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How to Become a Relocation Pro/Users/adamp/Desktop/FEB images/RealtorAdvantage

One broker shares his back-to-the-basics approach to building a profitable relocation business.

Back in 2003, I received a call from a housing officer at Naval Air Station Pensacola. A new Marine Corps lieutenant was being transferred from San Diego to the Marine Aviation Training Support Group here and needed a place to live. I went over to the base, met the officer and his wife, and then found them a nice family home in a nearby subdivision.

Shortly after closing, the Marine lieutenant was reassigned to Iraq and  had to sell his new home. He asked me to handle the sale for him, and even though the two closings were just 45 days apart, he made a profit on the transaction.

Since then, I’ve stayed in touch with the officer, who has referred half a dozen other military personnel returning from Iraq to the Pensacola area. I also helped one of his friends from officers training class buy a house here and later resell it.

Today, more than 50 percent of our firm’s business is relocation in one form or another. The Pensacola/Milton/Pace area has a large active and retired military population as well as a small but steady flow of corporate relocations.

If your Florida market has a large military or corporate presence, there are plenty of opportunities to build your relocation business with a back-to-the-basics approach:

1. Become a Market Expert
Know the neighborhoods and communities in your market that are the best fit for relocating buyers. In many cases, these newcomers are looking for well-maintained homes that could easily be resold in three to five years. Forget about the fixer-uppers because the home may need to go back on the market at any time.

I recently suggested to one Pensacola buyer that he buy a builder’s model home because incentives included a three-year buy-down on the borrower’s mortgage rate. For someone who expected to be in Pensacola for just three or four years, that property was an ideal purchase.

2. Gather, Present Data
A national company handling the relocation of an executive to your market will want to see solid evidence of your expertise. In many cases, you’ll need to fill out extensive paperwork, including a statistical analysis of the market, as well as provide a complete package of information about  your professional services. It’s a good idea to start building a dossier of your accomplishments, along with a presentation to prospective customers.

Testimonials from satisfied customers are always helpful, but you need to be able to demonstrate your results in black and white: number of relocation customers on an annual or monthly basis, sale price–listing price percentage, etc.

3. Be Active in the Community
One of the best ways to generate referral business is to be an active member of local business, charitable, neighborhood and community organizations. Every week, I attend a wide variety of civic functions with my wife, Pat, who is the co-broker-owner of our firm, and we’re networking all the time. I tell our sales associates that there’s nothing more important than going out of the office to meet and greet people. You don’t have to be pushy— just let them know you’re in real estate and give them one of your business cards. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results.

4. Affiliate with Pros
If you want to maintain your edge in the relocation business, you need to understand current trends in the mortgage, property insurance, appraisal and title insurance fields. Talking with affiliated professionals on a regular basis—including active developers and builders in your market—helps increase your level of expertise and ability to serve your customers.

5. Go “On Base”
If you want to assist military personnel facing a permanent change of station, you need to know your way around the local base. Go to the housing office and talk with its personnel. Find out the issues and concerns that affect military families, and build your understanding.  Don’t anticipate that you’ll get a lead from the base housing office; instead, you’ll gain an invaluable insider’s perspective.

6. Target Your Advertising
On the road outside our office are billboards for six local realty firms—but not ours. That’s because we’ve found that outdoor advertising doesn’t justify the cost. Instead, we carefully select print publications and online Web sites that are most likely to produce results. Both the corporate and military relocation markets have high-traffic Web sites, and we strive to maintain a presence on them.

In most cases, we begin by buying a small advertisement, and then tracking the results.  Basically, you make an investment, let the ad program run for a year and see if it’s produced enough revenue to at least cover the expense. If it hasn’t, just drop it.

Throughout Florida, there are new opportunities every day to increase your relocation business. You can enhance those opportunities through personal networking, supplemented by a well-planned marketing program. After all, real estate is still a person-to-person business, where the word-of-mouth referral is one of the basic components of success.

And when those relocation opportunities occur, you have to be prepared to capitalize on them immediately. That means having in-depth knowledge of your market—including the latest statistics—and the ability to communicate that knowledge clearly and concisely to potential customers. Our firm’s mission statement says, “When excellence counts, call us.”

Douglas S. Goodlife and his wife, Pat, are broker-owners of Fine Homes of Northwest Florida Inc. in Pace, near Pensacola. Goodlife has a long career in sales and marketing, and worked as an assistant controller for a large national real estate company. The Goodlifes moved to Florida from New Orleans in 1996, became licensed real estate professionals and founded their company in 2002.