With the economy and new lending regulations having an impact on every aspect of the real estate industry, inventory and days on the market are up. Still, it is possible for Realtors to not just survive but even thrive in a down market. Now is the time to get back to basics on every level of your business by focusing on good business practices: solid accounting principals, marketing that works, and exceptional customer service. Here are nine ways to get started:
1. Manage your margins.
You probably didn’t get into real estate because you loved accounting, but now more than ever, the accounting side of the business matters. Now is the time to evaluate every expense and cut the ones that are not contributing to your bottom line.
While a down market is never the time to stop marketing, review your advertising budget and cut expenses that are not directly or indirectly bringing you business. Make a list of all the things you do to market yourself and place them in order of effectiveness, then focus on the most effective tools and eliminate the ones that are not working.
Do this for every aspect of your business until expenses are all muscle and no fat. Lean and mean is the name of the game.
2. Maximize your productivity.
In the same way you got rid of expenses that are not profiting your bottom line, get rid of business activities that do not have a payoff in either the short- or long-term. Prioritize your time and finish the most important activities before you move on to less important items.
Use your time wisely and make every minute count. Time-block to get solid chunks of time in for those lead-generating activities that will make the most difference. If your office lends itself to socializing, try closing your door for periods of time to allow for uninterrupted workflow. This encourages more quality work in less time. If you engage in social media, limit yourself to one 15-minute chunk of time a day, and make sure you use that time to make personal connections with your A clients and prospects.
Do more with less. Scale your paperwork and other back-office activities down to the bare basics to get the most done in the least amount of time. Then use the time and resources you have where they matter most: building relationships, generating leads, converting leads to sales, and providing great customer service.
3. Fill your pipeline.
Today’s pipeline is tomorrow’s income. It goes without saying that you can’t close deals if you don’t have deals in your pipeline. And with so many transactions delayed or falling through, make sure you have plenty in your pipeline at all times.
Identify your lead sources, get rid of the ones that aren’t working, and stick with the ones that are most effective. If you are already tracking where your leads are coming from, you are one step ahead of the game. Look into lead sources that may have fallen by the wayside too, either because you didn’t enjoy them or because they didn’t work before. The market has changed, so your best lead sources may have changed too.
4. Elevate your service.
Go above and beyond. Exceed your customer’s expectations at every stage of the transaction, beginning with communication. Then do something most Realtors won’t — go the extra mile and do the unexpected: Make it a priority to return phone calls within an hour. If you don’t have an answer at least let your client know you are working on it; the more contact the better. Offer a guarantee so the client can cancel the listing at any time if they are unhappy with your service. Send invitations and make reminder phone calls before that open house instead of just putting up a sign. Drop an article in the mail with a personal note if you come across information you know would appeal to a past client or prospect.
Providing exceptional service means choosing service providers who also go above and beyond. Their service will reflect on you and impact future referrals and your pipeline.
5. Leverage your referral sources.
Even if you already count on referrals, now is the time to get busy and manage these referrals more actively. Concentrate on your A and A+ clients — don’t waste time on C clients. If you think can move a client from your B-list to your A-list, make contact.
The most important kind of contact is face to face: coffee (less expensive than lunch) or a pop-by. A pop-by doesn’t have to be expensive and actually never should be; home-baked goods and gift cards are inexpensive and thoughtful. If your company offers marketing cards, use these too, but instead of mailing, deliver them by hand. Make sure to send out personal hand-written thank you notes for everything, including referrals. In other words, get back to basics. Make personal connections to get more connections.
6. Build your reputation.
Know people in your community and be known — by attending meetings, keeping your professional designations, and networking. Be a trusted source of information in your community, the go-to person that people think of first when they have a question.
Be respected in the community and you’ll find that people you don’t even know will refer you because of your reputation. Become a trusted advisor to your clients: the source of economic news, local and national statistics, how the market is trending. Give them a perspective on the market from an expert — you. After all, you are the authority on your market, and no news articles or Internet blog can replace the value you bring to your clients by being involved in the market on a daily basis.
7. Finesse your staging expertise.
In a buyer’s market, you’ll have to dress to impress to get top dollar. A home that is not well-staged may get lower offers, or buyers will simply choose another home that is more attractive.
Some of your clients may understand what needs to be done, but others will appreciate the coaching, and they are paying for your expertise. Explain to your clients that you take your job seriously, and, to get the best price for their home, they’ll need to follow through on your directives to box up clutter, repaint walls, and stage their home. In this market, it matters more than ever.
Consider hiring a home staging consultant, or, if you are adept at staging, offer a complimentary staging consultation as part of your listing package to help set yourself apart from the competition. And, since more and more people do their preliminary looking online, do not underestimate the value of photographs of a properly staged home.
8. Hand-pick your vendors.
In today’s market, your choice of vendors has never mattered more. Choose companies whose reputations are stellar. There is too much at stake to let a single unscrupulous vendor or someone else’s sloppy work jeopardize your transaction — and your reputation.
When it comes to lenders, there is no substitute for a knowledgeable and proactive loan officer. If you’ve worked to build a relationship with a loan officer you trust, get them on board at the beginning with each new client to pre-qualify them. If you don’t already have a long-term relationship with a lender you trust, cultivate one. Never underestimate the impact a lender who is on your team can make in serving your clients and getting the transaction closed.
Lenders who are willing to educate buyers about all of their financial options are worth their weight in gold. In this market, more borrowing options means a greater chance of successfully closing the transaction.
9. Embrace the market.
Short sales and foreclosures scare off many Realtors. But in this market, sooner or later, most Realtors will encounter one. The real estate professional who disdains the short sale will lose out to the Realtor who has taken the time to become educated about short sales, or even to become an expert in them. If you don’t want to become an expert, at least take a class to get up to speed, then, instead of turning down a short sale, consider hiring a short sale company to handle the details for you.
Your upbeat, knowledgeable, and professional attitude can shine through in the midst of troubling times. If people are moving or selling because of job changes or economic stress, they still want to work with people who are friendly and optimistic. You don’t have to see the real estate world through rose-colored glasses, but make the time your clients spend with you on their transaction as enjoyable as possible. You’ll get positive word-of-mouth marketing today, and more repeat and referral business tomorrow.