50 Stellar Ideas to Rev Up Your Sales

August 1, 2000

The late author Malcolm Muggeridge once said there are only about seven or eight jokes in the history of the world. The same could be said of selling techniques. Tried-and-true methods still work--but that doesn’t make the execution easy.

To sell, you need focus, boundless reserves of energy and enthusiasm, and a willingness to learn from the experiences of others. On top of that, you need to stay on top of the constant changes in your market, your product, and the technology you use to reach consumers.

Most of all, you need to stay motivated. These 50 great ideas should help. They’re from well-known gurus and top salespeople around the country. Use them to impress prospects, please your clients, and get better at the rewarding but tough work you do.

1. "Market yourself, not your properties,” says Jim Pugliese, president of Jim Pugliese Seminars. “Very few people buy a home off a classified ad, but they do look to ads to find a real estate professional.”

2. Plan better. In November or December, take a weekend and plot out your next personal marketing campaign. Do a month-by-month breakdown of ads, mailings, and events, including what they’ll cost and what deadlines you have to meet for everything to go smoothly.

3. Track your results. Ask all prospects who call how they found you--and get their feedback on different marketing initiatives.

4. Network with professionals who deal in property matters, such as probate and divorce attorneys, insurance agents, CPAs, and investor and landlord groups. They’re a great source of leads.

5. Sometimes government is the answer. Another steady source of listings is government agencies that need to dispose of property seized in tax sales and drug cases.

6. Keep trying till you hook them. Send out a snail mailing to 500 people telling them that if they’ll send you their e-mail address and allow you to send them occasional tips on buying, selling, and homeownership, you’ll enter them in a drawing with no more than 500 other people to win a TV. You might get 200 responses. For the 300 who didn’t respond, try another contest, this one for a dinner for two at a hot new restaurant in town. Whoever doesn’t respond to the second contest gets a third contest offer. This time try cash. Sooner or later, you’ll hit almost everyone’s response hot button, and you’ll have a strong e-mail list for your farm as well as permission to use those e-mail addresses.

7. Eliminate marketing that’s not working. If you’re tracking where your calls come from (see No. 3), you’ll be able to get rid of the money wasters.

8. Post a privacy statement on your Web site and include it in your marketing e-mail. It should tell people that you won’t resell the information they give you--including e-mail addresses--and that everything will be kept confidential.

9. Make sure your Web site incorporates your logo and the same design elements you use to tie together your stationery, business cards, and brochures.

10. Use auto-responders, the “best-kept marketing secret of the 21st century,” according to tech guru Saul Klein, president of the Real Estate Electronic Publishing Co. Autoresponders, the Internet software equivalent of fax-on-demand, automatically acknowledge e-mail inquiries, send reports, and capture the e-mail addresses of all inquirers.

11. Promote your listings to the top 10 percent of sales associates in your town before or as soon as the listings show up in the MLS. Create an e-mail list for those associates, and as soon as you get a hot listing, send out a special “courtesy” e-mail to them. This can do wonders for relationship building.

12. In tight markets, check the local tax assessor’s maps for subdividable land and then contact the owners about selling all or part of their property for new houses.

13. Network at the top. Referrals generally work from the top down. A boss may pass along the name of a salesperson to an employee, but it doesn’t usually happen the other way around.

14. When you lose a listing, ask why. Maybe you’re too aggressive or maybe not enough. Either way, you need to know.

15. Team up with a mortgage company to sponsor regular first-time homebuyer seminars in neighborhoods with a significant rental population. Get the word out through mailings as well as announcements in area stores and restaurants.

16. Promote listings at your Web site with a variety of both indoor and outdoor photos. If the property is large enough or there’s something dramatic about the landscape, consider an aerial photo.

17. Don't be afraid to call prospects more than once. Just because they don’t need your services now, it doesn’t mean they won’t in six months.

18. Speak slowly and clearly to prospects from other countries who seem to be having difficulty with English, says Michael D. Lee, author of Opening Doors: Selling to Multicultural Real Estate Clients. Also, don’t be upset if they lapse into their native tongue during negotiations. Most likely they’re talking about emotional matters--will they like the neighborhood? how will the kids make friends? Those things are hard to verbalize in a language they’re still learning.

19. Try to be either the first or the last person sellers talk to when they’re interviewing potential salespeople. If you’re first, you become the standard by which they judge all the others. If you’re last, you get the final word. Either way, clients remember you.

20. Rule No. 1 with buyers: prequalify, prequalify, prequalify. Start with a buyer’s questionnaire, then make sure the buyers are preapproved for a loan, and then bring them into the office for an orientation session. Only then is it worth your time to start showing houses. (For a copy of Walter Sanford’s buyer questionnaire, search “buyer questionnaire” at www.realtormag.realtor.org.)

21. Some rooms are more conducive than others for getting sellers to relax, says Ralph Roberts, REALTOR® Magazine “Sales Clinic” columnist and owner of Ralph R. Roberts Real Estate Inc., Warren, Mich. “No room is better than the kitchen. Ask for a glass of water and then try to hold your conversation at the kitchen table.”

22. Don't back off from FSBOs too quickly. “Most salespeople make one call to a FSBO and then don’t go back,” says Mike Ferry, president of the Mike Ferry Organization in Irvine, Calif. “The salesperson who makes three or four calls gets the listing.”

23. Think it through. From the minute you get a listing or the buyer takes a shine to a property, start thinking about how a deal might come together. It might involve trade, you might have to guarantee a sale, or you might have to find one of the parties temporary housing. Be creative.

24. Show ’em your stuff. Offer a detailed plan of action for each day of the first two weeks you have the listing, including promotional materials (with mailing dates), advertising copy (dates and publications), tours, open houses, prospecting, and feedback.

25. When you first talk to clients, look for hot buttons--new job, marriage, divorce, children--and focus your pitch around those issues.

26. Go into meetings with buyers prepared to show them a list of the best houses you can find in their price range, says Mark McKenna of Pat McKenna, REALTORS®, in Marlton, N.J. Then let them pick some houses off your Web site and realtor.com. Compare the two lists. “Because I know the market, the ones I choose are better,” he says. “Buyers like to see that.”

27. Use e-mail to jot notes to buyers and sellers about upcoming plans and to send MLS printouts and photos of available homes. The written word has more power with clients than the spoken word.

28. Dazzle sellers by using an electronic room measurer during your initial walk-through, says Chad Seay of Century 21 Select Real Estate, Mechanicsville, Va. “This device seems to fascinate clients and builds their confidence that they’re working with a team that believes in technology and efficiency.”

29. Encourage sellers to invest in a professional home inspection. It’ll reveal needed repairs and allow time to make the repairs before problems scare off qualified buyers. If the seller objects, offer to pay for the inspection on the condition that you’re reimbursed at the closing.

30. Let buyers help you sway sellers. When dealing with sellers who have unrealistic price expectations or are reluctant to make needed repairs, use market feedback from e-mail surveys to bolster your case. Here’s how you do it: At broker and consumer open houses, ask for the visitors’ e-mail address. Follow up with a brief e-mail questionnaire. Ask the visitors whether the price seemed right, whether the condition of the house enhanced or diminished its sales value in their eyes, and whatever else you want to know—no more than three to four questions. Then forward the returned questionnaires to the sellers as an additional “market intelligence” service you provide.

31. Don't let them say, “I never heard from my agent during the listing period.” Put it in writing that you’ll touch base with sellers at least every other week to let them know what steps you’re taking to market their house and the results--both positive and negative. Then do it.

32. Sell with style. With historic or architecturally distinctive houses, spend a morning at city hall looking up the original owners and architects. “The old Sulzberger mansion” is more impressive than a street address, even if no one remembers who the Sulzbergers were. The same goes for architecture. A “classic Frank Lloyd Wright-style bungalow on tree-lined street” sounds better than a “3 bdrm brick home in older neighborhood." (For a primer on many architectural styles and features, see Online Contents at www.realtormag.realtor.org.)

33. Show the best house second to last, says Pat Hiban of RE/MAX Pat Hiban Real Estate in Columbia, Md. Why? “People will keep looking as long as the houses keep getting better and better.”

34. Uncover--through questioning and observation--what features are most important to buyers. Don’t stress the fireplace if what they really want is a fenced-in yard.

35. Reduce. If a listing has had no offers in 10 days, it’s at least 10 percent overpriced.

36. Be a detective. Learn as much as you can about the personalities of the principals and sales associates you’ll be dealing with on a given transaction, either by interviewing other associates or talking to people in the neighborhood. Statistical data is cold, impersonal, and available to everyone. But knowing the people and emotions you’re likely to encounter during the negotiating process can make a world of difference.

37. Remind buyers they don’t necessarily have to “win” the negotiation to get the house. Ideally, both sides should feel as if they’ve gotten most of what they wanted.

38. In a hot market, don’t be afraid to underprice, says Malin Giddings of TRI Coldwell Banker, San Francisco. “Competitive bidding will bring the price up to where it should be and higher.”

39. If you can’t find exactly what the buyers want, look for a lesser house in the same neighborhood that can be renovated to fit their needs.

40. If you’re not sure you’re getting the best deal, stall. Many buyers and sellers get nervous and show their hand when the other party hesitates.

41. Get to yes. When buyers like a house but are hesitating, ask them, “Would you be disappointed if you found out that someone else bought the property for what you were willing to pay?” If the answer is no, keep looking. If it’s yes, suggest writing an offer.

42. Give a nudge. “I’m not afraid to tell someone, ‘This is a great house—you should buy it!’” says Jeffrey Weisberger of RE/MAX Greater Atlanta. “At the same time, I’m brutally honest about shortcomings as well. If I feel that a buyer doesn’t have enough experience to fix up a house or is otherwise making a poor decision, I say so. This creates a high level of trust.”

43. Send the sellers packing. “I firmly believe in staging a house to show off its unique characteristics,” says Chris Cohn of Coldwell Banker, Berkeley, Calif. “It’s hard to do with the sellers around. Particularly when the sellers have children, I recommend they take a five-day vacation during the initial marketing phase.”

44. Advise buyer clients to never give a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum, says David Rathgeber, author of Agent’s Guide to Real Estate. “Nobody likes to be threatened. If the buyers’ final offer is rejected, suggest they resubmit it without change but with an apology that they can’t do any better.”

45. Avoid putting low-income buyers into houses that need a lot of work. Often they don’t have the money for major repairs.

46. Staging begins with a clean slate. “Start by removing the first thing in your way and go on from there,” says Lin Hill of RE/MAX House of Brokers, Springfield, Mass. Specifically, remove family photos, take everything off the refrigerator, and get rid of the posters and trophies in the children’s bedrooms. Highlight any special features, such as fireplaces and French doors, by making sure they’re not obscured by plants or furnishings.

47. You have to eat, right? So use lunch as a way to stay in touch with past clients, says Frances Strawn of Coldwell Banker, Winter Park, Fla. “The great thing about lunch is that there’s a definite beginning and end. You meet at 11:30, it’s over by 12:30 or 1:00, and you can write it off as a business expense.”

48. Make new friends, and keep the old. “Selling real estate is a relationship business,” says Danielle Kennedy, author of Seven Figure Selling and other sales tomes, “and relationships don’t happen unless they’re cultivated. It’s the little things that count when you’re building up a referral base--closing gifts, occasional visits, and cards and calls on birthdays.”

49. If you find yourself in a slump, set a definite day and time when you’re going to make some changes. Then make them. Alter your routine. Start walking or running at lunchtime. Take a trip. Go back to school one night a week--anything to get you out of the old groove and into a new one.

50. Be an optimist. If things don’t go your way today, remember that tomorrow is a chance to start anew.

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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