Inside the minds of top producers in Chicagoland

by Jason Porterfield

There are few clearer indicators that an agent has reached the greatest heights of the real estate profession than being recognized as a top producer. It’s both an affirmation of an agent’s success and an invaluable accolade that can help bring in future business.

Top producer awards are generally handed out by real estate organizations and brokerages to the agents who meet that group’s particular criteria. What qualifies an agent for this status could be something as simple as having the most sides or highest sales numbers in a given area; or it could be very niche, such as most sales of luxury condos. Many associations, for example, honors agents with awards in the categories of residential units and volume, as well as neighborhood units and volume.

Here at Chicago Agent magazine, we have Real Data, a built-in mechanism that connects us and our readers with MLS data and other sources to see the top players in Chicagoland, as well as who’s making big moves in each of the six counties in our immediate area.

But ultimately, being a top producer is more of a state of mind. Jena Radnay, an @properties agent and luxury consultant in Winnetka, advises agents who want to reach this status to remain nimble. “This is an ever-changing market. It can change in a day,” she said. “You have to go with it and you always have to know that it can be taken away from you at any moment.”

For how much attention the real estate world bestows on top producers, there’s still a fair amount of mystery surrounding how they achieved their vaunted status and their strategies for keeping their businesses in the spotlight.

Natural phenomenon or nurtured passion?

Becoming a top producer may feel like a natural progression to some agents, especially for those who have been steeped in the field for a long time.
Sarah Leonard, team leader at RE/MAX Suburban in Schaumburg, first obtained her license in 2005, but she initially became familiar with the industry much earlier. She began working at the front desk of a RE/MAX office at age 16.

“I’ve done this for literally my whole working life,” she said. “I always had a really good understanding as to what it entailed, and then I actually applied it to my business.”

Leonard also attributes some of her success to her personality: “I’m super Type A and super high energy. I love the relationship side of things.”

But for others, it requires an intentional plan of attack. Radnay first learned the real estate business in the city before moving to the north, where she struggled initially. “When I first came up to the North Shore I was not well-received. It was because I had a city work ethic. I didn’t believe in lockboxes. I basically had no ties to anybody. No one gave me a listing. No one knew who I was. I really had to start from the ground up,” she said. However, she added that it was her move to the area that allowed her the opportunity to reach such a high level of production. “It wasn’t until I came to the North Shore, which was seven years ago, that I really started to get on the pathway to being a top producer.”

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Doing well in real estate also requires a positive attitude. “I always thought I would be successful,” said Matt Laricy, managing partner of the Matt Laricy Group at Americorp Real Estate. “I never thought for a moment that I wouldn’t be. I had my downturns through it, but mentally I was always the type of person that knew I would get there. I did have to put in the work to get there, so I think when I started actually feeling that this was certain to go in my direction was probably 2010.”

A space to learn

Becoming successful in real estate is seldom an overnight process. And agents who started out in the last decade had to deal with a significant economic recession.
However, the downturn also produced opportunities for those who saw it as the perfect time to learn about the business. With activity slow and sales prices dropping, they could take the time to step back and discover what practices could help them succeed in the worst of times.

Laricy, a third-generation real estate professional, said he started out as an agent in late 2006 or early 2007. He was still learning the ropes when the market crashed in 2008. He approached the industry philosophically, with an eye toward learning as much as possible before focusing on increasing his sales.

“I didn’t care that I wasn’t successful for my first four years in the business because I looked at it like a college education,” Laricy said. “You go to college, and after four years, you get a college degree. I took those four years and I just learned everything I could. It was my way of understanding the ins and out of the business.”

His first big transaction didn’t happen until 2010, when he sold a $600,000 home. The time he took to learn the market during the downturn helped propel his later success.

“One of the lessons that came through was that you don’t get rich in good markets, you get rich in bad markets. When the market turned, I would be the guy who knew every single thing about the marketplace,” Laricy said.

Some top producers draw from experiences in other industries to propel their success in real estate. Radnay had a background in marketing before becoming an agent in 2007. She was accustomed to meeting with executives from major corporations, such as McDonald’s, and handling high-pressure situations. The experience was an excellent training ground for learning how to handle business from a customer’s perspective and how to help direct clients toward making a decision.

“Even though the market was crashing, it didn’t really frighten me because I felt like I had the best training ground from where I was before,” Radnay said. “The hardest thing about being a real estate agent and getting to the top is understanding the people and the client relationship. It’s not about houses. It’s about talking to people and educating them. … Trust is a big piece of what I’ve been able to do.”

Sometimes it’s a specific niche, coupled with a complementary advertising plan, that helps an agent break through to top producer status. Leonard credited her willingness to reach out to younger buyers and invest in online marketing strategies with helping her find success during the downturn. “The thing I picked up was a really good understanding of the process. There was some trial and error to what would work and what wouldn’t work,” she said. “I was getting into a lot of online marketing and getting myself established … I was able to capitalize on a lot of the younger generation of buyers, the millennials, coming into the market. I took that as an opportunity.”

Marketing like a champ

Appearing on lists of the most productive agents is certainly a nice benefit of high sales numbers. But just being a top producer doesn’t guarantee you business.
In fact, Laricy doesn’t even advertise his top producer status in his marketing efforts, though he does mention his sales numbers. Instead, he finds adding a personal touch for clients once transactions draw to a close is key to customer retention and referrals.

While many agents give their clients closing gifts, Laricy turns the gifting into a special moment where he can really connect with the people who have trusted him with their property purchase. “I give our clients a bottle of Ace of Spades Champagne,” he said. “It’s a special moment. I go over how I met [the producers] at the winery in Champagne and what a special moment it was for us, so in return, we want to make sure they have a special moment when they close. It’s a very fancy bottle, something most would never think of buying on their own. It adds a lot of value to show we go above and beyond for our clients.”

Leonard recommends agents be willing to experiment with marketing and outreach as a way to stay sharp and reach new clients. “My motto has always been ‘never say no,’” Leonard said. “I would try anything, from mailers to hosting seminars to online advertising and print advertising. The most important thing that I ever did was try multiple facets, and then do a little bit of everything. So we do a little bit of online advertising, past client retention and a lot of everything else just to make sure we have the broadest outreach.”

Radnay has found that marketing herself as a top producer can be a double-edged sword. More than once, potential clients have called her for a listing to take advantage of her expertise before going with another agent. She works to prevent this from happening by working closely with a team of skilled professionals who can address problems with a home and get it ready for a sale.

“I come over and I’ll give it a quick walkthrough and get some ideas,” Radnay says. “I have a transformation team. I come in and if there’s a plumbing issue, I bring my plumber. I take accountability for all of those angles that we find.”

Taking care of all the little details can leave a big impression. In one instance, she had her movers come in and shift a grand piano out of the way of an electrical panel it was blocking just minutes before an inspection was to take place. “It’s all about who you know and how you treat them,” she said. “I treat the people that work with me and for me very well. I can’t be successful without them.”


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