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.
90 Days to Real Estate Success: A Week-by-Week Guide
This detailed guide will set you on your way to a thriving career.
February 1, 2005
Your real estate career will flourish if you follow a proven path to success.
This week-by-week guide is a good start, but don’t feel you need to follow it precisely. Should you call FSBOs the fourth week or the fifth week? Think about farming the first month or the second month? It doesn’t really matter; what does matter is that you work your way through these milestones over the 90 days. Indeed, some issues, such as an overall business plan, should probably be considered well before you step in the door on the first day.
Week 1:You’re in business.
That means you need a plan. Identify your goals in terms of income and lifestyle. Then, make sure the area in which you’re selling can support that level of productivity. (If your goal is to make $200,000 a year, but the average commission in your area is only $3,000, you may want to reevaluate.) Once you have a goal that seems realistic, figure out how many transactions you’re going to have to close to achieve it.
One of the first things you should do is have a professional photo taken for use on your business cards, your broker’s Web site (and your own when you reach that milestone), and other personal marketing materials.
Week 2: Compile a list of everyone you know.
This includes family, friends, friends of friends, tradespeople, and professionals you’re in regular contact with such as doctors, lawyers, teachers, and store owners. Send them a letter letting them know that you’re now in real estate and available to take care of their real estate needs. This is the beginning of your database, the single most productive prospecting tool you’ll ever have.
Purchase a map and outline your prospective selling area. Then, get in your car and drive every inch of it, the main streets, the side streets, the alleys and the parking lots. Get a feel for the different kinds of housing in the area and also the locations of parks and schools and other amenities that affect pricing — and salability — of nearby residences.
Week 3: You’re starting to see customers now; make sure they know you mean business.
Later in your career, you’ll have room for flexibility, but at the start, it’s a good idea to maintain regular hours. Plan on starting no later than 9 a.m. and working until 5 p.m., whether it’s in the office or in the field. Unless you’re selling resort property, wear business attire. Also, make sure your tools and equipment are in order. Essential tools include a clean car, a cell phone, laptop or a handheld computer, and possibly a digital camera. The goal is to project competence and professionalism.
This is a good week to follow up on those letters. Call your entire prospect list. Remind people that you are now in real estate, and ask if they or anyone they know is looking to buy or sell a house.
Week 4: You should have a lead or two from your letters and calls.
If you don’t, check out the expired listings and FSBOs in your selling area and start calling. Better yet, go see them in person. Another source of leads: Go through the files of salespeople who have either retired or left the company and talk to your broker about adopting those clients. With your broker’s OK, contact them and tell them you’re calling as a representative of the company that sold them their house.
Is your listing packet in order? A good listing packet looks professional, includes information on you and your company, and provides prospective sellers with clear benefits of working with you. Ideally, your presentation should be available in both print and CD or DVD formats. Have a separate presentation ready to show prospective buyers why you’re the ideal person to help them find their next home.
Week 5: Start thinking about farming, which is identifying and focusing on a fairly tight selling area.
Generally, a farm is no more than 200 to 300 residences. Your own neighborhood is often a good place to start. In general, people like doing business with people they know. Assemble a marketing list using a crisscross directory, which lists houses by address. Four or five times per year, send every resident some kind of direct-mail piece. The first piece should introduce who you are and give pertinent biographical information. If you have a family and feel comfortable talking about them, include their names as well. The goal is to be perceived as the person to turn to in Crestwood Estates (or whatever your area) if you want to buy or sell a house.
Week 6: Take your education to the next level with a sales class.
Even “born salespeople” can benefit from expert advice. Selling is an interpersonal skill that takes time and practice to master. Yes, an outgoing personality helps. But enthusiasm by itself is not enough. You need someone who can point out what you’re doing right and how you need to improve. Also, if you’re like most people at the beginning of their sales careers, you need the discipline that comes from following a specific program. The right teacher or coach can make a world of difference.
Week 7: Investigate ways to get involved in your community — and choose one community service project that suits you.
There’s no downside at all from a business standpoint; it’ll help you be perceived as someone who knows and cares about the community. But you’ll also find it personally rewarding. There are other ways to show you’re a concerned citizen while advancing your business interests. Begin attending local planning and zoning meetings. You’ll learn about land issues, and the meetings are a great place to get to know builders and developers. New construction is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for many salespeople. Yes, older homes, particularly at the high end, have appeal. However, many buyers, given the choice of a new home or an existing home at roughly the same price, will choose the new home for the same reasons people prefer new cars to used cars: everything’s new, everything works, and there’s probably a warranty.
Week 8: How’s that prospecting that you started in Weeks 2 and 3 going?
It may sound simplistic, but consistent prospecting is the No. 1 way to land listings. Many top performers prospect daily. Plan on spending at least two or three mornings a week calling leads and sources of leads. Make friends with a few mortgage brokers who can refer buyers in your direction. As time goes on, the relationship will shift and you’ll become a source of leads for them. Other sources of leads: professionals who deal in property matters, such as probate and divorce lawyers; insurance agents; CPAs; and investor and landlord groups. Also: contact banks and government agencies that need to dispose of property seized in bankruptcy sales and tax and drug cases.
Week 9:Listings are the name of the game.
But buyers, especially in your early days, are very important. How do you find them? Besides prospecting, you can meet buyers by offering to conduct open houses for other salespeople in your office. Collect names and contact information from visitors, and get your colleague’s OK to follow up. Or team up with a mortgage broker in your area to sponsor homeownership seminars in neighborhoods with a lot of rental housing. Many first-time buyers are young and have relatively low incomes. Often, they don’t realize they’d be able to afford a house. Your job is to be knowledgeable about special financing options, including downpayment assistance programs, aimed at encouraging homeownership.
Week 10: Think about advertising.
Yes, real estate is largely a referrals game. But advertising can play an important role in terms of raising your overall visibility. Money is a consideration here. Unless you come into real estate with a substantial bankroll, television is going to be out of reach. Other media to consider, however, are newspaper, radio, and billboard advertising. A schedule of 30-second radio ads or a billboard at the right intersection can be surprisingly effective. As with all advertising, however, remember that repetition and consistency is vitally important. Whatever program you commit to, give it at least six months to work.
You also may want to think more about your Web marketing efforts. If you have some listings, look into the tools for marketing them available through your brokerage Web site, REALTOR.com, and other online venues.
Week 11: Sooner or later, everyone has to answer the cold-calling question.
How comfortable are you with it? In the beginning, hardly anyone likes it. But it can be an effective tool. In fact, some people build businesses around it. Whatever you do, make sure you’re aware of the Federal Trade Commission’s rules related to cold calling. Before you start, your broker should provide, or you should obtain, a list of people in your market on the National Do-Not-Call Registry. The key with cold calling is to use a script. These are commonly available through your office or through a sales trainer or coach. The goal with cold calling is to get through your script. Don’t worry about whether you get a lead or not. Cold calling is a total numbers game. It’s a mathematical certainty that if you call enough numbers, you will eventually find someone who can use your services. Some people have the stamina for this, others do not.
Week 12: Keep on plugging.
It can’t be overstressed that the key to success in real estate is persistence. It’s a given that you’re going to encounter a lot of rejection. Do not—repeat, do not — take it personally. Begin each day with the easiest call. If you feel totally stifled in one area, stop it for the day and try another. Finally, think about teaming up with a more experienced salesperson for a year or two. It’s an excellent way to make money while you learn the ropes.
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