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Peer Networking/Users/adamp/Desktop/Nov_mag_pics/LetWorkTogether

By marketing to other sales associates, you can build lasting relationships that net you business.

With seven other units for sale in the same building as his new listing, Bill Knepper knew he’d have to be creative in order to get the condo sold.
A broker-associate with Weichert, Realtors®-Prudential in St. Petersburg Beach, Knepper didn’t put extra money into marketing materials, nor did he invest in advertising that went above and beyond the norm. Instead, he focused on a potential customer base that some real estate professionals ignore: fellow sales associates.

“I look at other [real estate professionals] as customers,” says Knepper, who’s been licensed for 20 years and selling real estate in Pinellas County for the past five years. In this particular situation, he formed a bond with a novice sales associate who showed his listing to a qualified buyer. Seeing an opportunity after the showing to educate the sales associate on the fine points of the building and its surrounding community, Knepper doled out information that the showing agent was able to take back to her customer.

“I armed her with materials that made her look good in the eyes of her buyer,” says Knepper. The strategy worked. “I don’t think she [ended up] showing any of the other units in the building,” he says. “She realized that working with me would make her look the best for her customer, and we got the sale wrapped up in a building that—to the best of my knowledge—hasn’t had a sale since.”

Creating Bonds
The competitive nature in all of us tends to flare up when it comes to business, and in most of us, it winds up being the fuel that drives success. In real estate, however, some of the most successful professionals are forming strong ties with their competitors as a way to maximize the very bedrock of the industry: cooperation among licensees.

Look no further than the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) Code of Ethics to see just how important cooperation among licensees is not only to the industry and the profession, but also to the buying public. In it, NAR has outlined a long list of rules that spell out exactly how real estate professionals should (and shouldn’t) conduct themselves when working with the competition. (NAR’s Code of Ethics is available online at www.realtor.org/mempolweb.nsf/pages/Code?OpenDocument.)

Maximizing relationships with competitors has become particularly important over the last year as the market has changed to wallowing in high inventory levels and a shallow pool of buyers. “Now you actually have to take your listings out there and sell them,” says Knepper. “With [sales associates] referring business back and forth, it only makes sense that you would work closely with them to get those listings sold.”

For Knepper, that means working with sales associates who specialize in specific areas of the market (such as relocation) and who would rather farm out their noncore business to a reputable competitor than handle it themselves. Most recently, he listed and sold one competitor’s personal residence, and later helped her find a suitable renter for another. He made no money from the latter gesture, but says, “Down the road when she goes to sell something, I’ll be her agent of choice.”

Knepper also gives feedback to listing agents after showing their homes and sends out e-mail blasts to them when he gets a new listing. “It’s about reaching buyers, of which there are fewer in the market right now,” he says. Earlier this year, he partnered with 13 sales associates who had homes listed in his farm area, rented a bus and gave them a tour of each of their listed properties. “At the end of the day, those agents were able to say to their sellers, ‘I got 13 other real estate agents to look at your home today,’” says Knepper, who believes strongly in making other professionals look good.

Networking and Thanks
Sharon Mills, a sales associate with Watson Realty Intracoastal in Jacksonville, also believes in building her business via strong ties with local sales associates. In real estate for 18 months, she’s expecting $3 million in sales this year, some of it attributable to the power lunches she frequently attends with real estate professionals from other companies. “We try to bring the best aspects of our companies and our individual businesses to the table to talk about what’s going on,” says Mills, who shares ideas, discusses specific events (such as open houses) and exchanges perspectives on what marketing is working and what isn’t.

“Instead of seeing [them] as rivals, I look at it as all of us needing each other and working toward a common goal: to get properties listed and sold,” says Mills, who believes in providing quick, honest feedback via telephone on all properties that she shows, and in thanking competitors for taking the time to return the favor. “I had one agent tell me that she’s never had anyone say thank you for—or even sound remotely appreciative of—her feedback,” says Mills.

Mills says her efforts to build relationships often lead to new business. A bond formed with a competitor through her membership in the Women’s Council of Realtors®, for example, recently found Mills scouring the local market to find an appropriate home for that competitor’s buyer. And, a simple letter of feedback evoked a response of “I’m going to remember you!” from another listing agent, who in turn showed one of Mills’ $600,000 property listings.

Making those connections isn’t always easy, according to Jassamine Redington, a sales associate at Condos & Castles Real Estate in Fort Lauderdale. In real estate for seven years, she says she’s run into a situation where the cooperating broker wouldn’t return her phone calls. “She’d left the country,” says Redington. “Even her customer, the buyer, was saying, ‘Where is she?’”

Redington says she prides herself on returning phone calls within an hour or less, whether the request is to show one of her listings or to answer a simple question. When leaving messages, she speaks clearly, and she always introduces herself with a firm handshake and a business card.
 
“I don’t garble things, and I tell them who I am and leave my number twice on all voice mail messages,” says Redington. “I’ve gotten kudos from my competitors, who tell me that I’m very professional and easy to understand. My guess is that they’ll notice my listings and want to show them.”
 
Careful Selection
When it comes to selecting sales associates with whom to build relationships, Mike Ferry, owner of Irvine, Calif.-based real estate coaching firm The Mike Ferry Organization, suggests a methodical approach that includes only the top sales associates in a particular region. Why? Simple: because turnover in the industry is high, and the person you take to lunch or caravan with today just may be back working for Corporate America tomorrow.

“If your Board of Realtors® has 3,400 agents, you can expect that 3 to 5 percent of them are selling 90 percent of the homes in the area,” says Ferry. “Those are the ones you want to target.” To get there, he says, you should identify the top 25 sales associates, based on their number of transactions (instead of gross income, which can be inflated by a single, high-end sale).

“Look for the ones who are selling 40 or 50 homes a year,” says Ferry. Then, start an e-mail, voice mail and/or direct mail campaign that hits them on a regular basis, letting them know about new listings, price reductions and anything else that puts your properties in front of the rainmakers. In your first correspondence, for example, reference the fact that you’d like to start letting him or her know about all of your new listings, and that you’d like him or her to do the same in an effort to move inventory more quickly.

“Anyone who’s worth their salt in the industry who gets that letter will say, ‘I’m absolutely interested,’” says Ferry, who says that a good agent-to-agent network can bring in 20 to 25 percent of your business.

With that in mind, Ferry says, real estate professionals should strive to build relationships while at the same time being careful not to burn bridges, even when a deal sours or negotiations break down. “Deals can come back together, so instead of getting mad, just let it go in the spirit of being able to work with that professional again on another deal,” says Ferry. “Good agents are one of your biggest assets in this market.”

And despite the current state of the market, Mills says, there’s still plenty of business to go around for reputable sales associates willing to work with one another to get the deals signed, sealed and delivered. “Courtesy and respect always have a place in this industry,” says Mills, “whether we’re in a difficult market or not.”  


Bridget McCrea is a Clearwater-based freelance writer.