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My Smartest Business Investments/Users/adamp/Desktop/SolutionsGuide08/images/smartest_business

When you find a product or service that truly gives you a positive return on your investment, you want to shout it from the mountaintops. Find out what your peers view as their smartest investment.

If picking the brains of a handful of top-selling real estate professionals in Florida is something you’ve always wanted to do, then you’re in luck. To help you make the best possible business investments, we asked them to tell us what they’re spending money on, what kind of return they’re getting on their investment and how well it’s working for them. Here are five top choices—consider them for your toolbox.

I Invest in Realtor®.com
It’s been a year since Janie Coffey, broker/owner of Papillon Real Estate LLC in Coral Gables, invested in Realtor.com’s Featured Home service, which allows sales associates to pay a premium to rank first when specific ZIP codes are keyed into the site’s search function. Through it, Coffey can farm specific areas where buyers might be looking for homes and advertise alternative areas that might also interest buyers.

For example, “Coral Gables is lovely, but pricey,” says Coffey. “Miami Springs is less known, but it’s nice and less expensive.” Using two featured communities and five featured ZIP codes, Coffey can, for example, market Miami Springs listings to Coral Gables buyers. “It works like a charm,” she says.

She pays about $990 per month for her Central Dade featured community and $450 per month for South Dade. Featured homes cost about $44 to $350 per month, depending on ZIP code. In return, she says, her company gains expanded brand awareness, and a “big selling point in listing presentations [is that] we show our commitment to reaching buyers in the area.”

I Invest in Homes & Land Fliers
Always on the lookout for ways to increase her business or improve herself as a real estate professional, Jackie Darby recently jumped at the opportunity to use Homes & Land [www.homesandland.com] to print up her listing fliers (actually reprints of the ads she runs in the publication) at a reasonable cost.

Through Homes & Land, this sales associate with Realty Executives in Fernandina Beach creates 1,000 fliers [copied from her ad pages] on high-gloss, trifolded paper for $170, or about 17 cents a copy. 

“That’s much less than the 39 cents a copy that I was paying at Staples,” says Darby, who can also submit nonmagazine advertisements in PDF format and pay the same price to have them printed. “It’s made a significant difference in my advertisement budget.”
 
I Invest My Time
Amy K. Stier and her team focus solely on working with buyers. That’s why her investment isn’t really a product. Instead, she encourages sales associates to invest their time driving through neighborhoods, getting to know the homes for sale and what each community offers.

As an exclusive buyers’ brokerage, Florida New Homes Realty Inc. of Tampa, has differentiated itself in the market by boning up on all the new and existing listings available to its customers, with all sales associates spending several hours a week previewing properties in their respective market areas. 

She says her sales associates “don’t ‘farm’ one area; they are ‘market specialists,’ and they do a lot of driving.” The sales associates spend time getting to know the neighborhoods, school districts and other important elements that buyers are interested in. “We don’t sit here comfortably in our back yards. We drive, we look and we preview constantly.

“They [customers] look to us to let them know what their options are … they don’t know what they don’t know.”

I Invest in Electronic Forms
Sometimes it’s the small things that make the biggest difference in business, as Deidre E. Newton found out a few years ago. As president and CEO of Community Real Estate Services Inc. in West Palm Beach, Newton says that for years she was tied to paper-based forms until she bought her first TrueForms program [www.trueforms.com] in 1997 for about $100 (the current cost of TrueForms for a single user is $179). The system has allowed her to create a paperless environment while saving the time she once spent shuffling paper forms.

“Now I just e-mail a contract or listing to a client,” says Newton. “The forms are updated every time there’s a change, and the cost is very reasonable.” The company also offers a service through which users can have their company logos and clauses inserted on the forms, which can be sent as PDFs to customers.

Newton provides the service free to her company’s sales associates, though her company spends $150 a year for her nine sales associates. “The best thing is that I’m able to track all contracts for every transaction from both active and former agents,” she says.

I Invested in Coaching
J.D. Moore, broker/owner of By Referral Realty in San Antonio, Fla., started Buffini & Co.’s [www.buffiniandcompany.com] coaching system of “generating leads by referral” about five years ago, and says the step changed his “business and all around life for the positive.”

At the time, Moore was spending about $300 per month in the national firm’s coaching program. Although he’s not still in the program, he says it was invaluable for helping him create the business he has today. Moore says that having an accountability partner, access to effective goal-setting techniques and the ability to create a sustainable practice built on referrals were three of his biggest takeaways.

From the system, he also learned to commit at least two hours per day to proactive activities that generate leads through his existing database. “I reach out and let people know that I care about them, and that I can help them and their referrals in real estate,” says Moore, who feels that the relationship-building approach advocated by his coach has resulted not only in higher business volume, but also in less stress in his own business and personal life.

“I’m not doing cold calling, FSBOs, open houses or expensive advertising that a lot of real estate professionals do,” says Moore. “Instead, I’m using a proven, honest, relationship-driven system that works.”
 
  Bridget McCrea is a Clearwater-based freelance writer.