Last week, luxury real estate agent Joy Bender hosted a webinar for HouseHunt entitled “Breaking into the High End of Your Market.” During the webinar, Joy discussed how she was able to move to a new area and break into the luxury market with no personal network. From being a new agent in San Diego with no contacts in 2011, Joy is now one of the most coveted agents in the area and has been named a Certified Luxury Home Marketing Specialist by the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing.
Here are some of Ms. Bender’s tips on how to break into luxury real estate:
Image is Everything
The clients you will be working with will be affluent and (most likely) sophisticated, so make sure you meet or exceed their expectations for an agent worthy of their business. Image is everything, so if you haven’t quite gotten to where you want to be, fake it ‘til you make it. The way you present yourself is incredibly important, so Joy suggests you first focus on your online self-presentation.
With 90 percent of homebuyers starting their home searches online, the first impression clients will have of you will be via your online presence. Therefore, make sure to keep it classy. Distinguish between and keep your personal and professional accounts separate. On your professional accounts, make sure to have professional headshots and biographies that list your affiliations, certifications and credentials.
Don’t have as many credentials as you’d like? You can become a member of the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing by taking an “intensive, two-day CLHMS training” seminar either in-person or online. The online training is $495 and offers approximately 15 hours of content. You can also become a NAR Certified International Property Specialist by taking a course ranging from $249.90 for US residents to $624.75 for non-US residents (all courses currently on sale). Other associations worth looking into include the Luxury Home Council and FIABCI: The International Real Estate Federation.
When it comes to offline self-presentation, start by having appropriate transportation. In other terms, buy or lease a nice car. Additionally, make sure to dress appropriately. As a real estate agent, you already know how to dress for success and what kind of effect that professional presentation can make on a client, so make sure to pay extra special attention to your appearance when working with luxury clients.
Be the Community Expert
It’s incredibly important to know everything you can possibly know about the community you’re working in, luxury real estate or otherwise. Brush up on information about the amenities your affluent clients will be looking for, including country clubs, boarding for horses and private schools.
Ensure you’re up-to-date on recent public improvements to roads, parks, beaches and other public areas. Also inform your clients of new schools in the area. Lastly, let them know of any proposed community enhancements or environmental issues.
In order to gain more clout in the luxury market, it’s important that you actively pursue getting published. Joy’s real estate articles have been published nationwide in over 358 newspapers, magazines and online news services. She’s been featured in print in The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle and Reuters, and on screen on FOX 5 San Diego. The more visible you make yourself and the more reputable and omnipresent you become, the more valued your real estate expertise will be and the more clients will come to you!
Be Prepared to Make the Call
It’s important to know your plan of attack once your first luxury lead comes in. As we discussed in our Lead Series, it’s critical that you call a lead immediately after you receive it. Make sure to approach these calls with high energy and full knowledge of all properties the lead viewed on your site.
Once you have the lead on the other line, first find out what’s most important to the client (school district, neighborhood, home features?). Next, confirm the client’s time frame. This can be easily done by asking, “If you found the perfect home, would you be ready to buy today?” Next, find out whether s/he’ll be purchasing with cash or a loan. Towards the end of your call, confirm all of his/her contact information and ask the name of the client’s spouse or partner. Lastly, close your phone call by explaining the next steps in the home buying process.
During these calls, ensure that you’re authoritative but not pushy. Use open-ended questions and let the prospective client know that you’re not there to rush him/her into anything and are willing to wait. If there are any objections, respond in a professional and understanding manner. For example, if a lead states that s/he already has an agent, Joy recommends using the following script:
I appreciate your loyalty. Over 80% of our clients already have a real estate agent in mind when we begin working together. I have one of the most successful real estate teams in [your area]. Due to the amount of business we do, our relationships with [your area] brokers are very strong and we constantly get heads up on pre-market property. It has helped many of my clients gain access to non-MLS pocket listings. Why don’t we agree to keep an open mind?”
If on the other hand, the objection is “I’m just beginning my search,” take the following approach:
Many of my clients were just in the preliminary stages of researching homes when we first met. I am happy to help you when the time is right for you.”
By using this response, you’ll be reassuring the prospective client that you aren’t in a rush to get his/her business and are willing to guide him/her down the long and sometimes confusing road that is buying a home.
Qualify the Buyer
Make sure you qualify the luxury home buyer immediately after your first conversation. If you think you have a serious lead, input his/her name into Google, Facebook and LinkedIn to make sure s/he is who s/he says s/he is. In the period of initial excitement to land their first luxury client, many agents make the mistake of skipping this step and wasting their time on fake rich buyers.
Beware the Competition
Remember that you’re not the only one interested in the lucrative commissions attached to luxury real estate deals. Other agents on different internet lead generation sites, realtors and brokerages with sites of their own, agents who advertise in the newspaper, on shopping carts or on benches are all vying for a chance at that coveted client. Therefore, it’s even more important to make yourself stand out from the crowd.
Ms. Bender suggests that you use a bit of old and new school techniques to set yourself apart. Handwritten note cards are still an important, under-used tool for making a great impression, so start with these. The Institute for Luxury Home Marketing offers business card jackets, member seals and luxury note cards worth looking into. Furthermore, she recommends Altos Research, a website that offers real-time data and insights on the markets your clients are interested in. These statistics can be presented on your website, sent as reports, automatically emailed or shared on social platforms. Lastly, make sure to maintain a personal and up-to-date IDX system.
Keep in mind that high net worth individuals are successful people and often very busy. Therefore, don’t get your feelings hurt if they don’t respond courteously—or at all—to your texts, emails and calls.
The best way to communicate with an uncommunicative client is to respond to the listings they look at. Send any and all pertinent information about the home viewed or the complex, neighborhood and/or community that s/he’s interested in. Additionally, relay any relevant, confidential remarks on the property and/or community to the buyer.
Remember, just because your luxury clients aren’t replying doesn’t mean they aren’t watching and listening to you. They are, and they will let you know when you can be of assistance.
The take away? Never give up, but be very careful with your follow up.
Before taking your clients to a scheduled showing, make sure you’ve already asked the listing agent any questions you have about the subdivision, community and the property. Prepare your route in advance; drive to the listing a day or two before the scheduled showing and have the address pre-entered into your GPS or have handwritten directions.
Make sure your car is clean and stocked with premium water and any snacks you deem appropriate. Joy suggests keeping a Moleskin folder to hold all of your documents for showings, as they are sleek and practical.
Overall, the most important thing to know is the property you are showing. Know the prices and features of comparable homes in the area, the calculated price per square foot in the past six to 12 months, and any and all fees associated with the HOA, landscaping, cable TV, electricity, gas, water and refuse. If the property is a condo, know the community facilities, parking policy and if it can be used as a vacation rental or if the policy is exclusively long-term.
Lastly, after a few showings, make sure your luxury clients know how appreciative you are of their business. Joy likes to send Edible Arrangements to her clients after a day of property viewing; this makes her clients feel acknowledged and confident that they’ve picked the right agent. Furthermore, it shows that you are a professional in your field and willing to go to any length to satisfy your clients.
Although breaking into the luxury real estate market may seem daunting at first, with the correct approach, presentation and execution, you can be as confident in dealing with a luxury transaction as you would any other real estate transaction. Have confidence in yourself as an agent and that confidence will bleed through every part of the process.
We wish you the best and much luxury market success!