During the last couple years, real estate was often easy. There really isn’t another way to put it. A huge influx of qualified, motivated buyers with extra pandemic savings or stimulus funds, along with eager sellers looking to cash in on runaway home price appreciation—all greased by sub-3% mortgage rates—meant that even inexperienced agents, or those putting in the minimal effort, were getting lots of calls.
Those days are over, at least for now. A few metros are skidding toward significant price drops with low activity, while most regions are experiencing “correction” conditions, as opposed to any kind of crash.
In what might be characterized as a more normal market, have agents and brokers forgotten the basic habits and practices that keep a business going—in good times and bad? Did newcomers to the industry never learn the fundamentals? And what are those fundamental practices that keep savvy and experienced agents busy, even in down markets?
“New agents, things that maybe they haven’t had to experience are, how important advertising is, and just staying in front of people,” says Kristin Pendergraft, broker/owner of RE/MAX Encore in Tennessee. “We’re not just going to pick up clients like we did for awhile, where you just stick a sign in the yard and the phone rings. You’re going to have to actually put some things out there.”
With 18 years of experience in real estate, Pendergraft explains that it isn’t necessarily anything dramatic. Curating your image, knowing your client base and building relationships are still the foundation. But real estate professionals need to understand the granular do’s and don’ts to accomplish these goals.
Jordan Collier, an agent working for Coldwell Banker in Pennsylvania, says that she sympathizes with people who jumped into the industry in the last couple years.
“I truly couldn’t imagine getting into it then,” she says. “The biggest thing for me, for my business, is how important it is to stay in touch with your clients…now it’s more difficult to get clients, so you really have to put a lot of stress and importance to make sure your people are happy, because there’s so many REALTORS® to choose from.”
One of the first things where Pendergraft urges caution is something many agents don’t think twice about: how you post listings and business updates to social media.
“I feel like…people don’t want to see you posting all the time, stuff about, ‘Oh my gosh I’m so busy, I’ve got so much going on.’ Because it kind of backfires on you, right?” she says. “People think, ‘Oh she’s so busy she might not even be able to show me a house.’ I think there is a happy medium, a subtle sell on social media.”
Billy McNair, a Coldwell Banker broker associate at The McNair Group in Northern California, says he kept his outreach as consistent as possible from when he started in the industry back in 2008. He agrees with Pendergraft that just blasting folks with real estate pitches—on social media or otherwise—isn’t always the best strategy.
“I reached out to a couple clients and I was like, ‘Hey, I was thinking about you just because I showed a couple properties on your street earlier.’ It’s a way for me to let them know there is some market activity happening in their neighborhood,” he explains. “But the reason I’m sending this note, or the reason I’m calling, is because seeing that house on your street made me think of you.”
The type of properties you highlight on social media or within other marketing can also make a big difference, Pendergraft adds. Too many expensive or luxury postings can quickly make you seem out of touch to a huge swath of people who are looking to work with someone they can relate to.
“They go look up a property, a $500,000 house and figure ‘Oh they just made 6% —’ we don’t, of course,” she says. “All of a sudden you’re a millionaire, instead of someone who is just out working…it’s important to just show that you’re working.”
Another thing agents and brokers can no longer get away with is relying on a single channel for their marketing and networking. While there is plenty of evidence that social media is one of the top ways to market (a nationwide RISMedia study conducted last year found increasing investment in social), a slower market means having to spread your reach further.
Faina Shapiro, working with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Page Realty in Massachusetts says that her commitment to consistent, thoughtful marketing across a broad array of channels through the last couple years is paying off as the market cools.
“It keeps you top of mind as an agent, especially if you’re the kind of agent who’s trying to really target a local market, right? I suggest you kind of do a little bit of everything,” Shapiro says. “It’s not just that newspaper ads work. It’s a combination of a little bit of everything.”
Splitting up even a smaller budget across all these channels—print, postcards, digital or display—is what ensures longer term visibility, according to Shapiro. The expectation shouldn’t be that you immediately get a flood of new clients or a barrage of offers on a property, she explains. Rather, you can consistently show up for the largest number of people as a local real estate expert.
Shapiro urges agents to send that postcard, or buy the ad even if they don’t have any active listings or recent sales to promote.
“Maybe business is slow—send a nice recipe, send a newsletter. Make some educational content, to make sure whatever you send people will actually want to look at it,” she advises. “Try something out for a few months. If you don’t like it, there’s nothing wrong with then switching it up. But you should be consistently doing something to get to a buyer or seller.”
Collier offers something even simpler to keep yourself top of mind, going back to a practice she learned in her early days in the industry.
“Wear your name tag…even in the grocery store,” she says. “You really never know when someone is going to approach you.”
Collier’s name tag is encrusted with rhinestones—a personalized perk offered by Coldwell that she says fits her style and personality.
“It’s kind of a walking billboard for you, on your person to let people know you’re in the business…it’s definitely a basic, but could be useful now that the market has shifted,” Collier explains.
Check the foundation
McNair says that he has recently gone back to his fundamentals, the plans and practices he set down 15 years ago when he started his business. In doing so, he says he can understand how some agents feel like they aren’t standing on solid ground.
“The most successful agents are relational agents. They’re building relationships for the long term—they are representing people for 10-, 15-, 20-year periods. The agents that got into the business in the last couple years are transactional,” he states. “They’re just going to move from one transaction to the next. Those are the agents who I think are in precarious positions because they weren’t building that deep relationship with the clients.”
Even veteran agents might have gotten too caught up and deprioritized outreach, marketing or budgets, he adds, because they were overwhelmed with all the business. Now might be a perfect time to go back and update marketing materials or rethink investments and priorities, according to McNair.
New agents, or agents who have been coasting, might also underestimate just how important it is to be involved in the community—join local boards, town organizations and volunteer groups, according to Shaprio. But she says the reason to invest your time and energy into these activities is not necessarily to get referrals or meet clients directly.
“It’s really to educate yourself,” she claims. “Your goal should be to make yourself more educated, and that will ultimately reward you.”
Trying to pitch yourself to the people you meet in these settings is not a super effective way to drum up business, Shapiro says. Instead, learning about the trends, occurrences and rules of your county or town helps you better serve future clients, and membership of these boards gives you a significant boost in authority and authenticity as well.
One thing vitally important to ensure you’re doing properly is the really, really basic stuff—properly filling out paperwork, following procedures and doing basic research. Pendergraft says that a single mistake on a form, with an offer or a disclosure that holds up (or sinks) a transaction will never be forgotten, and more agents and brokers are going to have to do these things for themselves (rather than hire an assistant) as the market turns.
“If a client loses their trust in you because you don’t know what you’re doing…it’s the biggest financial purchase they’ll ever make. Definitely the people that have something negative to say about you…are more likely to say something,” she says. “Once you have a bad review out there, it’s hard to get rid of that bad review.”
Training is a great way to help with many of these things, and Collier says she had a huge amount of training and a slow easing into real estate when she started, which was something that didn’t happen as much during the hot market. Two very common real estate scenarios—namely, negotiating with other agents and open houses—fell by the wayside during the pandemic boom, and she urges agents, whether new or veteran, to plan for more of these going forward, focused again on the basics.
That means creating good personalized follow-up, using good communication and continuing to scour for leads at every point of a transaction. Sometimes this just takes practice, Collier says, meaning you have to hustle and put yourself in situations that challenge you.
Shapiro says that a basic practice that is rarely mentioned can be described as more of a mindset than a single skill: using the bad times to prepare for the good times.
“If it is a down time, like right now, when the market is slow—get a designation, get a certification,” she urges. “Seasonally, when the market improves, you will have an edge on other agents. I think that’s something I always found to be helpful. We all have ups and downs…so use that time wisely.”