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2014_compassIt’s 2014, and it’s time to evaluate your goals, which probably include closing more transactions than last year. But how do you do that in a flat sales year?

The National Association of REALTORS® predicts that existing-home sales this year will hold steady, while prices continue to rise. For some hopeful buyers, it could be that rising prices coupled with stagnant incomes, limited inventory and stringent lending standards put them on the buying sidelines.

Having this knowledge means you have to devise a game plan for your business to combat a flat sales year—or you might find your lead pipeline running dry. To increase leads, consider targeting these four key client groups:

Investors – Now that home prices are rising and stabilizing, investors who bought at rock-bottom prices during the downturn might consider selling to monetize their return. Reach out to these past clients, or attend investor seminars to connect with the top real estate investors in your market. Keep in mind that investors are market-savvy, and they want someone who will get them top dollar with minimal price reductions to maximize the value of their return. Become their go-to resource by anticipating their needs and understanding how investors work. The Certified Investor Agent Specialist (CIAS) designation is a great place to start.

International Buyers – Homebuyers from Canada, Asia, Europe and Latin America are looking for safe places to invest their money, and U.S. real estate is one of their top picks. Study your own market to find out where international buyers are coming from, and then figure out how to best approach these potential clients. Do you speak their language? Can you recruit a team member who does? Are you knowledgeable about cross-border/international real estate transactions, immigration laws and tax rules? If this is a real prospect in your market, take the time to learn more.

First-time Homebuyers – Although mortgage rates have been inching up, they’re still at historic lows. Housing is still very affordable in many markets. First-time homebuyers with all sorts of reasons to buy need your professional guidance on what’s perhaps the biggest financial transaction of their lives. Seek them out and share your knowledge to help them through the process. Look to past and current client referrals to find first-time buyers.

Distressed Homeowners – Short sales and foreclosures, although not as prevalent as they were just a few years ago, are still occurring, and there are homeowners in your market who are still facing financial hardship. Let them know you’re there to help with a loan modification or a short sale. If you haven’t done so, now’s a great time to get distressed-property training such as the Certified Distressed Property Expert (CDPE) or Short Sales and Foreclosure Resource (SFR) designations.

Remember that no matter what the housing market does, you ultimately have control over your own results. Make a business plan as soon as you can to stay ahead of market shifts, and make it your top priority to have a strong sales year in 2014.

Margaret Kelly (CRB) is chief executive officer of RE/MAX, LLC. For more information, visit