Become the Expert Clients Need

Sure, being known as an expert can set you apart. But if you have to tell people you’re an expert, you probably aren’t one. Here are some tried-and-true tips for practitioners looking to gain the expert advantage.

October 16, 2013

Brian Church is frequently faced with an awkward situation when showing a property. Church, 60, has long been considered an expert in New Jersey’s Monmouth and Ocean counties. His six-member Brian Church Group with Ward Wight Sotheby’s International in Spring Lake, N.J., closed $28 million and made headlines as the New Jersey Association of REALTORS®’ only Circle of Excellence Platinum Award ($25 million and 30 units minimum or 125 units) winner for the South Monmouth Board in 2012.

But notoriety has its pitfalls. At least once a week, Church meets a raving fan, usually another associate’s client.

“I’ll be at a showing with a sales associate and their customer, and the customer will say to me, ‘I am familiar with all your stuff.’ We often laugh about it. But it can be embarrassing for the other REALTOR®,” Church says.

So what’s the difference between someone who says they’re an expert and someone who is one?

“The expert takes the time to be authentic and make sure the data is correct,” says Church, a broker-associate who started selling real estate in 1999. “If you have knowledge and people come to you because you’re a credible reference, then you’re an expert.”

To keep his data current, Church uses the Otteau Valuation Group in East Brunswick, N.J. Best advice à la Church: Find a credible source for market information, have solid statistics, and know where the public is getting its statistics. The public is often misinformed, he adds.

“I’ll tell a client their home is worth $750,000. And then they will pull out Trulia and say, ‘Well, Trulia says home values are up in our area,’” he says.

While no one can have all the answers all the time, it’s best to learn things before your clients do. Moreover, use technology as a tool, not a time drain.

For example, Church uses proprietary Web sites specific to his listing addresses to give buyers quick access to information. Someone walking past his listings can use their smart phone to scan the QR (quick response) code and be directed to the site.

“If you’re out on the road with the customer and you drive past a listing and are not familiar with the property, you can pop into® and say, ‘Show me sales in this area,’ and in about two seconds you’ll have all the information on that house. We never had that before,” he adds. “These kinds of resources allow you to make your presentation smooth, almost seamless.”

Provide Accurate Data

When selling real estate to investors and second-home buyers in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2006, Angela Huggins, 38, noticed that much of the market data was wrong.

With a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in marketing, Huggins, RSPS, SFR, used her natural analytic skills to dig into the numbers.

By combining her own brand of analytical research with information from real estate valuation resources like Metro Market Trends, Huggins gained a true understanding of the market. “It set me apart from the competition,” she adds.

Her best advice for budding experts is to learn the inventory and become familiar and confident about the area, homes, and prices.

“The information really needs to roll off your tongue but be truthful and accurate,” she says.

Huggins moved to Fleming Island, Fla., in January and became a military market specialist with Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty Inc. In her new niche, Huggins returned to her roots of learning the market through data. This time, however, Huggins target marketed on Facebook. She became part of a network of military wives after her husband was deployed in the U.S. Army for 15 months. About 80 percent of her business today is military families. And since January, Huggins says 25 leads (15 closed and nine pending) came from Facebook. “It was the busiest summer ever,” she says.

Change With the Market

Huggins made a decision to change markets, but sometimes the market changes before your eyes.

Before Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey on Oct. 29, 2012, buyers typically inquired about the number of bedrooms and baths. Now it’s commonplace for buyers and investors eyeing waterfront homes to ask about flood zones, flood insurance, and home-elevation requirements.

Justin Leach, 36, CRS, vice president of sales for the Ocean’s Six Group and a sales associate with RE/MAX Real Estate Ltd. in Brick, N.J., took his nine-person sales group to a FEMA workshops. Yet despite a solid sales record and an effort to re-educate himself, Leach struggled to fully understand the post-storm changes.

“There was a point in time when the people who lifted houses seem to be almost mythical figures. You wouldn’t even know how to get in touch with them,” he says.

But a chance encounter changed his life. While waiting for a table in a cafe a few weeks after the storm, Leach was discussing elevation requirements with his brother-in-law. As luck would have it, an independent home-elevation specialist was also waiting for a table, listening to Leach. The man introduced himself. The two exchanged business cards and met twice for lunch over the next few weeks. During these meetings, Leach took notes, asking about elevations, flood maps, FEMA guidelines, best practices for lifting a house, associated risks, materials, and costs.

Since then, Leach has developed relationships with multiple vendors who lift homes. “We are the people that people come to when they have questions. We are definitely on the forefront,” he says.

Leach’s group closed $33 million last year. He anticipates that number to jump to $40 million in 2013. Of the 80 closed transactions, Leach says at least 20 (accounting for about $15 million) came directly from his new expertise in post-Sandy home-elevation requirements.

Become In Demand

John A. Silva, a sales associate with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties in La Mesa, Calif., became a short sale specialist to survive the down market when he entered the business in 1992.

For Silva, servicing the clients is about problem solving. Silva suggests a variety of creative solutions.

“If they are going to have the home for a couple of months or years, I might suggest they rent the property,” he says. When it’s appropriate, Silva has suggested that clients who are living in a home rent out rooms. If they have to move, he’ll ask the bank for relocation fees. “And the bank will give it 99 percent of the time,” Silva says.

In the 1990s, Silva closed what he calls the Mount Everest of all short sales. The client defaulted on both first and second mortgages, child support, and state tax and federal taxes.

Word about Silva’s expertise spread—and when the market dropped in 2007, he was inundated with calls from brokers and agents.

“It was quite astounding, let me tell you. I did a lot more business than when the market was good,” he says. “You have to develop the skills to become an expert. I developed the skills many years ago, and it just became second nature.”

Silva began seeing more short sales in 2005. In 2006, he closed about 10 transactions. Then his business doubled, reaching 20 to 25 transactions annually from 2006 to 2007 and increasing another 25 percent to 30 percent year-over-year from 2008 to 2012.

“I have years and years of knowledge. And when people have the knowledge, more people are open to what they have to say,” he says.

Get Involved

In addition to increasing knowledge about your market, experts say it is important to get involved in the community you service.

Church has served on the Coastal Habitat for Humanity board of directors for years, and recently sponsored the Sept. 26, 2013, Coastal Habitat for Humanity Golf Classic.

Although his long-term involvement is philanthropic at its core, he says the work can be a business driver. “It’s a substantial charity, and it took on an international acknowledgment in the aftermath of Sandy,” Church says.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

Church jokingly tells people that he’s spent more than $1 million learning how not to sell real estate. So don’t be afraid to try and fail, he says. Be willing to spend money to try different methods. If they don’t work, move onto something else. Also, don’t spend your money becoming a personality. Spend your money becoming a source of good information.

“Customers care more about what drives you than what you drive. If you just put your face on the side of a bus because it’s all about your ego, you’ll probably get a little bit of play, but you won’t get long-term acknowledgment of expertise,” Church says. “At the end of the day, it really comes down to the golden rule — you have to start the day wanting to help others in order to get benefit out of it yourself.”