90 Days to Real Estate Success: Building Your Business

It’s fine to talk about hard work and perseverance, but exactly what do you need to work at? Seasoned agents share their tips for getting up and running quickly.

February 1, 2005

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. That’s not just a cliché. It’s a statement about taking control. Whether you’re a newcomer to real estate or a veteran whose career has never quite taken off, you can begin today on the path to success. Start by recognizing that there are no excuses for failure.

In this business, “the harder you work, the more money you’ll make,” says Kenneth W. Edwards, author of Your Successful Real Estate Career (AMACOM Books, 2003), a primer for new salespeople. “There’s no secret beyond that.”

“The most common reason for not making it,” says Sean Conlon, president of Century 21 Sussex & Reilly in Chicago, “is giving up before you get over the last hill.” Conlon is one of the industry’s more compelling rags-to-riches stories. He immigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1990 and worked as a janitor before going into real estate. He became the city’s top selling salesperson and, in 2000, founded Sussex with two partners.

It’s fine to talk about hard work and perseverance, but exactly what do you need to work at? What steps lay the groundwork for future success?

REALTOR® Magazine posed those questions to successful practitioners who remember what it was like to show up for work that first morning, be assigned a desk and a phone, and be told to “get out there and make it happen.”

Day 1: Hit the Ground Running

You’re there, most likely in an office with half a dozen or more salespeople, all talking on the phone, filling out paperwork, photocopying forms that may be mysterious to you, and all seeming to know exactly what they’re doing.

Take your coat off, sit down, and start compiling a list. “Figure out everybody you know — your family, friends, friends of friends, people you write checks to, your barber, your dry cleaner — and then send them a letter telling them you’re in the business,” says Jeff Quintin, a salesperson with Prudential Fox & Roach in Ocean City, N.J.

Follow up on the letters a few days later with phone calls. These calls won’t violate the federal do-not-call laws because you’re speaking to friends and acquaintances. If you’re a rookie, reiterate that you’ve started this new career; if you’ve been in the business a while, remind people of your commitment to helping people achieve their real estate goals. Ask if they know anyone who may be looking to sell or buy a house. This is the way to build your database, the most important prospecting tool you’ll ever develop.

“The goal is to find a niche and fill it,” says Edwards. “Everyone comes from somewhere. Maybe you went to school or worked at a local electronics company; maybe you were a farmer or a small business owner. Whatever you did, you have contacts in those fields. Start with those and see where they take you.”

As for the rest of the day, rookies should “make contact with all their colleagues,” says Louisa Enz, a salesperson with Stark Co., REALTORS®, in Madison, Wis., “not just the broker and other salespeople but the corporate and support people. They’re going to be your support system for the first few months.”

Day 7: Structure your Days

Real estate is notoriously unstructured. Many people choose it for exactly that reason. But appearances can be deceiving. Top salespeople understand that success requires discipline, and that discipline has to come from within. You’re not punching a clock, but you still need to follow some basic rules.

“People think they’re here to sell houses,” says Jeff Beggins, managing partner of Century 21 Beggins Enterprises in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla. “Actually, they’re here to run a business. It’s all about mind–set.”

“I pretty much follow the same schedule every day,” says Charles Martin of RE/MAX 100 Real Estate in Camp Springs, Md. As team leader of the Charles Martin Real Estate Group, Martin concentrates on such activities as getting face-to-face appointments, monitoring ongoing sales, and tracking his balance sheets to make sure the team’s meeting its goals. Many salespeople use the mornings to prospect for new business and the afternoons for everything else — showings, paperwork, staying abreast of developments in the market.

“It’s all about getting in front of people,” says Beggins. “We call, knock on doors, send out newsletters to every house in the neighborhood. If you’re not top of mind the instant people decide to sell, you’re not going to get the listing.”

Another must: Know your product. “Drive around your market,” says Conlon. “Find out where the schools and parks are; look at what’s being built in the neighborhood. You have to educate yourself.” Says Edwards: “Talk to builders; accompany a home inspector for a day. However you do it, you need to know what you’re selling.”

Day 30: Have a Plan

By now, your overall strategy should be emerging. “A detailed plan is the first step to being successful in any business,” says Beggins.

Work with your broker to set some goals, and put them in writing. “If you don’t have something you’re working toward, you really feel like you’re struggling,” says Enz.

Many experts suggest that you start with income — how much you’d like to earn per year—and work backwards by figuring out how many transactions you’d need to do and at what selling price. “If you want to gross $250,000 a year but your average commission is only $1,000, you have to ask yourself if you have the business infrastructure in place to do 250 transactions a year,” says Martin. If you don’t, adjust your plan.

On the expense side, your plan should factor in the cost for advertising and lead generation to attain your sales goals. For more on developing a business plan, see our For Rookies section.

Many salespeople generate leads through farming, “concentrating on a certain geographic area or other sphere of influence,” says Beggins. Keep it manageable, say 200 to 300 houses in a given neighborhood. Be in touch with each resident a minimum of four times a year, says Quintin.

Your plan should also factor in your technology needs. Essentials include a cell phone, a computer with e-mail (preferably with a business address rather than a freebie such as Hotmail or Yahoo), and information about yourself at your broker’s Web site. Hint: For NAR member discounts on technology, check out the REALTOR® Benefits page at REALTOR.org.

Day 90: Learn as you Sell

The myth of the born salesperson is exactly that. “I took every class I could in the beginning,” says Bernadette Hurley, ABR®, a salesperson with Keller Williams Realty in Sugar Land, Texas. “What I found is that no one program is right for you. You need to take pieces from all of them.” If your company doesn’t provide training, check with your local association, or see what classes are available through the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® and its affiliates by visiting the Education channel of REALTOR.org.

No one can predict when you’ll sell your first house. For some, it takes a month. For others, it’s six months. By the end of three months, however, you should at least feel that you’re well on the way.

But no matter where you’re at, avoid getting discouraged. The fact is, rejection is going to be a big part of your life in the early days. “On average, 20 percent of the population moves in a given year,” says Beggins. “So going in, you know eight out of 10 people are not going to be your clients.”

“You have to understand that rejection is going to happen,” says Quintin. “You can’t let yourself get beat up.”

Even experienced salespeople occasionally fall into sloughs and slumps. These typically have less to do with fear of rejection than with such factors as weariness, monotony, and burnout.

Don’t underestimate the value of scripts for dealing with contacts. Making it up as you go along is fine for actors at Chicago’s famed comedy improv theater, Second City, but less so for salespeople. So find some workable scripts — your company, sales trainers, and books and Web sites are all good sources. In the beginning, judge your success or failure not by whether you get a particular listing but by whether you get through your script.

Now’s also a good time to start investigating alternative sources for leads. In addition to FSBOs and expired listings, check out previous transaction files. Real estate offices are required to keep files of all transactions for a certain number of years.

“Go back through all the files of salespeople who’ve left the business, and adopt those clients,” says Quintin. “If someone bought a house five years ago, the person may be thinking about moving or know somebody who is.”

Finally, consider asking a more experienced salesperson to be your mentor. “Find a colleague in your office who seems to be successful and whom you like, and take the person to lunch,” says Enz. “Ask how he or she did it — what are the top three keys to success.”

In some cases, you may want to take it a step further. “Approach the top associate in your office, and offer to work as an assistant,” says Quintin. “Commit for one year and work out a deal where you get paid by the hour. If someone else has figured the game out, why reinvent the wheel?”

Robert Sharoff is an architectural writer for The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Chicago Magazine. With photographer William Zbaren, he has produced books highlighting the architecture of Detroit and St. Louis. He is a former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine.

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