Ah, the life of a Southwest Florida real estate agent: luxury cars, designer clothes, high-end tech, and days spent strolling through beautiful homes, networking on pristine golf courses, schmoozing over gourmet lunches.
That might be the enticing image, so when a family member or friend says they’re ready to buy a home, it propels someone who isn’t working in the profession or who is retired or semi-retired to decide, “I’ll just become an agent and sell them their home.”
“They think that the second they come in, they’re going to start making money and a flurry of prospects are going to walk in the door or call them, and immediately they’re going to start doing business,” says Kathy Zorn, president and broker-owner of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Pristine and a member of the board of directors for the Naples Area Board of Realtors (NABOR). “But it really doesn’t work that way.”
Once that familial sale goes through, the rookie discovers that there’s no cue of potential clients wait- ing for them. Misperceptions about the rigor of the industry—and its seven-day-a-week demands—are among the reasons newcomers grow frustrated and leave the commission-based business, experienced agents say.
“It is a misconception, how easy the business is,” says Josh Burdine, president of the Royal Palm Coast Realtor Association, which includes Fort Myers and Cape Coral. “A lot of times people come into the business with some intention of having some sort of transaction [such as selling a home to a parent], but then after that’s over, it’s like, ‘All right, now how do I get business?’”
Southwest Florida is home to more than 11,000 Realtors, including 6,383 in Lee County; 4,689 in Collier; and 1,316 in Charlotte, according to Florida Realtors, which has 187,000 members statewide. The numbers appear to be growing as more people, including retirees who want part-time work, enter the field. So if you want to delve into this highly competitive industry, you might want to first heed the advice of these four seasoned professionals about what it takes to make it big.
Get Out in the Community
The pro: Kathy Zorn, whose firm has more than 70 employees and offices in Naples and Bonita Springs. It was scheduled to open an office in Cape Coral in April.
Biggest mistake newbies make: When agents earn their real estate license, they are so excited they tell everybody—for about the first 30 days. And then they stop. “If they were to continue to market themselves in a way that they were telling everybody and their mother that they were in real estate, that would be a real help, in the long run, to develop more prospects and fill their pipeline for business.”
Learning curve: Give yourself at least 30 days after earning your license to set up a website and learn how to update it (remember that professional photo), to get training on the multiple listing service system and to attend courses offered by a local Realtor association. “You can’t expect yourself to walk in the door and start the next day.”
Adding value: Create a network of reliable pros, such as home inspectors, handymen and cleaning companies, to recommend to your buyers and sellers.
Finding clients: Your hobbies and pursuits are among your best places for leads. You’ll find the best way to grow your business is simply through interactions with the people you meet at the club or on the tennis courts because you are building genuine relationships with them (and, of course, not being shy about stating your profession).
“The vision of an agent who is successful—driving a nice car—is one thing, but what that agent had to do to get there was not sitting in the office hoping that someone might call them up and say, ‘I think I’d like to buy a property from you.’ … It’s not easy money.”
Be a Resource
The pro: Fawn Estes, owner/broker, RE/MAX Radiance in Estero
Biggest mistake newbies make: Not recognizing that every single person you meet is a potential client. And then, not setting standards for when they will and won’t meet with clients. Some clients, especially those on vacation, will call at all times of day and say, “I want to see this right now.” Agents should respond by letting them know what times they conduct showings and ask for a pre-approval to set up an appointment. “If we don’t treat ourselves as a professional, they won’t, either. It’s our job to set that standard.”
Learning curve: Estes began in the profession in 2005 when she was 18 and working in the Verandah community. “The real estate market was really hot. I just got drawn in because I said, ‘I want to know what these people do to make so much money.’” She learned that real estate requires having the right mindset and operating with a set of standards. “I always say, ‘Stay hungry and stay humble.’”
Adding value: Know your neighborhood inside and out. One way to learn is by participating in professional development leadership programs offered by local chambers and Realtor boards. “It’s really impressive when you can know the history of your town.” And arm yourself with information, such as about schools and school choice for clients with children. “You want to know what they can do to have fun. You want to be literally the one-stop shop for people.”
Finding clients: Learn about personality types so you can immediately read people and know how to communicate with them. Some people just want the facts; others want their hand held throughout the buying and selling process. “You’ve really got to learn that before you even get the conversation started.”
Learn the Technology
The pro: Josh Burdine, sales manager at Rockstar Realty in Fort Myers
Biggest mistake newbies make: They are not technologically and financially prepared. You should have your own computer and purchase accounting software to track your expenses and income, or hire an accountant who can provide those tools. He recommends having six months’ worth of financial reserves before starting. Even if you sell a home your first day, it typically is 30 to 45 days before you close and receive the commission.
Learning curve: Real estate has become more of a technology-based profession. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software can help you maintain and grow a database of customers and prospects, but you need to take time to understand how the one you choose functions and how to best utilize it. “Technology allows me to stay in contact with more people with less effort. And it also allows me to be more organized.”
Adding value: Consider pursuing designations such as Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS), a course offered by local Realtor associations. You will learn to understand the customs and business practices, as he notes that buyers from Canada, Brazil and Germany remain huge markets because of direct flights. “Accessibility to regions is also what drives that.”
Finding clients: Referrals are still the best source of business for Burdine, who keeps in touch with people via digital tools and handwritten letters. “You’re still a salesperson at the end of the day. You have to prospect. You have to advertise. You have to market. You have to do things to put your brand and your name out there in front of people.”
Keep in Touch
The pro: Alysia Shivers, John R. Wood Properties, and author of Moving to Naples: The Un-Tourist Guide
Biggest mistake newbies make: When they try to go it alone. Instead, enlist the help of a mentor. “My mentor helped build my confidence, which got my business off the ground much sooner.”
Learning curve: It may take months to make the first sale, so during that time, she sat in on other agents’ listing presentations with clients to learn from them. Once you start selling, invest in those relationships because referrals fuel the business. “You want to get that steady stream of people who trust you and trust your services. They have confidence in your market knowledge. They recommend you to friends and colleagues.” She also sends Thanksgiving gifts to past clients (after eight years, the list now has about 70 recipients) and sends cookies to anyone who refers her during the year.
Adding value: Once a year she creates a customized market report for all of her past clients to let them know about sales activity and pricing trends. She also attends meetings hosted by the Naples Area Board of Realtors to hear real estate forecasts and emerging trends, sends out an e-newsletter and writes website blog posts to keep clients informed.
Finding clients: Don’t give up on your marketing tactics. “Even though it may seem like it’s not working in the beginning, eventually it does take hold.” New clients sometimes pull out her newsletters and “just sold” postcards that they have saved, and past customers compliment her about sales. “They’re always seeing I’m active in the business. I don’t want them to ever think I’ve stopped.” But she didn’t see results from those print pieces, which accounts for about $3,000-5,000 of her marketing budget, until her second year in business.