When New Jersey-based Keller Williams agent Mark Slade started in real estate in 2008, he was living on food stamps. He’d just left behind a lucrative career in the fashion industry — his last position was an Executive Vice President — that went bust with the rest of the economy at the time. So he picked up his bootstraps and began a whole new career in real estate.
At first, he said, it was bare bones. “If I spent over $10,000 on my business in the first 2 years, I would be shocked,” he said. But Mark put his nose to the grindstone to carve out a significant business where there once was nothing. And for 2015, he will have closed over $28 million in sales.
That’s not luck. That’s grit. And the really impressive thing? He wants to help other agents do it, too.
“A coworker of mine wanted to leave real estate behind. I told her I believed in her, and she could make it work. She said I was the anomaly because I succeeded when everyone else was failing. But why wouldn’t you want to listen to and be a part of the anomaly?”
For new agents, the question is this: how do you break into a business where there are so many established already?
Mark’s answer is many fold, but he has a very clear first step: know your area inside and out. Local expertise is critical — why else would someone hire you if you’ve never negotiated a sale?
And here’s how he suggests you do it.
1. Get the data
“How’s the market?”
It’s the first question every agent gets in a conversation. And it might seem like a softball question. But for new agents, it’s actually an opportunity.
What matters most to home buyers and sellers right now is what’s happening in the market right now. So you should always be prepared to answer this question for your area (and surrounding) in the following ways:
- Where are prices trending?
- How many homes are for sale right now?
- How many homes recently sold?
- What’s the most expensive home on the market?
- What’s the current average price of a home? Is that price trending up or down?
- What is the average amount of days on market? Is that lengthening or shortening?
Mark had a mentor that had him memorize this data for their weekly meeting, where he could be counted on to answer most of the questions while his fellow agents remained silent. It’s a skill that served him well and a habit that has stayed with him.
2. Share the data
Now that you know your market inside and out, you can’t just sit around and wait for someone to ask you about it. You have to share and leverage that knowledge.
The fastest way is to get a web site up and running. That doesn’t mean hire a designer and sink thousands into a fancy interactive experience. “And it’s not the page you get from your broker, with your bio and your properties,” Mark pointed out. “This is something only you own. And here’s the trick: buy a domain that matters.”
Your domain is your web address, and Mark wants agents to be strategic about what they choose. It should reflect your local area. To start with Mark owned a few domains — now he owns over 330, including www.goodhomesforgoodpeople.com and www.lovetoliveinmaplewood.com. The latter being a blog that gives voice to his knowledge and to his love of his local community.
“I like Blogger,” said Mark of the platform that used to be called Blogspot and is owned by Google. “It’s not sexy. It’s very basic. But I love the views counter in the top right corner.” To Mark, that number of page views was first an incentive to blog as much as possible until he picked up enough views, or traction as he calls it. Then the counter became a report card demonstrating social proof that he has reach and viewership. But getting those viewers means more than publishing. It means using other channels to drive people to the site.
One of the easiest tools for that is a Facebook business page. Plus a Twitter account. Then get your LinkedIn network up and running. For Mark, the name “Maplewood” fits into all these social accounts, establishing him as a person who lives and breathes his town.
Publish a new blog post per week, maybe more if you can. Share that on your social networks. If you’re feeling especially prolific, offer versions of your posts to other people who have web sites and need content.
“A local news site wanted a real estate column, but didn’t want to put a writer on it. So every week, I sent them the report of all the properties that sold and the properties that came on the market. They weren’t even my listings, most of the time, but my name was next to them.”
For more guidance on being a content marketer, read our post “3 Myths and 4 Tips about Content Marketing for Real Estate”.
3. Connect with your community
Your local area is full of organizations, businesses and events that want to get the word out. Film festivals. Farmers markets. Community theaters. They may have press releases or email newsletters about their events. Offer to share them on your site.
Mark is all about his town of Maplewood. He shares the social calendar on his site, and advertises with those local organizations rather than larger publications. Those groups turn around and support him, becoming a critical part of his sphere.
4. Spread the word
Every new agent knows that the people you know are your first source for business. It’s your sphere of influence. For some agents, this is a tight-knit group of former colleagues and trusted contacts. For others, it’s a larger array of family, friends and high grade acquaintances.
But many new agents are nervous about tapping their friends and family for work.
“You might not want to work directly for your best friend,” Mark explained. “But your best friend can refer you to someone else, and that’s how you use your network to build your business.” “This is another reason why being in the know about your local market statistics is critical, so your sphere can have confidence to introduce you to someone else.”
Staying in front of your sphere takes time doesn’t have to can easily eat into your expenses. But when you’re a new agent, you are richer in time than money. So take the time and write the notes, make the calls, send the emails and budget for the targeted digital ads that reach the folks you know and help you stay top of mind for their referrals.
5. Make the most of open houses
There are some agents who don’t believe in open houses as ways to serve their clients. (For more on this, read our post “Kevin Boudreaux: the agent who shut the door on open houses.”) But particularly for new agents, open houses are a gold mine of information to build your local expertise. “Think about it like getting dressed for a job interview (which is truly a critical metaphor) and make the most of your personality and knowledge as you meet potential buyers and sellers of real estate in your local market.” Mark credits open houses with helping to extend his reach and learn more about his local market. His success with getting in front of people where his personality could shine, provided a great method of meeting people that he would often turn into clients that lead to transactions.
Then, as he started to pick up listing clients, he found a tool that helped to sell his client’s homes rather than simply “listing” them on the market. “I did video tours. Very low tech. Just me and a handheld camera, walking around, focusing on the rooms, the flow of the home and some of the stand-out details and features of the property. At the end, I’d then sit down and summarize my thoughts on the property.”
These videos formed the backbone of yet another cost-free content tactic in Mark’s early days: his YouTube channel.
Today, Mark mentors several agents in his office and is looking forward to doing more engagements that let him share his experience and inspire people to reach their goals. His enthusiasm for his home turf of Maplewood is both palatable and a ready-to-follow blueprint for new agents to embrace your market and become local experts.