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Making it to the Top – And Staying There

by Chicago Agent

No one is going to tell you that 2009 will be an easy year. However, that doesn’t mean this is the time to blame the economy and throw in the towel. There are still plenty of agents out there finding success, and we believe there is no reason you shouldn’t have one of the best years of your career. Who better to look to for advice and strength than the area’s top producers? We went straight to the source and had one top-producing agent in each of the six Chicagoland counties tell us what it takes to make it to the top, and how they plan on staying there.

Chicago Agent: What does it take to be a top producer?
Francesca Rose, Prudential Preferred Properties, Cook County:
I’d like to quote one of Trump’s apprentices: “Passion is the fulcrum point of selling.” I think that heartfelt passion about yourself, your product and your desire to be of maximum benefit to your clients will translate into more business than anyone can handle. This is true in any market – up or down. The next step is to learn to delegate and leverage that business by taking on assistants and technology that will keep up with the business demands. Then, it just becomes an exponential snowball. However, the one thing I won’t compromise on is the quality of my service. I would rather be a boutique providing exceptional service than an assembly-line lister. The service aspect gives me great joy and renews my passion daily.

Dawn McKenna, Coldwell Banker Residential, DuPage County: The key to being a top producer is knowing your market inside and out. You must stay true to your town or area of expertise and know what events are planned and be a part of the community. Additionally, you’ll need to know the latest trends and be able to implement change. Always look for new innovative ideas and create your own style. Provide a level of superior service in every transaction. It also helps to have two spectacular assistants that have the same goal: sell, sell, sell!

Wayne and Teresa Reuter, RE/MAX Professionals East, Kane County: There are many characteristics that an agent must possess to be a top producer. First of all, they must be willing to work hard, adhere to a strict schedule and maintain strong work habits. Top producers have high goals that they review on a regular basis and work hard to achieve. It’s important to be honest and have integrity both with the clients they serve and also their fellow agents. It’s important to put the client’s needs first and always strive to give the best possible service. An agent should also work hard to maintain a good reputation among the other agents and offices.

Sheila Brooks, Koenig & Strey GMAC, Lake County: I attribute my success to integrity, knowledge, strong marketing and communication skills with my clients. Integrity – Real estate is all about relationships. It can’t be a numbers game; it must be a sincere commitment to each client. Knowledge – I focus my energy on learning everything about real estate: buyer and seller psychology, construction cost, financing — really every aspect of the business. Strong marketing – I am a true believer in the power of marketing. I continue investing in advertising and public relations even when budgets are tight. Communication skills – A top Realtor determines a buyer’s or seller’s motivations, desires and requirements by asking pointed questions. Once you understand the buyer’s or seller’s needs you can help them achieve their real estate needs.

Skipper Denton, RED DOOR Living Properties, Will County: High energy, dedication, creativity, technological knowledge and positive thinking are all necessary traits to becoming a top producer. You must have a winning attitude with good listening skills and patience. It is also important to educate yourself constantly on national statistics, the stock market and banks, and also pay attention to trends and patterns.

CA: How do you plan to stay on top in 2009?
FR:
I am so excited about 2009! What an incredible opportunity this is, and I love a challenge. It’s like the chance to run in the Olympics, to see what we are really made of as agents. The good times can make us complacent, and the tough times will make us superior. I’m doing better than ever because talent is treasured like never before. Other than embrace new e-technologies, I don’t plan to do anything different. My business has always been based on word of mouth, and in this economy, people want the very best specialist they can get, so they go the extra mile to find out who is best suited for the job. All my business has come from people who seek me out. It’s very satisfying.

DM: To stay on top I will continue with what has worked in the past: hard work, creative approaches and thinking outside the box. I will stay enthusiastic, which is easy because I love what I’m doing. It is also important for me to stay in tune to the economic market conditions and know mortgage parameters. I was an interior designer before I became a Realtor, and that helps me keep up with the latest trends so that I can advise my clients. I continually market my listings and I’m on CLTV, NBC and other networks to give my clients the greatest exposure. It is my marketing efforts that set me apart from my competition. My two licensed assistants, Anne Wiemeler and Lillian Nawas, are proficient in the latest technological advancements and engineer a top marketing campaign for me.

SB: The 2009 market poses many challenges. In recessionary times, both buyers and sellers are uncertain about the future. This nervous energy makes it difficult to get buyers to commit to buying a new home. Therefore, attracting buyers and finalizing a deal is much more difficult. On the other side, sellers are frustrated with market times and falling prices. Juggling these two concerns is the largest challenge.
The buyer side- My approach this year is to focus on marketing and networking. I am expanding my marketing to reach more communities and pull in potential buyers. I have adopted a plan that involves “spending money to make money.” This includes expanding my Internet marketing, as well as increasing my “featured home spots” online. Today, the Internet is most buyers’ first stop, making the first impression critical. To create the perfect first impression, I assist each seller in staging the house for photos. The Internet is only a great marketing tool if you have incredible photos of each listing. A buyer can be hooked with good photos, but on the flip side, poor Internet photos will scare buyers away.
I also believe print advertising is imperative in this market. First, there needs to be an avenue to cross-market communities. For example, some buyers limit their scope to one particular community, and unless they are presented with something of interest elsewhere, they would never venture out. Second, print advertising can stimulate the desire to move. Similar to when you go shopping at the mall and come home with an item you hadn’t planned on purchasing, buyers will see a house in print and it will spark an interest to move.
The seller side- In these tough times, sellers are frustrated because market times are higher, meaning their properties are taking longer to sell and prices have declined. To keep frustration at a minimum, it is critical to get the listing price right. Testing the market is no longer an option. Houses that are priced close to true market value sell, and houses that are priced above market value sit. A top producer works to educate sellers on the market conditions and price homes accordingly. In addition, sellers often need guidance on staging their homes. In this type of market, home appearance is critical; well-decorated and updated homes are still selling. I educate sellers on current trends in design and give them suggestions on ways they can improve their homes’ appearances. And, finally, a strategic online-marketing campaign is vital to selling a home. I utilize Koenig & Strey GMAC’s new search-engine-optimized Web site and single-property sites to keep my sellers’ homes at the forefront of online searches.
Ultimately, this year will mark a year of hard work and dedication. It takes more than the MLS to sell a home. It will take a skilled agent with a network of clients, knowledge about both buyers’ and sellers’ concerns and solutions to get homes sold.

Rick O’Connor, Realty Executives Cornerstone, McHenry County: Not to lose my passion. To do everything I need to do to stay passionate. Not to become distracted with the things of this world, with all the negativity, all the nay-saying, the silliness of this world. I don’t want to get caught up in that.

SD: I plan to stay on top by staying abreast of all things happening in the real estate market. I will make sure to have the highest technology available and the know how to use it. All agents need to take a teenager aside and ask them what the latest and greatest is in terms of technology. It’s amazing what a lot of agents are unaware of. If you are not computer literate, these teenagers are a wealth of information. There are many programs that you can use on the Internet that do not cost anything, even to market your listings with broker authorization.

CA: What marketing technique have you used anytime in the past that has brought in the most new clients?
FR:
The best marketing technique I use, and frankly the one that surprises me the most, is e-postcards. I always thought most people treated mass e-mail as junk mail and hit the delete or spam key. However, my company, Prudential Preferred Properties, and my manager, Dennis Dooley, foster an agent-centric e-technology platform that is simply extraordinary. It allows me to provide the kind of personalized communication I want, without having to spend the hours I used to writing individual e-mails.

DM: At the beginning of every year, I put together an ad that showcases all the properties that I listed and sold in the past year. I have found that this gives confidence to prospective buyers and sellers and motivates them to call me.

WTR: We send out annual and semi-annual reports with housing activity updates to neighborhoods where we do a lot of business. Our personal Web site brings quite a few new clients as well.

SB: Real estate is primarily about relationships. If you establish a great relationship with a client, they will remember you and refer you often. Most of my business is referral based.
However, I do not discount the importance of marketing techniques to attract new customers and I employ several. First, I developed an interactive Web site (SheilaBrooks.com). This site features all of my current listings with full photos and information, and also allows visitors to search more than 100,000 listings from brokers throughout Chicagoland. Also included on the Web site is information about the communities and other general real estate knowledge. Many of my clients find my Web site easier to navigate than my competitors. Secondly, direct-to-consumer postcards remind sellers and buyers that I am a top producer and always selling homes in their area. Finally, keeping in touch with past clients will ensure loyalty when they are ready to move again.

RO: I have the benefit and the blessing of having been in the business for 25 years. Even after 25 years I haven’t lost the passion for the business or the passion for the people – to meet their needs. The simplicity of just being willing to pick up the phone and call past clients or people I know; just keeping in touch. Letting them know that I’m there, that I care, that I’m there to be a resource, to assist them, their friends and their family. Many times it’s what I call face time – letting people know you are in the business to be a resource for them and their family and friends.

SD: I have always capitalized on the fact that I am unique, I am not into the same old same old. I am constantly reinventing myself and I do not play into negativity. I am always looking for the best way to market myself and my properties. I am helpful to my fellow comrades in the business and have a positive outlook on life, period. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I found that when putting ads in print and on the Internet, you need to keep the consumer in mind. What about your advertising makes it about them? Success has come for me by designing my ads geared toward what I would want to see if I was looking for a home or if I was planning to sell my home. Our potential clients are no different than we are ourselves. That is where is starts, and new relationships become a lifetime of referral business.

CA: What books, seminars and/or Web sites do you look to for motivational or educational purposes?
FR:
For motivation, I no longer attend seminars. I used to go to quite a few, get the sizzle for a day, and then it would fizzle. For me, a daily source seems to stick better. When my life has a good foundation physically, spiritually and mentally, I can be the best version of myself, which will carry forward into my professional life. I love tut.com. For pure real estate education, the Internet is my best source. I read Crain’s daily, New York Times weekly, Realty Times and various local blogs. I reserve books for pure pleasure; “Eat. Pray, Love” and “The Last American Man,” both by Elizabeth Gilbert, were really enjoyable reads.

WTR: We really like Mike Ferry and Tom Ferry for sales training and motivation. Howard Brinton and Joe Stumpf are also very good. The NAR and RE/MAX Mainstreet are excellent sources of information as well. Going to seminars, reading books and listening to motivational CDs are a really great to way maintain motivation and stay on top of changes in the real estate market.

SB: I find most of my motivation comes from the reward of assisting clients in finding something truly special: a place to call home, raise a family and enjoy their life.
However, I do use several resources to educate myself on current market trends. I watch/listen to CNBC to keep abreast of market conditions, and I also check the NAR Web site for real estate information and/or changes in real estate law.

RO: The only book in my life is the Bible. That gives me direction in all aspects of my life. I also think that it is important not only to stay sharp on the business, but also to read about other things that you are passionate about in life. That way, you are not just limited by what you do and by your business.

SD: A Web site I turn to with a wealth of information is CKGinternational.com. Realtors will find up-to-date cutting-edge information of how to run their businesses more efficiently and effectively. I visit this site regularly. There are many videos and spectacular top agents with great ideas on how to conquer this challenging market.

CA: What else should we know about being a top producer?
FR:
I would just like to say that this is my second go around in the business after a five-year absence. I never thought I would fall in love with real estate and the city of Chicago again after being burned out on both. I feel incredibly blessed to do what I love to do in such a phenomenal city.

WTR: Top producers treat their real estate business like a business. They work full-time, have goals and have business plans. It is not just a part-time job or a hobby to them.

RO: I would say for the majority of people that are in our business I’ve noticed a couple of negative things. First, they do not have a business plan or even more specifically a life plan – which covers seven aspects of a person’s life. From their mental to their physical, their spiritual to their family or familial, social, their business and financial. I would highly encourage you to develop a life plan and do what you want to do and set out to do it and accomplish it. Secondly. place value on your time. How many people in our business have no clue what their time is worth? I have asked so many people when I do training, “What’s your time worth?” The answers range and vary, but the majority truly do not know. They have not placed a value on their time, and so they just kind of run around with limited or no direction.

SD: It is important to pace yourself and simplify your marketing strategies. Look at your top-10 listings and concentrate on ways to get these sold, and the rest will follow. Take time to share your ideas and create a marketplace for yourself and others by communication with your fellow agents. Relationships with other Realtors outside of your office is important for both your success and theirs. This is a market where the strongest will prevail. My story of success is constant knowledge. When we share it, we then own it. If we shape success in our minds, we then find it in our lives. C.A.

COOK COUNTY
Francesca Rose
Realtor
Prudential Preferred Properties
312.350.4900
Frose@PruPref.com

DUPAGE COUNTY
Dawn McKenna
Sales Associate
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage
Hinsdale
630.546.3763
dawnjmckenna@hotmail.com

KANE COUNTY
Wayne and Teresa Reuter
The Reuter Team
Sales Associates
RE/MAX Professionals East
St. Charles
630.513.3174
reuterteam@aol.com

LAKE COUNTY
Sheila Brooks
Sales Associate
Koenig & Strey GMAC
Libertyville
847.557.1603
reuterteam@aol.com

MCHENRY COUNTY
Rick O’Connor
Broker/Owner
Realty Executives Cornerstone
815.477.3000
rick@rickoconnorgroup.com

WILL COUNTY
Skipper Denton
Broker/Owner
RED DOOR Living Properties
815.806.8680
skipperdenton@comcast.net

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