Make a List, Check it Twice

Published by Jim Droz

I know the phrase “sphere of influence” has been around for a while but I never felt like it applied to me. It always sounded so empirical, like it only pertained to politicians, leaders of industry or celebrities. I work in real estate, so other than trying to convince someone to use my services, how much influence do I have? Do I even have a sphere?

As it turns out, yes. And you have one too, even if you might not know it. So it’s time to dig in and use it, because statistics show that a sphere of influence is a fantastic source of referrals for agents.

Our sphere of influence goes way beyond a prospect, contact or client list. It can be a combination of people – personal and professional – you have contact with on a semi-frequent basis or even sporadically. I (begrudgingly) see a dentist or doctor, go to the grocery store and gym, see an occasional movie and have favorite places to eat. I’m sure you do, too. These are all great places to cultivate relationships that could turn into referrals. That doesn’t even scratch the surface when you consider school events, church, city organizations, volunteering, family, friends, your children’s friends, former co-workers, address books and former clients, to name a few.

Obviously, there’s a fine line between staying in contact and pestering. If all you do when you see or talk to people is ask if they know anybody who wants to buy or sell a house, it’s going to be seen as an all-take, no-give relationship.

“I think it’s really important to speak to your clients at least four times a year in person, and you also need to send them things at lest once a month so they have your picture and phone number handy,” said Mary Beth Buckles, a HouseHunt agent in Southern California who works in Dana Point. “Anyone I’ve ever sold a house to gets greetings, messages or items from me. It’s a simple thing to do and has a big impact.”

If anybody knows about how successful a sphere of influence can be it is Buckles, who had $12 million in sales in 2011 and said nearly 100 percent of her business comes from past clients and referrals, which includes a jaw-dropping 14 transactions from one family over a 10-year period. That number grew into even more closings when they referred her to some of their friends and co-workers.

Don’t think of these contacts as sales calls, acts of desperation or killing time. Be positive and ask how their kids are doing in school or if they’ve been on a recent vacation. Ask how their job is going and make mention about how the housing market is improving but you can never have enough contacts. That’s when you can ask about any signs they’ve seen or people they know thinking about buying or selling. Make it a conversation that leads into the possibility of picking up business. Make it a daily routine. That will make the practice more comfortable and feel less robotic. Who knows, you might discover that you have a lot in common with someone who becomes a person you go to ballgames with or meet for lunch in the park from time to time.

As agents, we do have a sphere of influence and would be foolish not to tap into it. So it’s time to start asking who you know that can be added to your list. Sit down and think about it. You’ll be surprised at all the potential contacts you run into each week. Write some of them down and, if you’re an organized person, categorize them in terms of family, friends, professionals, peers, prospects, vendors, city leaders and the like.

The list will grow and you might even end up selling a house to the guy next to you on the elliptical machine at the gym or the woman you see a lot at the coffee shop.

Find us on Google+

Merge Highlights Your Value to Clients

Published by Jim Droz

What have you done for me lately? If you get tired of clients asking you what you’ve been doing in the last week, day or hour to sell their house, there’s something you can do other than scream or try to recall from memory all the work you’ve put into the effort.

A recent Webinar touted Merge, a new app that has practical uses for Realtors. Much of the activity we do is behind the scenes, so the perception remains that we don’t work hard enough for our commission. Using the Merge app, however, would enable us to report listing activities to sellers via a timeline that updates all parties involved in the process.

“What’s going on with my listing is the No. 1 question Realtors get from their clients,” said Merge co-founder and developer Joel Beasley. “That means sellers aren’t being updated, which is a real problem. This lets them know your schedule, when you’ll be updating them, what type of activities you’ve performed, what the marketing strategies are and anything else pertinent to the listing or process.”

Merge also looks like a good tool for general business use because you can set up widgets as reminders to do certain tasks, manage your clients, organize your calendar, schedule tours, create brochures and store business ideas, among other things. The company recently revised its platform to promote collaboration with four new widgets:

    Collaborator: Invite other people, such as clients, to participate, ask questions and share items in your timeline.

    E-mail connector: Add e-mails to your timelines by searching for keywords or names of senders.

    Request: Track items that have been requested and fulfilled.

    List: Set up a checklist of pending activities that can be pushed to the timeline as completed. The list can be viewed by people with access to the timeline or it can remain private and viewed only by you.

Beasley, who spent a lot of after-school hours in real estate offices because his parents are Realtors, said that even though Merge is designed to be a management and interaction tool for all business ventures, he designed the software with a real estate agent in mind, particularly since he commissioned a survey that showed 73 percent of respondents saying Realtors don’t do enough to justify getting a listing.

“That says that the agent isn’t informing them about what’s going on,” Beasley said. “If people know when they’re going to be informed and know that they’re going to be kept up to date, they’ll be satisfied.”

He also said Merge is “a different concept than most traditional to-do lists,” making it good for personal and business applications.

“It’s a whole new way of thinking about software because it’s easily adaptable to your way of doing things,” Beasley said. “It allows users to choose how they want to implement the system … and it lets people see what you’re doing as you do it.”

Find us on Google+

8 Apps & Tools for Realtors

By Jaime Westman

apps for realtors

Some gadgets are good, some are bad and some are ugly. Call Hollywood. There could be a movie in there somewhere. But many gadgets and devices can be cool to use, and if they’re practical for your real estate business, all the better. Here are a few tools for Realtors that caught my eye and could end up in my hands:

Stay in Touch with Campaigner
An e-newsletter marketing campaign helps you stay in contact with clients and enables you to promote listings, share your expertise or advertise open houses. Campaigner is an e-newsletter platform with more than 500 templates that can be branded with images and text. Add your customer’s name to the e-mail for a personal touch or target groups based on their buying and selling preferences.

Patch Things Up with Erase-A-Hole
Erase-A-Hole enables listing agents and stagers to patch holes in drywall, plaster and wood caused by nails or furnishings. Simply rub the applicator across the hole in a circular motion until it’s filled, wipe the excess or shape it with a tool. With a shelf life of three years, Erase-A-Hole can always be in your bag of tricks.

Keep in Contact with Contact high
IXACT Contact is an e-mail marketing platform and a ready-to-send monthly e-newsletter all in one. Choose between e-mail templates or send your contacts an e-newsletter written by real estate marketing experts. The system also allows you to track each click so you can tailor your communications to fit your address book.

Give Thanks with ThankYouPro
ThankYouPro’s iPhone or iPad app enables you to send a preset or custom-designed thank-you card through first-class mail. The cards can also feature your handwriting because of a printing process that makes them look and feel handwritten. Your card will arrive with a first-class stamp and your return address.

Make a Good investment with Real Estate Analysis
Investors require financial information about properties, such as the rate of return or net value. Real Estate Analysis Free is investment software that can help with that by analyzing property data you enter into the system. The program generates a report with charts and graphs, and you can upload images of the property to customize the report and share it with clients via e-mail.

Let Document Scanner Help with Filing
The Document Scanner app enables you to scan documents with your Android mobile phone’s camera and convert them into PDF files. You can then e-mail the files to clients or peers from your phone or share them via Google Docs or Dropbox. And since the app doesn’t collect or send any private information, sensitive documents remain safe.

Getting the message with Happy Grasshopper
Send timely and clever messages to your sphere with Happy Grasshopper, a service that helps build relationships through short e-mail messages. Upload the names and e-mail addresses of your contacts, past clients and prospects and Happy Grasshopper’s team creates messages for you to edit and approve. The service also creates an e-signature that encourages contacts to get in touch with you.

Stay in Control with Voltaic Spark Solar Tablet
If you’ve got a bunch of gadgets, it’s easy to forget to charge one every once in a while. The Voltaic Spark Solar Tablet Case can help in that regard because it powers your electronics with the sun. The case provides an hour of iPad runtime for every hour in the direct sunlight. The Spark also includes a battery to power up your devices that can be recharged from the sunlight or a wall charger.

Find us on Google+

July’s New Home Construction Building a Good Foundation

Published by Jim Droz

A foundation is being built for the housing recovery as 2012 makes the turn toward the backstretch of a year many see as the start of something good, or at least a lot better than the previous five or six years. That foundation, appropriately enough, is coming from homebuilder confidence. A report from the National Association of Home Builders in July showed the largest one-month gain since September 2002 in the newly built single-family home market. Gains were shown in homebuilder confidence over rising sales conditions, prospects for future sales and traffic of prospective buyers.

“This is greater evidence that the housing market has turned the corner as more buyers perceive the benefits of purchasing a newly built home while interest rates and prices are so favorable,” NAHB chairman Barry Rutenberg said in a statement.

The Commerce Department also jumped in with good news for the home-building industry with a report that showed housing starts in June rose 6.9 percent. Broken down, single-family home construction, which makes up the largest segment of those new housing starts, increased 4.7 percent. Multifamily housing starts, considered a volatile segment of the market, rose 12.8 percent that month.

Other reasons for an increase in construction could be the lack of available housing for buyers who are entering the market because of improved conditions and the fact that mortgage interest rates remain at historic lows. A market conditions survey from HouseHunt agents found some having difficulty finding houses for clients in their price range or preferred neighborhood because of tight inventory.

“The activity has been absolutely fantastic. We’re actually seeing buyers that are not finding the homes that they’re looking for,” said agent Jeff Schulz, who works in the Minneapolis metropolitan area. “That has resulted in more construction, which is a positive visual sign for the industry.”

A gas and oil boom in eastern Montana has agents in that part of the country scrambling to find housing for clients as well. Michelle O’Rourke, who works in a real estate office in Billings, said “new construction is going like crazy again” as workers from out of state enter the region and look for houses.

“That’s a good sign,” she said. “It’s good for our economy and gives the industry a boost.”

If you’d like to hear what economic and construction experts have to say about where they see things heading as we move forward, the NAHB is planning a webinar on Oct. 24 that will cover changes in the market and where the building hot spots might be in 2013. Visit http://www.nahb.org/reference_list.aspx?sectionID=130 for more information or to register.

Find us on Google+

Do Something Extra

Published by Jim Droz


The best things in life are free. Or so I’ve heard. The past few years we’ve all probably felt like we worked for nothing because of the economic downturn. But if you’re handed lemons, you might as well make lemonade, and sometimes gestures big and small can make the difference in whether or not we attract clients or seal the deals.

Reports from HouseHunt agents and real estate tracking agencies are showing an uptick in activity in 2012, so more people are getting off the sidelines and entering the market. Are you prepared to do all you can – within reason – to get their business?

Everyone knows your job as an agent is to help people buy and sell houses. But you can set yourself apart by adding incentives to your agreement or listing presentation that will be noticed – and appreciated – by prospects. These can include the frequency of open houses and whether or not food will be served; how you’ll handle broker previews; where you plan to market and promote the property; and offering guaranteed satisfaction.

That last money-back nugget was a big factor in helping HouseHunt president and CEO Mike Bearden attract clients during his days as a top agent: “That was huge for me,” he said. “That means a lot because people respect that.”

Other extra efforts might include:

Analyze this
Since property values are constantly shifting, doing a market analysis for a homeowner is good for business now and later. It shows you’re staying on top of a client’s situation and offers immediate value. You can also provide that help to someone who is just testing the market because he or she could become a future client because of your information.

Talk about it
Bearden said he made a point to call his clients each Monday night to update them on progress and strategies: “The biggest thing is communication,” he said. “Not all agents do that on a regular basis.”

Set the stage
Providing home staging as part of your listing service can be a load off a homeowner’s mind. There are businesses or people that can help or you can do it yourself. You’ve been in and out of enough houses to know what helps them sell and what hinders the process.

Create a scene
Virtual tours of the house are increasing in popularity and soon might be expected as technology becomes easier to use. If you’re not good with a video camera or don’t know how to post videos online, perhaps it’s time to learn.

Team up
Another marketing strategy that’s catching on is forming partnerships with area businesses such as movers, landscapers, cable companies, painters, roofers, city services and hardware stores. Your collaboration can include everything from contact information to providing store or servicing discounts.

Pitch in
The ultimate show of teamwork is a willingness to lend the homeowner a hand by occasionally watering the flowers, sweeping floors, clearing a counter and keeping the house in tip-top shape for viewers. If you’re with a big agency, a cleaning service is a nice touch, but if you’re on your own, why not roll up your sleeves and offer a hand?

Find us on Google+

Navigating the Latest Market Trend

Published by Jim Droz

If a Realtor was sent to the blackboard by a math teacher these days, he or she might write this equation: More buyers + fewer houses = help!

National surveys and HouseHunt’s second-quarter market conditions report show an increase in housing activity and a decrease in inventory in parts of the country. Working through foreclosures and short sales, however, remain a sticking point to more upward movement. While national reports show the nation’s shadow inventory shrinking by about 30 percent since early 2010, HouseHunt agents in parts of Georgia, California, Arizona, Minnesota, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Texas and Florida say foreclosures represent from 30 to more than 50 percent of houses in their market.

“If you have a home that is not a short sale or REO, we’re seeing multiple offers in excess of five to 30 on a property. Buyers are jumping on regular sales since they don’t have to wait for a bank to make a decision.” reported Cheryl Lichen-Hooper, a HouseHunt agent in Castaic just north of Los Angeles.

Overall, HouseHunt agents reporting a tight supply of houses rose from 38 percent to 52 from the previous quarter, and 76 percent reported multiple offers being made, an increase of 10 percent from the first three months of the year.

“The inventory is very low. We’re seeing more traditional sales come on the market but not enough to really have an impact on the low numbers.” – Mary L. Hartman, a HouseHunt Realtor in the Phoenix metropolitan area of Surprise.

Hartman said that has put a premium on contacting leads immediately and never giving up on a prospect unless it’s obviously a dead end.

“What I’m finding is that the leads I’m working are more serious in nature, so when I’m contacting them they’re actually proactively contacting me back,” she said. “They’re more receptive to somebody helping them because they’ve been trying to find something and there’s a challenge still with all the short sales on the market.”

After nine years in the real estate game, Hartman says she has learned to adapt to the ebbs and flows of the business. The latest trend is just another stream to navigate.

“My strategy is, don’t be afraid of anything,” she said. “There are a lot of people who don’t want to deal with short sales or don’t want to work with foreclosures or this or that. But every one of those ‘I don’t want to do’s’ – guess what? If you don’t want to do them you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

And since you never know who’s on the other end of the line or initial e-mail message, Hartman said: “You’ve got to treat all of them like they’re the big one.”

Find us on Google+

How Much Do Realtors Work, Earn & Spend? via Activerain

By Jaime Westman

An ActiveRain survey shows that if you’re not keeping up with the Jonses – or Smiths or Andersons or Murrays – in the use of technology you’d better get started or risk being left behind.

The survey of 2,000 real estate agents reveals that many are investing in a variety of tools to expand their reach to customers, with 63 percent saying they have an Internet Data Exchange (IDX) website that features home listing feeds from their MLS at an average expenditure of $75 a month. Additionally, 62 percent say they use tools that help them create comparative market analyses for clients ($73) and 51 percent use customer relationship management software ($46) to help manage their customer leads.

The survey also found that 40 percent of agents still rely on direct mail ($108) while about 45 percent use search-engine optimization, blogging and social media ($47) for their real estate marketing efforts. Also, 32 percent of respondents say they pay for online leads through a variety of generation systems such as HouseHunt. Continue reading “How Much Do Realtors Work, Earn & Spend? via Activerain”

How to Acquire an Online Audience

By Jaime Westman

A curator sounds like – and actually is – someone who oversees items at a museum or library. Nowadays it also means someone who reads, gathers, sorts and presents information from a variety of sources for distribution on social media platforms.

In other words, it’s you. What? You didn’t know that was part of your job description as a real estate agent? Well, it should at least be creeping into your vocabulary or onto your to-do list if you want to get your name and message out to the masses. Even if you’re not a polished writer, you still have something to say. Using other sources for material – whether it’s technical, humorous, enlightening or in another form – is a good way to get noticed and move up the ladder on search engines because of linking, sharing and “likes.”

I just listened to a Webinar that had some useful ideas for people who aren’t very active on social media or who are hesitant to get started because of a lack of knowledge. Here are some tidbits from that and other things I’ve read about how to acquire an online audience.

GETTING STARTED

  • Research: Gather information from websites and other sources such as traditional media that might be of interest to your clients or relevant to your area.
  • Context: Determine how the information relates to your marketing plan and how it can get you noticed and your site visited on a regular basis.
  • Insight: Provide expertise on the subject or personalize the information to fit your city, neighborhood or overall real estate market.
  • Organization: Set up a schedule for when and how often you want to post. Start small and grow as you go. The most important thing is to be consistent.
  • Reach out: Look for or produce content that will fit with multiple outlets.
  • Keep it moving: Statistics, numbers and trends are important in real estate, but mix in some content that’s fun, clever or interesting on other levels as well.
  • Distribution: Research the sites, people and business circles best for spreading your messages and posts. If done effectively, these people will help spread your word.

SITES AND APPS

  • Google Alerts: Set up alerts for cities and neighborhoods you market to and for schools and your name or office. Start with that and build the alerts as you get comfortable.
  • Twitter lists: Make a list of local news sources and another of local or state leaders, in addition to celebrities, business owners and experts in real estate and housing.
  • Scoop.it: This is a topic-centric tool to help you better target your messages to the right kind of people.
  • CurationSoft: This app allows you to search by keyword, choose your content, drag and drop, add your commentary and post your message.
  • Pulse News: The Pulse app provides news from traditional sources and your favorite blogs and social networks.
  • Houzz: This app has some inspirational ideas and sharp photos dealing with houses.
  • Zite: This is one of the best apps for content because it lets you create custom searches based on your audience and brand.
  • Instagram: Photos are essential to getting content noticed and Instagram is a fast and dynamic way to share them.
  • Buffer: This allows you to pre-populate your Twitter feed and determine a publishing schedule, which means you don’t need to share content the instant you read it.
  • HootSuite: This is similar to Buffer but you can also manage your social networks through HootSuite by tracking conversations and measuring results.
  • Pinterest: All real estate agents should be on this content sharing service because it’s the second-highest traffic referral source behind Facebook. The site allows members to “pin” images, videos and other objects to a board for current and future use.

ORGANIZING CONTENT

  • Evernote: This suite of software and other services is designed for taking notes and archiving. Notes can have file attachments and be sorted into folders, tagged, edited, given comments, searched and exported as part of a notebook.
  • Instapaper: This web service saves articles for later reading on browsers and other electronic devices.

In a nutshell, you’re the expert on some things and not on others, but there is a slew of information that’s relevant or entertaining to your target audience. How you come up with or produce content is up to you, but be sure it represents you, your personality and your business message in a positive light. And don’t be afraid to get your fingers moving across the keyboard. What you have to say is important, so get it out there for others to see.

Find us on Google+

Are You an Eeyore or a Tigger?

By Jaime Westman

Dead men tell no tales but they can provide inspiration long after they’re gone. Such is the case with Dr. Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh who died four years ago this month. But the message he delivered after being given a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer 11 months before he died lives on thanks to videos and a book he co-authored on achieving dreams.

One such message came on “Oprah” during his final months. Paush, whose inspirational spirit became public after he delivered “The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” made it clear to the audience that he wasn’t letting his death sentence ruin his remaining months.

“Let’s be clear, this stinks,” he said. “I pretty much can’t control the cards I’m dealt but I can control the cards I play.”

A segment of his talk mentioned Tigger and Eeyore from “Winnie the Pooh” and can be related to how we go about our jobs as Realtors. (HouseHunt’s office is close to Disneyland, so humor me a little, OK?)

Basically, Pausch asked the audience whether they were Tiggers or Eeyores, with the former being energetic, optimistic and enthusiastic and the latter being pessimistic, gloomy and depressed. There’s no doubt what role Pausch chose, but how about you?

The real estate profession has been a downer, no doubt, the past five or six years but is starting to rebound a bit. This is the perfect time to go into Tigger mode, attack each day with vigor and show your prospects and clients some optimism by doing all you can to help them achieve the American Dream. After all, they’re likely feeling some angst going into the market because of previous bad news and the fact that it’s a huge investment for them to make.

The revitalized energy you put into your job will not only rub off on prospects and clients but on co-workers and peers as well. Having a positive attitude makes us feel so much better about what we do at work, home and play. Think about new ways you can dig deeper to do your job and then do your best to see those strategies through. Soon you’ll be recognized as someone who is the consummate professional who is also a business leader and someone people can trust to get the job done.

“If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself and the dreams will come to you,” Pausch said.

Words to live by, for sure.

Watch the Lecture

Find us on Google+

Staying in Touch Can Pay Off in the Long Run

Published by Jim Droz

We meet a lot of people in this business – some in person and many more through various forms of social media. Whether they’re prospects, clients, friends or “friends” (the Facebook kind), maintaining a relationship with everyone is crucial to your business. After all, you never know what might happen down the road.

Denis Savard, a Realtor in eastern Tennessee’s Jefferson County, has a motto of keeping prospects in his database “until they buy or die.” That’s a clever and/or clunky way of saying that everyone is a potential client, so staying in touch is good business. His strategy has paid off in the past and did so again recently when a person in his pipeline for five years resurfaced and bought a house.

“They’d been coming down and looking every year on vacation, and on the last trip announced they were here to buy, and they did,” said Savard, whose rural territory is in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains that attracts 4 million visitors a year, making it nice for retirees and second-home purchases. “I did my usual thing by staying in touch, and they contacted me each year during their visits because of that. Now I have some happy campers, even though it took five years.”

Savard’s “usual thing” is sending prospects monthly newsletters, market information and listings that might meet their search parameters. He has different response letters and tactics for people who are first-time visitors to his site and for those who look more frequently. And since many say that they’re simply searching for “down the road,” he takes that into account with his marketing efforts.

“I try to keep it low pressure because if they tell me they’re years away but are qualified and people I want to work with, I stay in touch with links to listings, occasional e-mails and basically keep them apprised of the market conditions,” he said. “Sometimes after a year or two they’re actually in a position to buy, and hopefully if I’ve done my job of keeping them informed on the area and market they buy from me.”

That’s a good strategy, particularly if you work in a less-populated area of the country. Inquiries and traffic might not be extremely high, so treating everyone who stops by – in person or your website – should be handled as if they’ll eventually buy a house from you. You can weed out people you know won’t pan out, but give everyone the benefit of the doubt at first. After all, you can’t have too many friends (the real kind), right?

Find us on Google+