10 Things I Wish My First Broker Had Told Me

It’s never to late to learn. Experienced salespeople share their valuable, and hard-won, knowledge with you.

June 1, 2003

Ever wish you had a time machine and could start your real estate career over—with all the experience and skills it’s taken you years to develop? Well, you can’t turn back the clock, but you move forward— with the benefits of your own knowledge, plus these great lessons learned.

Here are some of the challenges experienced real estate practitioners faced and overcame, plus some advice from practitioners, brokers, and trainers on how to leap those hurdles.

1. You can’t ever know enough.

Cheryl Schlehuber, GRI, ABR, e-PRO® associate broker/owner of the Mackinac Properties Team, St. Ignace, Mich., wished she’d obtained her GRI (Graduate REALTOR ® Institute) earlier in her career. “Having the designation increased my knowledge and made me a better practitioner,” she says. “Knowing you're in control and having the answers—or knowing where to get them—boost confidence, believability, and trust.” She intends to be a lifelong learner and believes new skills can translate into more sales.

They can also translate into more dollars. Salespeople holding the GRI earn at least 35 percent more than those without it, says the Professional Realty Institute, Pasadena. Calif. NAR figures show that the 33 percent of its members who’ve earned a professional designation earned a median salary of $73,100, compared to $38,700 without.

“Only a tiny part of what people learn in licensing school has any bearing on what salespeople actually do. The bottom line is that brokers need to teach concrete skills—how to find clients, how to work FSBOs and expireds, how to close. Many new licensees have no idea what to even say once they get a client,” comments Lynn Madison, Lynn Madison Seminars, Palatine, Ill.

2. You only have 15 seconds to sell yourself.

“It’s fine to say that a salesperson should gather leads through open houses and floor time, but I wasn’t adequately trained to know how to be persuasive and get critical information in a 15-second encounter,” says Jeff Auen of Heritage Real Estate-Century 21, Lafayette, Calif.“Without proper training, these are lost opportunities.”

Personality profiling—learning to read people—is one way to build rapport quickly. “Practitioners can adapt their communications style to mirror prospects’demeanor, so there’s feeling of a deeper connection. Attending continuing education classes that expand your knowledge of personality types can be beneficial,” comments Joeann Fossland, a master certified coach who specializes in real estate through her company, Joeann Fossland Advantage Solutions Group, LLC, Cortaro, Ariz. Developing good listening skills and focusing on the prospects interests instead of yours will also help you make a good instant impression.

3.Some deals willfall apart.

“You can't always figure out who is ‘for real.’ Someone may say they’re writing an offer and will call in an hour, and then disappear,” says Ruth Friedman, Troop Real Estate, Inc., Westlake, Calif. “Flaky buyers just come with the job. If they get you down or you quit, you’re the one who loses.”

“Even experienced salespeople sometimes miss red flags that indicate unmotivated buyers,” says Harley Rouda, Jr. of Real Living, Columbus, Ohio. “For example, an unwillingness to get preapproved or to put their current home on the market before finding a new one are signals that buyers aren’t committed to you or the home-buying process. “When practitioners are hungry, they’re sometimes willing to work on more of a hope than a certainty. That’s when they get disappointed,” he adds. If buyers can’t seem to make a commitment, it may be time to cut your losses and refer them to another associate—hopefully for a referral fee.

4. Don’t confuse experience with skill.

“When you’re new and unsure of your knowledge, it’s natural to hang around more experienced practitioners, but be careful who you emulate,” observes David Oliverson,e-PRO® , associate broker, West USA Realty, Phoenix, Ariz. In his early days, he discovered that successful practitioners were out hustling business, not sitting around the office. He picked a handful of top performers in his market and used them as his models. Oliverson interviewed the clients of top salespeople to find out what clients liked, then incorporated it into his business. For example, he found that clients valued salespeople who stay in constant touch. Now, he makes it a point to call them regularly. He also found that clients gave top salespeople high marks for the wealth of knowledge and statistics about the market they provided. Today, Oliverson never goes to a listing without a book full of market stats.

5. You’re selling yourself as much as the home.

“I never really realized that clients had to buy you before you get the chance to sell their home,” said Tony Hawkins ABR , broker and instructor, Realty World/Investment Marketing, Raleigh, N.C. As a former radio announcer, Hawkins considered himself a good talker, but “ what I missed was a method to transition existing skills into techniques to help real estate clients,” he says.

“A broker shouldn’t paint too rosy picture of the job,” says Bob Scholz, regional director of corporate training, Hunt Real Estate ERA, Williamsville, N.Y. He advises brokerage companies to spend time during training teaching skills such as personal money management and budgeting as well as listing skills. And whatever your skill level, it’s critical to chose a brokerage company with regular training on both the basics and on new industry trends.

6. Hook up with a mentor

“There is so much to learn that it’s quite often overwhelming to face each day, ” says Mary Pat Yarusites, RE/MAX Classic, Falmouth, Mass. “Having someone who knows the ropes can shed a light on areas that are seem unclear.” Seek mentors who have demonstrated credibility in the business and are geographically accessible so you can have regular face time.

“With a mentor, you can see concepts in motion, emulate their techniques, and tailor them to fit your personality and business,” says Gayle Bailey, RE/MAX Preferred Properties, Vienna, Va. “People hear good ideas in a class but can’t always apply them.” Even 30 years later, he considers his mentor, Harold Helm of RE/MAX Commercial, Louisville, Ky., “the key that turned the lock in my career.” Mentoring isn’t just for newcomers either. Two experienced people can team up, mentor each other— often referred to as parallel mentoring--and take both their businesses to the next level. “With parallel mentoring, it’s not a matter of learning new skills, but finding how something old can be done better,” says Bailey.

7.A transaction is made up of a million details, and you can’t forget any of them.

“When you start out and you have only one transaction, you may be able to do it all. But when you have multiple transactions, it’s even more difficult to keep track of every date and deadline,” says Gwynn Teal Carpenter, broker, co-owner, and vice president of Home and Hearth Realty, Inc., Austin, Tex.

To help herself stay on top of transactions, Teal Carpenter developed a series of simple forms and checklists, such as “Getting From Contract to Possession” and “Contract Timeline,” to give buyers, sellers, and herself an outline for every step of a transaction. “The approach not only saves me time, but also gives clients guidelines to follow,” says Carpenter. The checklists also reduce phone calls between her office and clients and make her look professional and organized. And she never misses a deadline.

8. Don’t overspend on technology you won’t use.
“At first I thought that the ones with the best gizmos would get the farthest, the fastest,” says Lori Bee, a broker with Helen Adams Realty, Charlotte, N.C. After getting her e-PRO® certification, she thinks the best technologies are the ones you understand and will use.

Stephen Canale CRB, CRS, GRI, an instructor for GRI programs for a number of state associations as well as a speaker and a technology columnist for REALTOR® Magazine, cautions that indiscriminate spending can drain precious financial resources and that time invested in learning new hardware or software can never be recovered. He suggests making an inventory of what technologies you have and use regularly. Seek their common traits (such as an indication that you’re dependent on mobile devices like PDAs and cell phones) to help you decide which technologies are making the biggest contributions to your productivity.

Canale also suggests looking for holes or inefficiencies in your current technology lineup. Perhaps there’s a tool that can automate what you do and boost productivity. An autoresponder, for example, might help you reply to clients quickly. Look for programs that combine two functions—managing mailing lists and creating brochures, for instance. But be leery about buying the latest technologies. They’re expensive and manufacturers usually need time to work out the bugs. A year after a technology’s debut often means a product is less expensive and more refined. Also, buy only what you can implement immediately.

9. Don’t work without a business plan.

Marilyn Urso, CRB, e-PRO®, owner/broker of Long Island Village Realty, Inc., Syosset, N.Y. , “My husband and I got very involved in working in our business—taking listings, show homes, and other day-to-day task--and lost sight of our goals,” she comments. “I can say I want to do $10,000,000 in sales this year, but if I don't have a plan to get the listings and I don’t have a handle on what I spend, I’ll never reach the goal.”

“So many people just try to fly by the seat of their pants,” observes Fossland. “A business plan helps you align your strengths and values with your business.” It’s also critical to create long- and short-term goals. You can make a plan quantifiable by nailing down the number of transactions, sales, and weekly working hours necessary to reach the goals. It can even include a schedule for vacations and time off.

“Check the goals monthly to see what’s working and what’s not and shift course if something isn’t effective. From the time you set a goal, market conditions—and your plan of action--could change,” says coach Joeann Fossland. She also recommends looking at weekly activities to see what has been most effective in getting you closer to your goals and what steps you can take that will provide the highest payoff.

10.Sometimes you have to say “no.”

“I had a need to give clients the best service and the highest degree of expertise, says Patty Johnston, ABR, GRI , broker RE/MAX Elite, Brentwood, Tenn. “I put so much pressure on myself that I nearly burned myself out of real estate.”

Patti Brotherton, who manages the Prudential California Realty offices in Santa Barbara and Montecito and is the company’s district manager for Santa Barbara County, suggests managing your time efficiently and sticking to your schedule as much as possible. For instance, rather than answering each call when it comes in, she suggests answering calls in clusters--returning morning calls at 11 a.m. and afternoon calls at 3 p.m., for example.

“I think practitioners let clients dictate to them,” she says. “ If you control your time and efforts, everyone wins and the service you provide is exceptional.” There were years when she planned her schedule so she could take summers off to be with her children. If you’re booked up or want to take time off, consider referring incoming business to others in the office. And remember, the approach can yield a hefty chunk in referral fees.

Elyse Umlauf-Garneau is a Chicago-based freelance writer and former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine.

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