By Stephanie Sievers | Associate Editor
When the real estate market was booming in 2004, REALTOR® Robin W. Miner was so busy she hired an assistant just to help wrangle some of the workflow. Eight years later, her assistant Rachel Thompson is still with her and Miner considers hiring her one of the best business decisions she’s made.
Having a full-time assistant who can handle some of the behind-the-scenes office details —filing paperwork, posting photos, proofing brochures, putting listings on the market — has allowed Miner, a broker associate with @properties in Chicago, to devote more time to cultivating her business.
There is a cost associated with having an assistant but the price is more than balanced by the increased efficiency, which in turn saves time and money, Miner says.
One key to her success: Having detailed systems and checklists in place to make sure every step of a transaction stays on track. There are so many moving pieces to a real estate transaction that if things don’t run smoothly, it’s a disservice to your clients, she said.
“We have so many systems in place that every listing that we take, every client, every buyer that we work with, there’s a business plan to it. We follow systems and that helps us be more efficient with our time,” Miner said.
In the southern Illinois communities of Columbia and Waterloo, even children have heard of REALTOR® Tammy Hines. After 16 years in real estate, Hines credits a big part of her success and her status as a top producer to her ability to brand herself.
“I think branding yourself is huge in setting yourself apart from other REALTORS®,” she says. “Doing something that’s unique can really make you stand out.”
Hines, broker-owner of Tammy Mitchell Hines & Co., makes sure people not only see her name but also her face all over town. Her listing signs include the same photo that she uses in her other marketing pieces. She says the $70 she invested in each sign is worth it when she considers her increased recognition in the community.
She has two promotional moving trucks for the same reason. New and past clients can use the trucks for free when they move and she also loans them to local charities and nonprofit groups. Emblazoned on the sides of the trucks, of course, are her photo and branding materials.
“If an agent can make the initial investment in a used moving truck, the payoffs can be huge. It’s a moving billboard,” Hines says.
She paid about $30,000 for the first moving truck and $11,000 for the second, which was used. There are
insurance and routine maintenance costs, but Hines allows other businesses to advertise on the back of the trucks to offset expenses.
Her marketing efforts even extend to those who are years away from buying. Every year on their birthday, Hines sends coupons to children of her past clients for a free ice cream cone. It builds good will, and those children will one day grow up to be buyers, she says.
Other branding ideas: She gives away free pies to past clients on Thanksgiving (250 took her up on the offer last year), sponsors golf carts for the high school football teams and wears clothing with her logo when she’s out in the community on weekends.
At a time when some agents are cutting back, Hines is spending more, particularly on marketing. One area where she has shifted resources is in printed materials. She’s eliminated most traditional newspaper advertising in favor of online real estate sites and specialty publications such as a 12-page, customized marketing newspaper that she sends to 5,000 homes every two months and a magazine that she puts out every six weeks.
If REALTOR® Jack Guest, a broker with Century 21 McMullen in Chicago, has learned anything in this housing market, it’s that you have to be adaptable to change.
“If you’re going to be a REALTOR® in today’s market place you have to have a wider-ranging skill set than in the past,” he says. “You can’t be afraid of not having a skill set because we have a changing business. The only way you’re going to become experienced is by delving into the area that you’ve never done before.”
For more of today’s agents that means working with short sales or rental properties. In his first 13 or 14 years in real estate, Guest estimated that he probably worked on a handful of short sales or rentals. In the last couple years, he’s done dozens of each, he says.
“They’re not a huge profit center, but I’m looking at those as potential leads down the line. Those are customers and potential clients that you don’t want to turn away,” Guest says.
Short sales in particular are time intensive, so agents have to critically weigh the opportunity with an assessment of whether it takes too much time away from working on something else.
Like Hines, he has moved from newspaper and print advertising in favor of online advertising through sites such as Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow. Some of the benefits of online marketing are fixed annual prices and greater exposure.
“A lot of the budget has gone into the Internet. It’s the crux of our advertising and lead generation,” he says. “Where are buyers looking? They’re looking on their computer, they’re looking at home, they’re looking at work and they’re looking at all hours. They’re not waiting for the newspaper to come out the next day.”
REALTOR® Cathy Algas hasn’t worked with a home seller in years. That’s just the way she likes it. Algas, a broker associate with Jim Maloof/REALTOR® in Peoria, is a Buyer Specialist and exclusively works with buyers.
Starting out in real estate, she’d initially gone the traditional route of working with both sides of the transaction, but she quickly discovered she had an affinity for working with buyers and began to specialize. As part of the Gaetz Home Team, she only works with buyers while her partner REALTOR® Rebecca Gaetz is the face of the team and works with the sellers.
Algas doesn’t advertise herself, isn’t featured on the team’s website or in many of the marketing materials, yet she has success working with buyers. This year she had her best January ever.
What has worked for her is to focus her efforts on the things that she is good at and productivity and profitability will follow.
Another business tip that more agents should heed: Sit down periodically and track an average day and critically assess how many hours you are actually spending on dollar-generating activities. It can be surprising how many hours are spent on other things, Algas says.