
Chicago boasts quite a number of top producers. Some names will be familiar to you, while others are the strong, silent powers that be. Chicago Agent magazine consulted a panel of Realtors from our listing (a partial compilation derived by company submissions) of agents who sold $30 million or more in 2006. We asked probing questions to get to the heart of what makes the most successful agents tick. One thing they all share: a commitment to excellence.
Our panel of top producers consists of John Bates, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Naperville on Washington; Eudice Fogel, Rubloff Residential Properties, Mag Mile; Pattie Murray, Koenig & Strey GMAC Real Estate, Glen Ellyn; Tim Sheahan, Century 21 Sussex & Reilly, Lakeview; and Marsha Ulbrich, RE/MAX Unlimited Northwest, Lake Zurich.
WHAT ARE YOUR SUGGESTIONS FOR NEGOTIATING?
Marsha Ulbrich: Think outside the box for ways to bring about a positive result, and learn to identify each party’s priorities. They will be revealed indirectly; listen and tune in for the cues. Trade a low priority for your clients for a high priority of the other party. Negotiation is not necessarily “winning.” Compromising effectively for the best client outcome might be a better description. Otherwise, the result may be “lose-lose” at the end of the day, with nothing purchased, nothing sold.
Know your numbers, know your market, and know your product inside and out. After you are eminently prepared to address each contract from either side, make your case by doing the other agent’s homework for them. They will likely use it [and] ultimately present your case rather than prepare their own. Also, develop the skill of negotiation; it is not a widespread inherent personality trait. Educate yourself through professional training.
Pattie Murray: I only have one rule when it comes to negotiating: Always negotiate toward a win-win. No one ever likes to feel as if they gave up too much or left money on the table.
Eudice Fogel: Negotiating is an art. The most important thing in negotiating is building a trust with your client through education, so he or she understands the process. Some of this foundation should have been laid before you even got to the negotiating stage. For instance, showing comparables of similar properties in the same neighborhood is important, so the client understands the market. Also, I have my clients pre-qualified or pre-approved before I even start to work with them. Thus, when your client finds the right property, he or she is mentally ready to get involved in the negotiations.
It is important to keep the negotiations moving in a timely manner. I find that the best deals are done in a 24-hour period. If too much times passes, a buyer might start to lose interest in the property. If a client has questions, get the answers back to them immediately. Although time is of the essence, do not push the client to make the deal. Let them feel comfortable with the deal and make the decision. Otherwise, they are more apt to back out during the attorney/inspection review.
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR GETTING NEW CLIENTS AND GAINING REFERRALS?
Marsha Ulbrich: First identify the profile of the client you are seeking. In my own practice, my circle of influence and track record of production through performance delivers my future business through past client satisfaction and reputation as an expert in luxury properties, although I have a rule that any client that has compensated me for my services will be a client for life regardless of price.
John Bates: Get referrals from past and current clients and customers. Find a need, and fill it.
Pattie Murray: I have an awesome data management program that sends emails and cards regularly (at least once a month) asking for referrals.
WHERE DO YOU TURN WHEN YOU NEED HELP?
Marsha Ulbrich: I carry a card with me at all times with my two broker/owners’ and managing broker’s contact numbers. I call it my “red phone to Russia.” I don’t guess the right way to handle every unique or gray situation, or how I should conduct a question of license law or the code of ethics. If I have not encountered something before, I seek their direction. I have never been unable to reach them.
Eudice Fogel: Your pool of experts is important, because they help form your team; you want every member on your team to give the same degree of service, respect and follow-through that you provide to the client. The people that I choose to refer are professionals in their fields with an established reputation and track record. Mortgage professionals, attorneys and inspectors are all important members of my team. I will give my clients three names in each of these fields, and let them call and choose who they are comfortable working with.
John Bates: I work with other experts in their field. Any referral that I give for outside services is a direct reflection of my expertise. So I seek out other top experts.
HOW DO YOU GET BUYERS TO MAKE A DECISION?
Marsha Ulbrich: I only work with buyers that are prepared and qualified to buy a home when we start out the search. I utilize an email program for a base and narrow the search geographically, their school choices, if applicable, and their price points, and then rule out undesirable nuisances like busy roads, tension wires, [unattractive] architecture and age of homes. I assess their motivation and the requirement to sell, first. I do not work with “obstacle” buyers.
Pattie Murray: In showing homes, I always compare each showing of the previous one and have the client eliminate one or the other. At the end, I’ll have only one on the top, with two or three on the “A” list just below. Then I say, “Why don’t we make an offer on your favorite home?” Usually they do.
Tim Sheahan: It’s important to prove to a buyer that they are making the right decision. Your buyer may make a decision on a gut feeling, but it’s our job to show them why.
DO YOU WORK WITH DEVELOPERS, AND HOW DO YOU GET THESE LISTINGS?
John Bates: I primarily work with developers. I have been responsible for more than 6,000 acres of development land in the last five years. I currently have 5,000 lots coming on line for resale to builders. A certain percentage of those builder lot sales have, subsequently, listed homes with me for resale. I will get referrals from the builder for people that need to sell their existing current residence, too. I stay in touch with my builders and developers weekly to make sure I am on the same page as they are, and diligently seek out new deals and opportunities for them.
Tim Sheahan: Yes, I have several developer clients. I think developers enjoy working with me because I am honest with them and I don’t create unrealistic expectations. It is much more beneficial for a developer to work with an experienced agent, because every deal is different, and selling developments is much more involved and time consuming than the average resale. If you work with good builders and help them create a good product that is fairly priced, buyers will appreciate that.
HOW DO YOU HANDLE MULTIPLE OFFERS CORRECTLY AND GRACEFULLY?
Pattie Murray: Handling multiple offers is never easy. In fact, with the market being as “touchy” as it is, sometimes (with my clients’ permission) I don’t even let each agent know there is another offer. I was surprised to learn at one of my continuing education sessions that there is no rule that you have to let agents know if there is another offer. Sometimes, as soon as you tell an agent there is another offer, one of the two withdraws because they don’t want to get into a bidding war. Most sellers today, rather than being greedy, just want to sell their homes at a price they are happy with. When there are two offers, we choose the one that has the best overall terms (excluding price) and work with that one to get the price that will work for the seller. In a really hot market, I will instruct each agent to write their best offer and go over each one with the seller. In a down market, this strategy doesn’t always work.
Eudice Fogel: Multiple offers can be tricky, because you want to get the best price for the property but also make sure that you choose the right buyer. During negotiations, I try to make sure that each agent feels that his offer is being treated fairly and that each offer has a fair chance. Again, that is accomplished by communicating and letting them know how the seller wants to handle the negotiations. Keep each agent informed on every step in the process, and try to get back in a timely manner. Make sure that each agent understands each counter thoroughly, so there is no misunderstanding. There will always be a loser in multiple offers, but if the agents have felt that they have been treated fairly, they won’t walk away mad at you and will want to work with you again in another transaction. Obviously, the deal is important, but so is your reputation as a fair and honest agent.
HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR THE NEXT YEAR?
Marsha Ulbrich: This year will be devoted to expanding my production through selective listings that meet the market’s pricing in order to sell and present well. Unmotivated sellers will be likened to lepers as surely as it will be their choice of agent as the reason their home is not selling rather than their price. Listings are just an unpaid bill if the market will not support their purchase. My marketing focus will drift from printed material to the Internet. Optimization and positioning and my Web site will be at center stage; luxury buyers are short on time and the Internet is 24-7, around the globe. A searching buyer educates themselves and delivers their interest by a click of a button, if you are reaching them. [I choose to] develop a team or refer business to other agents in my office in order to develop a better life balance and stress management.
Eudice Fogel: I am always preparing every day for the next day and next year by keeping active in the marketplace. That is accomplished by talking to my fellow agents, taking continuing education classes, reading articles and getting trained in the fast-changing technology part of the real estate business. But one always has to remember that it is your relationship with your clients that best helps build your business for years to come. Although our business has become more computer based than ever before, there still has to be a personal touch with the client to retain and expand your business.
John Bates: I review the last year and market conditions. I look forward to the next year and set new goals based upon the market conditions and my past success. I try to keep up with the new technology and adjust my business expenses accordingly. Lately, the Internet has been the hot button for buyers looking for properties that are available. I intend to increase my Internet presence. Print media is still an important part of my business, and most of my print media will direct them to my Web site. C.A.
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage
Rubloff Residential Properties
Koenig & Strey GMAC Real Estate
Century 21 Sussex & Reilly
RE/MAX Unlimited Northwest