Making it to the Top Every Year
In any year, becoming a top producer in the real estate game requires persistence, hard work, plenty of branding and high-quality customer service, but in a down year such as 2009, client relationships take a bit longer to build and nurture, sales move at a slower pace and an extra dose of positive thinking is often required. Five top producers from the Chicagoland area spoke with Chicago Agent about how Realtors can navigate their own way to the top – even when the market is at or approaching the bottom.
By Morgan Phelps
Keeping Your Head High in a Down Year
These top agents are no rookies, but the state of the market last year was unlike anything they had seen before. Although few had concrete plans in place to address the down market, they stayed on top of their game by stepping up their workloads, making themselves more available to clients and keeping a positive attitude even in the slowest of sales periods.
“When the market gets harder, you have to work harder,” says Beth Burtt, broker and owner of Brush Hill Realtors in Hinsdale. “I had to increase the number of open houses, contact with customers and classes I took. [It] definitely took more effort than in previous years.”
Leslie McDonnell of RE/MAX Suburban in Libertyville says she experienced a decline in average sales prices and the number of transactions, as well as higher stress levels. She also noted that conversion ratios hit all-time lows, as agents tried to shy away from the listings of unrealistic sellers.
“Things will still sell, but there has to be an adjustment of attitude,” says Renee Anderson of Baird & Warner. Anderson stresses the importance of having a positive attitude as an agent, noting that “regardless of the market, people just want to have hope.” Other top producers similarly pointed to their positive perspective as a strong asset to keeping their business on top.
Customer Service is Key
Whether the market is up, down or somewhere in the middle, catering to your clients’ needs should be at the core of your business. Last year, relationships with buyers and sellers — whether repeat, referral or clients only encountered for one sale or purchase — lasted a bit longer than usual and sometimes took a bit more trust and counseling.
“Last year, it became more apparent that much more time would be spent facilitating transactions and facilitating clients,” says Ed Jelinek of Coldwell Banker.
“The customer service aspect cannot be stressed enough,” says Anderson. Building on last year’s success, she plans on going back to the basics this year – meaning client needs and customer service will take top billing on her agenda. “Even if [clients] don’t get the price they wanted, they will know they got good service,” she says.
As referrals are an important source of her business, Anderson says she spends a lot of her time building relationships with clients and taking her business one sale at a time. “Instead of focusing on being No. 1, focus on one house at a time,” she says. “You never know where a transaction will take you.”
Jelinek says his job became more about consulting and counseling clients this year, which meant he had to become more accessible to clients and educate them about the realities of the market when necessary. “We’ll get through this cycle and we’ll all be much better educated and better prepared for the future,” says Jelinek. “And hopefully our clients will be, too.” Sara Mitchell of Century 21 New Heritage in Huntley also says education played a larger role in her success last year than in previous years.
Social Networking and Technology
Some top producers use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to make their client relationships a bit more personal, while others shy away from the sites, relying heavily on other technologies to keep their business running at top speed.
McDonnell recommends using Facebook for client communication, YouTube to post team videos and Twitter to provide market updates. Mitchell has just begun to delve into sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, noting that time has been a major factor in her lack of business presence on the sites.
Anderson says she uses Facebook to connect with clients, deepen their relationship and view unfiltered client opinions, ones which some are not always comfortable sharing directly with their Realtor. “[Social networking] hasn’t necessarily increased my business, but it helps keep a human spin on things for my clients,” Anderson says.
On the other hand, Jelinek says he stays away from social networking as a business tool, since he sees it as a more personal medium and he has typically refrained from using friends and family as a source of business.
Whether or not they used social media, these top producers stress the importance of smart phones, particularly the BlackBerry and iPhone, for keeping their business and life in order. GPS systems, computer-based calendar systems and an assistant were also noted as key tools for several top producers.
Investing in the Future of Your Brand
Ad spending was expectedly hit as the market plummeted, but these agents continued to invest in their brands to remain top producers this year and in the future.
Mitchell practices the philosophy that you must “spend money to make money.” Particularly at the beginning of her business, she invested in ads on billboards, scoreboards and banners, among other places, in addition to heavily involving herself in the community to make contacts and build relationships. Although the majority of her business now comes from repeat clients and referrals, she continues to “do it big” by investing in half-page ads, a robust Web site and visually appealing virtual tours.
Burtt says some leading priorities for her business, particularly through 2010, will be good Internet marketing, useful visual tours and pictures, e-mail marketing and abundant open houses. “Just keep trying a variety of methods: Internet, print, personal contact,” says Burtt. “Find the style that really fits you.”
Carrying Top Producer Status into 2010
Going forward, several of this year’s top producers are expecting, or at least hoping, that the market will improve, as buyers and sellers – and some agents – continue to adjust their attitudes to the still-depressed market.
“I think this year will be better,” says Burtt. “Interest rates are low, pricing is great for buyers, sellers have been working harder to get their properties sold and there are some great opportunities.”
In order to capitalize on these opportunities, top producers – and those seeking to reach this level going forward – must work hard to ensure their attitudes and the attitudes of clients are adjusted to the current state of the market.
“Sellers have begun to adjust their expectations. They’re beginning to accept and acknowledge the decrease in market value,” says Anderson. “And buyers are figuring out this won’t last forever; it’s their turn.”
Reaching top producer status requires buyers, sellers and agents to be on the same wavelength and set realistic expectations about what is achievable in this market.
“We need to work with a spirit of cooperation to get buyers and sellers on the same page as it benefits our clients, our companies, our economy and, most importantly, each other,” says McDonnell. “Remember, this too shall pass and if you are still in this business after the last two years, pat yourselves on the back as ‘survivors’ of the toughest real estate market ever.” CA
Baird & Warner, Carpentersville
Brush Hill Realtors, Hinsdale
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Lincoln Park
RE/MAX Suburban, Libertyville
Century 21 New Heritage, Huntley