By Monte Helme
RISMEDIA, June 25, 2008-Earlier this year, Starbucks closed 7,000 of its U.S. stores for one evening so employees could learn how to make coffee. The company’s founder said the giant retailer had to get back to its roots if it is to recapture customers who have strayed to less-pricey competitors who are serving a better tasting beverage.
The exercise generated a mountain of positive publicity for Starbucks and sent a powerful message to chief executives and managers throughout the country. That message is: get back to the basics of your business or you will certainly lose your customer base.
One of many other industries getting back to basics these days is residential real estate, which is reeling from the continuing impact of subprime and mortgage liquidity problems in the housing market.
Agents who will emerge successfully from the current crisis are already changing their basic approaches to better serve their customers.
“To learn more about what they are doing differently and what is working well for them, we contacted a number of our top member-agents around the country,” says Michael Bearden, president and CEO of HouseHunt, Inc., a consumer-oriented Internet firm that provides free information and services to homeowners, buyers and sellers in 47 states through nearly 2,000 member-agents and its primary website, Househunt.com. “From these interviews, we were able to compile a list of positive things fellow agents could do to increase their productivity and visibility, while reducing negativity. It’s called A Dozen Ways To Just Say ‘No’ To Negativity.” (See sidebar)
Here’s a sample of their responses:
Stephanie Gilkison of Keller Williams Legacy Partners in the Shawnee and Overland Park, Kansas, metro area, says she has definitely changed her approach in the past two years: “Even though the Internet is my niche, my primary focus is to educate my customers on the realities of the local marketplace,” she says. “Members of my team (The Gilkison Group) and I also focus on getting listings. My team works all Internet leads and I work mostly on referrals. People in my office know that they should not be negative around me. I tell them, ‘If you are not selling homes, it’s your fault-not the market. You must stay positive.’”
Mark Spoto of TriStar Realty Group in Tampa, Florida, also refuses to participate in negative thinking: “I simply tell my sellers that the real estate market has its up and down cycles, and if their home is priced right, buyers will buy. I tell my buyers that our local market is simply phenomenal because prices are down and interest rates are historically low. It’s a win-win situation.”
Spoto feels that immediate response to Internet leads and having an automated system in place for customer follow-up are critical components to establishing and maintaining a good relationship with both clients and prospects. “I like having the ability to send listings and communicate with them on a regular basis.”
Stephanie St. Pierre of Century 21 Beachside in Huntington Beach, California, says she is doing a number of positive things to increase her production levels. “It’s back to the basics-from sending out ‘Just Listed’ and ‘Just Sold’ postcards to holding buyer seminars and staying in touch with former clients and prospects,” she says. “I stress the fact that it won’t be any easier to qualify for a mortgage loan a year from now. If you can qualify, you can do it now at favorable rates.”
St. Pierre is well known for her aggressive pricing strategy: “In this market, buyers are determining price. Agents need to research their marketplaces-then price the property a hair under the competition,” she says. “I also recommend that each agent should have an agreement with his or her seller that if the property is not sold in two weeks, the listing price will be revisited for a possible reduction.”
Ted Tyndall of Davidson Realty of St. Augustine, Florida, says he is getting good results by sending digital photos of properties on discs, thereby creating detailed slide shows for his prospects.
“This gives them more information than sending the standard photos and listing data.” Tyndall says he also uses HouseHunt’s automated contact system (TIM) to establish and maintain regular contact with prospects. A former manager of a Fortune 500 company and a relative newcomer to real estate sales, Tyndall closed $6.8 million in gross volume sales in 2007 and through March of this year had closed $4.8 million-mostly from HouseHunt Internet leads.
Finally, this advice from national real estate trainer Jim Droz, a special consultant to HouseHunt and number-one agent in the world for Century 21 three years in a row: “The simple solution to combating negativity in the marketplace is for agents to spend their time increasing their listing inventories. I encourage agents to spend 100 percent of their time focused on getting their product in front of the consumer. Get back to the basics.”
A Dozen Ways to Just Say ‘No’ to Negativity
1. Avoid negative talk with colleagues in your office-and especially with customers.
2. Get back to basic prospecting, from sending out “Just Listed” and “Just Sold” postcards and e-mails to holding open houses and conducting buyer and seller seminars.
3. Increase your visibility in your community and your marketplace. Knock on doors; reintroduce yourself.
4. Respond immediately to Internet leads and client referrals.
5. Focus on getting listings, even when there are more sellers than buyers.
6. Understand and explain housing cycles to clients and
prospects-especially to first-time home buyers-through seminars conducted by yourself or your manager.
7. Qualify! Qualify! Qualify! The subprime and mortgage
liquidity problems have resulted in tougher qualifying
standards. Be proactive in educating your buyers upfront so they will know what to expect.
8. Utilize your expertise of the local marketplace by offering current housing data to the local media.
9. Change your approach to fit today’s changing marketplace. Do something different to rebuild your productivity or you may find yourself doing something different tomorrow to make a living.
10. Be aggressive and realistic in pricing homes for sale.
11. Target market your prospecting to homeowners who have to sell for whatever reason, such as deaths, divorces, company relocations and downsizing.
12. Look for evidence that your local housing market is showing signs of recovery. The most obvious signs include: fewer foreclosure signs; home prices stabilizing; less time required for listings to sell; and the media becoming more positive.
For more information, please visit www.househunt.com.
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