Who’s Going to Be at This Year’s FWD Innovation Summit? One Former Judge’s Thoughts on this Year’s Contestant Line Up

Last year, when I was one of the judges on the FWD Innovation Summit, I wrote up a fairly rigorous analysis of the participants so that I could be prepared for their presentations.  This year, I won’t be judging, but I will be live-blogging the event on Tuesday here on this blog, so I did the same thing.

Basically, I looked at each app or website and wrote up a short description of what they are and how they would apply in real estate. And just out of habit, I came up with one question for each of them that I’d ask as a judge. I thought it might be helpful for those of you attending the conference, who want a thumbnail introduction to the companies and what they’re presenting.

I want to be clear that these are my own very unofficial impressions based on their site or their app. I may have some stuff wrong, because I’m not very bright.  If I’ve mis-described any business, I apologize and will update this post with any errors if you bring them to my attention.

I should also be clear that I don’t represent the FWD conference, Realogy, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, the Rand family, or really anyone else.  My observations are my own.

In the chart and the discussion below, I’ve organized the companies’ solutions according to three categories. I should note that this is my own organization, not something that came from Realogy or from the companies themselves, and that the one-line “descriptions” are just my own short-hand for what I see as the main driving purpose of the site or app:

  • Home Search (6): Sites and apps that assist buyers during the home search process, mostly portals.
  • Marketing (4): Sites and apps that help agents market homes.
  • Business (5): A bit of a catchall for sites and apps that helps real estate professionals manage their business (including apps designed for property managers and developers).

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Home Search:

Closing Time

Closing Time is a web-based service designed to help make the home buying transactional process easier.  You sign up, answer a bunch of questions about yourself and the home you’re buying, and you get a detailed checklist of steps you need to take, which are fully customized to your personal needs and the location of your home.  The site is designed for home buyers, but the company offers an integrated enterprise solution allowing brokers to create customized checklists for their clients that can, for example, promote affiliate partners throughout the transactional process. (Full disclosure: my company is talking with Closing Time about setting up the enterprise product).

Key Application: It’s a great way to manage the transactional process for your clients.  Set your buyer up with an account, and she’ll have a detailed checklist of steps she needs to take to buy her home that will prompt her with email alerts and reminders.

Key Question: How can Closing Time fully address transactional challenges in a document-intensive process without ever touching any of those documents?

 

Curb Call

Curb Call has one of those really simple elevator pitches: “Uber for real estate agents.”  Let’s say a buyer is standing out in front of a home for sale, and wants to see it right away.  She can use the Curb Call app to call up a list of available agents in the area, screen them based on their app profile (i.e., ratings, etc.), and “call” them to come by the home to show it.

Key Application: If you can get a big enough installed user base of users and agents, this provides a novel way for clients to find an agent who is available for immediate gratification: show me this house right now!

Key Question: The Uber connection is clever, but is that kind of immediate gratification possible when most home sellers require advance notice to show a home?

 

Househappy

Househappy is an image-based home search portal. When you log in, you don’t see a traditional home search screen with filtering options – instead, you see row upon row of home photos, which you can click on to get the full details and the rest of the images.  You can also use more traditional options if you want to narrow your search, but photos are front and center as the search idiom.  The listing feed comes through listhub, which provides the listing agent contact information, and agents can also set up a profile to “claim” their own listings.

Key Application. Househappy is a clever, fresh, very visual take on traditional home search, using images instead of filters or maps as the dominant criteria.

Key Question: You market the site as a free community platform for all users and agents, so where is your revenue going to come from?

 

Lasso

Lasso is a bookmarking service for real estate, an answer to the challenge posed when buyers use multiple sites to look for homes.  You install a bookmarklet on your browser toolbar, and whenever you see a property you want to save, you just click the tool and save it to Lasso. Then, when you log into Lasso, you’ll see all your saved properties in one place in a very Pinterest-type layout, where you can rate the property, take notes, and share it.

Key Application: Lasso seems to be creating a more social approach to home search, one that not only anticipates including a real estate agent, but also other people who might be interested (friends, family, spouse, etc.).  For a client who insists on using a national portal as well as the local company site, or multiple portals, agents might find it helpful to encourage the client to “corral” all those properties in one place to organize their search.

Key Question: This solves the problem of clients who use multiple home search sites, but can’t they also solve that problem by just using one site?

 

Retsly

Retsly is really something different from the other participants at FWD.  It’s not a consumer- or agent-based product.  Rather, it’s a real estate software API that was featured at Realogy’s “Hackathon” last fall at the NAR conference, giving contestants a cleaned-up database of listings upon which to build creative apps during the contest.  And now it’s available to other app and website developers as a platform upon which to build real estate related products (indeed, Curb Call, another FWD contestant, is featured on the Retsly site as a user).

Key Application: Not for agents, not for consumers.  But for web developers, the API provides a clean data feed of listings, which become their development platform.

Key Question: Who should be using this, and how much data do you actually have?

 

Zumper

Zumper is a national real estate portal site and app for home and apartment rentals.  Using traditional filter-based and map-based search, users can look for rentals submitted by landlords, brokers, and apparently through some third party sites (a number of the listings I looked at came from Hotpads).  For agents, you can set up a “Pro” account and post your listings, syndicate them to other portals, market the listings through email, and manage leads through the site.

Key Application: A dedicated rental site with good, reliable, up-to-date data would be really useful to consumers, giving them the same quality experience that home buyers currently get from any number of online portals. And agents might value a one-stop solution to marketing rentals to portals.

Key Question: What’s the value to a real estate agent with another portal dedicated narrowly to rentals when most real estate sites and portals already market rental properties?

 

Marketing:

 

Beamly

Beamly is a micro-location marketing app designed to enhance home showings, particularly for new construction, using the Apple iBeacon technology.  The app works with special Bluetooth-enable proximity “beacons” that look like hocky pucks, and which trigger informational displays when visitors come close enough to them. The app comes from BrightDoor, a specialist in home builder online marketing, and is expected to be launched this summer.

Key Application: You put the beacons in strategic spots around a home.  When visitors come to the front door, the app displays neighborhood amenities, the floor plans, or anything else you set up.  When they get to the kitchen, the app highlights special features or possible upgrade finishes.  You can even track where people are going, maybe even where they are lingering.

Key Question:  What does this app add for a typical home showing, when an agent is usually present to highlight features of the home?

 

Matterport

Matterport provides three-dimensional photography that could provide a really exciting way to market properties.  Here’s how it works.  You get a Matterport-branded 3D camera and set it up on a tripod in a room.  It spins around the room, capturing not just pictures but also dimensions and spatial relationships. You then upload the data to the Matterport site, which creates a 3D image model of the space using fancy technology that I quite frankly don’t understand.  But it looks very cool (and not dissimilar to last year’s FWD grand prize winner, Floored).

Key Application: If 3d imaging technology works the way that Matterport says, it could leapfrog video marketing as the best way to market properties online. More immersive than still photos or video, and actually easier to create than standard video.

Key Question: How feasible, in both time and money, is it for someone to buy your camera, set it up in the living room of their new listing, and build a 3d model of that home right now – today?

 

Slide Bureau

Slide Bureau is a presentation and slideshow iPad app that provides hundreds of design templates, including dozens built specifically for the real estate industry.  You download the app, choose a template, create your customized slides, and share your final presentation through the web.  Many of the templates are interactive, meaning they pull real-time data directly from services like Google Maps and Twitter – so you won’t have to copy and paste data or use screenshots.  Users can also suggest new templates if they can’t find what they need.

Key Application: Depending on the growth of the template library, agents could find some interesting ways of presenting information to clients or doing promotional presentations.

Key Question: What do you see as the advantage of creating presentations like this on an iPad, which is generally seen more as a content-delivery rather than –creation device?

 

SmartExpose

SmartExpose is an international digital real estate marketing development company that provides white label software for iphone and iPad apps, webpages, and project pages.  You can either create your own set of multi-device apps, or advertise properties in one of the established SmartExpose marketplaces.  You can also create an individualized iPad magazine, using a mix of standardized and customized content.

Key Application: Agents and brokers might like the turnkey aspect of creating an interactive iPad-based magazine that could be used to display properties or promote the company.

Key Question: The online versions of your materials look slick, but how customizable are they?

 

Business:

CO Everywhere

Co Everywhere is an app and web service that lets you pick a place that’s important to you, and then follow social media and news content generated from that location.  You just go on a map, circle the area of interest, and then you’ll get a rich, unfiltered stream of hyper-local content from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Yelp, and other news and social media sites.  For example, I circled my hometown and was immediately inundated with tweets and Facebook posts generated by people in the area.

Key Application: Real estate is hyper-local, so anything that helps an agent tune into what’s going on in her neighborhood or geographic farm can be a real asset. I could see agents picking 7 or 8 locations to follow and checking in a few times a day to see if anything interesting pops up.

Key Question: Co Everywhere seems to pride itself on an “unfiltered” feed, which might be good for 20-somethings who want to follow the club action, but are you building curating features for professionals who want to use it more selectively?

 

Deductr

Deductr provides a streamlined way for real estate agents to track and monitor their expenses to ensure that they maximize their small-business tax deductions.  Using the website or a mobile app, you can record transactions, document your income, account for your working hours, and track your mileage to build customized reports that can help ensure you claim the appropriate deductions and monitor your business performance.

Key Application: All financial services apps require a little discipline, because you have to remember to log your transactions and all that, but agents could find this very helpful not just for maximizing deductions but analyzing their business performance.

Key Question: Real estate agents are busy and often don’t have the time to process every transaction – how much of the tracking can be automated so that they don’t have to?

 

Go Connect

Go Connect is a task management checklist app for real estate agents, designed by a practicing real estate broker in North Carolina (full disclosure: the founder Zach Schabot is a friend).  The app allows an agent to track all her leads, clients, listings, and transactions, set up customizable checklists for particular processes, and then manage those tasks through an intuitive reminder and scheduling system.  The interface is very straightforward, the CRM integrates with your phone’s contact list, and the site provides a number of helpful instructional videos.

Key Application: I’m a big checklist guy, so I love this kind of stuff, even while I recognize that this is the kind of thing that you need to go “all in” on in order for it to work correctly.  But once they’ve done the initial customization and set up, agents might really find value in a single app that provides CRM, reminders, scheduling, and task management.

Key Question: Agents are not generally going to take the time to customize their checklist templates, so is there a broker enterprise solution that would allow for a broker to create templates customized to the company’s operations and apply them for all the agents in the company?

 

Kisi

Kisi allows you to use your smartphone to replace keycards for any keyless entry access control system. Let’s say, for example, that your apartment building uses keycard access for a parking lot, you can use Kisi to replace the keycards and allow people entry just with a swipe of the app.  Even better, the building manager can control access, giving out virtual “keycards” via email from the app, track all entries, and revoke access when the need is complete.

Key Application: I could see this being a huge advance for commercial buildings that use keyless access systems, or even real estate brokers who have keyless entries for their offices. Rather than tracking who has access cards, you could turn on an agent’s key when they join the company, track who is coming in and out of your office, monitor traffic patterns, and eliminate access for agents who are terminated.

Key Question: Do you see this as having any kind of applicability to replace the lock box system that most agents use now for listed properties?

 

Remotely

Remotely is a home automation app-based service designed primarily for landlords and tenants, which allows you to control locks, lights, thermostats, home security, etc. remotely through the app.  You need to install all the home automation hardware from their vendor partners, including keyless lock systems, thermostats, sensors, and alarm equipment, but you can then monitor everything about the home remotely (I see what they did there!) through the app or the online software for a monthly fee.

Key Application: Home automation is really hot right now, and Remotely is going after a narrow segment of the market: renters, landlords, and possibly second-home markets.  I could see second-home owners loving the idea of remotely controlling their home security, lights, and keyless entry with the convenience of a smartphone app.

Key Question: The monitoring service is relatively cheap, but what is the average cost of the hardware that you need to make it run correctly?

The Upcoming Realogy FWD Innovation Summit — Advice for Participants, an Overview, and the Upcoming Live Blog

Realogy is holding its second FWD Innovation Summit the coming Tuesday. It’s a really cool event.  Fifteen technology companies make a pitch before a live audience, and answer questions from a panel of judges.  Then, the judges pick finalists, who are then presented to the audience, which votes on the winner of the $25,000 grand prize.

Last year’s event was spectacular, introducing me to some great companies, including (but not limited to) Floored (which won the grand prize), HomeZada, BuyerMLS, Updater, Lumentus Social, Onvedeo, and a host of others.

This year’s event is also shaping up to be a terrific demonstration of some really interesting technology companies that are invigorating the real estate space.  Congratulations to Alex Perriello, who had the vision to see the potential of bringing these cutting-edge companies to an industry audience, and to everyone involved in putting it together.

I’m really excited about it. I was one of the judges last year, and from that experience wrote up some advice for this year’s contestant, which was published today at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate’s Clean Slate Blog.  And I’m also working on an overview of all the participants, which we’ll be publishing here on Monday and could be useful to anyone who is interested in finding out more about some really cool technology startups in real estate.  So check check back here on Monday for that.

Finally, I’ve volunteered to write a live-blog of the event on Tuesday, providing a running commentary on each presentation.  It should be a lot of fun.  We’ll be doing that here, so again, check back.

Again, my thanks to everyone at Realogy for allowing me to do this and to Sherry Chris and her team for publishing my advice piece on Clean Slate.

Is the Real Problem With the Real Estate Industry the Clients? Maybe

I was asked again last week to contribute a response at Inman News to a provocative article from Brad Inman.  Last time, he wrote about the potential disruption of the broker-agent relationship from online portals, in the way that Uber has disrupted the traditional limousine industry’s relationship with drivers.  And in my response, I challenged the idea that technology might be as disruptive as people think it’s going to be, but then argued that if it does happen, it’s the brokerage industry’s fault for not creating a better experience for our clients.

This time, Brad suggests that the industry has been too focused on marketing and customer acquisition at the expense of a concentration on improving the customer service experience, and that technology startups might be a driver toward changing that experience:

But the current discussion should not be about revenue models, it is about who can fundamentally change the old ways of doing business. For now, everyone is focused on marketing and customer acquisition, including Zillow, Trulia, realtor.com, Homes.com, etc., not the overall consumer flow from home search to closing. Regrettably, the identity and the reality of the industry has always been about marketing, sales, recruiting and advertising. The old-school model continues to win, with the portals playing a role in the cabal.

***

But more change is needed, and opportunity and lighter technology will drive it. The company that offers a complete and superior consumer platform will have valuations more like Uber and Airbnb — $10 billion today and rising.

The winner will present an integrated combination of a stellar front end with a robust CRM and transaction management system on the back end, offering a connected, elegant and easy-to-use online place for buyers and sellers as they go through the rigorous 90-day workout.

The challenge in responding to this argument is that I essentially agree with it — I’ve been saying for years that the industry needs to be more client-oriented, that we need to change our focus from our own needs (lead acquisition) toward providing them with a better experience.  So I basically agree with him.

So my response took a bit of an angle on his argument, pointing out that the problem is not the technology — which I think already exists at some companies. Rather, the problem is that we don’t have enough good agents to implement that technology, and the reason for that is that the clients are just not choosy enough!  That is, clients are willing to work with lousy agents, and because of that they create all the wrong incentives — agents put money and time into marketing because they see clients respond to that, clients who would be better off doing a more rigorous vetting process to find a great agent, but who simply work with whoever answers their internet lead, the phone on their incoming inquiry, or sits the open house when they’re at the right point in their purchasing process.

Having read the piece now that it’s out, I’m a little concerned that people will  think I’m letting the brokerage industry off the hook. I’m not.  Basically, I think that we are the ones who have created the consumer perception that all agents are the same, that they’re all salespeople, and that they don’t need to be selective in choosing one. It’s really our fault.

It’s kind of a self-reinforcing loop: we do a bad job of differentiating our services, leading to commodification; clients see us as a commodity, so they believe all are the same and don’t feel they need to be selective; and agents see how clients respond to marketing and lead generation techniques, rather than performance and track record, and invest their time and energies accordingly.

Take a look, and if you have comments feel free to make them on the Inman piece.

If Technology Disrupts the Real Estate Business, We Only Have Ourselves to Blame

I have not been writing much recently on this blog, but Brad Inman contacted me this week asking me to contribute a response to a piece that he wrote for Inman News entitled “Real Estate Disruption May Not Be What You Think it is.”

In his piece, Brad questions suggests that disruption in the industry might not come at the expense of the agent — i.e., a for-sale-by-owner model that actually works and eliminates the agent from the transaction.  Rather, he thinks that the online portals (Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, or one still to be launched) could disrupt the agent-broker relationship, displacing the broker but retaining the agent at the center of the transaction.

It’s an interesting and provocative argument, and Brad asked me to respond because he wanted to see what a broker had to say about it.

You can read my response, “No One Can Disrupt our Industry Without Our Permission,”  at Inman News, where I argue that if the real estate brokerage industry is disrupted, it’s our own fault for not refining the value proposition that we give to agents.  But I point out that technology might not be the disruptive force that technophiles might think it is, and that even if the industry is disrupted, it’s likely to come at the expense of companies that shouldn’t be in the business in the first place.

Take a look. If you have any thoughts or comments, feel free to make them at Inman.

How CORE Can Help Real Estate Brokers Reduce Risks and Ensure Regulatory Compliance

My friend and colleague JP Endres-Fein, who happens to be the incoming President of the New York State Association of REALTORS, is giving a presentation today at the NAR Conference on how Client-Oriented Real Estate can help reduce risks and ensure regulatory compliance.  I am delighted that she’s bringing the CORE concept to a larger stage, particularly by taking an angle that we haven’t really discussed here on the blog.

As a trainer of real estate agents, my main focus on this blog is writing about how CORE can impact an agent’s career by making her better at her job — delivering better service, creating happier clients, and thereby growing her business.  And that’s really important.  But as a broker with about 800 agents, I developed CORE precisely because I wanted my agents to provide a higher quality experience to their clients — not just because I thought it would be good for business, but because I thought it would be good for eliminating the kind of errors that get brokers in trouble. (It’s at this point I should point out that I’m a lawyer, also responsible for my company’s regulatory compliance).

Here’s what’s always bugged me.  A client can walk into one of my offices today and start working with Agent #1, and a different client can walk into another one of my offices later today and start working with Agent #2, and the two clients can have wildly different service experiences.  Why?  It’s the same company.  The agents have access to the same systems, tools, programs — everything my company provides.  But even so, the client will have a different experience because the agents are different. No matter what I do, no matter how great the systems I provide are, I still rely on an agent to deliver them. If the agent is great, then it’ll be fine.  But if the agent does not pay the same level of attention that I would if I were in that living room giving a listing presentation, or in that car taking a buyer on a showing, or in that conference room managing a transaction, then that client might be getting an experience that I would not be happy with.

That’s a business problem, insofar as I really want clients of my firm to have great service experiences.  But it’s also a regulatory compliance issue, because any time two clients are getting a different standard of care, you run into potential problems.  Here’s a perfect illustration: several years ago, we had a fair housing problem that came out of two testers visiting two offices on two different days and getting two different issues.  It happened that the “protected tester,” the one representing a protected class, just happened to start working with an agent who was not as strong as the agent who worked with the control tester.  So what happened? The protected tester had a worse experience, and perceived it to be based on her protected status.  But my argument was that, quite frankly, any two clients getting two different agents on two different days are going to get a different experience.  Sadly, that’s the state of the industry!

But we need to change that.  You can go into any McDonalds in the country and the fries taste the same.  Any Starbucks, the lattes taste the same.  At the Four Seasons, the rooms always have the same level of cleanliness.  So how do those companies, who have employees without nearly the training background and requirements of real estate agents, ensure such consistent customer service.

The answer is this: those companies have systems in place that employees follow which ensure a consistent delivery of service.  THIS is how you cook the fries.  THIS is how you make the coffee.  THIS is how you clean the rooms.  We don’t have that in the real estate industry.

Why?  A couple of reasons:

First, we don’t train for service.  In the industry, training almost always means sales training — how to generate leads.  Even worse, most of those sales techniques are the worst kind of manipulative nonsense, teaching agents how to exploit clients rather than service their needs.  Alternatively, we have real estate industry training on regulatory compliance, which is mostly at the licensing level and doesn’t teach an agent anything about how to do the job properly — just how to stay out of jail.  And then we have “ethics” training, which is great, except that having good ethics doesn’t mean you’re good at your job.  It’s like a restaurant that gets a clean bill of health from the board of inspection — the place might be clean, but it doesn’t mean that the food is any good.

Second, we don’t innovate systems for service.  We put all our thought and energy into creating innovative new ways to generate leads.  Think of it this way: the real estate industry took to the internet 15 years ago, and we’re pretty much still using it the same way we did back then — to generate leads.  Our websites don’t give clients service, they’re just designed to generate inquiries.  Where’s the innovation on how we actually help people buy and sell houses?  And it’s not just technology, because the most impactful innovation in the industry in the last 30 years was the agent-centric compensation model pioneered by Re/Max.  In other words, we spend a lot of energy innovating ways to make more money, or divide up the pie differently.  But we don’t innovate for service.

Third, we put too much on the agent. We can’t really blame the agents for their inability to handle the myriad responsibilities we put on them.  I have written before about the problems associated with thinking of real estate agents as salespeople, but the upshot is that real estate agents have two big jobs: (1) generate new clients, and (2) service those clients.  And both jobs require a lot of work and specialization.  Most industries don’t put such a burden on salespeople — rather, they break up the sales and service roles. Just look at the mortgage industry: you have one group of specialists to generate business (loan officers) and another to service the client’s needs (loan processors). Different skills, different needs, different people.  If we want the agents to do a better job servicing clients, we either need to take away their lead generation responsibilities or make their jobs easier by giving them help on both selling and servicing their clients.

So what do we need to do?  At my company, we’ve taken a three-pronged approach to trying to solve the “inconsistency” problem with our client service. It comes down to this:

1.  Train for Service

We need to help agents become better at their jobs.  They need better skills, they need better knowledge. We’ve created a whole series of classes built around the idea of competency — how to be better at helping clients buy and sell homes.

2.  Forge a direct relationship with clients. 

Where possible, we have tried to create a direct connection between the company and its clients. It’s amazing to me that so many brokers (including me) have such little interaction with the clients of the firm.  So what we’ve tried to do is automate systems that can generate communication between the company and the client, so that we know that the client is getting the information that we want her to have.  For example, rather than relying on an agent to run an activity report, we’ve automated it for Monday morning delivery each week. Not only does this make the agent’s job easier, but it ensures that the job actually gets done.  Similarly, we’ve written a whole series of “Orientation” pieces for clients that ensure they have been educated about the selling and buying process, rather than relying on the agents to explain it themselves. We’re not trying to eliminate the agent from the process — far from it! — but we are trying to reduce their burden by taking a more active and direct role in servicing that client’s needs.

3. Make agents jobs easier by creating systems to help them deliver better service.

Finally, we believe that we can systematize much of what agents do by using checklists that automate many of their jobs.  We call the checklists “Project Plans,” which are designed for every major step that an agent has to take to service a client: listing intake, buyer representation, transaction management, etc.  The idea is based on concepts that we came across in Atul Gawande’s great book The Checklist Manifesto, which we reviewed here.  The basic idea is simple: using checklists is a great way to ensure consistent execution.  You can identify best practices, articulate them into a plan, and then create an enforcement mechanism to ensure that agents follow it EVERY time, so that every client gets the same level of consistent service.  Honestly, this is still very much a work in progress, but we’re a lot further along than we were when we first introduced them several years ago.

Conclusion

Basically, the whole point of CORE is to create consistently good service, and as such it does have the intended benefit of reducing regulatory and litigation risk for brokers:

  • Better-trained agents make fewer mistakes, which generates happier clients with better results.
  • The checklists reduce the cognitive burden on agents, allowing them to focus on more important things.
  • The checklists reduce errors that could lead to liabilities (i.e., if the checklist requires the agent to check the taxes, you’ll always get the taxes right or at least have a documented attempt of who gave you the wrong information).
  • By making service more consistent, you eliminate potential fair housing problems based on disparate treatment of different clients.
  • And direct broker-client communications reduces the risk of agents miscommunicating compliance information.

If you would like to find out more about what we do at Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty, or would like some copies of our checklists or other materials, just let me know.

 

How to Plan a Productive Week, Part Two: Managing Your Schedule

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak at an office about how to become more productive, specifically how agents could better organize their day.  I wrote something up, and thought I’d share it here.  You can find Part One: Prioritizing Productive Work here. 

Part Two: Managing Your Schedule

Most real estate agents are not particularly productive.  Indeed, most professionals of all kinds struggle with maintaining high levels of productivity.  But it’s particularly challenging for real estate agents because we have so many disparate responsibilities.  We have to generate our own leads. We have to service sellers, who have a specific set of needs, and buyers, who have a completely different set of needs.  We have to stay on top of the market, go to meetings, keep transactions together – and you have to do all of that in what can be a stressful and difficult business.  Essentially, in any given week an agent is going to have to juggle a lot of balls in the air.

So how do you manage your time in a business that can be so demanding, stressful, and chaotic?  As always, it helps to have a system, and to be in control of that system.  You need to control your schedule, rather than letting your schedule control you.  The most productive agents in the business are constantly “busy” – after all, the top agents in our industry routinely do 50-60 deals a year, and have 30-40 listings at any one time.   But because they know how to manage their time they are able to get a tremendous amount of work done each week.

Think of it this way: we all have the same number of hours in a week.  So how is it that some agents can sell 40 houses a year, and others sell 5 houses a year?  It’s not like those productive agents have time warp machines that allow them to stretch out the day.  They have just as much or little time each week as unproductive agents do.  They just use that time better.

So what do we want you to do?  It’s very simple.  Plan your year, then your month, then your week, then your day.  Any plan is better than no plan, so set one up. If you have to revise it when things come up, then fine.  But you’re still better off if you have a starting point to work from, rather than live your life lurching from emergency to emergency without any structure or system.

Here are some suggestions for managing your time better:

First, spend five minutes each morning organizing your day.  When you get up in the morning, or even as you’re finishing your previous day, take five minutes to organize and schedule the next day.  You’ll find that it helps prioritize what you need to do, and makes you feel as if you are in control of your time.  Indeed, you should sit down at the beginning of each week, each month, each quarter, and even each year and plan out your schedule.  For example, sit down in January and look at your year, and decide in advance when you’re going to take some time off, go on vacation, go on a business trip, or whatever.  Set those times aside.  Do the same thing as you begin the new business quarter, as you start a month, and especially at the beginning of the week.

Second, give yourself a break when you don’t maintain your schedule.  Don’t feel you need to be perfect. Even the most tightly-scheduled professional is going to have a bad day, one where she has to break her appointments and handle an emergency.  If that happens, just move on and try to get back on schedule the next day.  Don’t let it throw off your week.  The key is this: days when you break schedule should be the exception, not the rule.  If you find that you have an “emergency” every day that forces you to break your scheduled appointments with yourself, then that’s a sign of a deeper problem in the way you’re managing your business.

Third, put important things on a schedule.  The really important parts of your job – generating new clients, and servicing your active clients – need to be on a schedule.  They can’t just be items on a “to do” list.  To do lists are great for cataloguing an array of tasks or errands, but they shouldn’t be used to itemize really important responsibilities like lead generation or client service time.  Rather, those important tasks should be set aside as committed appointments on your schedule, appointments that you will absolutely keep no matter what pops up during the week.  That’s the only way to ensure that you will actually do them, and doing them is crucial for maintaining and organizing your business.

So what goes on your schedule?  To some extent, it depends on your personal situation.  But generally speaking, you should set aside time each week for particular activities that will help you manage your business.  Below, we’ve set out the activities that should be on EVERY agent’s schedule, along with a suggested amount of time you should dedicate to those activities:

  • Lead Development and Follow Up (Six Hours).  If you want to keep a steady stream of new lead opportunities flowing into your business, you need to dedicate part of your week to lead development.  We suggest that you set aside three two-hour blocks of time for lead generation and follow-up.  That could be a four-hour session one day and a two-hour session another day, or could be spread out more during the week.  This does NOT include time you spend at open houses.  Rather, this is the time that you set aside to call your sphere, follow up with internet leads, put together mailings, contact FSBOs or expired listings, and the like.  Most of the time should be spent on lead generation, with the rest going toward following up with existing leads that have not yet ripened into active sellers and buyers.
  • Weekly Active Seller Followup (Two Hours). You need to allocate time each week for regular follow-up calls with your active sellers (i.e., your listings).  Our suggestion is that you set aside at least two hours every Monday afternoon to contact all your current sellers to give them an update on what’s happening with their listing. Monday is a good time for that, because you’ll have some weekend activity to report and also because the email reports on market activity and property traffic come out on Mondays – giving you something to discuss.  The amount of time you need depends on the number of listings.  Figure you’ll need an average of five minutes per seller.  Note that if you spend other time during the week working on a listing, that doesn’t count toward this time.  This is specifically time set aside for updating your sellers on the status of their listing.
  • Weekly Active Buyer Followup (Two Hours). You also need to allocate time to follow up on all your active buyers.  These are the people that you’ve actually taken out to look at homes, not “leads”.  What you should do is set aside a two-hour block every week, maybe on Monday when you’re already doing seller updates, and call each of your buyers to give them an update on the market, any new listings they might want to see, and ping them about what they’re thinking.  Again, this is NOT time that you spend taking them out, or time that you spend during the week answering their calls or whatever else might come out.  This is just dedicated, reserved time for taking out your list of existing buyers and following up with them.
  • Weekly Office Meeting and Tour (Three Hours).  As part of your professional development time, you should be going to your weekly office meeting and going on tour to see the inventory.  That is when you find out about new office policies, programs, tools, and systems that can help you in your business. And with so many agents working outside the office for their everyday needs, it’s the one time each week when you’ll see most of your colleagues and get a chance to share information and get updates on what’s happening in the market.  
  • Weekly Educational Opportunity (Two Hours).  Each week, you should do some kind of educational activity to help you broaden your understanding of the business. This could be an online webinar, a live class, or even just two hours each week dedicated to reading a business book.  Whatever it is, you need to spend some dedicated time each week – on your schedule – focused on your own professional growth.

These are activities that should be on a schedule.  Why? Because they’re important, and if you don’t schedule them you might not do them because you’ll be working on “urgent” matters.  But these activities are important for maintaining a steady flow of business and ensuring a smooth flow of communication with your existing clients.  You can’t skimp on this time and hope to be successful.  You have to schedule it, and do it.  

All told, if you add all that up, we’re talking about 15 hours out of a 40-hour week.  That’s roughly three hours a day.  Now, that might seem like a lot, or it might seem like a little, but think about how much you’re getting accomplished in those 15 hours:

  • You’re doing all your lead generation activity for the week, which helps keep a flow of new business coming in.
  • You’re dedicating time for specific follow up with your buyers and sellers, which helps keep your clients happy and connected to you.
  • You’re getting to office meetings that will keep you updated about what’s happening with the company.
  • You’re seeing the new office inventory on tour.
  • And you still have time for some weekly training to help educate you about something you need to know about the business.

If you think about it, doing all that is really the cornerstone of a successful week.  Just getting those scheduled 15 or so hours locked in, you’re guaranteeing yourself a productive week in which you generated new business, handled your clients, and helped foster productive growth.

So what’s the rest of your time spent doing?  Well, outside those 15 hours, you have about 25 hours in a 40-hour week.  That’s the “unstructured” time that you spend doing everything else: it’s when you have your buyer appointments, and do listing presentations, and attend inspections, and manage your transactions to closing.  All that is “work” to, but it’s work that tends to pop up during the week and can’t be assigned to a particular place on your schedule.  You wouldn’t, for example, set aside Wednesday at 6PM for your listing appointments – rather, you tend to take your appointments in conjunction with your clients’ schedules.

And that’s the difference. If you don’t, for example, schedule your lead generation and client followup each week, what will happen is that the transactional work will swallow up all your time and you’ll never get to it.  That’s why those things need to be on a schedule, so that you shorten the amount of time you otherwise would spend dealing, say, with inspection issues.  That helps ensure that you prioritize work that generates new business and ensures quality service to your existing clients, but also helps keep you focused and efficient in managing the daily grind of your business.  Your transactional work will otherwise just expand to fill the time you leave for it, crowding out everything else.

 

How to Plan a Productive Week, Part One: Prioritizing Productive Work

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak at an office about how to become more productive, specifically how agents could better organize their day.  I wrote something up, and thought I’d share it here.  This is Part One: Prioritizing Productive Work. You can find Part Two: Managing Your Schedule here. 

Part One: Prioritizing Productive “Work”

First, let’s talk about what “work” is.  The problem most unproductive agents have is that they’ll spend the day at the office as if they are “working,” but they’re not actually doing real “work.”

So what is “real work?”  We define it as follows: (1) servicing active clients, (2) developing new clients, and (3) professional development.  That’s what work is.  That’s what your job is.  That’s what we mean by “productivity.”  If you’re not doing those three things, then you’re not really “working.”   You’re just frittering away your day.

Let’s break that down a little. Here are some examples of what constitutes “work” under this system:

1.  Servicing Active Clients

The main bulk of your daily and weekly routine is all the work you do to service your existing clients.  This includes everything you do for your listings, all the showings you do with your buyers, and all the transactional work you do to put deals together.  It also includes, of course, the time you spend in your initial conversion meetings with sellers and buyer: the consultative presentations you do to turn them into active clients.  This is the heart of your business.

Here are some of the examples of activities that would constitute “work” because they involve servicing active clients:

  • Weekly followup calls with active listings.
  • Weekly followup calls with active buyers.
  • Preparing for listing and buyer presentations: preparing CMAs, for example.
  • Giving consultative listing presentations to seller clients.
  • Giving consultative buyer presentation to buyer clients.
  • Marketing your listings: taking pictures, video, writing up descriptions, putting the property in MLS, staging and detailing.
  • Showing your listings.
  • Holding open houses.
  • Setting up showing appointments for your buyers.
  • Taking buyers on showings.
  • Doing market analysis for your clients.
  • Presenting offers.
  • Negotiating deals.
  • Attending inspections.
  • Handling inspection issues.
  • Handling transactional issues with attorneys and mortgage professionals.
  • Attending walkthroughs and closings.

How much time should you spend servicing active clients?  Figure about 60% of your time.  Basically, a little more than half your week should be spent taking care of your existing clients.  And this INCLUDES the dedicated “Weekly Followup” calls that you’ll make every week to your sellers and active buyers.

2.  Developing New Clients

Obviously, one of the most important responsibilities you have is to work to generate a fresh set of lead opportunities for your business.  So part of your day, and your week, and your month, has to be dedicated to client development.  That could be any sort of lead generation activity, whatever you think will help you generate new business.

Here are examples of the activities you could do to develop new clients:

  • Contacting your Top 100 clients.
  • Contacting people in your Sphere of Support (outside the Top 100)
  • Preparing courtesy packages for FSBOs and Expireds.
  • Making courtesy calls to a neighborhood
  • Holding an open house.
  • Sending out direct mail.
  • Sending out promotional email.
  • Sending out R4L mailings
  • Posting information on social media for your client base.
  • Checking our your sphere’s activities on social media, and “liking” and commenting on them.
  • Professional networking.
  • Responding to internet inquiries (i.e., Leadrouter inquiries).
  • Following up with active leads.

How much time should you spend?  Figure about 25% of your week should be spent in lead development and cultivation.

3.  Professional Development

This is a broad category, but it basically refers to anything you do on a daily or weekly basis that helps you build your professional base of knowledge, but which is not dedicate to a particular client.  For example, you need to keep track of the inventory on the market, not for a specific buyer or seller but just because it’s your job to know what’s going on in your area.  And you need to work on developing and expanding your skills if you want to be a successful agent.

So here are some examples of productive “work” activities related to professional development:

  • Going to office meetings.
  • Going on tour.
  • Previewing active listings.
  • Reviewing new listing hot sheets.
  • Professional reading: news, blogs books, etc.
  • Attending training classes!
  • Reading market analysis.
  • Learning how to use technology.

How much time should you spend? Well, any time that you are not spending servicing active clients or generating new clients should obviously be dedicated to your own professional development.  We recommend 10-15% of your weekly time.  You should obviously be spending more time generating and servicing your clients, but you need to allocate a part of your week to building your own skills and knowledge.

So What’s NOT Productive Work?

Which obviously leads us to the question of what activities do not constitute “work” in our system.  It’s actually pretty easy.  Just ask yourself these questions:

  1. Am I servicing an active client?  If “yes,” that’s work.  If “no,” then go on to question #2.
  2. Am I generating new business?  If “yes,” that’s work.  If “no,” then go on to question #3.
  3. Am I developing my skills or knowledge? If .“yes,” that’s work.  If “no,” then go on to the conclusion.

Conclusion: Why am I doing this activity if it’s not really “work?”

That’s what you need to ask yourself.  Why are you doing that activity if it doesn’t service your clients, build your business, or help you develop skills or knowledge?  The answer is that you’re likely just engaging in “work avoidance” because you have some generally difficult, complex, or even just unpleasant things to do, and you’d rather just take it easy.  Well, that’s fine.  Take the whole day off if you really want.  But don’t spend the day wasting your time and think that you’re actually “working.”  Because you’re not.

Here are some examples of things that do not constitute work, but which take up a lot of time in the average agent’s day:

  • Coffee klatch conversations with other agents.
  • Browsing facebook.
  • Personal emails.
  • Surfing the web.
  • Personal errands.
  • “Organizing your desk”
  • Complaining.

Now, some of those things are activities that you have to do (i.e., like your personal errands), and some of them are perfectly harmless (i.e., chatting with agents). And it might be that spending time in these types of activities helps you focus the rest of your day – after all, we all benefit from taking a break now and then.

But the key is this: they’re not “work.”  So don’t spend your day doing them and think that you got actual “work” done.  After all, your whole day should not be a “break.”  A break from what?

Go to Part Two Here.

 

Rules for CORE Agents #36-1/2: The Blockbusters You Need to Break Through the Blocks That Are Keeping You From Taking the Steps To Reach Your Goals Are _______________

This post is part of a series of what I call the “36-1/2 Rules for Client-Oriented Real Estate Agents,” a collection of short takes on the CORE concept that I’ve developed over the years of discussing and teaching the system.  We’ve been counting up the rules from #1 to #36-1/2 for almost two years, and we’re now at the end — where you can find out why there’s a “half-rule”.   You can get the full list of rules by clicking on the “36-1/2 Rules for CORE Agents” category on the blog – scroll from the bottom if you want to read them in order.

 

Setting goals is important.  But it’s not enough.

We’ve all become too reliant on the power of setting goals to change our behavior. All these trainers telling us to write down our goals every day and post them on our mirror.  All these people who read The Secret and set up their dream boards convinced that the universe is going to send them a lottery ticket.

Now, goal-setting is an important part of making significant changes in our life, since the very act of sitting down and writing out a goal tends to focus the mind on what you want to accomplish.  That famous “law of attraction” is really just a way of saying that our thoughts tend to affect our behavior: the more we think about the goal we want to achieve, the more we’re likely to act in a way that will help us achieve it.

The problem is not that people set goals, it’s that they ONLY set goals.  Then they just sit back, keep doing things exactly the way they always have, and just wait for good things to happen.

But you have to do more than just write down a goal – you have to actually identify the steps that will help you achieve that goal.  For example, let’s say that you goal is to lose 25 pounds.

  • Goal: Lose 25 pounds.

Go ahead and write that down on your bedroom mirror all you want, you’re not going to lose 25 pounds unless you take the specific steps that will make changes to your diet and exercise routine.  Here are some sample steps you could take:

  • Step 1: Cut out all bread and pasta.
  • Step 2: Eat a hearty breakfast every morning.
  • Step 3: Go to the gym three times a week.

So now you not only have the goal, but you’ve identified the way you’re going to achieve that goal.

But you’re not yet done.  Even identifying the steps you want to take is not enough to help you achieve your goals.  You know why?  Because the steps you’ve identified are probably things that you’ve tried to do before, and you’ve failed.  This probably isn’t your first attempt to lose weight, and in your previous attempts you might have laid out the steps you were going to take to achieve your goals.  Maybe you tried to eat breakfast every morning, or go to the gym more, but you got busy and dropped out.

In other words, you have “blocks” that are keeping you, and have always kept you, from taking the steps you need to achieve your goals.  So it’s not enough to set goals, and it’s even not enough to identify the steps that will help you achieve the goals.  The key to achieving the results you want is to go to the deeper level of identifying the obstacles, those blocks, that keep you from taking the steps to achieve your goal.

Let’s unpack that.

  • First, you have goals.
  • Second, you have steps that will help you achieve those goals.
  • Third, you have obstacles – the “blocks” — that will keep you from taking those steps, which will thereby keep you from reaching your goals.

Thus, if you eliminate the blocks, you’ll then take the steps and increase the chances of reaching your goals.

Going back to our weight-loss example, we identified three steps that would help you lose weight.  Now, let’s add some sample obstacles that might keep you from taking those steps:

  • Step 1: Cut out all bread and pasta.  Blocks: (1) there’s a lot of pasta in your house, (2) pasta is a cheap and easy lunch.
  • Step 2: Eat a hearty breakfast every morning.  Block: you’re always rushing in the morning.
  • Step 3: Go to the gym three times a week.  Block: you never have the time.

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.  We have our goal, we have our steps, and now we have the blocks that we think are likely to prevent us from taking those steps.

Now comes the final part: identifying the solutions to the obstacles, which are the “blockbusters” that are going to break through those blocks and let us take the steps to achieve our goals. As you can see, some steps have many obstacles, so the challenge is to find a solution for each one.  Here are some more examples:

  • There’s a lot of pasta in the house.  That’s simple.  Throw it out, or give it away.  If you have kids or a spouse that eats the pasta, at least try to get them pasta that they like but you don’t.  Alternatively, try finding something that’s a reasonable but healthier substitute for pasta (like quinoa or whole wheat), or just resolve that you’re going to eat less of it.
  • Pasta is a cheap and easy lunch.  Find something else that’s just as easy or cheap, or realize that if you’re eating less you’re going to save some money and can afford, say, a salad or something healthy like that.
  • You’re always rushing in the morning. Every night, cut up some fruit and put it in a ziplock in the fridge.  In the morning, grab it and eat it in the car.
  • You never have the time.  This is a pretty common problem, and one way to solve it is to hire a personal trainer.  If you don’t have the money, try to find someone in the office that you can go to the gym with, and make an appointment three times a week to go together.  The appointment, just like an appointment with a trainer, will help you keep that resolve, because you’re less likely to break a commitment to someone else than you are to yourself.

You see how it works.  Maybe those solutions don’t work for you.  That’s fine.  Find a solution that does.

The key is to keep breaking down the goal into steps, then into blocks, then into blockbusting solutions, remembering the following:

  • If you find a blockbuster to the block, you’ll overcome the block.
  • If you overcome the block, you’ll take the step.
  • If you take the step, you’ll achieve the goal.

The problem most of us have is that we write down the goals, and then never actually figure out the steps. And even if we figure out the steps, we never actually identify the block to taking those steps.  And, finally, even if we identify the blocks, we never come up with the way to break through those obstacles.  That’s why most diets, and most self-improvement programs, fail.

The Half-Rule

So that’s why this final rule is only half a rule.  The biggest obstacle that’s keeping you from taking the steps to achieve your goals is…….what?  I don’t know.  You have to figure that out.  I did my half, you need to do yours.

Here’s your process:

  1. State the goal you want to reach.  The goal could be anything: doing more lead generation, closing more deals, making more money, finding a spouse, losing weight, etc.
  2. Identify the specific steps you need to take to reach that goal.
  3. Figure out the specific obstacles that will likely keep you from taking those steps.
  4. Come up with the blockbusting solution to each obstacle.
  5. Start implementing those solutions, then taking the steps, and commit to continuing to work to achieve your goals.

It’s not easy.  You still need to be committed, you still need the will power to succeed, you still have the same challenges you always had for achieving your goals.  All I’m giving you is a process, but it’s a process that will give you a much better chance of achieving your goals than simply writing them down and wishing that they come true.

 

 

Rules for CORE Agents #35: Self-Improvement Plans Fail Because They Don’t Work, Or Because They Do

We’ve all been through it.  You go to some sort of coaching or training seminar, and get inspired to make some changes in your business. You’re going to set up a whole new system for developing your sphere, or engage in two hours of lead generation a day, or join a bunch of new organizations, or whatever.  You’re going to make some changes that will completely transform your career.

A month later, you’re back to “normal.” Those training manuals?  They’re in a drawer somewhere.  The follow-up classes? You had to skip them because you had an inspection that day.  No change. No transformation.

One of two things happened.  First, maybe the program didn’t work.  You tried it, gave it a little time, didn’t get any results, and so you stopped doing it.  Let’s put aside whether you gave yourself enough time for it to work, and stipulate that if you don’t get results from the program, you’re not going to continue to put time, effort, and money into it.

More interestingly, the second reason that self-improvement programs fail is because they actually DO work.  Let’s say that you started doing the program, and you really started to see the results.  You’re making lots of new contacts, a whole bunch of new leads, and you’re almost giddy with excitement.  You had your doubts, you were worried that it all sounded good but wouldn’t actually succeed in practice, and now you’re seeing it pay off.  It really works!

But now something very strange happens – you get a little over-confident.  You marvel at how simple it was, how easy it now seems.  You can’t believe that you didn’t start doing it years ago.  But now that you’re a little busier, you start to cut corners.  Those two hours of prospecting calls?  That follow-up campaign? You don’t really have time for it, because you have so much new business already.  So maybe you’ll just take this week off to “catch up” with everything else. Just a short break.  After all, it’s so easy, you can just turn it on anytime you need to jumpstart your business.  So you’ll get through this backlog, keep that great program in your back pocket, and pull it out anytime you need it.

And you never do it again.  In other words, it worked, so you stopped doing it.  I know it sounds nuts, but it happens.  We go on diets, lose 10 pounds, and start cheating because we figure we can go back on the diet whenever we need to lose weight again.  We go on a lead generation campaign, develop a bunch of leads, and stop because all those leads need our attention. Then a month later we wonder where all our leads went.  Don’t let that happen to you.  If you start a new program, you need to give it time to work.  And if it does indeed work, then realize that you would be absolutely crazy to stop doing it.

 

This post is part of a series of what I call the “36-1/2 Rules for Client-Oriented Real Estate Agents,” a collection of short takes on the CORE concept that I’ve developed over the years of discussing and teaching the system.  We’ll count up to the 36th rule over the next few months, and then the 1/2 rule.  You can get the full list of rules by clicking on the “36-1/2 Rules for CORE Agents” category on the blog – scroll from the bottom if you want to read them in order.

Rules for CORE Agents #34: Only Embrace New Technologies That Replace Old Tools With Better Tools

Consider the plight of the poor “Realtogeek” – real estate agents who embrace new technology so tightly that they leap into every new trend and buy every shiny new gizmo that hits the market.  While the Realtosaurus reacts to the intimidation of new technologies by shutting down and ignoring them, Realtogeeks respond by elevating them as centerpiece of their business in the smug belief that all the “old school” ways of doing things are dead.

But Realtogeeks make the mistake of thinking that they’re in the technology business, not the real estate business, and so they spend too much of their time doing things that don’t actually help them acquire clients or sell homes. They don’t see the point of cultivating a sphere, or contacting FSBOs and expireds, because they’re going to generate all the leads they need from their blog, their Twitter feed, or that new online system they just bought.  They don’t pick up the phone, since, well, NO ONE talks on the phone anymore.  New technologies become important for their own sake, a security blanket that tricks the Realtogeek into thinking that he had a productive day if he spent three hours posting a great answer on Trulia Voices that is generating a lot of online buzz.

Now, I’m not saying that technology is a bad thing. You need to find a happy medium between the Realtosauruses who reject all new technologies and the Realtogeeks who embrace all of them for their own sake.  The key is to recognize that technology is just a tool, and differentiate between the tools that will help you and the tools that are a waste of your time.

Here’s the key: if a new technology allows you to do something you were already doing, but to do it faster, cheaper, or easier, then it’s a productive technology and you should learn how to use it in your business.  That is, good technologies are just tools that are better than the old tools you were already using:  smartphones are better than dumbphones, online MLS systems are better than shoeboxes full of index cards, emailing is better than mailing, scanning better than faxing, a GPS is better than a map, digital photography is better than film.  All these new technologies are great because they are just tools that give us a better way to do something we were already doing.

Conversely, non-productive technologies are tools that seduce you into spending a lot of time doing things that you never did before, like blogging and tweeting and answering online questions from people who are not, and will likely never be, your clients.  You have to avoid technologies that give you that false sense of productivity because you spent a lot of time in front of the computer without actually accomplishing anything that will generate business or service a client.

 

This post is part of a series of what I call the “36-1/2 Rules for Client-Oriented Real Estate Agents,” a collection of short takes on the CORE concept that I’ve developed over the years of discussing and teaching the system.  We’ll count up to the 36th rule over the next few months, and then the 1/2 rule.  You can get the full list of rules by clicking on the “36-1/2 Rules for CORE Agents” category on the blog – scroll from the bottom if you want to read them in order.