In a competitive market, customers are looking for a specialist who can give them the advantage with cutting edge real estate knowledge and insight of a true industry expert.
Imagine sitting with your doctor as he looks at your latest test results. You ask him if the scans indicate that you’re going to need surgery. He replies, “I don’t know. What do you think?”
While real estate clients want their opinions to matter, they rely on their agents to give them expert guidance.
This was how Justin and Tory Smith (not their real names) felt as they looked at properties with their agent in a competitive West Coast market.
With available listings at five-year lows and prices at all-time highs, the couple’s hunt for a semi-rural property had stretched into a year. To find anything they could afford, they realized they were going to need to look at homes in need of major renovations.
As they walked through each house, they needed expert advice about factors influencing the sale of rural properties, from well quality and special-use zoning to 100-year floodplains. Could they easily make repairs and expand the footprint of the home, or was a purchase a costly mistake? They needed an expert who knew the area well and could negotiate a solid deal for them.
Eventually, the Smiths became frustrated with their agent’s lack of progress and non-committal stance on queries for his advice, so they terminated the relationship.
As the Smiths’ home search continued, they self-educated themselves on every aspect of semi-rural property in the areas they were looking. They became adept at finding new properties on their local MLS customer website, Zillow and even more obscure sources like the federal database of foreclosed homes. Needing concrete answers, they became regulars at their county building, meeting with land use planners to review the possibilities for various properties from renovation to tear-down and new construction.
But despite all they learned, they still needed an expert who could give them advice based on real-world experience.
According to Zillow Group’s Consumer Housing Report 2018, millennials (24-38 year olds), who comprise 42% of real estate shoppers, are far more likely to familiarize themselves with the process and take part in real estate transaction activities that older generations leave up to the agent.
This growing group doesn’t want an agent who simply acts as an information gatekeeper and door unlocker. They want an expert — one who knows all the details of their situation and can give the kind of advice they can’t find on their own.
Woody Allen famously said that “80% of success is just showing up.” But for agents helping clients in today’s competitive market, just being there is not enough.
Research reveals that younger clients are more likely to trust an influencer — that is, an expert who shares unfiltered views — about a product or service versus what a company says about itself.
According to a recent study by Engel & Völkers, 80% of millennials said they would consider hiring an influencer as an agent.
Clients know that to be successful in today’s competitive real estate market, they’ll likely have only a few hours to make a decision on the biggest financial commitment of their lives. They want a true real estate expert who can quickly advise them if the house they’re looking at is a hidden gem or a poorly remodeled flip, know how to structure the offer to their best advantage, and close the transaction as quickly and smoothly as possible.
The good news is that when clients are truly convinced that their agent is a genuine expert, they’re happy to reward the agent by sharing on social media and word of mouth.
You don’t need 15 years of real estate behind you to become a real estate expert. If you’re relatively new to the profession, you’ll certainly want to draw from the experience of more tenured agents. But time alone does not guarantee expertise.
Here are 3 top tips to help position yourself as an expert and gain the upper edge in the marketplace.
Rather than try and be all things to everyone, a better business strategy may be to specialize in a specific community or type of property. Such an approach may mean saying “no” to properties and locations outside of your focus, but it will be a small price to pay if you can develop a reputation for being “the east side condo guy” or the “converted ranch gal.”
Think about the medical profession, in which a cardiology specialist, for instance, will typically make more money than a generalist though will also need to refer out non-heart-related cases.
Once you’ve chosen a focus, learn everything there is to know about that area or property type. While this may require a steep learning curve initially, start with anything a buyer or seller will encounter in the short-term and then broaden your focus from there.
An experienced agent will learn from what she encounters. An expert agent will purposely hunt down what she needs to know.
What do clients buying or selling this type of property need to know? An expert will be able to help them assess everything from zoning setbacks to the type of grout used in the bathroom tiles. What’s fairly easy to fix? What will become a headache over time? What will enable you to say to a client, “Based on your life stage, your goals and your long-term financial situation, this house would be perfect for you. Don’t let the kitchen cabinets scare you. Considering everything, they’re a relatively minor fix.”
It sounds like a tall order, but an expert real estate agent will know more about the true real estate needs of his or her client better than anyone else.
A good CPA probably won’t know what her clients like to eat, but she will be so well informed about their financial situation, that they would not think of getting tax advice from anyone else.
Likewise, a real estate agent who has taken the time to thoroughly know their clients will be able to predict the kinds of properties they like before they’ve seen them.
In fact, an agent who knows a client’s likes and dislikes so well should be able to anticipate their needs and say, “I know this property is outside the parameters that we discussed, but here’s why I think it will be perfect for you.” Clients can only receive that kind of valuable advice from a true expert.
The reason that recommendation platforms like Yelp, HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List are growing in popularity is because people seeking professional help don’t want to just call the first result on Google. They want to know what kind of experience other people have had in similar situations, preferably in the form of personal recommendations.
An expert agent will know other professionals who can solve his or her clients’ problems. Is there a crack in the foundation? That might not be a deal killer if the agent can give the prospective buyer a strong referral on a cost-effective business with experience fixing such issues.
The expert’s database of problem solvers should be both wide and deep, with first-hand connections and knowledge of specialists for every kind of problem. A good general contractor, for example, will know the best electrician, plumber, drywall crew and kitchen cabinet installer. In many cases, these skilled professionals are so busy through word of mouth, they may not be so easy to find otherwise.
Ideally, an expert agent will be such an effective source for home service professionals that his or her clients will stay in touch. Agents spend many hours and lots of money on ways to touch base with former clients. Being a resource they want to stay in touch with is the best way to continue the relationship.
The Smiths, our anonymous couple frustrated with their first agent’s apparent lack of expertise, did eventually find a property through the help of an expert agent.
Still, they had lots of questions about the condition of the house and other structures. Was this their diamond in the rough? Or would they be buying someone else’s mistake?
To tour the property, they contacted an agent with a reputation of being a rural specialist. As they did their walkthrough, she was able to answer their questions about the soundness of the house, the extent of any needed repairs and the feasibility of remodeling.
Not only had this agent sold other properties like this one, but she had experience renovating and renting them.
In addition to helping the Smith’s make an informed decision, the agent was able to successfully negotiate an offer below the asking price — a remarkable feat in a market characterized by low inventory and quickly rising prices.
Her expertise was such a help to the Smiths that they really didn’t care what she made per hour for her work on the deal. She had helped them solve their house-hunting problem and that made her services well worth the commission. Even better, they would recommend her to anyone.
As more clients get proactively involved in the buying and selling process, the most successful agents will be those who arm themselves with the right knowledge, contacts and attention to the details. In the end, those three factors will make the difference between an average agent and an expert.