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When is Basketball More than a Game?undefined

How to develop, maintain and build relationships to keep business flowing, no matter what the market.

It’s no secret that customers do business with people they know, love and trust. The real estate industry is a particularly fertile breeding ground for these types of close business transactions because buying a home is by far the largest financial transaction that the average person undertakes in his or her lifetime.

Knowing this, real estate professionals who take the time to build and maintain relationships not only get to close deals with their contacts, but also are exposed to a whole network of referrals that are already at least partially sold on the value that they bring to the table.

Jamie Streetman, a broker-associate with Coldwell Banker/Hatcher Agency in Marianna, is one of those real estate professionals. Licensed for three years, Streetman works in a small, rural community where relationship selling can mean the difference between making the sale and watching the customer walk into a competitor’s office to get the deal done.

To make sure he’s top of mind for those customers, Streetman takes a civic-minded approach to developing relationships and currently serves as chairman for the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Ambassador Committee, as board member for the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and for the “Lighting the Way for Kids Scholarship Program.” He is a committee member for the “Covenant Hospice Garden Gala” (a fund-raising event for hospice care), an active member of the Optimist Club of Marianna and a committee member for the Chipola Area Board of Realtors®.

“Some people ask me how I find time to work, with all I’m doing with the volunteer committees,” says Streetman. “My answer is simple: this is my work. When I’m out in public helping people, serving drinks and popcorn to kids, or talking to other civic groups about a scholarship program, people recognize that I’m supporting the community.”

By building common ground with members of his community, Streetman has been able to build his real estate business during a time when many sales associates are struggling to readjust to market realities. “When [people who know me through my volunteer work] think real estate, guess who comes to mind? It’s the guy who they saw at the ballpark last week, or who was at the ribbon cutting for their new business,” says Streetman, “and not the agent who has the flashy ad and neat slogan.”

To further cement the relationships that he forms with consumers, Streetman provides a free, one-year buyer’s warranty at no charge. He promotes this perk in his advertising and feels it helps create a referral stream that’s generated by other buyers who enjoy the security that comes with knowing their homes are under warranty for one year, and at no charge to them. “The buyer may have dealt with another agent to close the deal,” says Streetman, “but he or she got the warranty from me, and will remember me for it.”
 
Making the Grade
It’s well known that relationship selling works well in real estate and that it’s been the selling channel of choice since the pre-Internet days.

The same relationship-selling tactics that work in the residential industry are equally valuable on the commercial side. Rolando Alvarez, CCIM, finds a high percentage of his customers at the Downtown Athletic Club and at Saturday morning pickup basketball games that take place at a friend’s home. A senior sales associate with Coldwell Banker Commercial NRT in Miami, Alvarez bumps elbows (literally!) with bankers, attorneys and other professionals at both venues, exchanges business cards with them and walks away with both transactions and referrals as a result. Several years ago Alvarez met an executive while playing basketball. The friendship soon turned into a business opportunity for Alvarez.

“His mother wanted to sell a strip center in Broward County, and he asked me to list it exclusively,” recalls Alvarez. “I sold the property to a buyer at a sales price of $1.8 million. The sale came directly as a result of having the opportunity to get to know this executive by seeing him on a constant basis on the basketball court.”

“As a commercial practitioner, I depend a lot on repeat business,” says Alvarez, whose relationship-building strategies also include other real estate professionals whom he meets and interacts with at his health club. “If they’re familiar with how you work and your level of professionalism, they will refer you to other business associates and point you to investors who are out in the marketplace looking for opportunities.”

Narrow It Down
When exploring ways to build and maintain relationships, Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com in Austin, Texas, says real estate professionals need to “narrow their focus” down to one or two specialization areas. This could be a geographic specialization or one based on experience (such as working with multicultural or senior buyers) or interest (like a golf course home for someone who is an avid golfer). “I’d say 95 percent of top producers have specific niches, particularly geographic,” says Ross. “The goal should be to become the go-to expert in an area.”

You can become one of those
go-to persons by using tools like online blogs (for publishing trends, news and commentary on a regular basis), creating Web sites that are chock full of useful information for buyers, sellers and fellow sales associates, and maximizing your knowledge of the different generations of  buyers and sellers currently in the  market (Gen Y’ers may prefer texting, for  example, while Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers will likely respond more favorably to e-mail communications).

Ross says sales associates can also use technology tools like Jot.com, which records information such as new listing details and distributes it to multiple recipients via e-mail, voice mail or text, and Obeo StyleDesigner (obeo.com) to create value for buyers, sellers and other professionals. Obeo allows users to create virtual rooms to see what type of furniture and other items will fit in their living space. “This is not only a tremendous listing tool,” says Ross, “but it’s also a great way to keep customers coming back to your Web site.”
 
Going for It
Licensed since 1978, Susanna Madden, a broker-associate with RE/MAX ACR Elite in Tampa, says about 80 percent of her sales come through relationship selling. Her top strategies include staying in touch with customers via e-mail and sending out e-mail closing customer-satisfaction surveys. In those surveys, she asks what she can do to improve her services and whether the customers know of anyone who’s looking to buy or sell a home. She uses an automated system that e-mails birthday and holiday cards to past, present and future customers.

To build relationships with other real estate professionals, Madden adds all new contacts to her e-mail group list. This group receives birthday cards via e-mail and regular e-mail updates about new listings, price reductions and sold properties. “There’s no cost associated with doing this,” says Madden, “but it certainly pays off in referrals.”

When she receives those referrals, Madden cc’s the referring agent on the first few e-mails that she sends out to the buyer or seller, as a way to keep the agent “in the loop” on the deal. “That way they don’t ever have a doubt, or wonder if I’m doing my job,” she says. “I also mention the referring agent’s name, in bold type and with a compliment, in the e-mail.”

Madden sees such efforts as being more vital than ever in today’s market, where real estate professionals with the staying power and solid network of buyers, sellers and professionals will be the ones to rise to the top. “The wisest real estate professionals are cultivating relationships now,” says Madden, “knowing that it’s the rare family who stays in their home for decades and that many of them do remain loyal to the agent who stayed in touch with them.”

Bridget McCrea is a Clearwater-based freelance writer.