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New Beginnings: What You Need to Succeed/Users/adamp/Desktop/Nov_mag_pics/NewBeginings

Looking back 23 years to her rookie season in real estate, Kay Seitzinger remembers putting in long hours and trying to learn as much as she could—particularly from the surprises that come with any new career.  “You have to be open to everything,” says Seitzinger, a sales associate for Watson Realty in the Jacksonville Beach/South Beach office. “I met people who I was convinced would never be buyers or sellers. But after getting to know them, they turned out to be good long-time customers for me.”
 
In real estate, it takes that kind of open-minded attitude, a willingness to work hard, a good plan and the proper tools to begin a successful career.

“You need the right mindset, and you have to be willing to do the activities necessary to succeed in real estate,” says Nikki Ubaldini, a broker with Keller Williams Realty in Palm Harbor. “Real estate is not a career where someone hands you the business, and you go home at 5 p.m. Instead, it’s a contact sport—you have to be making contacts with people.”

For those rookies who follow a smart game plan and persevere, the rewards, both personal and financial, can be substantial, adds Jerry Gonsiewski, managing broker of Coldwell Banker Residential in Clearwater. “Real estate is one of the few professions that allow you to earn a six-figure income in a relatively short time period,” he says.  “As a rookie, you have to invest your time and your money to build a business that will be successful through the years.”

Preparation Is Key
Careful personal preparation is one of the foundations for a real estate career, says Gonsiewski, because it helps focus your thinking on the basic business issues. Here are some questions to answer:

• What are my financial goals? One new associate might want to earn $30,000 in her first year, while another might be aiming at $100,000 in income. “Some associates are aggressive and others are conservative, so the numbers will vary,” says Ubaldini. “But once you have a financial goal, you can begin to develop an action plan to achieve that target.”

For instance, a sales associate who wants to earn $50,000, might need to close 15 transactions in his first year. That calculation would be based on determining overall revenue (average sales price in the local market times commission rate) minus the costs of doing business and paying income taxes.

• What are your financial resources? In most cases, a new associate’s out-of-pocket expenses are relatively low—from perhaps $500 to $5,000, largely depending on whether you already have a suitable laptop, software and wireless phone.

However, Gonsiewski points out that a new associate also needs to have a healthy savings account in place, or perhaps a household member who can generate income until the real estate business takes off.  “One of the biggest causes of failure I’ve seen over the years is that of undercapitalization,” he says. “You may need to draw on $10,000 or more of your savings before getting that first commission check. Strengthening your personal financial situation before you start goes a long way in minimizing the risks.”
 
• What are your strengths and weaknesses? Like any sales career, real estate is a people-oriented profession. If you enjoy meeting new people and helping them move ahead with their lives, those traits can carry you forward throughout your career.

Other positive characteristics include the desire to succeed and the self-discipline to go to work each morning—at home or in the office—and accomplish your daily objectives. “The time to establish good habits is right at the start of your career,” says Gonsiewski.

Create an Action Plan
Once you’ve set your goals and completed a personal inventory, it’s time to order business cards and signs, and to create an action plan. “[Every new] sales associate has to develop a plan for the first year,” says trainer Bill Barrett, Bill Barrett Seminars, Orlando. “That’s something that hasn’t changed, regardless of all the new technology.”

The first step in an action plan, says Barrett, is making up a list of contacts: family, friends, neighbors and prior business associates, with as much information as possible. Then input that information into your computer using a contact manager application like Agent 2000 (www.realtystar.com/agentonline.htm), Respond (www.patzaby.com/Products) or Top Producer (www.topproducer.com).

“Now, you should contact everyone on the list to let them know you’re in real estate,” Barrett says. “These are people who know you and trust you.”  When placing a call, sending an e-mail or dropping a postcard, ask the people on your contact list two questions:

1. “Do you mind if I put you on my list and keep you up to date on my real estate activities?”

2. “Do you know of anyone who’s considering buying or selling a home who might be interested in my services?”

At the same time, a new sales associate should be contacting sellers whose prior listings have expired and owners trying to sell on their own (FSBOs). Of course, when cold calling, sales associates should scrub their databases against the Do-Not-Call Registry. For more information on the Florida Association of Realtors®’ Web-based do-not-call solution, go to http://media.living.net/releases/dncquickcheck.htm. “You want to go after the business that exists right now,” says Barrett. “Then, once you get that first listing, treat it as if it were 20 listings—advertise it every week, send out postcards to your contacts and promote it every way you can. That’s a great way to start a real estate career.”

Pick a Specialty
National real estate trainer Michael Russer, president/CEO, Russer Communications, Santa Barbara, Calif., says the biggest mistake new associates make is trying to cover the entire market. “Your fastest path to success is to pick a specialty like condominiums, first-time buyers or second homes,” he says. “Pick your niche and try to dominate it. In that way, you’ll eliminate more than 90 percent of your competition.”

Russer says he’s seen rookie sales associates take business away from 20-year veterans because they chose to specialize. “One new agent in Vancouver became known as the ‘condo king’ and was earning more than
$1 million by his second year.”

Aurora Soto, sales associate and Weston branch sales director with The Keyes Co./Realtors, says it’s vital for new associates to start branding themselves, whether they decide to specialize in a market niche or focus on building a geographical farm.
 “People need to see signs that have your face and your name,” she says. “That way, prospective buyers and sellers will come up to you and say, ‘I know you from somewhere’ or ‘I’ve seen you before.’ Just go out there and start advertising yourself.”

Use the Right Tools
Back in the 1970s, a new sales associate could get started in the business with just a car and a phone, says Russer. “Now you need a good laptop with the right software applications and a cellular broadband connection (available through most major cellular phone service providers) so you can access information from anywhere. Being connected is one of the most important things in starting this business.”

In terms of software, Seitzinger says new associates should consider a calendar or scheduling application like Microsoft Outlook (www.microsoft.com) to help organize day-to-day activities. A second purchase should be a spreadsheet application like Microsoft Excel or a contact management program like ACT (www.act.com) or Top Producer. 

In either case, the idea is to have names, e-mail and postal addresses and phone numbers at your fingertips in a time-saving format that can easily be used when sending out announcements, letters, postcards or other marketing material.

Many contact management applications will also allow you to include notes on each person in your database, along with reminders of meetings, follow-up calls or special events, such as birthdays, weddings or home-purchase anniversaries.

“Rookies can use this type of database when they send out their announcements,” says Seitzinger. “Then they can call [the contacts] a week later to ask if they received the announcement to remind them about [their] new career and to strike up a conversation.”
 
Other basics include having a professional e-mail address that uses either your broker’s or your own (URL) domain name, such as  “Joe@mybroker.com.” Again, your initial goal is to present a professional image and make it easy for potential customers to reach you online.

However, you don’t have to invest in your Web site, search engine placements or other potentially expensive online services, at least at the start, according to Sue Serkosky, a broker with Keyes’ Wellington office in Palm Beach County.

“You probably should skip the fancy gadgets for now,” she says. “They definitely make life easier once you’re in the business. But for the first weeks and months, it’s more important to focus on having the right attitude and making those face-to-face contacts.”
Knocking on doors, picking up the telephone and going to open houses are far more important than making sure you have the latest version of a new Web browser, Serkosky says.  “Once you have a couple of deals under your belt, then it’s time to think about those tools. But at the start you just need to go out there and jump right into the business—personally.”

Your First Week
Many brokers provide orientation and training programs for new sales associates, designed to help them become productive in their first weeks in real estate.  Having a manager or veteran sales associate who can provide advice, support and mentoring assistance can be an important contributor to success, say experienced brokers and agents.

One good step on the way to that first sale is becoming familiar with the office’s current inventory as well as the range of properties available on the multiple listing service (MLS).

“We have new associates preview our vacant listings as soon as possible,” says Seitzinger. “They start building market knowledge, and can be more effective when they’re on the floor [taking incoming office calls from prospective customers].”

Ubaldini recommends putting your database, spreadsheet and contact management applications to work immediately. “Let’s say you go out and meet five new people a day,” she says. “Put them into your database, and after 10 days you’ll have 50 more contacts for your list.”

And take the time to send out follow-up notes and thank you cards to your new contacts, Ubaldini adds. “In our society, most people are not very courteous. So a simple thank you will go a long way to building relationships.”

And there’s one more thing to remember:  Order your name badge as soon as possible. “When you go to the grocery store or the cleaners, you want people to know that you’re in the real estate business,” says Seitzinger.

It’s Up to You
With goals, plans and tools now in place, it’s time to focus your energy on building the new career. And that includes investing in educational and training programs that build your skills.

Barrett recommends setting aside dedicated training time every week for at least the first year in the business, then every month after that first year. “You might want to learn more about mortgages or negotiation skills or even start taking classes for a designation like Certified Residential Specialist (CRS),” he says. “The important thing is that you keep learning and investing in your career.”

Ultimately, it’s that ability to keep growing—combined with a constant desire to provide the best possible service—that makes real estate a rewarding profession for many associates.

As Seitzinger says, “Real estate is not just a part-time job that you squeeze in between other activities. It means conducting yourself as a professional, and building and maintaining relationships.  In real estate, as in life, the associates who succeed are willing to get out there and do the work.”



Richard Westlund is a Miami-based freelance writer.