Stan Albert asks real estate professionals how they maintained a successful real estate career through good markets and bad.

The July edition of the Financial Post featured an article by Mitch Moxley entitled “Hey, don’t I know you?”  He interviewed several top executives and wrote about how they use chance public meetings to win customers and reinforce their brands.

The article gave me the idea to interview some of the colleagues I have met over the years. I asked them how long they have been in the business, as well as the following questions:  What is the value of establishing contacts for future business? How do you manage and cultivate/create these contacts? When you do cultivate the contacts, how do you contact them/how often?  Do you promote your company or yourself? Have you branded yourself to set yourself apart from the competition? How important is word of mouth in respect to your business? Do you view every contact as a potential lead for referrals? What is your biggest challenge in maintaining your data bank? Finally, if you could name three things that registrants from every level of experience could do, what would they be? Some of their answers are below.

 Marc Neim, sales representative, Mid-Land Group Realty Inc., Toronto[email protected]

 “I’ve been in the business since 1986.  I’ve established contacts on an ongoing basis and that is the foundation of my long-term business plan, which I continue to develop.  My farm area is predominately in the downtown core.

“Clients tend to be well educated and a great many are first-time buyers. Most want to test the waters before making a commitment to me. I find that the Internet continues to grow and foster the educational process for prospective buyers/sellers.  People search for salespeople who have knowledge and are able to guide them through the maze of paper work and process needed to acquire a property.  My office is unique in that it is located in a corridor near many condominiums, both new and resale. We have a great many walk-ins as a result of the location.  And, yes, I do a lot of rentals!

“The cultivation of clients is done by the ‘drip method’ via my newsletter emails. The frequency of it is self-directed.  I tend to promote myself, rather than the company, and that is why I still am at a small company. I’ve built my business on trust and mutual respect.  In the compact area that I work in, I’m known as the local expert.  Word-of-mouth is a contributing source of repeat/referral business to me. I view every contact that I make as a potential lead for future business And a word to new people especially, do not judge someone who dresses in jeans/t-shirt and comes to the office late in the day.  They could be your best clients!

“The three things that I would recommend to be successful in real estate are: Focus your efforts on the marketplace that you believe in and enjoy being part of it.  Become tech-savvy and establish a daily work routine and stick to it, but always leave time for family. And lastly, be genuine and think always long term, believe in yourself and learn from your mistakes.”

 Dario Sguigna, Exit Realty Advisors, Toronto[email protected]  

 “I’ve been in the business just short of five years. I do residential resales/freehold and condos.  Referral business has been the benchmark of my career from day one. Using the ‘drip process,’ I am able to keep in touch with my database through Canada Post six times a year and call them each at least twice a year.  Although I haven’t established a better process yet, I am working on it.  My sources of leads come from playing various sports, such as ball hockey and baseball. Social functions are a great way to make contacts as well.  I still get leads from prior years of coaching AAA hockey.  I make many attempts to get ‘in the face’ of my sphere of influence and track them through Top Producer. Additionally, I worked a farm area over the past five years and it is showing results now.

“Currently, I am looking for an assistant to handle my calls and clerical duties.  I prefer to be out there listing and selling!  I spend a fair amount of money promoting myself, as opposed to the brokerage, because I wanted to establish a branding for my persona.  The idea that I brought with me from my experience in marketing was to establish in my client’s minds the feeling of trust and confidence.  My biggest challenge is time. Time to do it all.

“The three things that I would recommend to the registrants out there are:  Examine each opportunity to see that when you fail at something, there is an opportunity to find out why. Be consistent at what you do. Don’t try to re-invent the wheel of what makes a success out of being a registrant. There are no short cuts.”

Anne Adams, Toronto West Realty Inc. – [email protected]

“With nearly 40 years in the business, it was necessary to change the name of my company to give me a more global approach to my marketing. I wanted to attract more prospective clients who want to do business in West Toronto and not to limit myself with only my past clients and contacts who knew my name as a personal broker.

“My monthly newsletter to my client base, coupled with my soft copy e-mail, enhances the “drip process” and keeps me in touch as others.  I believe that follow up is important, but time does not allow me to call as often as I should.

“You ask why I just don’t take it easy after nearly 40 years in business.  I enjoy the interaction and the daily challenges. It keeps me sharp and focused.  I love FSBOs and eventually they become part of my regular follow-up since they give me an opportunity to illustrate my personalized marketing services and it has been successful for me.   Past clients are a great source of referrals.  Over the years, word of mouth reputation is by far the greatest source of business to me.  People know that I’m credible.

“One of the prime sources of my business comes from my hobby and my passion, ballroom dancing! The ballroom community is featured on my web site in my Resource Centre and I advertise and promote myself in this venue. I always seek referrals in my newsletters, but realize after this interview, that I should do more interactive promotion such as seminars to connect to past and future clients and create better relationships.

“Extra-value service has long been my hallmark. I deliver, as an example, a regular copy of a home decorating magazine to my sphere of influence, for both freehold and condominiums.

“The biggest problem that I’ve encountered for many years is time management.  I, too, am considering hiring of assistant, licensed or otherwise.

“The three things to suggest to registrants to be successful: Keep up-to-date on current education that relates to our industry. Learn to keep up with technology. It is the biggest improvement to real estate activities. Finally, try to find ways to do your business better than your nearest competition. Since I am a single proprietor, I can be more creative in many aspects such as signage and advertising.

“One additional thing for your readers: Think of yourself as being in business for yourself and not just the selling of real estate.”

 John Polito, Broker, Re/Max Town Realty Inc., Lindsay, Ont. – [email protected]

“As a broker for more than 30 years, I have come to the conclusion that the public is not the least bit interested in how wonderful (successful) we are. They are only interested in things that will improve their lives.

“Eighteen years ago, I took a real hard look at the industry and how I was running myself into the ground, cold calling, running full-page ads, dealing with people I just couldn’t please. There had to be a better way. By examining how the insurance business runs, it hit me like a diamond tipped bullet right between the eyes. Why kill myself scrambling for new business, when I could tap into my old business (past clients)?

“It started with a ‘letter of apology’ to my former clients, that I was remiss in not keeping in touch with them.  My goal was to eventually deal almost exclusively with past clients and the referrals they would generate. By experimentation (trial and error), over time I developed a newsletter called John Polito – Your Real Estate Advisor.

“In my newsletter, I address the four top public concerns – health issues, finances with a lean toward real estate, spirituality and family values. I never brag about myself – the intent of the newsletter is to improve the lives of my past clients. I send it out faithfully six times a year, along with a calendar at the end of the year. I always address the correspondence to each and every individual personally, and send it in an envelope with a 51 cent stamp (no mass mail-outs). Remember, it’s personal.

“Today, I can honestly say that 75 to 80 per cent of my income is generated through the goodwill of past clients and their referrals. I no longer have to hit the pavement running come Monday morning. My time is more manageable and I am dealing with people I want to deal with. My costs are more predictable.

“The more people you have in your database, the more successful you will be. By nurturing a long-term relationship with many people, you can’t help but be successful. Remember, this is a people business. People like to deal with people they know and trust.

“Three things to recommend for being successful:  Create an identity, which addresses what the public wants to hear.  Create a large database of past clients – remember, it’s a numbers game. Be consistent – never stop your mail-outs. I can personally assure you that the earlier in your career that you start your database marketing, the happier and more successful you’ll be.”

(For a copy of John’s newsletter, contact him at the e-mail above.)

Ken Coffen, Broker of Record, Atlas Real Estate, Toronto 

 “I’ve been in business 28 years. I formerly had a medium-size office with nearly 30 agents.  I downsized a number of years ago to a three to four-person office, specializing in commercial/investment and some residential sales.  My licensed assistant covers all administrative work for me.

“The length of time in the business results in a great number of referrals to me as a testimony to my experience. People deal with me due to my credibility and know from word of mouth, that they will receive 110 per cent service.  I take the time on each client, to learn all about him and his family.  “My advertising budget is limited to $5,000 annually and includes the normal calendar routine, but I accompany the calendars with a personal note of thanks.  So far as the website is concerned, it is functioning well and I receive a great many hits that result in leads to the office. I am in total agreement that younger buyers, for the most part, seek the information on the web first and then look for someone to represent them.

“Every contact is important to me, as I view them as a long-term relationship.  Treating them well is better than developing massive advertising campaigns.  Being involved in cancer fund raising and keeping in touch with my rugby alumni has reaped great rewards as well.

“Three things to help colleagues be successful would be: Give 110 per cent service – go the extra mile. Give something back to the community you serve, as well as to the industry you are involved with. Establish close relationships with clients to encourage referrals. Be passionate about the business, be compassionate and 100 per cent honest with the people that you serve.”

James Oman, sales rep, Royal LePage Kingsbury, Toronto[email protected]

“I cannot underestimate the importance/value/benefit of contacts and the follow-up that is necessary.  This is a people business. You may have all the selling skills and ‘whistles and bells technology’, but if you don’t have people to talk to, you will be out of business in no time.  I have a core database of about 250 and realize that it may seem small to some of your readers, but it’s sustained me over these past many years.  They are kept informed by a monthly newsletter and a follow-up call on a regular basis.  I probably generate a good 80 per cent of my listings from this system.  I capture each entry in my Blackberry and transfer it to my P.C. daily in case anything should happen to it.

“My drop-bys to the clients are about twice a year, but I should really try to do it more often.  Promoting the real estate brokerage versus myself, hmmm, we just changed over to Royal LePage, so I guess that I would have an excuse to ‘re-brand’ myself.  I have branded myself as a salesperson who the public can trust and have ‘ultimate confidence’ that their real estate transaction is in capable hands because I put their needs first.

“I spend a great deal of time cultivating future leads from the present database and I do it on an on-going basis.  Everyone I come into contact with, I view as a potential customer and that is what I am teaching my daughter Ashley, who just joined me as my new partner.  In establishing myself over the years, I want my client base to understand that I will continue to maintain a relationship with them.  The biggest problem with maintaining the core base is the continual setting up of it.  However, my capable assistant is of phenomenal value to me in that respect. Everything that I enter into my Blackberry has a reminder segment on it to alert me to call or write.

“My involvement with hockey for over 10 years is a valuable source of contacts, as well as serving as a volunteer for the Cancer Society in West Toronto and Mississauga.

“Tips to be successful: When you decide on your market niche, stick to it, be consistent. Be knowledgeable about the area that you want to call your own sphere of influence. Find out everything you can from the various resources that are available to us.  In other words, be a pro! Put people first, money second. Following the Golden Rule never got anyone in trouble. 

“And one more, if I may: be prepared to WOW them with your service!

Writers’ note: it was interesting that throughout these interviews, the participants realized that some of what they were doing to create relationships, could actually be improved. They would love to hear your feedback and certainly would love to have your referrals!

Thought for the month: “You cannot achieve, if you do not dream.” — S. Albert

Stan Albert is celebrating his 35th year in real estate, and is a committee member with TREB and RECO. He is a registered trainer/consultant, and is now in his ninth year with Re/Max Professionals in Toronto. Email s[email protected]; (416) 232-9000.

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