Part 1 -Sitting Open Houses
You’ve finished your schooling, passed your licensing exam, and signed on with a broker. You spent the first day setting up your desk, ordering business cards, and introducing yourself to the others in the office. Now what do you do?
You need a plan.
Clients will not just come to you. You want to hit the ground running. You see the big numbers that some of your fellow agents have but you don’t even care about that. You are worried about making enough money to stay in business at all.
Remember, you really have just opened a business and you are the only one responsible for its success. Your success or failure will be determined by what you do.
Let’s look at some of the best ways to start. This is, by no means, a complete list. For example, in addition to the strategies listed, you will absolutely need a good web presence in order to grow your business. Setting up, or, having someone else setup, your website will take some time though and you need to get moving now.
I have divided up five important things you should start doing into the next five postings. In this one I will talk about sitting open houses for agents in your office that are too busy to do their own. Part two will discuss FSBO’s, part three will talk about marketing to your circle of influence, part four will talk about farming, and finally, in part five, I will discuss the many benefits of working with a mentor.
Sitting an open house for an agent in your office that has more listings than they can cover can become an excellent source of prospects for you to work with. Make sure you are prepared with business cards, flyers and a place for prospective buyers to sign in.
Many people will be reluctant to sign in if you leave it up to them. That’s why you should always ask them to sign, or do it for them, as soon as you introduce yourself. Another thing you will want to find out at the start is whether they are already working with another agent.
Make sure you have pictures and details of other similar properties that are on the market. Try to mix 1, 1 ½, and 2 story homes with different numbers of bedrooms and baths. Many people don’t know exactly what they want and are trying to figure out how much house they can afford.
Arrive at least a half-hour before the scheduled start time to prepare the house for the showing. Ideally, if you were working with the sellers, you would have already advised them on how to get their house ready to sell.
If this is not the case, at least make sure you spend some time talking to the listing agent to get any specific details about the house. These might include a home warranty, new roof or mechanical systems, help with closing costs, or that the appliances stay with the house. You will want to know anything that helps sell the house.
Make sure you open all window coverings and turn on every light. Bright and open beats out dark and cave-like every time. Take some air freshener, scented candles, or a little pan of potpourri that can bubble away on the stove.
Be careful with the last two, you don’t want to burn the place down. If the weather permits, you might want to open some windows for the fresh air. This, of course, is especially true if the sellers are smokers or have pets.
When deciding what open house(s) you will sit, give some thought to whether you want a house that is empty or one that is still lived in. Both of these have advantages and disadvantages and it comes down to what you prefer. I think the prevailing view is it’s easier to prepare and show an empty house but plenty of agents would disagree.
Fill the time between visitors working on other marketing efforts. For example, this could be a good time to hand address any mailings you are doing. If you weren’t planning to handwrite the address on your envelopes, you should consider doing so.
The whole purpose of everything on the outside of the envelope is to get the receiver to open it. A handwritten address says it is a personal message and increases the odds that it will be opened.
Something else you will want to do is to write out a “Thank You” note to everyone who stopped by. Do this before you leave the house and drop them in the mailbox right after you close up. Even if your visitors spent the entire day going from one open house to the next, I guarantee, yours will be the only “Thank You” note they receive.
Also, make sure to include these people in your contact list making sure you write down the date and the type of home they came to visit.
Before you start receiving visitors, you should already have in mind a number of questions you might ask depending on the circumstances. What type of home are you looking for? How many bedrooms? Do you have children? What about the schools? What is your price range? Do you need a list of lenders?
As you progress in your career, you will build a list of other professionals to recommend. These will include mortgage brokers, title reps, landscapers, title reps, movers, and a wide variety of inspectors and engineers.
When you start out, you’ll probably want to ask for recommendations from other agents in your office until you put together a list of your own. Don’t forget to spend some time calling these people during your first week to introduce yourself. You don’t want to put yourself in the position when a potential client tells someone you recommended them, they say thanks but they never heard of you.
It is nice to walk the house with people that come in, but please, don’t say, “here’s the kitchen” or “here’s the bathroom.” Everyone who walks through the door should be able to identify the obvious. Instead, point out the not so obvious, extra deep closets, hot water dispenser, home warranty, carpet and paint allowance, anything that might attract a buyer.
Everyone knows that sitting open houses can be a great way to connect with buyers but don’t forget you can meet potential sellers here as well. Your potential buyers might need to sell their current house before buying yours.
Many times these people are trying to compare their house with what’s on the market to get an idea of what they can sell for. You will want to make sure you are prepared for this as well. So one of the questions you should ask is “Do you have a house already that you plan to sell?”
Finally, remember that nobody likes to be ignored. If you’re on the phone when someone pulls up – hang up! And, have your ringer on vibrate in case someone calls when you’re showing people around the house. How can you possibly give someone the impression you are the person to help them when you can’t even get off the phone when they are there?
This is, by no means, a complete list of ways to work an open house, but it should get you started. In part two of this series of posts I will talk about For Sale by Owner properties and some strategies for working with them.
Part 2 – For Sale By Owners
As a new agent, you are under the gun. You have to learn how to make money or you’ll be out of business fast. The failure rate, depending on who you believe, for new agents in their first year is higher than 80%. In order to be one of the less than 20% who make it, you absolutely must develop a good plan for what you will spend your time doing and stick to it. Included in that plan should be contacting FSBO’s in your area.
In this part, I will talk about FSBO’s and, hopefully, give you some good ideas on how to convert them into your listings. In the first part of this series, I talked about sitting an open house for another agent’s listing.
You may be inclined to pass up the opportunity that FSBO’s present, but this would be a mistake. If you stop and think about who you’re really looking for when you send out letters and flyers and make personal contacts and sit open houses, you will realize you’re looking for two kinds of people; people who want to buy property and people who want to sell. FSBO’s represent at least one of these and maybe both.
What I meant when I said you might be inclined to pass up FSBO’s is that it takes a certain amount of courage to approach these people. You may get it in your head that these sellers have heard from so many agents, all with the same “If I bring a buyer will you be willing to …” line that you were going to use yourself, you would probably be thrown out or hung up on. Maybe even worse! You tell yourself that these people have already decided to go it on their own and so surely they don’t want to hear from the likes of you.
The reality here is the average homeowner that try’s to sell by them self eventually ends up listing with a broker. Also, who do you think will get the listing? Will it be the agent that has offered their assistance, or the one who never made an appearance?
The other reality here that you have to think of is just how many agents do you think actually contacted the owners? I don’t mean how many called on the phone and spent thirty seconds telling them that they are available if the owner has any questions. Very few approaches can be this bad. In fact, you would be better to not call at all if this is the best you can do.
What will stop the seller from thinking, “Is that all I’m worth, a phone call?” The easiest way to understand this is to look at it from the seller’s point of view. Ask yourself if you would ever list your home with a voice on the phone. In my opinion, the only thing the phone should be used for when first calling FSBO’s is to ask if there’s a good time when you can come out and see the house.
Don’t make the same mistakes many other agents make. Take the time to get a sales kit together for the seller. Make sure it includes comps and business cards and recent sales and any other information you think might help your case. Remember to point out what a good job the seller has done so far and let them know you appreciate how hard it can be.
Take the opportunity to tour the house if for no other reason than you want to know all the property for sale in an area, not just those listed with a broker. You might want to point out a few things the seller should do to help them sell faster such as removing clutter, new paint, empty counter tops, and remove personal photographs for a start.
Finally, don’t be afraid of giving away the farm. I know a great many agents will disagree with this last bit of advice but I stand by it. You are not just trying to make money. You are in the business of helping people with all their real estate needs. No one was ever hurt by giving more service than what is absolutely necessary.
Besides, even an agent that has worked a number of deals can’t possibly know everything that can come up in a sale so there is no way to educate a seller out of your help. Any questions you answer and free advice you give will be remembered when the time comes for the owner to finally list, providing you follow up diligently and keep in touch.
Part 3 – Your Circle Of Influence
This is the third part in a series of four describing things you should start doing if you are just starting your real estate career. In part one I talked about sitting open houses for other agents. In part two, I gave some ideas for working with FSBO’s. In this post, I will talk about marketing to your circle of influence. Future posts in this series will include farming and working with a more experienced mentor.
One thing you absolutely must do to jump start your career is to contact everyone within your circle of influence. This means everyone. Sit down and make a list of all the people you know. This list will eventually become your contact list. Make sure to include everyone, especially people that you don’t know well like the person that cuts your hair or the teller you just say hello to at the bank.
Once you begin writing down names, you will be amazed at how fast the list grows. All of us have an amazing number of people we know, even if we don’t realize it and you’ll want to contact every one of them.
Remember, you will not only be asking them if they need an agent, but also asking them to recommend you to their friends and associates. You never know who will need your services.
You will want to use different forms of contact for the different types of people on your list. For example, all of the people on the list that you are close to should get a personal visit so you can talk to them about your new career and give them a supply of cards to pass out to anyone they think might need your services.
You will want to tell them right up front that you intend to check back with them every once in a while to find out if they know of any persons looking for an agent. This gives you a way to gauge an appropriate interval between visits. Making yourself a pest will not help you, and remember, most people will want to help you, especially people you know.
For those people that are not quite as close, you should send a short letter announcing your new career.This letter, ideally, would also be followed up with a personal visit or a phone call.
If that’s not possible, you’ll want to keep these names close by until you work your way through them, In fact, one habit you will want to get into is setting aside some time everyday to call a few people on your contact list. Even a half hour would make a difference.
You will also want to vary the time of day you call since everyone always seems to be on a different schedule.
In order to get anything accomplished, you will need a plan. You’ll also need to make your plan as precise and complete as you possibly can. One way to work your way through your list would be to sit down on Saturday or Sunday and plan out your calling schedule for the next week. Combine a half hour block of time each day with names from your list that would most likely be available at that time.
Go ahead and list more names than you can probably reach for each slot since you’ll never catch everyone in on your list. Don’t forget to check your names against the National Do Not Call Registry.
I should mention here that it’s a good idea for you to get in the habit of following up all your correspondence with a call or personal visit. I know this will not be possible all the time, or even most of the time, once you start regular mailings to your farm and your list of contacts but you should always make the effort to contact as many as possible.
If you called just twenty-five people from a mailing of five hundred, you could an idea of what everyone thought of what you sent. In fact, one good way to approach the people you call is with the questions, “Did you receive my latest mailing?” and “What did you think of it?” Instead of “bothering” these people, you are asking for their opinion, and who doesn’t like to give that?
One final thought about soliciting business from your circle of influence has to do with dependability. I already stated that people want to help you, and it’s true, they do want to. The only thing is they will expect you to hold up your end of the bargain.
If they are going to recommend you to their family, friends, or business associates, they have to know you will do right for them. Once again, put yourself in their place. Would you ever recommend someone that you didn’t have confidence in? Of course not, and why would you expect anyone else to?
I am of the opinion that most people want to hear you say that you’ll take care of their friends or family. Put it in the letter you send and tell them the same when you talk to them. Don’t just imply that you’ll do a good job, say it. This has a way of committing you to it that will reassure the person. And, of course, it goes without saying you should then do exactly what you promised.
Part 4 – Getting A House Ready To Sell
With all the shows on television now that show how to prepare a house to sell, you would think everyone would know what to do. Sadly, this seems to be far from the case. In order for your client to get the most money for their house, or even sell it at all, you will have to instruct them on what they will need to do.
Prepare a list of general recommendations everyone needs to be aware of that you can give the sellers at your first meeting. Tell them to look over the list and see what they think they should do to ready their house for sale.
Let them know you’ll be out to talk about it in more detail in the next day or two. The hardest problem you are likely to face is that many people are unable or unwilling to look at their house from the view of a prospective buyer. They are so used to their home they can’t see it from someone else’s perspective.
The other problem you may face is the seller is unwilling or unable to do the necessary work to get their house sold. This could be for a variety of reasons such as lack of money, health limitations, time constraints, etc. Try to offer them a solution to the problem.
If it is a lack of time or because of health limits, give them the names and numbers of some cleaners, painters, and handyman services in the area. If they claim a lack of money then point out that it takes very little money to get most houses ready for sale and every bit of time and money that goes into the effort is sure to be returned with a higher price or a faster sale.
The first and most important thing you’ll want to cover with your seller is cleaning. The entire house will need to be thoroughly cleaned. Explain that everything that is not cleaned will surely be noticed and will affect the overall impression prospective buyers get. Think of the houses you’ve been in that were dirty. Would you want to buy one of these for yourself? Could you see yourself living there? Neither can anyone else.
Don’t forget about pets. Sellers that have a dog or a cat need to take additional steps to clean up after them. They probably don’t realize how many people are either allergic to animals or unwilling to move into a house that animals have lived in. Carpets and furniture will need to be professionally cleaned and all evidence of the pets should be removed if possible. This evidence will not only include any lingering scents and hair but damage to the house by the animal as well. You should also make arrangements with the sellers to be sure the animals aren’t in attendance whenever you plan to show the house. People love their pets and you will likely meet some resistance here but remember, you are getting paid for the best advice you can give.
The second item you will want to cover with your sellers is clutter. Some people are better at this than others but everyone can use at least a little help. Ask your sellers to go from room to room with a supply of corrugated boxes and remove everything they can. Often-overlooked areas of clutter are the closets. Everyone is concerned with closet space and how can a buyer tell how much there is when he or she can’t see past the doorway? Make sure to include this in your list of suggestions for them to work from. Have them remove any stacks of books and papers on desks and bookshelves. All of these boxes, along with any extra furniture, can be relocated to a rented storage area if necessary.
Explain to the sellers how much bigger and inviting the kitchen will look if they remove everything off the counter tops and the refrigerator door. Have them pack up all the small appliances that fill the kitchens of the average home. Many people will ask about the appliances. Whether they stay with the house, or not, make sure these are clean as well.
Another item you will want to talk to your sellers about is removing many of their personal items from sight. This includes pictures, awards, trophies, diplomas, etc. Explain to them the people who come in to see the house will need to picture themselves living there and having all these personal things around makes it much harder to do so.
Once you have tackled the two biggest items, cleaning and removing clutter, it’s time to work on improving what remains. The least expensive fix for any part of the house is a coat of paint. White or off-white paint or another neutral color can safely be used throughout. In fact, it is a good idea to paint over any really bright or really dark color.
They may like that purple or bright pink paint but very few others will. If the carpeting is old, dirty, or in bad condition you should ask about the possibility of replacement. If the carpet, however, hides a nice wooden floor underneath, they may decide to get rid of the carpet altogether.
The list of things that can be done to a house can go on and on but this covers some of the more important ones. All of these suggestions will take the understanding and cooperation of the sellers to accomplish. If they are unwilling to do so, you will be forced into explaining to them why their house is going to have to list for less than it might otherwise be worth if they really want to sell. A prospect neither of you will find attractive.