Strategies to thrive in a shifting market, how newer agents can best be mentored, and ways to optimally use tech tools were the major talking points for four company leaders at RISMedia’s Real Estate’s Rocking in the New Year virtual conference, held earlier this month.
In a session titled, “The Top Issues Facing Real Estate in 2023,” RISMedia Founder, President and CEO John Featherston led a lively discussion. Panelists Bess Freedman, CEO, Brown Harris Stevens; Rick Haase, president, United Real Estate; Vince Leisey, president, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Ambassador Real Estate; and Ryan Raveis, co-president, William Raveis Real Estate were reflective and forthright in their views that while the new year will certainly hold challenges, there are also a great many opportunities.
John Featherston: Welcome to RISMedia’s third-annual Real Estate’s Rocking in the New Year! Let’s start with this: What do you believe are the most important issues to focus on in 2023?
Rick Haase: First is understanding that focus and prioritization are two critical disciplines for success, especially in a market going through the changes we are. One of our keys is about agent and salesforce growth. How many agents do we have? What’s our net agent cap? Is it growing at a rate we think it should be? And equally important is our productivity per agent. As we think about what’s happening in the marketplace, it becomes super-important to understand that while the market may be shrinking, the key indicator for us will be, are we growing in salesforce size and ability to close more transactions?
We can’t control interest rates. We can’t control the overall consumer sentiment. So we have to focus on things that are influenceable by our own actions. It’s been projected that as many as 300,000 agents will be leaving the business. Those are people on the fringes, not succeeding. Well, guess what? That drives the actual pool of business higher, not lower. Even though the market may be down 20%, 25%, even 30% off the highs on a per-agent basis, there’s so much opportunity. And I think leadership has to make sure to get its head around that and convey and communicate that.
JF: Let me open that question to the rest of the panel. Bess, would you please comment?
Bess Freedman: When we’re in a guarded economic environment like we are, is it more of a bear market? I think we’re in a shifting landscape, a bit of a sea change for us. For agents, this is actually best in the sense that buyers and sellers really need their information, their guidance and their expertise. This is a time for them to shine more than ever because it’s tough out there. People are looking around and seeing inflation and high rates and all those things. But I think there’s incredible opportunities for buyers who can negotiate better with sellers, and agents can guide their buyers and sellers accordingly. So this is where your skill set really comes in, because the challenges are where you’re going to shine.
JF: I love that. Challenges offer opportunity. Vince, I’d like to hear your comments. Tell us your thoughts on the crisis being faced right now.
Vince Leisey: I see this as an opportunity for us to grow. We just started recruiting contests over the last 45 days, where it’s a time for people to say, ‘here’s the value we bring to the table.’ So there’s an opportunity and whoever is building the strongest relationships, that is getting out there and has the most knowledge and shows the most value is going to win. Because the primary difference in what’s going on in the market today relative to what’s happened most of the last couple of years through Covid times, is people need to trust you now. You need to be knowledgeable, you need to have value. Liking you is not enough. We saw in the past sellers didn’t even think they needed us. So we must understand that they not only need to like us, but also trust us, and they’re going to trust us if we’re knowledgeable, if we know what’s going on in the marketplace.
We’re focused on a culture where we want you to come here, get in our office, where we have a lot of people collaborate with each other and learn from each other. We all improve that process, which allows us to better serve our clients. So I think it’s an opportunity for good agents to get more clients and an opportunity for good brokerages to recruit.
JF: Ryan, let’s hear your thoughts about the challenges of this new year and how you’re preparing as one of the young leaders of our industry, especially since you’re from a family that’s been through every marketplace that has ever been.
Ryan Raveis: In the upcoming months as we start this new year, the media coverage is going to be frenetic, and mostly negative. So whether it’s inflation, supply-chain issues or the Fed, that’s for everybody else to listen to. But for us as an organization, we as leaders are dealers in optimism and hope. But that has to be grounded in reality. Leading a large organization, we have to get in the field and listen to people and understand what matters to them, what their concerns are.
We have to build trust not only with our customers, but with our agents, and make decisions on what we need to do, where the market is going, and what activities we need to be focused on in order to be successful in this environment. There are going to be people dropping out of the industry, and more for the productive agents to pick up. We’re coming up on our 50th year. My father’s been through five down markets. I’ve been through three. And in each instance we’ve come out stronger than we were before.
JF: Great thoughts. Bess, many of your agents who have been in the business a few years haven’t been through this type of market. What should newer agents do to be successful in the next several months?
BF: It is a new environment for new agents. I think that showing up in the office is really of paramount importance for a new agent’s success, because they should meet with the executives and talk to their colleagues. I can’t stress how important office culture is in real estate, because real estate is a relationship business.
Everyone’s been talking about trust, and what is trust? It’s the stacking of small moments over time. You build that with people. We build that with our agents, sitting and talking to them, engaging, finding out what’s going on, guiding them, coaching them. Get to know people. Go to open houses, as many as you can. You can go in and see projects, meet your colleagues, even from other companies.
It’s important to have friends everywhere so that when you want to show something, people want to work with you. Be kind, be friendly, and be professional. Be a standout. You can’t skip the steps to be successful. If you show up, you communicate, you take care of people, you’re responsive, then I think you can be very successful. But it’s not easy. It requires a lot. You have to be willing to hustle, you have to be available. We will get through all of this.
JF: Take it next, Vince. What are your opinions on what agents need to do?
VL: Covid drove me crazy because all of a sudden agents start thinking it’s okay to work from home. And we’ve talked about this in our mastermind groups, our sales meetings and stuff like that lately. Get into the office, be in the right environment, where you don’t have excuses at home, where it’s so easy to procrastinate, and put things off. Oh, I’m gonna take a nap. I’m gonna walk the dog. I’m gonna do the dishes. Right? Get away from those excuses. Put yourself around other productive people who are going to encourage you to do things.
As you’re listening to other productive people, you’re going to pick up on things that you used to do or that you should be doing to make you more productive. Our organization is based on two concepts: culture and coaching. And we believe that one doesn’t work without the other. So I couldn’t agree more that new agents need to be in the office, they gotta learn, and be sponges. Talk to productive agents. Ask them out to coffee or lunch and take some of their time. Those people are willing to share.
We live with the attitude that we all share with each other. We’re all open, here’s what works, here’s what doesn’t work. We believe there’s more than enough for everybody to move forward, even in a market like this.
JF: Ryan, you have 80 certified coaches. Who are your managers? What are they doing to help agents outperform past results?
RR: We have a career development department that works very closely with our marketing department and our tech and tools department to really understand the efficient ways that our agents can be working. Our managers meet with our agents and give them ideas, and put a plan in place that they check in on every month. So we give each agent a direction, and then at the end of 30 days we take a tactical pause to look back. What did you do? How did it go, and how do we need to adjust going forward? So there’s a team approach.
JF: Rick, can you comment?
RH: I think about my own career as an agent at 18. One of the things we kind of lose sight of today is the value of mentors in the life of an agent. We have 14 coaches that are assigned anywhere from 30 to 40 agents, and we grow that coaching team as the salesforce grows. So many agents got into the business during a time where they think it’s normal to hold an open house and have 30 or 40 buyers walk through. Those times are over. What we need to do now is get our agents coached, trained and developed, then track their progress, and give them the guidance they need to fill the top of the funnel with the business opportunities that are out there.
JF: There’s so much talk about technology replacing agents. I don’t believe that, but I do think technology plays a part in augmenting what agents do. What are your thoughts on technology in 2023?
BF: Technology is vital. We all need it. And I think what technology does is it empowers agents to be more efficient. But real estate is a relationship business; it’s an emotional commodity. And we’re talking to people, helping them, giving them guidance. People rely on other people to guide them through this process of buying a home, which is typically the biggest investment of their lives. And so technology is not going to replace agents, but it will make us more efficient, faster, that kind of thing.
Like with blockchain, I think things will just be done in a better way, a quicker way, get rid of the middleman, maybe less paperwork, that kind of stuff. I love technology. I love what it offers us because we can communicate so easily. But you also have to turn that off and spend time with your people. Technology is wonderful, and I love what it does, but you have to balance it a little bit.
RR: Technology is an accelerator, and has become more prevalent lately because it’s been such a great two years in the market and we’ve had low interest rates. There’s been a tremendous amount of capital coming into the industry. So we have all these new tools, we have all these new technologies, but there’s nothing that’s going to replace the relationship between the agent and the customer. But brokers will adopt it and embed it within their offerings to consumers. So where an agent used to go out to a dozen different vendors to get a listing, we’ve done the same thing in-house, and created a tool where on your cellphone you click a couple buttons and we launch a listing.
We’ve come through a period where there’s been tremendously low inventory. However, sales transactions have continued to heat up and have a high velocity. That’s all due to technology and our ability to fund loans and get mortgages quickly. Technology will accelerate the real estate business. It’ll help agents become more effective and more efficient. But no way will it replace the relationship.
RH: Nothing will replace the high trust, high local knowledge that can exist with agents. And yet, there are plenty of examples of companies that over-rely on technology. Think about the iBuyer segment. Companies lost a billion dollars in that business.
JF: As we wrap up here, I’d like each of you to give one pearl of wisdom from your perspective.
VL: Get back to the basics. We created some bad habits in really good times, and now we’re in tougher times. And we need to be focused on the activities we’re doing to show value, to build stronger relationships. We can’t control the economy. All we can control is what we do that allows us to build stronger relationships within our sphere of influence.
RR: Focus on establishing trust with your agents, with your clients, and establishing your character. And that will be your shock absorber through a bumpy time.
RH: For agents, I would say spend 40% of your time on top of the funnel activities that drive more business opportunities for you.
BF: Don’t focus on the money and the outcome, just focus on what you’re doing. You can’t skip the steps. You gotta show up and take care of your clients, put their interests first. If you do everything right, it will result in your success.
Stay tuned to RISMedia for more reporting from this year’s Real Estate’s Rocking in the New Year.