Powerful practices of top producers

by Melanie Kalmar

Like an artist deftly at work on a commission, top producers focus on the process of reaching their goals, not on the outcome. This served them well in 2020, when the pandemic disrupted life as we knew it and made everyone miss the extraordinary beauty in ordinary routines. Once communication became virtual, meeting with clients in person or accompanying them to showings, seeing their faces light up the moment they found their dream home, was no longer part of the average workday. Despite the obstacles, the top producers we consulted chose to make waves in the industry rather than get washed up on shore.

Also in this issue:

What do agents think of top producers?

Real Data 2020

RPAC is always asking for money. Where do those dollars go?

Inventory Shortage an Invisible Roadblock to Fairer Housing

How top producers reach their goals

Now it’s your turn to aim high and become a top producer. Our featured brokers show you how to reach the coveted milestone, set yourself apart from the competition and achieve the requisite next level in volume. So, grab a pen — you might want to take notes — follow their lead, and discover how to make 2021 your most productive year ever.

Take Every Lead and Run With It

Kim Wirtz, a top-producing Realtor with Century 21 Affiliated, began her career in 1991 after being left a single mother with zero income to raise three young children. “At the time, they were 2, 4 and 6,” she recalled. “I had no choice. I basically just had to push my way up to the top to put food on the table for my kids.”

She did it by taking every lead and phone call seriously. In below-zero weather, she didn’t hesitate to show vacant homes without heat, just to get in front of a client and attempt to make a sale, because she knew it would be worthwhile. “Even if it doesn’t work out with that client, if you provide good service, then they will refer you to a friend or family member,” she said. “That’s how you build your book of business.” The strategy, she found, never fails.

Wirtz recently received a call from a buyer who wanted to look at properties in Rockford. Although the city is in her territory, it’s about a 1 1/2 hour drive away. To qualify the lead, she asked the right questions: “Do you have a home you need to sell?” and “Are you preapproved for financing?” The person answered yes to both. Their home was already under contract and they needed to close by a certain date. While their preapproval letter revealed they had a small budget, Wirtz sensed they needed assistance and was honored to help. So, she journeyed to Rockford, where she showed them five homes — one of which they bought. “You need to adapt to each and every client on an individual basis,” she said. “That’s what’s very important and will take you to the next level.” In this instance, what appeared to be “a shot in the dark” became a quick sale.

Build Lasting Relationships

Andra O’Neill, a top-producing agent with @properties, has based her business on building solid relationships with clients. “If you focus on relationships, the rest falls into place,” she commented. Like everyone else, she got her feet wet and learned the local market. But to differentiate herself from the competition, she worked hard to cultivate her value proposition.

“I wanted to make myself available to clients for whatever they needed,” she explained. “I wanted to be a resource.” Often, clients come to her for vendor recommendations and advice on work that needs to be done or investment properties they’re considering for purchase. “For many people, buying a home is one of the most special moments in their lives, and it comes with a lot of emotional management,” she said. “I’m compassionate but also the calm in the storm. When they cannot see a clear way past an obstacle or issue, I’m there with the answers, the person who gets them to the finish line.”

Have a Plan, Be Consistent and Show Up

Scott Curcio, a top broker and team leader with Baird & Warner, built his business by continuing to learn (attending conferences, reading industry publications and keeping up with what’s going on in other markets), sticking to a plan (prospecting for business Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.) and staying in touch with his network and past clients (hosting special events and delivering gifts, like customized chocolate truffles, at the holidays). Since success doesn’t happen overnight, he said it’s important to keep focused on your plan and look for mentors to help you.

“It doesn’t have to be anything formal,” he noted. “Learn from people who are where you want to be. If your goal is to be the No. 1 agent in your company one day, then go to coffee with the person who’s the No. 1 agent.” Meanwhile, he cautioned, avoid the salty curmudgeon who sits at the same computer all day and sells two houses a year, but is always in the office and wants to talk. “They will suck the life out of you, drag you down and you will never learn anything of value from them,” he said. For those new to the industry, he said it will take two years of being consistent and doing the right things to get a solid footing in the business.

Stay Top of Mind

At the start of her career, Wirtz focused on online advertising, mailings and billboards to keep her name in front of everyone. She even marketed her business on shopping carts at grocery stores and place mats in restaurants. “Now my main focus is retaining and obtaining positive reviews online,” she said. “It’s very important; it’s what people are looking at.” At the end of every transaction, Century 21 sends clients a questionnaire, and the replies automatically post online.

For O’Neill, staying in touch with her network helps generate a consistent flow of referrals. “I do a lot of ‘pop-byes,’” she said. “One client calls me their elf, because I drop off something for Christmas, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving.” She also hosts clients for pool parties or drinks. “If they have kids, I’ll try to do a group with the same-aged kids,” she said. “That way, they meet new people, too.”

Curcio usually adds one or two new marketing vehicles each year. Sometimes it’s a matter of expanding a direct-mail campaign, redesigning a post card, advertising more on billboards (like he’s doing this year) or dialing back on something that isn’t working. “Every phone call, every handwritten note, every mailer that goes out, all of those are part of the greater process to build your business, increase your sales and expand your reach,” he said.

Hire Help To Assist You

A top producer since 2000, Wirtz has always worked alone, without a team or assistant to back her up. Yet this setup isn’t for everyone. O’Neill has a full-time, non-licensed assistant to handle all the behind-the-scenes work, from uploading contracts to keeping track of emails. She also has a licensed, part-time assistant who currently helps out on an as-needed basis.

“If you take your business to the next level, you have to be prepared to increase your infrastructure, or things will start falling through the cracks and you’ll lose business,” she cautioned. “You have to be prepared. Some people share an assistant or use someone on a time-by-time basis. By trial and error, you will find what works best for you.” Clearly, it has worked out for O’Neill: For the past four years, she has been the top single agent in Lake Forest.

Focus on Self-Care

O’Neill emphasized the importance of taking care of yourself in an industry that operates 24/7. She suggested making time to work out, meditate and see friends and family. “If you don’t take care of yourself,” she said, “you cannot take care of your clients.”

In an industry that always celebrates accolades, Curcio said nobody talks about the difficult steps — what it took to get there. “If you are new to the business and not up to top ranks, it’s easy to feel like ‘I’m never going to get there and all these people have it all together,’” he said. “When reality is, I don’t think everybody really has it all together.” It doesn’t help that TV shows like “Million Dollar Listing” make it look easy.

“Everybody on those shows has put in their time, and we’re seeing it on the other side,” Curcio said. “I think it can be misleading for someone sitting at home to think you’re not going to have days where you are scrubbing floors or cleaning up cat vomit or walking into a house where a plumbing leak has sprung. It’s not a very glamorous world most days.”

He admits that at times, the business can be scary. He believes it helps to create a network of like-minded peers to turn to for support. Every couple of months, Curcio has virtual get-togethers with a group of brokers to share triumphs, troubleshoot challenges and avoid suffering in silence. Best of all, he usually learns something new at these gatherings that helps his business.

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