Weekly Book Scan
Many real estate pros look at building a marketing plan as a simple task to be checked off a list each year. But what if reaching customers were more about attitude and philosophy than goals, metrics, and budgeting?
If you, like me, suspect that the latter is true, I humbly suggest turning to professional communicators for guidance. Indeed, the struggles of today’s authors—many of whom are independent contractors just like you—may hold the key to getting potential clients to notice you online. After all, one of the most enduring lessons that all professional writers learn is how to attract and retain the attention of their audience.
Fauzia Burke, author of Online Marketing for Busy Authors: A Step-by-Step Guide (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2016), helps authors think deeply about how to establish a long-term marketing plan to boost their web presence. Here are three of her tips for writers that work just as well for real estate professionals.
Know your audience. The great differentiator of online advertising is the ability to target specific groups and segment your communications accordingly. But if you haven’t taken the time to consider who your audience is, you’re not using these powerful tools to their full potential. “Online marketing is customized and personalized. It is essential for you to know your audience so you can find them and serve them best,” Burke says. She suggests mapping out the age range and interests of the prospects you want to reach. Learn “which social media outlets they use, and where they hang out online. The more you know your audience, the better your marketing will be.”
Ensure you’re serving them. Whether it’s a newsletter, blog entry, or social media post, you should always consider how what you’re putting out there can help potential clients. Burke tells writers to ask themselves questions, such as: “What value are you providing? What problem are you solving? What is my audience telling me?” She adds that analyzing which of your posts and emails get the most engagement can help you better understand how to serve potential clients. “When the content you create solves a problem your audience has, that’s when you authentically build lasting relationships.”
Don’t attempt to build your online presence on search and social media alone. Every time Google or Facebook changes their algorithm, publishers learn this lesson all over again: If you base your online marketing on external platforms, you’ll always be at the mercy of companies that don’t have your best interests at heart. “Your website is the only place online where you are in total control. No one else can change the rules like they can on other social media sites,” says Burke. “Your website is where you call the shots.”
OK, it’s confession time: I haven’t even been in my house for a full two years yet, and it’s already time for a decluttering session. Maybe part of it was moving into a place that didn’t need much work (oh I know, poor me!). When we moved in, my husband and I just got unpacked and settled as soon as we could without putting a lot of thought into how to organize our stuff. On the flip side, it could be the boxes we never unpacked in the move before last, which we just trucked along to our next place where storage was much more plentiful than before. But Amanda Sullivan, author of Organized Enough: The Anti-Perfectionist’s Guide to Getting—and Staying—Organized (De Capo, 2017), would probably point to her belief that pretty much everyone needs to incorporate the habit of continually of decluttering into our daily lives.
“Your home is a living, breathing thing, like a garden. You must constantly weed and winnow items because, with no effort on your part, it will always be growing,” she writes, suggesting readers keep a dedicated bag or box for getting rid of unneeded items.
But what if you’re dealing with sellers who haven’t employed this trick and have years of built-up reservoirs they need to purge before putting their home on the market? Honestly, I’d recommend picking up a copy of this book for them. I was only a few minutes in when I was inspired to go home and tackle my closet.
Despite being the owner of the intimidatingly titled professional organizer/coaching business The Perfect Daughter, Sullivan is exceedingly nonjudgemental and concentrates her advice on making homes livable, rather than immaculate. Indeed, Organized Enough hangs on the principle of FLOW:
- Forgive yourself. “Having a disorganized home does not mean you’re sick or dysfunctional,” Sullivan assures readers.
- Let stuff go. She suggests beginning with with the easy stuff (which is why I’m headed to the closet and not those unpacked boxes in the basement) that will make the greatest visual impact.
- Organize what’s left. Don’t head to the Container Store until you’ve accomplished the above steps! You have to take stock before you know what you need.
- Weed constantly (addressed above).
So keep this one in your back pocket for clients, but I’d also suggest real estate pros read this book on their own. The chapter on seeing one’s home as a stranger is particularly helpful for industry insiders such as yourselves. Sullivan also includes tips to motivate specific types of people (photo journaling or Pinterest boards for the visual learners, using a notebook to craft a narrative of change for the storytellers, questions to ask for those who prefer to talk it out interpersonally, etc.).
Here are three ideas from Organized Enough you can use to help your sellers who need some organizational assistance.
- Ask sellers to take you on a tour, pointing out where they see systems as working and where they aren’t. Meanwhile, take note of places where random things are being squirreled away, spaces aren’t being used to their full potential, or where dust might be gathering. These are spots that can easily be targeted first. Sullivan also suggests looking at spaces through mirrors and photography to help bring a fresh perspective.
- Connect clients with practical solutions for letting go. Put together a handout or resource page on your website that includes contact information, drop-off times, and details about what kinds of donations different charities in your area will accept. Some may even offer free curbside pick-up. Gather a list of links to local groups where neighbors give away or sell used goods (Nextdoor, Freecycle, Facebook parent groups, etc.). Also, find out what the rules are in your area for how to dispose of certain items such as electronics or paint.
- Help them recognize the source of their clutter. Sullivan notes that most overstuffed homes can be traced back to fear. She goes over the different anxieties that feed into this in detail, which can be very helpful to getting to the root of the problem and closer to a lasting solution. In fact, some your clients might be highly organized people who let the ideal of perfection become the enemy of “good enough.”
Despite (or maybe due to) the solitary nature of real estate, it’s one of those industries that runs best when the lines of communication are open. That’s why you see so many mentor-mentee arrangements and cross-professional relationships. But what if you’re new to the business, or if you don’t know which broker, real estate attorney, or home inspector you can trust in your local area?
Allow me to recommend Dear Real Estate Agent, There Are Answers: Six Industry Professionals Share Their Knowledge as a start. It’s an e-book featuring straightforward chapters on what agents need to know from a broker, real estate lawyer, business attorney, home inspector, mortgage advisor, and insurance professional.
Each chapter is different because they’re written by different people. The book (smartly) begins with Katherine Scarim, broker-owner of Island Bridge Realty. It’s a meaty chapter, filled with scripts, sample disclaimers, and checklists of what to do before you start working with clients. Scarim goes beyond the typical pipeline filling advice to lay out the basics not everyone thinks of immediately, but that will bite agents in the you-know-where if they don’t get it down (ensuring they understand every document they ask their clients to sign, red flags to watch for when writing an offer, how to set a marketing budget). She even covers rarer circumstances such as how to represent renters and buyers looking at new construction.
I particularly like how she lays out her brand of common sense in a way with which you just can’t argue, as in this choice quote: “Early on, I kept a cleaning caddy in my car so I could tackle anything too horrible before showings. By doing this, I avoided having to have an uncomfortable conversation, but I also devalued my time by becoming a cleaning lady instead of an agent.”
In chapter two, real estate lawyer Gregory Cohen spends a fair amount of time working to convince real estate professionals that his colleagues aren’t just there to be deal-killers. However, he does include helpful anecdotes and specific examples of deals gone awry that could really only be put back on track by attorneys. He also includes red flags to look for to ensure the lawyers in your transactions are drafting contracts that are accurate and fair to your clients. Much of his advice could be helpful to folks who have been in the business for awhile, such as this gem: “Preprinted language in contracts is a bit like background music. At a certain point you don’t hear it anymore.”
He’s also a straight shooter. I love his reply to clients who say they don’t want to pay for title insurance: “I reply I would have to charge them far more for my time to prepare a disclosure document explaining how ridiculously stupid the idea of forgoing title insurance is, than it would cost them to obtain the actual title insurance.”
Gerald Pumphrey, senior mortgage advisor for Waterstone Mortgage Corporation, tends to overuse italics, bold type, and punctuation, but he also offers concrete questions to help real estate agents qualify a prequalification (“You should never just accept a pre-approval letter and assume the loan officer did their job… A pre-approval is only as good as the loan officer issuing the letter.”) He walks readers through basic loan types and explains each step clients will typically have to follow to get from the pre-approval process all the way to closing time.
In chapter four Guy Hartman, owner of Your Inspector Guy, goes through all the elements that are typically examined in a home inspection. He offers insider tips that both buyer’s agents and listing agents can pass on to their clients to make the inspection go more smoothly. He also includes a multitude of case studies that will be helpful to read no matter where you are in the transaction. His comprehensive checklist of traits to look for in a home inspector could prove quite helpful for any real estate pro looking to create a list of recommended providers, but in general, he advises readers to “look for an inspector who can help put the inspection and inspection process in context, who can confidently explain what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how to interpret the results.”
Mark Shanz, broker-owner of Seegott Shanz Insurance, leads readers through the many types of insurance homeowners might choose, explains ways they can save on their insurance, and details possible deal killers in the binder period before the deal closes. He goes into what may very well be more detail than a real estate professional will require in day-to-day work. But just as readers might be tempted to skip forward to the last section, he addresses the considerations agents and brokers should keep in mind when shopping for E&O, auto, general liability, and umbrella insurance.
Finally, business attorney Kelly Sturmthal talks through the common the legal structures for real estate businesses and outlines the questions that should be resolved if you’re looking at creating a real estate team, for example.
While the group does its best to generalize, this book will be more useful to real estate pros working in Florida, as all of the writers work in that state. It’s not that they exclusively talk about the laws and regulations governing Florida, but that many examples the writers cite originate there. However, Shanz betrays some serious geographical blind spots when he writes that “a home 30 years or older will be a tougher sell to insurance carriers… Finding affordable coverage for an older home is one example when having an experienced, local agent that represents multiple carriers will prove crucial.” As the owner of a home that is more than 100 years old, I can tell you that when shopping for home insurance no one blinked once when I told them the age of my home (likely because I bought in the practically geriatric city of Chicago).
Aside from being your built-in business advisors, this self-published book boasts another helpful feature in that it’s easily updated to reflect the ever-changing world of real estate. Scarim noted when she sent a copy my way that since they initially published, the FHA’s national conforming loan limit rose, meaning they needed to update the text. “A publishing house would never allow for biannual changes, as it would be far too costly for them. It would be silly to be preaching to agents that they have to keep up-to-date with the industry in a stagnant book,” she wrote. “Once revised, I have the ability to have Amazon push the update to the customers who already purchased the e-book, so their version will be replaced with the new one. You have to love technology!”