Rules for CORE Agents #12: Whenever Possible, Get Digits

The single most important thing you can do to build your real estate business over the next ten years is simple: get digits.  When you meet people, get their mobile phone numbers, and get their email addresses.

Why? Because even while we live in a world of “over-sharing” that has become increasingly open and less private, it’s actually tougher to reach people you don’t know than it used to be.  Years ago, if you wanted to track someone down, you called them on their home phone.  If you didn’t know their number, you looked it up in the phone book.  Easy, simple, foolproof.

Then what happened?  People started unlisting their home phone number.  Then they started screening their calls with their voicemail and Caller ID.  Then they simply stopped getting a home phone number. At this point, the phone book is simply a big, tree-killing doorstop for most of us.  I haven’t picked one up in years.

So now if you want to reach people, you either need their mobile phone number, their work phone number, or their email address.

Here’s the problem: there’s no directory for mobile phones, or business numbers, or email addresses.  That might seem odd to you, since you plaster your phone number and email address everywhere you can – online, in ads, on park benches, on supermarket carts, etc.  But that’s because you’re in “sales”, and you want people to be able to reach you.

People who aren’t entrepreuneurial, though, don’t generally put their personal contact information out in the world for everyone to see. Now, that might surprise you, since you’ve probably read somewhere that people are more likely to share than ever before on Facebook and LinkedIn and their blogs and all that.  But what that really means is that they’re more likely to share with people they already know.  If you’re not already in their circle, you’re not likely to find a good way to reach out to them.

Which is why you need digits.  You meet someone, you get their business card.  You get their digits.  Every time.

If you get their digits, you now have something that most other real estate agents in the market don’t have – a way to reach them.  You have a way to get them in a drip campaign, you have a way to give them a quick call, you have a way to establish a relationship with them that could lead to a piece of business.  That’s a real advantage in today’s marketplace.

The person with the most digits wins.

 

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 #11: People Never Complain About Getting a Call From Their Doctor

You know you’re supposed to make phone calls to help build your business. They’re essential.  A personal phone call is truly the best, sometimes the only, way to develop a contact into an active lead or cultivate a relationship with someone in your sphere.  We all know that.

And yet many agents are afraid to make that call.  Indeed, call avoidance is one of the best ways to get everything else in your life done.  You’ll do your laundry, or clean your desk, or rearrange your files, or really do ANYTHING while you’re avoiding just picking up the damn phone to call someone.

Why is that?  Because you’ve convinced yourself that your call is unwelcome, that no one wants to hear from you, that you’re imposing yourself on someone else.  You don’t like it when people do that to you, and you’re uncomfortable doing it to someone else.

The problem is all in your head, because you’re thinking about the call in the wrong way.  You’re thinking that the only reason for the call is that you’re trying to extract business from them.  If you change the way you think about the call, you’ll improve the likelihood of making it.

So think of it this way: as a call from your doctor.  Do you mind when you get a follow-up call from your doctor, or lawyer, or dentist, or financial planner, or anyone else that you do business with?  Generally, you don’t mind, because you perceive that call as a SERVICE to you, not as an attempt to extract business from you.  Even if the call is designed to maintain or cultivate the professional relationship you’ve developed, you still don’t resent the call.

That’s the attitude that you need to make when you’re reaching out to people. Stop thinking like a mercenary, and start thinking about the service you can provide to whomever you’re calling.  Get into your head that you have a dual purpose in every call you make: (1) to generate business, and (2) to provide a service.  Obviously, every call you make is an attempt to build your business, but that doesn’t mean you can’t also have the more altruistic, client-oriented purpose as well.

If you’re calling someone in your sphere, or calling a potential lead contact, have something interesting to tell them about the community or the market.  Bring something to the table.  Provide a service. If you can legitimately find a reason for the call, you’ll find it’s easier to make the call.

Don’t think like a salesperson, think like a service professional.  Make the call.

 

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 #10: People Love Giving Referrals, So Make Them Happy

People just love giving referrals. We love recommending restaurants to our friends.  We love posting our favorite movies on Facebook. We love telling people that we “have a guy” if they need a plumber or an electrician or whatever.  Indeed, hugely successful websites like Yelp and Angie’s List have been built around our natural impulse to share our opinions with other people.  Basically, Yelp and Angie’s List are just big databases of referrals that people selflessly take the time and energy to write for strangers, all for free.

Why is that? Why do we love making referrals so much? Part of it is that we just like sharing our opinions on stuff with other people.  Part of it is that we like to support businesses we like – we’ll write a review on Yelp for a restaurant, or tell people about it, because we want it to succeed.  And part of is that we like validation of seeing other people agree with our opinions.

But the biggest reason people like making referrals is simple: we like being a hero.  If I need a plumber, and you refer me someone great, I owe you one. If I was looking for a great restaurant, and you recommended one to me, I now have a higher opinion of your taste in food.  Basically, if you give me a great referral, you’re my hero.

And you’re not just my hero, but you’re a hero to the person you referred me to.  I have become a very active Yelp reviewer in my hometown, reviewing most of the restaurants that I like.  Recently, when I went to a Chinese restaurant that I love, the owner’s daughter came over to tell me how grateful they were for my review. Even better, they sent me home with a bucket of free ice cream!  Why?  Because I was their hero!

So the lesson is this: you need to stop being so self-conscious about asking people for referrals.  Don’t be afraid to put it out there, because people absolutely love giving referrals.

Here’s the key, though: we only give referrals to people we think are really great at their jobs.  We don’t recommend restaurants that we think are just okay.  We don’t refer friends to plumbers or electricians that do mediocre work.  And we’re not going to refer someone to the real estate agent who never returned our calls, regardless of how many refrigerator magnets she sends us.

People only refer the best.  So be the best.  And if you are the best, then don’t hesitate to give people the opportunity to refer you to their friends, family, and anyone they know.  If you are indeed really good at your job, they’ll refer you.  Not because they want to help you out, but because they want to be a hero.

 

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 #6: Stop Annoying People!

The real estate industry has become very good at annoying people.  Anytime there’s a new technology for communicating with people, agents seize on the new medium to inundate their clients, friends, and random people they don’t even know with information that those people don’t care about.

Take, for example, those emails that go out to announce your new listing to a thousand random people.  Face it – there are only two people that care about your new listing: (1) you, and (2) your seller.  No one else wants to see it clogging up their inbox or Facebook feed.  If I’m in the market to buy something, I’ve already set up email alerts to tell me about properties I might like.  If I’m not in the market, I couldn’t care less that you just got a new listing that’s 200 miles from me and not in my price range.

It’s become like an arms race: a new communication medium evolves, then agents start to abuse it with their annoying stuff, and then people find a way to block all those agents.  They get answering machines and Caller ID to screen out calls asking them, “when do YOU plan on moving.”  They open their mail over the trash can so they can throw out your “Just Listed” cards.  They set up spam filters to block your emails.  They set up their Facebook feeds to “ignore” your posts about your open house this weekend.

They tune you out.  Why? Because you’re sending out information important to YOU, not to THEM.  You’re not engaging them by providing them with something useful, you’re just using phones, emails, mail, or Facebook to promote and market yourself.  You’re sending them listings when they’re not on the market, announcing open houses that they don’t want to go to, calling them to ask them for referrals without offering something helpful in return.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t engage in marketing or lead generation.  You absolutely should.  My point is only that you’re much better off if you provide information that is engaging and useful, rather than self-promotional and annoying.  Stop making it all about you, and make it about them and what THEY need.

So call them because you have some information about the market you want to share.  Email them an interesting news article that they might like.  Post something on your Facebook page about design ideas, maybe using one of your new listings as an example of a great kitchen layout.  You’ll find that if you provide people with interesting and useful information, you won’t annoy them.  You’ll engage them, and the more you engage them, the more likely they are to remember you the next time someone mentions that they need a real estate agent.

 

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 #5: Always Show Up With More Than a Knife and a Fork

Imagine that you were invited to someone’s home for a dinner party.  You ring the bell, the door opens, the host looks out, and sees you standing there with a smile in your face, holding nothing but a knife and a fork in your hands.  “Let’s eat!,” you say, waving your knife and fork.

That’s unthinkable.  Whenever we go to someone’s house for a party, we always bring something: dessert, flowers, a bottle of wine, whatever.  We never show up empty handed. Even if the host insists that she doesn’t need anything, we still bring something.  It’s just the way we’ve all been raised: if you get invited into someone’s house, you bring a gift to show respect.

I remember my Italian grandmother telling me about this custom, explaining that it was an “Italian tradition.”  Then my Irish grandmother would pull me aside and explain that it was really an “Irish tradition.”  What I’ve since learned is that pretty much EVERYONE has this wonderful tradition, and that no culture promotes the idea that you can show up at someone’s house for dinner holding nothing but a knife and fork in your sweaty little hands.

And yet real estate agents try to generate leads every day with just a knife and a fork.  The prospect people armed nothing with scripts designed to try to trick people into setting an appointment with them. And that’s why they fail, not only because they’re not really offering anything valuable or interesting for the prospective client, but because going out day after day to badger people with nothing other than a knife and a fork is a soul-killing regimen that few people can maintain with any kind of regularity.

So whenever you’re trying to cultivate leads, bring something to the party besides a knife and fork. Instead of calling an expired seller with nothing but some boilerplate come-on about how long until they interview a new agent, drop off an up-to-date CMA or market report.  Instead of calling your past client to ask for a referral, send them something about the market that gives you a reason to follow up with them.

It doesn’t matter what you bring, no more than it matters whether you bring flowers or a bottle of wine to a dinner party.  it’s just important that you bring something.

Not only are you more likely to stand out from the crowd of other “knife and fork” agents by actually providing a service to people, but you’re also likely to feel better about what you’re doing: essentially you “earn” yourself the right to contact that client, because you actually did something for her.

In other words, you would never show up at a friend’s house empty handed.  So why would you ever approach a potential client that way?

 

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.

 

Client-Oriented Real Estate in Action: The Guide to Grieving Your Property Taxes

The cornerstone of the CORE philosophy is that real estate agents should perform outstanding non-transactional services to their clients.  We call these “courtesy services,” because they’re not necessarily services that relate to actual transactions — meaning that we’re not going to be directly compensated for them.

But at the same time, they have the potential to create massive amounts of business down the line, from the good will that is created when you selflessly spend time, energy, and money to help someone by providing a service they need.

The best example of CORE in action is our Home Buyer Tax Credit information site that we created last year, which ended up providing the best information about the tax credit available anywhere in the country.  Over a three month period, we attracted over 75,000 unique users to the site, providing them with all the tax forms they need, and even answering hundreds of user questions on our blog.

Did we get paid for any of that?  No.  Did it take a lot of time. Oh yes, indeedy it did. But was it worth it? Well, even though we didn’t make much direct revenue from income on the site, I like to think that by providing such a great service, we helped at least the 800 agents that work at our company by inspiring them to do the same sorts of thing in their business, and by arming them with the best information available about such an important governmental incentive program.

Well, we’re doing the same thing today, launching a new initiative on our site to help clients and other people in the community grieve their taxes.  We have put up a comprehensive guide called the Guide to Grieving Your Property Taxes, which is now available on our real estate site and gives the best information available on the internet about grieving taxes in New York State, including:

Are we getting paid for any of this?  Not directly.  It’s done as a courtesy to our clients.  But unlike the tax credit site from last year, this is information that we will be able to use year after year, because the rules generally don’t change. So it’s an evergreen initiative.
But also, we will have some benefits from it, as follows:
First, because we’re hoping that all eligible sellers with Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty, which is about 2,500 people, will grieve their taxes. If they grieve the taxes and are successful, that makes their homes more sellable.
Second, we might be able to get necessary price improvements to make our listings more competitive.  If sellers are going to grieve their taxes, they need to establish that their homes are worth LESS than the assessor believes.  They won’t be able to argue for a grievance if they have their home on the market for MORE than the assessed value.  So we might get some price improvements on it.
Third, this is the best possible reason for our 800 agents to call their spheres of support, the people that they cultivate for direct business and referrals.  We spend a lot of time and energy in a mailing campaign to our agents’ spheres, but it’s all about trying to give them a reason to call.  There’s no better reason to call than to urge a client to grieve her taxes, give her all the information she needs, and then help her by doing a CMA that can help substantiate the property value.
The point is that if you spend your time trying to provide great services to a client, you will eventually get value out of it.  That’s the foundation of the CORE philosophy, and now we’ll see how it works in action.

Book Review: Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right — Achieving Operational Excellence in the Real Estate Industry

Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto is a  powerful book, one of the best and simplest articulations of how to achieve operational excellence that I have ever read.  Gawande’s message is simple: the world has become increasingly complex, and we need to actively create systems and processes that will simplify the tasks that we have to complete in our everyday lives.  His deceptively modest proposal: use a checklist.

Now, I know that seems almost stupid and simplistic at first glance.  We’re all familiar with checklists, and generally associate them with rote tasks, not with complicated procedures.  And we resist the idea that our professional performance could be improved by something so jejune as a checklist, almost as if a checklist would trivialize the important work we do.

As Gawande points out, though, that’s exactly the way a bunch of doctors felt the first time that a hospital administration tried to incorporate a checklist into one of the most common of medical functions — putting in a central line.  He recounts how a critical care specialist at Johns Hopkins Hospital devised a checklist to try to avoid incidences of infenctions in the placing of a central line.  Doctors all knew the basic steps for central lines: (1) wash hands with soap; (2) clean the patient’s skin for the placement; (3) put sterile drapes over the patient, (4) put on a mask, hat, sterile gown, and gloves; and (5) put a sterile line over the insertion site after placing the line.  Gawande called these steps “no-brainers,” the type of things that doctors know they are supposed to.  But the hospital found that in one third of cases, doctors were skipping at least one of the steps.

So the hospital initiated a simple checklist procedure to ensure that all the steps were taken.   Since the doctors were resistant to the intrusion, nurses were enlisted to ensure compliance with the checklist.  What were the results?  According to Gawande, they “were so dramatic that [the administrators] weren’t sure whether to believe them.”  The ten-day line infenction rate went from 11% to 0%.  Over a fifteen month period, the administrators projected that the checklist had prevented 43 infections and 8 deaths, saving over $2 million in hospital costs.

This was not an isolated result.  After the success at Johns Hopkins, Gawande recounts how hospitals in Michigan initiated a project to use a central-line checklist in intensive care units (ICUs) in hospitals throughout the state.  Here are the results:

Within the first three months of the project, the central line infection rate in Michigan’s ICUs decreased by 66%.  Most ICUs . . . cut their quarterly infection rate to zero.  Michigan’s infenction rates fell so low that its average ICU outperformed 90% of ICUs nationwide.  In the …. first eighteen months, the hospitals saved an estimated $175 million in costs and more than fifteen hundred lives.  The successes have been sustained for several years now — all because of a stupid little checklist.

These are among the powerful illustrations of the effect of checklists on operational performance included in The Checklist Manifesto.  In addition to the medical field, Gawande shows how pilots use checklists to ensure safe operation of aircraft (including an engaging description of how checklists impacted the famous “Sully Sullenberger” flight that landed in the Hudson River in 2009).  And he demonstrates how hedge fund investors use versions of the checklists to protect against making poor investments, including one vivid illustration of an investor turning down an opportunity when a checklist item turned up that the company’s owners had been divesting their personal holdings.

So how does this impact the real estate industry?  I think that our industry could learn a lot from The Checklist Manifesto about operational excellence.  The role of the real estate agent is significantly task driven, but those tasks can sometimes be overwhelming.  Just getting a listing on the market can require dozens of discrete operations: taking pictures, uploading pictures, writing descriptions, checking paperwork, ordering signs, inputting property data, double-checking taxes, etc.  We need to do these things every single time, but rarely do we see a company articulate a simple checklist to ensure that every listing gets that quality service.  The same holds for the far more complicated but necessary task of maintaining ongoing listings, when agents tend to get lost in the frenzy of daily activity and neglect the day-to-day communication and updating responsibilities they have to existing clients, leading to poor client experiences.

For the last year, my company has been working on identifying the “best practices” in the industry — the practices that ensure a quality client experience for both buyers and sellers,  with the idea of coordinating those practices into a series of checklists and a comprehensive  “Project Plans” that cover particular aspects of the real estate transaction.  The goals is to provide with a set of plans that can guide them through the transaction.  The point is not to limit them — people can always do more than is on the plan.  Neither is the point to demean their professionalism– it’s not that we think they’re NOT doing some of these things, but we believe that in a given case they might not be doing ALL of these things because of the overwhelming complexity of the entire task.

Most importantly, we think that these kinds of checklists make a job easier, by simplifying our lives.  Just like computers, we have only a certain amount of “RAM” in our heads.  Computers gain efficiency if they can move information from “RAM” to hard drive memory.  Similarly, most of us become more efficient if we don’t have to store tasks in our memory, but can reduce them to a hard copy that we can refer to anytime we need them.  An agent with a 30-item checklist for getting a listing on the market is going to be more efficient than an agent who has to remember all 30 tasks and whether she’s already done them.  (And it’s definitely more efficient for the agent sitting at the desk next door, who keeps getting a tap on the shoulder asking, “hey, what am I supposed to do next?”)

Finally, real estate professionals should recognize that if checklists can improve execution and performance in life-and-death situations involving surgery and airline flight, and in million or billion-dollar financial investing decisions, then they certainly can be used in the much less urgent field of real estate.  A real estate agent who feels that checklists are “beneath” her should be at least a little chagrined that pilots and doctors are using them to great effect.

Essentially, I think that The Checklist Manifesto should be required reading for real estate professionals; indeed, I would recommend the book for anyone who cares about achieving operational excellence in his or her field.  If you need proof, I’ve already purchased 50 copies of the book at my company’s expense for distribution to our management team, and have saved others as gifts for colleagues in the industry.  It’s a great book.  You should read it.

If you’re interested in some other information about the book, here are some links:

Atul Gawande’s home page for The Checklist Manifesto

144 Reviews (average 4.5 stars out of 5) on Amazon.

Steven Levitt, the author of Freakonomics

Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, Blink and Outlier.

New York Times review

Washington Post review.

Interview in Time Magazine.

Gawande interviewed on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

The Safe Surgery Checklist illustrated in a terrific clip from NBC’s ER.

Client-Oriented Real Estate in Action: HomeBuyerTaxCredit.com

The purpose of this blog is to promote the concept of Client-Oriented Real Estate, or C.O.R.E., the idea that real estate agents should be focused primarily on identifying and servicing the needs of their clients. Not only do we think this is a better way to run your business, we think it’s a more productive way to build your business in an era where great service is much more likely to help you develop more clients through social networking and online review sites.

As we develop this concept and apply it to agent productivity, we’re finding all sorts of ways to apply it in the work we do running a large brokerage. A broker, like an agent, should be client-oriented, both from the perspective of the buyers and sellers as clients but also from the perspective of agents as clients.

So last November, when the Home Buyer Tax Credit was revised to increase the income limitations and expand it to long-time homeowners, we were on top of it. It seemed to us that a “world’s best real estate broker” should be able to break down complicated programs like the tax credit for the whole client base: agents and buyer/sellers. So we really dug into it to make sure we could help our clients (agents and buyers/sellers) understand the credit and take advantage of it.

The first thing we realized was that the tax credit was not going to be retroactive, and in fact would only apply to closings the day AFTER it was passed. This was on November 5th, the day the new legislation was announced and passed Congress. The President was signing it the next day, and the legislation itself said that it would only be effective to closings AFTER the signing date. This meant that buyers who might be eligible for the tax credit under the new guidelines but were closing on November 6th, the day the legislation was signed, would not be able to claim the credit — even though if they held off their closing for just one more day, they could be entitled to either $6,500 or $8,000.

So we put out a broadcast email to all our agent-clients, and a blog post alerting all our buyer clients about the issue, and advising them that they should talk to their attorneys about whether they could put off the closing for a few days if they were impacted by the tax credit. And we had a few people who actually did just that, which is “Bringing the WOW!” in a big way. Tough to “Bring the Wow” more than helping a client get a $8,000 tax break….

Once that was done, we kept it up. We came up with what we still believe was the best home buyer tax credit resources available anywhere on the internet. We had an overview, FAQ, list of individual scenarios, a breakdown of the history of the legislation, and even a comprehensive Eligibility Test that clients could take to see if they qualified for the tax credit.

But that wasn’t enough. It occurred to us that the large national franchises and other sites were not doing much to explain this difficult program. We discovered that the domain name “homebuyertaxcredit.com” was available for sale, and we bought it (never mind the cost). We then took the materials we’d developed for our brokerage, and then re-wrote and expanded them for a national audience.

From that, in early January, we launched the HomeBuyerTaxCredit.com resource site, which has by far the most comprehensive treatment of the home buyer tax credit anywhere in the country. Much, much more than the national franchises websites, which have scanty information and actual misinformation in some cases (I won’t name names, but it seems that all the brokers misunderstand what the long-time homeowner tax credit rules are).

Why did we do this?  Remember the C.O.R.E. process: (1) identify the need, (2) figure out a way to service the need, and (3) execute, and establish the relationship.  We identified that clients had a need for the information, and figured out how to get it to them. Then we executed by building a great site that is going to reach thousands of home buyers.

And, of course, we’re hoping to deepen the relationship.  Throughout the site, the client has opportunities to ask for a referral for a real estate agent, an accountant, or a lender.  Those referrals will help us serve our OTHER client base, the agents who work for us, either with direct leads from the site, or outbound referrals that will help us get inbound referrals down the road.   We have no idea how much revenue the site will generate, but we’re hopeful.  And even if we eventually lose money on the site (it cost about $100,000 to build), it was still worth it to execute well on a great idea.  Sometimes, you just have to take your chances.

First, to provide a great resource site for people across the country who want to understand the home buyer tax credit.  We identified a need, figured out a way to service that need, and then executed by putting out a tremendous site.

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Who is the World’s Best Real Estate Agent?

We’re going to be on a mission in this blog to identify the tools, systems, and processes that we need to put in place to help you become the World’s Best Real Estate Agent.  But even before we do that, we have a pretty good idea of what we’re looking for if you want to call yourself the World’s Best Real Estate Agent.

1.  Technological Competence

The World’s Best Real Estate agent knows how to use technology.  She’s not a techie, but she can use her computer, and get her contacts in and out of Outlook, and use the tools she needs in her business.

It’s no longer charming or cute for real estate agents to be technologically illiterate. Or any professional, really. I used to work as a clerk to a judge that couldn’t type, would never have used a mobile phone, and never opened a computer.  That was okay, because he was a federal judge.  Powerful attorneys would come into his courtroom to grovel and simper at his feet. The oldest constitution in the history of the world, the US Constitution, guarantees in writing that he can never be fired or have his salary reduced. But you probably don’t have that same sort of job protection. It’s okay for a federal circuit judge to not know how to turn on a computer.  Not so okay for you.

So here, on a fundamental level, is what you need: you need to know how to use a computer, to use outlook (or some other contact system), to create a PDF, to send and open attachments, to download and upload pictures, to connect your computer to a wireless hub, to surf the web, to click on links, and a host of other things.

Note that I’m asking here for “technological competence.”  I’m not looking for you to become a techie-type. I don’t think you need to know how to create a blog, or set up an RSS feed, or know what an RSS feed is. That’s okay.  But you need to have the fundamentals. You can’t be scared of the computer.

You also need to know how to use your MLS and Randcenter tools: how to enter contacts into Contact Manager, do a Simple CMA, a long CMA, a Buyer Tour, flyers, direct mail, cross-search, send out letters with letterwriter, create your email for your R4L emails, update your web profile, and the rest.  Those are the tools of the trade, we’ve created them for you, you need to know how to use them.

Oh yeah, and you need a smart phone.  None of that tap tap tapping text messages out on that two-year old phone that you got cheap with your wireless plan. You need a phone where you can send and receive emails, and send and receive text messages. That’s how people communicate in 2009, and sales is just a little bit about communication.

2.  Local knowledge

The World’s Best Real Estate Agent knows her local area.  A few years ago, I went to go look at some properties on the New Jersey Shore, condos in Long Branch.  The first agent that took me out got lost going from one condo to the other.  And she had GPS in her car.  And the condos were on the same street.  And the street was named — okay, wait for it — Ocean Drive.  And she got lost.

You need to know your area: the school districts, the tax rates and how they’re computed in the various towns and villages, the names of the local officials, the boundary lines, the names of the best professionals in the area, the charitable organizations, the people, the places, the things, the everything.  You’re the local real estate agent, you need to know the local.

How great would it be to take a client out one day, have them ask a question about the elementary school, and make a call right there to the principal of the school to set an appointment for them to meet with him (or her)?  That would be pretty impressive, I think.  Better than getting lost.

And you also need to know the inventory. I went to a showroom recently to see some cars, and the car salesman didn’t even know what he had on the lot.  And when we went to look at it, he didn’t know whether one model was longer than another model.  You have to know your inventory.

3.  Real estate expertise

The World’s Best Real Estate Agent knows the ins and outs of the real estate transaction. If you’re going to be a great agent, you need to know your legal responsibilities, your disclosure obligations, your ethical restrictions, the rights and responsibilities of the contracts you use. You need to know what engineers look for in an inspection, and what attorneys do in drawing up a contract. You need to understand what’s going on in the closing. You need to know how to check the zoning compliance, how to check the taxes, how to read a survey. You need to know how to help your clients through a short sale, or even a foreclosure, and what their obligations are to disclose property conditions. You need to understand the taxes implications and benefits of home ownership, and whether and why someone is better off renting or buying.  If it involves real estate, it’s your job to know it.

4.  Rigorous and comprehensive marketing of all listings.

If you’re going to be the World’s Best Real Estate Agent, you need to sell your listings. Or at least do the best possible job to sell that listing. That means doing an amazing job in your marketing, which is a lot harder than it used to be. Marketing used to mean putting a three-line ad in the paper, an ad that was generally incomprehensible for all the savage things we did to the English language to fit 100 words into 75 characters. But a three-line ad didn’t take that long. Now, if you’re going to market a listing, you need to know how to take really good pictures in high resolution of your listing. Then you have to upload those pictures. And then write a long, full description using real words in pleasing sentences. And that’s just in the initial intake, because then the real work begins. Marketing is not about coming up with a catchy slogan and slapping it on some supermarket carts.  It’s about identifying the core virtues of every property you sell, and then doing the best job possible in communicating those virtues to the largest possible audience.

5.  Thorough representation of all buyers.

The World’s Best Real Estate Agent treats her buyers like clients.  Buyers get a bad shake.  When most agents go to take a listing, they set an appointment, pull together their me-book that says all sorts of wonderful things about them, perform a CMA to get a thorough read on property values in the area, pull out their marketing materials, and then perform a 90 minute “presentation” of all the reasons why the seller should list with them.  It’s not the most effective presentation in the world, but their hearts are in it.

Compare that to what most agents do when buyers call — “Okay, well, you want to see 123 Bluebird lane?  Great, what time can you meet me there?”

Why is that? Why do we give sellers all the love?  Maybe it’s because most people think that the seller pays the commission (not true, actually, since the money comes from the buyer). Or maybe it’s because sellers sign exclusive representation agreements, which most buyers don’t sign (because they’re not asked to sign). Or maybe it’s because in places like New York, we all used to represent the seller in real estate transactions because buyer agency didn’t exist.  It’s only been about 15 years since agents were even able to represent buyers here.  So maybe we’re just not used to giving buyers the same service experience we give sellers.

But whatever the reason, it’s not an acceptable way to run a business. Even if the buyer WANTS to go meet at the house, it’s not acceptable.  If we’re representing buyers, lets represent buyers. Let’s do the same sorts of things we do for sellers, like prepare for appointments and prepare marketing materials and explain our value.

6.  Commitment to a service-oriented approach to business development

The World’s Best Real Estate Agent doesn’t cold-call for business, because she doesn’t have to. She’s figured out ways to develop her business without having to rely on people she doesn’t know, because her business emanates from the amazing service that she gives to people.  She does an amazing job for her clients, and they tell everyone they know because they’re so blown away by the service experience she gave them. She does an amazing job with the people in her “sphere of support,” because she keeps them so updated on what’s happening in the real estate market and community that they constantly send her referrals.  She does an amazing job with people she meets on the street, or at open houses, or through the internet, or anywhere she meets people, and makes sure she stays in touch with them.  And she even looks out for the guy selling his house on his own, giving him whatever help she can give him for free simply because it’s the right thing to do.  She’s oriented toward service in everything she does, and that’s where her business comes from.

7.  Positive attitude

The World’s Best Real Estate Agent keeps a positive attitude. When you’re in sales, you lose the right to have a bad attitude. Sorry about that. I know it’s tough to believe, because you probably deal with a lot of real estate agents with bad attitudes, but it’s the truth. If you want to be good in sales, not just real estate sales, you can’t be a jackass. No one wants to work with a jackass. People do, but they don’t like it.  Put it this way, you never know whether the couple in front of you in the Starbucks line, the couple you’re complaining about because they’re taking too long, is the couple you’re meeting tomorrow on a listing appointment.

8.  Professional Image

The World’s Best Real Estate Agent maintains a professional image, both in person and online.  She dresses appropriately, even if she’s just “stopping in” the office.  And she has an appealing, high resolution, professional photo that she uses in her marketing. It’s on her personal web page, her business cards, her mailings, everything she does.  The same great photo.  And it’s a photo of her taken sometime in the, oh, last decade or so.  Not in high school.

We don’t do so good with the photos, do we?  Yes, you can have a photo that shows the best side of you, but it should probably be a photo that actually looks like you. And it should be a professional shot, head and shoulders, dressed appropriately. Not a cropped low-resolution shot from some photo from your cousin’s wedding.

And we don’t do so good with the professional profile.  I realize that not everyone’s a writer, but WRITING IN ALL CAPS is generally not a subtle way of getting across your personal resume.  Neither is writing stuff like “I help your dream come true.” Write a profile in the third person, as if someone was writing that profile about you.  It sounds a lot better when the profile reads “Bob Smith is dedicated to helping clients through the difficult transactional process” than “I am dedicated to helping clients, etc. etc.”.  There’s something about that third person credibility which makes you sound like a professional.

9.  Ethics

The World’s Best Real Estate Agent is ethical and courteous. She knows what the Code of Ethics requires, and she lives by that code. More than that, though, she’s respectful of her colleagues, even if ethics doesn’t require it. That means returning phone calls, and keeping appointments, and giving feedback, and being honest and forthright with agents the same way she is with her clients.

10.  Management

The World’s Best Real Estate Agent manages her business like a business.  She creates and follows a business plan, she manages her time, and she is dedicated to getting better at her job.  That means she’s constantly learning, taking new classes, earning new designations, picking up new tools that can help her service her clients needs.

At the very foundation, though, it comes down to one thing. The World’s Best Real Estate is not about herself, but about her client.  What does her client need, and how can she service that need?  Everything else follows from that.

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