Keeping Your Outlook Up When the Market Is Down

Having the right attitude is critical for success in real estate. But how do you stay confident and cheerful when the market is so tumultuous? Dirk Zeller has some suggestions.

October 1, 2010

As I sit down to pen this column, the news on the economic front continues to be a mix of good and bad. It’s hard to say for certain whether we’re going into recovery or another recession.

That ambiguity leaves us with this question: How can we maintain a positive mental state and take advantage of the opportunities presented by the downturn?

For any of you who have heard me speak, or those who have read any of my books, I often talk about the four points you can use to increase the odds of having greater success. These are knowledge, skill, attitude, and activities.

When I survey an audience on which point out of the four that they feel is most important for success, it usually breaks out like this:

Knowledge: 3 percent
Skill: 1 percent
Attitude: 93 percent
Activities: 3 percent

More than nine out of 10 people say attitude! But even though most real estate pros know this is critical for their profession, it’s very difficult to sustain an optimistic outlook in the current economy.

Because of economic challenges, lower motivation in buyers, frustrations of sellers, and negative media coverage, maintaining a positive, forward-thinking attitude is more challenging for real estate agents. It’s tough to shake off the pessimism, even as we see record lows in interest rates and positive projections for sales volume this year. (The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® is projecting 5.37 million in sales for 2010.)

We need to change our attitude. We need to reframe how we view the marketplace. We need to stop whining about what’s happening or not happening with the economy, and do something to make things happen. We have to think of the marketplace as merely a playing field. The real question is: Do you have “home-field advantage”?

In sports, teams play all season long to amass the best records and to gain home-field (or home-court, or home-ice) advantage for the playoffs. It’s where they are comfortable: They know the tough spots, the place on the court where the ball bounces funny, and the place where the crowd is cheering the loudest. They can take advantage of the opponent. The winning percentage is heavily in favor of the home team in most sports.

I grew up playing racquetball. I played tournaments from coast to coast and eventually played a few years professionally. My home club was the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland, Ore. When I was in my late teens, they built a beautiful new facility, and in it there was a tournament court that had a floor-to-ceiling glass wall on the right side and back wall. I practiced and played in that court every day for years. I loved having our regional professional tournaments at the MAC.

Your depth perception is different looking into that dark-sided glass wall, especially in the back corner where the glass walls came together. All you needed was a split-second advantage at 160 miles an hour, and I had it. In more than five years of matches on that court, I never lost. It wasn’t because I was better, because at times, I wasn’t. I just had an edge because I could pick up the ball quicker off that side wall. I would purposely serve and hit particular shots and specific angles into that side to take advantage of that split-second of uncertainty in my opponent. I was more confident than they were, because it was my home field.

Is your market your home field? Do you know the inventory, absorption rates, inventory numbers, inventory mix, list-price-to-sale-price percentages, hot spots, cold spots, where to take a listing, where to not take listings, where to market for buyers, and where to not market for buyers? Do you spend a couple of hours each month studying the marketplace so you can see the trends or patterns that demonstrate the movement of the law of supply and demand?

In the end, the market is what it is. We don’t control it. We only control how we respond to it, and if we’re good, how our clients and customers respond to it. It’s hard to influence prospects, buyers, and sellers when they think that they know more than you. You must establish your authority of market knowledge early in the relationship with the prospect.

Let me give you a few tips to help you maintain a positive attitude:

  1. Reduce your consumption of news on television and in print. Watch enough to keep current, and no more.
  2. Read something that is motivational and uplifting. There are hundreds of great books and other resources that will lift you up, and they don’t have to be related to real estate. Among the most well-known are the titles in the Chicken Soup series, but there are also many others.
  3. Listen to something of value when you are in your car. As real estate professionals, we spend a lot of time in our cars. That’s time we can spend learning. (To get started, you can visit my site at We have a large selection of real estate audio training.)
  4. Study the marketplace. Take the time to track the key numbers in the marketplace. You must know some of the key stats and be able to use them in your discussions with prospects, clients, and other practitioners.
  5. Decide each morning to have a great attitude!

Attitude should be a conscious decision, not an unthinking reaction. I learned this through personal observation. My mother was one of the most positive people I have ever known. This is in spite of being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in her early 30s with three boys under the age of 4. But she remained positive, even as she lost the ability to walk before I was in the second grade, lost the ability to drive by the time I left high school, and lost the ability to feed herself before I left college. In spite of those hardships, her daily decision to have a positive, expectant attitude of success each day never wavered.

The market will always move, adjust, ebb, and flow. The change and adjustment will always create opportunities. The question is: Will you be ready when it arrives for you?

 Dirk Zeller is a speaker, author and CEO of Real Estate Champions. His company trains more than 350,000 real estate professionals each year through live events, online training, self-study programs and newsletters. He's written several articles and books, including Your First Year in Real Estate, Success as a Real Estate Agent for Dummies and Telephone Sales for Dummies. To learn more, visit