Friday, February 24, 2006

Making more money with a seller to buyer shift

Many new agents start their real estate careers by focusing on buyers, then ultimately gain the confidence and experience to start taking listings. But have you ever heard of an agent who switched from sellers back to buyers, with a significant increase in income?

Catherine Gortner, an Agent CEO in San Jose, California, did just that. It's a great story, with lots of best practices to learn from. Check out a summary of her conference call earlier this week with HouseValues and more than 1,000 call participants.

Ever wonder how to get more customer testimonials? How long you should wait for a response from an Internet lead? Whether phone or in-person follow-up is best with your customers?

Read on!

Featured Speaker: Catherine Gortner, San Jose, CA
Moderator: Raymond Gravelle, Distance Learning Specialist

Raymond: Catherine, last year you opened your own brokerage after only being in real estate for one year. How is that going?
Catherine: Very well. My commissions have been over $300,000 each year and 31% is due to HouseValues and JustListed. My partner, whom I met at a HouseValues seminar, is also doing well and his wife will be joining us as soon as she is licensed. Together we closed $17 million last year.

Raymond: What is happening in the greater San Jose market?
Catherine: It had been a seller’s market the last two years. It has now changed to a balanced market and the number of listings and transactions are way down. It’s very competitive.

Raymond: What are you doing differently to stay successful with these changes?
Catherine: We shifted our focus to buyer leads. I also examined my expenses. I emphasize the HouseValues and JustListed systems more because of the high return on investment. Still, the slowdown and competition can be discouraging at times.

Raymond: What do you do when you get discouraged?
Catherine: What makes a difference is how I react when I get discouraged. I don’t deny it but acknowledge it to myself. Then I can get back on track with phone calls, for example. Action overcomes the negative feeling.

Raymond: Tell us about your follow-up system.
Catherine: I respect their need for distance at first and follow the five steps, emailing first. I send out substantial information so they can learn about me in the privacy of their home. I use testimonials, so others are telling them about me. Testimonials are a goldmine! I ask for testimonials from all my clients. You can see them at send everyone a pre-listing or buyer packet. I got two listings for $2 million each from sellers who chose me because of my packet. I assign all my prospects to the email campaign and I mail postcards monthly. I call when I get an activity reminder. If they don’t answer I leave a message offering more service. I’ll add that I’d appreciate the opportunity to interview with them if they will be selling soon.

Raymond: What’s included in the packet?
Catherine: I use the HouseValues or JustListed folders. On the left side is the printed CMA I emailed and a property profile of their home. On the right side is a letter on HouseValues letterhead, home staging ideas, testimonials, my resume, how we market the home – about 15 pages. I have a similar packet for buyers.

Raymond: What are on the postcards you mail each month?
Catherine: They are “Best of the Bay” series. Last month for Valentine’s Day it was the most romantic restaurants. They are oversized, colorful, and my photo and contact information are on both sides. Prospects keep them and find them valuable.

Question & Answer

Question: What steps do you take to get a listing?
Catherine: I use a two-step process. The first visit is to build rapport. I ask them to show me around their home and I take notes, ask questions, and show enthusiasm. I ask if they want me to suggest things they could do to improve the value. The second visit is the listing presentation.

Question: How long does it take to get responses from the leads?
Catherine: Most people won’t respond until they need you, so don’t get discouraged. I’ve found they search online very early in the process and can take six months or more. I just got a listing from a lead that was two years old.

Question: How do you get people to write you a testimonial?
Catherine: I ask them for the favor and sometimes I have to ask several times. I may remind them about the things I did for them but the letters are in their own words. Most will send me an email.

Question: Which is most important, hand delivery or phone follow-up?
Catherine: They are both important. Hand deliver first to try to meet them and provide good service and follow up with a phone call.

Question: How many testimonials do you put in your packet?
Catherine: I have three to six testimonials in my packet. I also update the testimonials on my Web site often.

Read more about Catherine's success story here.