|By Bridget McCrea
Top-producing agents have a knack for keeping their businesses going in the right direction during good times and bad. And while the most recent market downturn has put pressure on even the most successful REALTORS® in the game, many of them are keeping sales steady—or even growing sales—despite the adversity presented by the market, lending environment, and overall economy.
How do they do it? Bay State REALTOR® spoke with a few agents in Massachusetts and from around the country to learn their top strategies for staying ahead of the pack. Here are their top success secrets:
Manage Seller Expectations
Sonia Rollins knows that today’s sellers don’t always understand why their homes aren’t worth what they were four or five years ago. As sales manager and REALTOR® at Premier Real Estate in Burlington, Rollins also knows that her sellers aren’t always eager to put extra money or time into properties that aren’t going to fetch the high prices that their owners expect.
That’s where Rollins comes in. “I tell them that first impressions are everything,” she explains, “and that if they want to sell their homes within 30-45 days, they’ll have to take the steps necessary to stage their houses properly.” When she comesupon an “anxious” client who is eager to sell, for example, Rollins puts on her educator hat and helps him or her stage the home first.
“If a buyer loses interest as soon as she walks in the door, then you’ve lost her forever,” says Rollins, who works closely with sellers to make sure that doesn’t happen. “I help them get their homes in as good a shape as possible in order to sell them.”
Price also matters. If a seller isn’t willing to budge on price, Rollins says she simply tells him or her that “this isn’t your marketplace, and you should hold onto your home a little longer until the market shifts.” Rollins finds that 20% of sellers remain unrealistic in their pricing expectations, hoping to get the same offer that a neighbor did four or five years ago.
The good news, says Rollins, is that the home that’s priced right (usually within $10,000 or less of the “right” number that the market will bear) and staged properly will sell within 30 to 45 days. “In the last 12 sales I’ve closed,” she says, “I’ve met that goal 85% of the time.”
Many people see online social networking tools as a fun diversion where individuals make friends, find romance, and locate long-lost classmates. While it’s true that sites like MySpace and Facebook have come to the forefront as “the sites to be on” for people looking to connect socially online, those two sites plus myriad others have proven themselves as useful business tools for real estate agents.
One of the best aspects of social networking is the fact that it can be via an existing Web presence. In other words, agents don’t have to start from scratch online when they want to begin taking advantage of this useful way to promote themselves, find new clients, and connect with existing customers.
Bill Gassett, a REALTOR® with RE/MAX Executive Realty in Hopkinton, is one of those agents. In fact, he says that over the last 18 months, about 23 of his closed transactions originated online through blogs and social networking sites like ActiveRain. To generate the business, Gassett posts several blogs a week, focusing on real estate market reports in the various towns where he does business.
Gassett also posts articles on topics like how to sell your home in a buyer’s market, mistakes to avoid when selling your home, and tips for getting FHA and USDA loans. Through the social networking sites, he connects with buyers, sellers, and other REALTORS®, many of whom are potential clients or referral sources. Most recently, Gassett registered for and began using Twitter and Facebook. “In fact,” he adds, “I just got my first listing from Facebook last month.”
Try Ttraditional Networking
Networking online may be the hot new thing to do, but smart agents aren’t overlooking the more traditional ways of connecting with potential buyers, sellers, and referral sources in the “real” world.
Joanna Schlansky, a REALTOR® with Showcase of Homes, REALTORS® in Burlington attributes some of her success in 2008—a year in which she did “very well” businesswise—to traditional networking sources like Chamber of Commerce and Rotarian meetings, as well as referral organizations like BNI.
“The key to keeping your business on track through any conditions is a good, solid marketing plan,” says Schlansky. “As part of my own plan, I always include a good percentage of traditional, person-to-person networking.”
This year, Schlansky expects to join an informal networking group in her area. Through that association, she’ll be the only real estate agent in a group of local businesspeople who do business with people whom they know, like, and trust.
“By getting out there and staying in front of these people on a regular basis,” says Schlansky, “they’ll remember you when it comes time to buy or sell a home, or when they know of someone who needs your services.”
Reverse the Offer
The age-old system of posting a home for sale on the MLS and sitting back to wait for appropriate offers to come in is a thing of the past for Grace Safrin, a broker with F.C. Tucker/Advantage Realty in Valparaiso, Ind., who in early 2008 stumbled on another REALTOR®’s online blog posting about reverse offers and has since used the strategy to close three deals.
With reverse offers, a listing agent has a showing on one of her listings. If the potential buyer requests a second showing, thus indicating enough interest for the listing agent to collect feedback from the buyer’s agent, then the former discusses that feedback with the seller, who in turn writes up a “reverse offer.” According to Safrin, that offer addresses any buyer concerns (such as the condition of the home’s carpet, which would be factored into the reverse offer in the form of an allowance) and is based on what the seller assumes the buyer is willing to pay for the property.
Primarily a listing agent, Safrin says that reverse offers not only help to stimulate sales during a time when buyers have an abundance of inventory to chose from, but they also serve as leverage in getting listings sold. Recently, for example, she wrote up a reverse offer on a home, only to have another buyer show interest by requesting a second showing. “We told the agent that we had another offer on the table, but we didn’t mention that it was a reverse offer,” says Safrin. “The second buyer made an offer before we even got a response back on the reverse offer.”
And while Safrin’s sellers are typically open to the idea of putting their offers on the table first, cooperating brokers aren’t always so willing to test this non-traditional method of transacting real estate. “I’ve dealt with agents who just couldn’t grasp the concept, and who even get offended at the idea,” says Safrin, who has to put time into the agent-education aspect of reverse offers in order to sell them on the concept and relies on her past successes to get the point across. “I let the agents know that it works 50% of the time. To me, 50% is better than nothing.”
Tap the Foreclosure Market
With foreclosures on the rise nationwide, many agents are learning their role in such transactions and are working to facilitate the deals between banks, buyers, and sellers. Donna Lasater has taken her foreclosure business a step further by purchasing a 14-person luxury mini-bus (outfitted with velour seating, air conditioning, and a wheelchair lift) from which she conducts weekly tours of foreclosed properties in Dallas’ suburban communities.
“We’re experiencing a unique time in real estate with a surplus of for-sale homes greater than the industry has seen in a long time,” says Lasater, a 28-year real estate veteran with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Dallas/Fort Worth. “The national foreclosure situation has created negative circumstances for almost every part of the real estate industry. Putting potential buyers in person at these properties is an efficient way to rapidly reduce existing inventory.”
In July, Lasater launched the first foreclosure tour, attracting 13 prospective buyers. The tour produced one offer on the day of the event, she says, and also generated numerous phone
calls and e-mails (thanks to the bus’ advertising wrap, which features her picture, name, and Web address). Today, with foreclosures comprising about 20% of the listings on her local
MLS, Lasater runs expeditions every Saturday, rotating among the eight communities surrounding her office.
Lasater promotes the weekly tours on a dedicated website, www.DonnasForeclosureBustour.com
, where prospective buyers can arrange a personal consultation and find a schedule of tour times. She says her efforts have been fruitful and have helped to buoy sales in these trying times. “We’ve sold houses off of every tour,” says Lasater.
Sometimes, all it takes is a positive attitude to stay ahead of the pack during the tough times. To get through the current market, Linda Andries, a broker with RE/MAX Property Promotions
in Leominster, says she reminds herself that people are still buying homes and that property sells in both good times and bad.
Despite the fact that the mortgage market and overall economic malaise was working against her, Andries was able to keep her 2008 sales in line with those of 2007. Even better, she says, is the fact that business was already showing signs of picking up in January of 2009.
“The trick is to know how to maneuver in any type of market—that’s what makes a real estate agent successful,” says Andries, who also advises agents to take advantage of technology, education, and other resources available to agents. “Use every tool that’s available to educate yourself in a way that helps you work smarter, better, and faster in any market.”
Bridget McCrea is a Florida-based freelance writer.