First-time buyer seminars in the age of COVID-19

by Meg White

If you want to build your business around first-time buyers, you would do well to follow the lead of Ryan Gable. As the founder and CEO of StartingPoint Realty, he’s been teaching agents how to serve this demographic for some 15 years.

“This is a market that is always so neglected,” Gable said of first-timers. “We’ve always been the type of company that loves it.”

But as any real estate professional who’s done it can attest, this segment is not the easiest to serve. “They’re awesome … but it’s a fickle group,” Gable said, noting that sometimes his agents get frustrated when potential buyers suddenly stop responding to communications or don’t understand the need to move quickly in a competitive market. “You have to get creative in giving them information. … You can’t complain about it. You just have to adapt.”

That’s why brokers at his firm end up training clients in the process of preparing them to buy, both one-on-one within the transaction and through first-time buyer seminars, of which the company offers more than a dozen a month. But that’s gotten a whole lot hairier now with the coronavirus pandemic.

While they haven’t been able to meet new buyers in person to explain the process and answer questions, brokers at StartingPoint Realty have been offering regular webinars to replicate the experience. “It’s actually been turning out better than I thought,” Gable said. While he did note that overall interaction is a bit lower when consumers have a screen to hide behind, he’s been pleased with the engagement levels.

Gable takes the seminars very seriously as a method for getting consumers ready to buy a home. “We have a training program that [agents] have to go through in order to teach seminars,” he said, noting that more than half of his brokers are certified to do so. They also bring in lenders to tackle common mortgage questions that buyers may have.

Indeed, as much as these seminars offer a chance to glean information, often it’s more about being able to ask questions of agents and lenders. That’s why Gable does his best to keep things light and pressure-free. “We always want people to be very comfortable. That’s No. 1,” he said, noting that he’ll do things like make fun of what he’s wearing to lighten the mood at the start of seminars he’s leading. “If you’re not comfortable, you’re not going to ask questions.”

For agents who want to try to replicate StartingPoint Realty’s success reaching new buyers using virtual communications platforms, Gable suggested rehearsing regularly, even if it’s not the most comfortable task. “It’s the worst thing to watch yourself on camera and hear your voice, but you’ve got to do it,” he said. “You’ve got to push yourself, and you’ve got to practice it.”

Gable recommended taping yourself using QuickTime or other screen recording software. If you can’t bear to review it yourself, ask someone else to give you some honest feedback. “If you know somebody who’s really good” at video presentations, Gable said, “send it to them and take that advice from that person.”

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