When everyone seems to be talking about the “r” word — recession — it can make homeowners nervous, especially if they’re not sure whether they want to move in the next couple of years or not. But because recessions are cyclical, we know a few things about the best options to take for both buyers or sellers when one is looming.
If selling your house might be an option for you and you have flexibility over when you want to move, here is some guidance about what to expect about selling a home during a recession.
Recessions are a buyer’s market
The truth for sellers is that recessions are much better for buyers. Home prices tend to stagnate or even fall, and depending on what the economy is doing, fewer people may have the financial wherewithal to buy a home at all during a recession. Most people are tightening their belts, not looking to spend a lot of money on a house, and so that means the buyers who are qualified and ready to take immediate action on a sale are few and far between.
There’s still a lot you can do to maximize your home’s appeal during a recession, but the first and most primary truth of the matter is that a recession is not a great time to sell if you have any choice in the matter.
Timing is everything
So when is the best time to sell a house? This is where it gets tricky because oftentimes the very best time to sell a house is before a recession. Home values can fall during a recession, but they’re usually at a peak right before the recession hits, so if you can, it’s smart to sell high and buy low.
Of course, it’s not easy to accurately predict exactly when home prices are going to start turning more toward a buyer’s market than a seller’s market — if it were, then everybody would be investing in real estate with abandon. So if you want to list your house before a recession, feel free to do so, but remember that it can be a dangerous game with no guaranteed payout.
Less desirable homes will drop more in value
Of course, any seller thinks that their house is one of the best homes in the neighborhood, but if you’re realistic about where you live, then you know that there are probably nicer homes and probably homes that are not quite as nice as yours. But do you know what buyers are looking for on your street and the street around yours?
It seems like an obvious truth, but it bears emphasizing that homes that buyers don’t want quite as much are going to drop more in value than homes that are more desirable for buyers. This might mean that a certain number of bedrooms or bathrooms is at a premium in your neighborhood, or it could mean that buyers are prioritizing certain lot sizes or square footage in their home search.
How can you find out how desirable your home is in the current market, and how to make it more desirable? The best way is to talk to a real estate agent who’s active in your area so that you can get a sense of what homes they see receiving multiple offers and even starting a bidding war versus the homes that linger on the market like an afterthought.
Take care of any upgrades you can
Some sellers think that selling before a recession means they can avoid sprucing up their house for a buyer at all, but in fact, the opposite is true. Selling your home before a recession means that you’re working within a window of time that might close tomorrow, so you don’t really have time to get hung up in the inspection or appraisal process.
Some sellers decide to hire an inspector before they list their home so they can identify most of the possible issues and address them before any buyers ever step foot inside. This can be a very smart strategy for sellers before a recession to show they are motivated and serious, which will in turn attract the most qualified buyers to make offers on your lovely house.
Price it fairly
Speed is of the essence if a recession is looming on the horizon, which means you really don’t have time to test the market with a fantasy price that you hope will fly with some uneducated but desperate buyers out there. In a worst-case scenario, the recession could hit while you’re haggling back and forth with a buyer who originally offered a price you were happy to take … and then that bird in the hand who would have happily bought your house a couple of weeks ago will suddenly find themselves in the candy store of a buyer’s market and most likely tell you to go negotiate with somebody else.
What constitutes a fair price? A real estate agent can tell you if you’re unsure, so ask yours what they think your house could sell for tomorrow, then adjust accordingly.
Don’t forget, recessions are cyclical — if you miss this one, another one will come along in a few years. Sellers who have the flexibility to time their home sales according to the economy are in a prime position to take advantage of the ups and downs of home values, but it’s important to be careful not to get too confident and try to time things too close to the peak.
In a society where we refer to our homes as our castles, it makes sense that we also want to feel safe and secure in our residences. But as we spend more time inside looking at screens and less time outside making connections with neighbors, it also makes sense that many homeowners today feel less safe and secure than they did a few decades ago.
The irony is that violent crime rates have decreased even as our feelings of danger lurking around every corner have increased. So what can you do to help assuage your fears — and actually make your community safer in the bargain?
Plenty! Establishing yourself as a community and working together with your neighbors is one of the best ways to increase feelings of safety while actually reducing crime in your area. Here’s how to get started.
Form a Facebook group
Let’s face it: We are all on Facebook a lot more than is probably healthy for us. But this can be turned to your advantage if you leverage it as an asset.
Form a community safety Facebook group that is geared toward your specific community. There is more than likely already a general community Facebook group; join that one, too, and ask the moderators if it’s okay to advertise your safety-focused group there.
It’s up to you if you want to create standards for joining the group. If you decide to do that, it might make sense to recruit a moderator or three to help you manage to join requests and to maintain the standards of the group.
You can use this Facebook group to talk about safety issues, advertise safety meetings, make safety-related announcements, and much more.
The great thing about Nextdoor — the neighborhood-focused social network — is that Nextdoor does the hard work of verifying that the people in your neighborhood group actually do live in your neighborhood (no lurkers!).
Using Nextdoor can be another excellent way to figure out which of your neighbors are interested in helping you increase community safety, and to warn your neighbors of any thefts or other safety risks in the area. If you do use Nextdoor as a warning method, make sure you’re providing only factual information and not conjecture or speculation. You want your neighbors to pay attention and act accordingly, not for the conversation to devolve into an argument over whose houseguest might have been trespassing on whose property, or whose kids are inviting unsavory characters into the neighborhood.
To that end, talk to your neighbors online about standards for identifying scofflaws and their behavior (especially underage ones). For example, if there’s a teenager who drives erratically and over the speed limit down a road with small children every day, most parents are going to be fine with identifying the vehicle make, model, and color, the sex and general appearance (clothing, hair color, and so on) of the driver, the time of day they usually drive down the road, and other details specific to this situation. Sharing a license plate number or taking a picture of the driver on social media, however, might be considered a violation of privacy by some parents.
Create clean-up groups
Some safety issues emerge because city and county departments might be strapped for cash or short several employees, and things that ought to get done as a result just … aren’t. Maybe a tree fell across a popular trail and hasn’t yet been cleared, or maybe there are local public-access staircases that are covered with slippery leaves or other debris.
If there’s a safety issue that you can easily and professionally tackle with a group of people, organize one! Use your social media groups or fliers in the local cafe or post office to advertise a clean-up day at the local park or along a busy street. Ask the local dump or trash company if they’d be willing to donate a dumpster or supplies and trash pickup. Sometimes all it takes to make an area safer for everyone is a little coordination and elbow-grease, and the coordination is the hardest part, so try to tackle it and see where it gets you.
Start a neighborhood watch
Do you know all your neighbors? Are you familiar with the cars they drive, their regular visitors, and any special guests who pop in from time to time?
For most people, the answer is “definitely not.” But having a sense of who’s who in your neighborhood can help prevent a lot of crime, from illegally dumping trash to burglary or robbery.
If your block or neighborhood doesn’t already have a neighborhood watch program, consider starting one. The first step is to find neighbors who are interested in participating. Once you have a group of people willing to put in the time, call up your local law enforcement bureau and tell them what you’re doing. Many local law enforcement offices will be willing to send a police officer or two to your neighborhood watch meetings, which can be an invaluable resource for helping you learn how to spot and safely report any suspicious activity.
Coordinate meeting times for your neighborhood watch, which can be held in a community space or even online. Talk about the safety issues that concern you the most, and ask your law enforcement liaisons what you can do to help.
Secure your own space
There’s only so much that neighbors can do to help you keep your home safe. Ultimately, the responsibility to secure your property lies with you — so make sure you spend some time looking at your own home’s vulnerabilities and decide how to fix them.
For example, routinely leaving your door unlocked when you leave the house is a good way to invite burglary. Some smart locks allow you to remotely lock your door if you forget, so it might be a good idea to upgrade your door lock. New camera technologies allow you to see who’s on your front porch when the doorbell rings and replacing broken or damaged windows is also a good safety move.
You can’t be responsible for everyone’s house on the block, but if you’re responsible for your own, the odds that you’ll experience a safety violation go down. It’s worth it!
Problem-solve using SARA (scan, analyze, respond, assess)
Many police departments use the SARA method to solve problems, and it’s a method that community safety advocates can also use with a lot of success.
The SARA method involves four steps: scan, analyze, respond, assess. First, scan the situation. Take it all in. Try to absorb everything you possibly can about what’s happening. In this step, you are identifying and describing the problem.
Next, analyze the situation. Think about who is involved, what they are doing, what social and economic realities exist that feed into the situation, and try to determine what has caused this situation or problem.
Then, respond to the problem. The response usually works best in a collaborative environment. Ask different people involved in the situation what they think. Involve the community in brainstorming possible solutions and arriving at an option that seems to work well for most people. Form an action plan for what you’re going to do — and do it.
Finally, assess the results. Spend some time looking at how your response has changed the situation (or not). Did it solve the problem? Did new problems emerge as a result of your response? How well did the response work in terms of both process and the impact it had? Who is happy with the results, and who is not, and why?
By using the SARA method for community problem-solving, you’ll help maintain the collaborative philosophy that’s central to any successful community safety program.
Host regular meetings or touch-base sessions
Meetings and touch-base sessions are the glue that holds any community group together, and this rings true for safety advocates, too. The people involved in your community safety efforts will want opportunities to talk to each other, share ideas, brainstorm ideas, or even just to get to know each other.
Take the time to organize regular opportunities for the people in your community to get together and talk about safety. How often you do this really depends on your community; once a month is usually a good rule of thumb for setting up meetings, but some communities might prefer to meet every two weeks, while others don’t see a need for meeting more often than bimonthly. Supplement your meetings with social media Q&A sessions and other ways to involve your community, and consider taking notes at your meetings and making them available in your social media groups, too.
Warn people of suspicious activity
Your law enforcement liaisons will be the best resource for exactly how to do this. Maybe your contribution involves disseminating the police department’s announcements about crime more widely to your community group, or perhaps you can have regular discussions about what’s been happening in the newspaper’s crime blotter.
Talk to your law enforcement partners about which types of suspicious activity they think should include a community warning. It probably will also be helpful to them if you ask about false reports and whether there are any common themes. The last thing you want is for your police department to get tied up investigating something trivial and non risky, so make sure anybody warning others of suspicious activity in your community groups understands what types of activity are suspicious and doesn’t raise alarm bells unnecessarily.
Host a self-defense course
Although playground fights may have been a rite of passage for some of us, many of us don’t have any experience with self-defense and wouldn’t know what to do if (heaven forbid) we were actually attacked. A free, local self-defense course with a qualified instructor can give everybody who’s interested a little bit of training and supplement their confidence in being able to take care of themselves under adverse situations.
Ask your local law enforcement liaison if there are any self-defense instructors they recommend or use themselves, then talk to that instructor about whether it’s possible to set up a free class. You can give the instructor the opportunity to plug more extensive training before and after the session. Invite everyone who might be interested, and ask questions of both the attendees and people who expressed interest but didn’t attend. It’s possible, for example, that some women in your community would prefer a women-focused class and decided not to attend for that reason — if that happens, then you’ve got a great case for asking the instructor to come back and teach gender-specific mini-courses.
Share tips for safer landscaping
You might not think of your landscaping as a safety hazard, but think again: Dead or dying trees or carpets of dry pine needles can be a real fire hazard, and if your landscaping allows someone to creep up to your front door unseen by anyone else, that can be a problem, too. And that’s not all. There could be an insect or vermin infestation that presents a safety hazard (wasps’ nests, anybody?).
Landscaping safety might not be at the top of your list of things to address, and that’s okay, but it’s a good topic to consider once the low-hanging fruit has been plucked. Again, your local law enforcement liaison may have ideas and thoughts about which hazards are most critical for your area, so talk to them about the landscaping safety tips they wish everybody knew, then do your best to spread the word.
Coordinate community events to reclaim spaces
Vacant lots or abandoned parks are nobody’s problem and everybody’s problem all at once. There might not be a lot you can do about private property, but if there are any public areas that have fallen into disuse or disrepair, then maybe those would be a good project for your community safety group to tackle.
Just cleaning up the trash and removing dead plants and shrubs from an area can eliminate or reduce new refuse and discourage people from dumping hazardous materials there. If you can take additional steps to repair and revitalize public spaces, so much the better. Your local law enforcement liaison can help you identify spots that could use a little bit of attention and contact the appropriate people in the city and county offices to make sure you’re moving forward with everyone’s blessing.
Document your strategy and analyze your results
There’s nothing wrong with approaching your neighborhood watch with the philosophy of throwing things at the wall to see if they stick — but if you can be methodical about how you document what you’re doing and the results, you may find a whole world of opportunity opens up. Public funds might become available once your local administrators see what a great job you’re doing. Other people might become inspired to join in and help out if you can articulate how you’ve improved the neighborhood.
Talk to the different members of your neighborhood watch and ask if there are any analysts or analytically minded members who might want to take on this task. Ask them to keep notes and track metrics around your activities, and encourage them to report back to the group about what they discover. Your ability to cite cold, hard numbers when you’re having conversations about community safety will benefit you everywhere.
Teach social media safety
Even though billions of people are on social media, it’s still a new world for many of us. As a result, people often post updates or photos on social media that are an actual safety risk.
One obvious example is announcing your vacation plans on social media or posting photos of your trip while you’re still away. It might not lead to anything harmful, but if someone happens to be waiting for an opportunity to break into your house … well, you just provided them with a good one.
Share safety tips and best practices on social media with your community group, and encourage them to spread the word. The more people know about the risks of posting random life updates on social media, the better — after all, you can always upload those photos of your toes in the sand after you’re back at home, giving yourself a little vacation extension at the same time.
Give neighborhood tours for kids
We don’t let kids run around outside as much as we used to, but it’s nonetheless a really good idea to make sure the children in your neighborhood know how to navigate it. One way to encourage kids to learn more about their neighborhood is to host a kid-friendly tour that parents can join, too.
What should be on the tour? Kids might want to know where the schools, playgrounds, parks, police stations, and fire stations are in their neighborhoods, so include those for sure. It might also be worth your time to talk to retail store owners or other stakeholders in the neighborhood and ask them if they have any information they want you to pass along during the tour. Where can kids go skateboarding without breaking any rules? Does the owner of the ice-cream shop have a bike rack where they can lock up their bikes?
Depending on how many children are in your neighborhood, this might be a one-time activity, or it could be something you repeat several times a year. Talk to the parents in your community safety group to ask them what’s best for them — may be one of them can help coordinate the tours moving forward.
Set boundaries for where your children may go
If you have kids yourself, make sure that they not only know their neighborhood but are also very aware of their own boundaries. If you don’t want them venturing onto undeveloped property or beyond certain roads, tell them! Show them exactly where their cutoff points lie and talk to them about what to do if they’re tempted to travel beyond them — maybe after a lost ball. Help them make a plan for how to handle those situations so they won’t be hurt and you won’t be angry.
Making the neighborhood safer isn’t just one person’s job — it’s everybody’s. By joining forces with your neighbors and working with local law enforcement, you’ll be improving safety in your area by leaps and bounds.
One of the most enticing aspects of choosing real estate as a career is the flexibility that it offers you. You can work as much or as little as you decide is right for you, and you can maintain those hours as long as they work for you.
The hard part, of course, is realizing when you need to make a change in your career that better reflects your lifestyle. Although any agent can at any point decide that it’s time to move from full-time to part-time, not every agent takes advantage of their career’s ability to flex and flow with their needs. If your motivation is flagging and you’re having trouble finding the joy in your day-to-day working life, it might be time to think about a change for the better, and that could mean reducing your hours and transitioning from a full-time agent to a part-time agent.
Why transition from full-time to part-time?
There’s a bit of a stigma against part-time agents in real estate, so it’s understandable that many agents might feel hesitant to cut their hours and declare themselves part-time after living so many years as full-time real estate professionals. But there are plenty of very valid reasons why many full-time agents choose to go part-time — and then they often stay in real estate for many years to come because they’ve managed to reclaim some of their work-life balance and rejuvenate their motivation.
Some agents might be ready to retire financially but they enjoy the business and want to keep doing a deal or two here and there, especially for friends or family members. Others may be exploring a new hobby, launching another entrepreneurial endeavor, deciding to stay home more with kids, renovating a home — the possibilities for other ways to spend your time are truly endless, and there is no single right or wrong reason why you might consider going part-time.
If you’ve had that slightly itchy feeling in your career and you sense that something needs to change, but you aren’t certain what it is, then exploring the possibility of part-time real estate work might unlock the mystery inside your head. This doesn’t have to be a permanent decision; a supportive broker should help you navigate it and give you the opportunity to change your mind and transition back to full-time if you realize that you made a mistake.
How do you know it’s time?
This answer is going to be different for everybody. Unlike many other careers, most real estate agents have to set aside funds for retirement without any help from an employer. The biggest question you should ask yourself before you transition to part-time is: What will this do to my financial situation, and can I afford it?
Perhaps you’re sitting on a sizable nest egg that you’re confident will carry you through your golden years. In that case, maybe real estate is more about a way to keep busy than earning a living, and you can consider cutting your hours and serving fewer clients every month. Or perhaps you’ve been investing in real estate and you’re now in a comfortable enough position that you want to spend some time seeing to your properties — but you don’t want to leave your career behind entirely.
Take a close look at your financial picture and ask yourself how it makes you feel. If the answer is “not the best,” ask yourself what would make it better. How much more money would you need to be making, or need to have saved in the bank, before you would feel safe making a major career change? Would you want to have some additional income streams, and what might those look like?
What does your plan entail? And what’s your backup?
After you’ve evaluated your current situation — and if you’ve decided that yes, moving from full-time to part-time makes good sense for where you are today — you’re going to need to do two things. The first is to define what, exactly, part-time means for you. Will you be scaling back your hours from 40-plus every week to around 30? Or 20? Or 15 or 10?
Again, there aren’t any wrong answers here, but you need to know how much (ideally) you’d like to work before you can decide which work you’ll be referring out and what you’ll want to keep for yourself. The idea is to take a close look at your client mix and figure out what to keep and what to shed — and how exactly you’re going to be shedding that extra weight, so to speak.
Once you’ve got a ballpark idea for how much you want to work, it’s time to take a look at your lead-generation activities and make some decisions. It’s not unreasonable to decide that you want to keep some or most — or even all — of your lead generation strategies in place if the leads you’re getting are high in quality. Referring these leads to another qualified agent who’s able and willing to close the deal can be a lucrative additional income stream for many agents. You might be able to form a partnership with an agent who plans to stay in real estate for a long time, sharing business with them and easing your transition to fewer hours.
On the other hand, you might decide that your sphere of influence and word of mouth from past clients is going to generate all the business you care to handle and save yourself some money on lead gen, in which case you might experiment with scaling back before pulling the plug entirely. That way, if your plan doesn’t go as expected, you still have a pipeline to start getting back into a full-time business as soon as you can.
Speaking of plans not going as expected, it’s probably smart to ask yourself what you’re going to do if your move to part-time doesn’t work out exactly as you’d hoped. Will you ramp back up to a full-time business, or would you prefer to find a different part-time gig to supplement your real estate work? This is another intensely personal question that’s going to depend on how long you’ve been in the industry and why, exactly, you’re hoping to transition from full-time to part-time. But it’s an important one to consider because you want to be very clear on when and how you will make adjustments to your plan.
How will you spread the word?
Depending on the details of your plan, you might want to announce to some or most or all of your clients that you’ll be changing your business model slightly. Or, you might want to keep things quiet and just inform clients on an individual basis when they reach out and ask you for help. It doesn’t matter exactly how you tell the world, or even if you do — but you need to think about it so that you have a plan and can execute that plan consistently.
The beauty of the real estate industry is that you have ultimate flexibility over your career and your schedule. If you think it’s time to consider scaling back your efforts, talk to your broker, and see what your options are. Once you’re certain you’re financially able to make the change, and you have a plan for the transition, you’ll be set up to determine whether this is the next best step for you.
Rent-to-own agreements have a bad reputation in the real estate industry, but is it deserved? Well, it depends. There are many different kinds of rent-to-own agreements, and each one can be modified and customized for the tenant and the landlord. Many rent-to-own agreements overwhelmingly favor the would-be seller of the property, the landlord, which is one reason why they have the reputation they do.
What do you need to know about rent-to-own agreements — and could it be worth it for you?
The rent-to-own basics
In a nutshell, the way rent-to-own works is that tenants agree to pay additional money in rent every month in exchange for the opportunity to buy the house. There are a couple of different ways these agreements can be structured, but they always boil down to above-market-level rent so that the tenant can start building some equity in the home.
This can be problematic simply on its surface. For tenants who struggle to save up enough money for a down payment, it might not be at all easy to spend several hundred dollars every month on top of their rent value. On the other hand, tenants who can’t manage to save a down payment might find that this is actually a better option — the money is going somewhere they can’t touch it, and when the time comes to buy the house, it’ll already be there waiting for them.
Lease option and lease purchase agreements
There are two essential types of rent-to-own agreements, a lease option agreement, and a lease-purchase agreement. Of the two, the lease-purchase agreement is more legally binding: If you sign one of these, you are obligated to buy the house when your tenancy is over. In a lease option agreement, however, you have the option to buy the home when your lease is up — but you are not required to.
These agreements will also include details about the home purchase. Sometimes a lease option or lease-purchase agreement will go so far as to state the sales price of the home when the tenant’s lease is up, either based on the home’s current market value or calculated as a projected value. But other agreements specify that the home purchase price will depend on the real estate market when the tenant is actually ready to buy.
In both of these lease agreements, the tenant is responsible for securing financing for the home purchase once the lease is up and the tenant is ready to buy. This means that if you sign a rent-to-own agreement and you aren’t able to get a mortgage loan when your lease is up, you may forfeit all of the extra money you paid throughout your tenancy.
The cons for buyers
There are a few big red flags that buyers should look for in any rent-to-own contract. And if you’re seriously considering buying a home like this, do lots of research on the seller. You don’t want to find yourself at the mercy of a shady person with unethical business practices because you were too excited to own a house to do any due diligence.
Buyers will have to pay an additional upfront fee for the opportunity to buy the house at a later date. Often called option money, this money might or might not apply to the equity in your home, and will almost definitely be lost if something happens and the deal falls through.
One thing that buyers need to think about is maintenance clauses. In many rent-to-own agreements, buyers are responsible for maintenance and repairs on the home during their tenancy. This might not be a big deal if you have to get a window air conditioning unit fixed, but what if there’s something wrong with your water heater or your sewer main? Or your fuse box? Those repairs can really add up, and you’re still not the owner, so you’re spending your own money to repair a house that you might not ever own.
Another clause to keep an eye on is the one that outlines under what conditions the agreement can be broken. Often, if the buyer is late with a single rent payment, they lose all of their investment. And if the landlord isn’t in good financial standing and forecloses on the house, the buyer loses all their money invested then, too.
This is why it’s important to research your landlord-seller. If they have a history of taking advantage of buyers, then you can probably find evidence of it. Ask them for references, and do your best to figure out what kind of person you’re doing business with. Lots of people who offer rent-to-own opportunities are ethical humans, but of course, there are always bad apples.
And, of course, if something happens with your job or your family, and you have to move out of the area, you’ll have to break the agreement and leave your home (and investment) behind.
The pros for buyers
Many clauses in a rent-to-own agreement are negotiable, which means you can ask for things, too! You can request that your option money go toward your equity in the home, for example, or for the seller to maintain the big systems in the house while you’re in charge of smaller wear-and-tear items. So one pro is that if you know your rights and you’re willing to work with your landlord-seller, you can come up with an agreement that works well for both of you.
Another is that for buyers who want to own a home but aren’t quite financially ready, rent-to-own can really help you build equity and set yourself up to buy the house where you’re living in a couple of years.
A rent-to-own agreement isn’t for everyone. It can be more expensive than buying a home the traditional way over the long term, and if buyers have the ability to save up a down payment and jump through all the hoops, they will most likely get a better deal on a house that isn’t a rent-to-own. But if you’re in love with the house where you live and it’s worth it to get your foot on the homeownership ladder that much sooner, it might be something you should consider.
When seeking new and different lead-generation strategies, you’ve probably come across the recommendation to host a real estate seminar for potential clients. It’s a common way for real estate agents to get their names and brands out into the community, meet possible buyers and sellers, and explain how a qualified agent can smooth the real estate process. If you’ve ever tried to create a seminar, though, you know that to craft a good one, you need to invest quite a bit of time and possibly some money into the effort.
Is creating a real estate seminar something you should consider in your real estate business? These 13 questions will help you determine whether it’s a good strategy for you right now and give you some tips for how to get started.
Do you have an audience in mind?
It’s not enough to say that you want to target more buyers and sellers. You’ll need to get pretty specific in order to create a real estate seminar that actually brings qualified leads to you. For example, maybe you can create a seminar for first-time homebuyers about how to save up for a down payment, how credit affects the home purchase process and what they can do to improve theirs, down payment or loan assistance programs, different types of loans, how to shop for a home, what to know about closing — there are myriad opportunities to target buyers at the appropriate stage of the sales journey, but first, you have to identify that stage.
For sellers, seminars on home renovations or repairs that yield high returns, renting instead of selling, selling a house as an FSBO (this seems counterintuitive, but once many sellers realize just how much work is involved, they will be happy to talk to you!), staging, and more. Investors might be interested in seminars about the history of different developments in your area, how to navigate cash sales, the big home repair red flags in your region, and so on. And you can capture current homeowners with seminars about renovations and repairs, how to leverage vacation-rental trends and rent their house out part-time, and much more.
When you know the audience you’re trying to reach, you’ll no doubt come up with plenty of ideas for things they might need to know, but if you try to create a seminar for everybody in your market, it’s not going to appeal to anybody. Get as specific as you can with your audience.
What topic will you choose?
Now that the audience has been narrowed down, it’s time to choose your seminar’s topic. Some agents find success in starting with the most frequently asked questions they get from buyers or sellers, while others might make the decision based on their own current lead-generation needs.
If possible, you can establish some mini focus groups or conduct polls and ask your own existing clients what they wish they would have known, or tap clients who already trust you and who are representative of the audience you’re trying to reach. Provide a list of possible topics and ask them which would be most appealing to them right now. You can also ask your fellow real estate agents who have created seminars — either other locals or agents from across the country via sources like Facebook groups — which topics yielded the best results for them.
Can you avoid a sales pitch?
There’s one thing that will without a doubt make your seminar a crushing failure, and that’s turning it into an opportunity to pitch your services to your audience instead of providing them with educational, actionable information that benefits them more than you. Of course, you should set your seminar up so that you can introduce yourself to the attendees and follow up with them when it’s over (more on that later), but ideally, this will be a marketing strategy that you can iterate on with future seminars on more topics. If word gets out that all you’re doing is asking people to list or buy with you, that strategy is going to be dead on arrival.
Instead of telling your audience why they should hire you as an agent, focus on providing them with the best, most up-to-date, and relevant information that you possibly can around the topic. You want them to walk away from the seminar with their heads full of new facts and details about real estate because then you will become a reliable source of real estate information to everyone in the audience. If your follow-up process also prioritizes delivering timely, useful information to clients, when they are ready to buy or sell, you will be the first source they turn to for how to start the journey.
Can you find a co-sponsor?
One note: It is currently legal to offer educational seminars with co-sponsors, but check RESPA (the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act) to ensure you aren’t running afoul of laws around real estate co-marketing agreements. Generally speaking, a seminar is fine if it is co-sponsored by a real estate agent and another real estate entity (such as a mortgage broker, an insurance provider, or a title agency) when the costs are split equally between the sponsors, attendees are not required to do business with both sponsors if they think they want to do business with one, and both sponsors follow up with attendees in a legal and respectful manner. But if you plan to co-sponsor your seminar, please make sure you run your plan by someone qualified to check it for legal and regulatory pitfalls.
Now that you have your audience and topic narrowed down, you can think about bringing a sponsor into the picture. You absolutely do not have to co-sponsor your seminar with anybody, but it can be beneficial for all parties to consider it. For example, let’s say you’re hosting a seminar for first-time homebuyers about how to save up for a down payment. A mortgage broker who can discuss loan programs with low-down-payment options could be a great addition to that seminar, providing attendees with even more information; that mortgage broker can also join forces with you by leveraging their own sphere of influence to bring in new attendees. Attendees get more reliable details about how to accomplish their goals, and you and your sponsor partner both get access to a new pool of leads.
It is critical that a good co-sponsor is on the same page as you are as far as the content of the seminar goes. It’s not going to be good for you if you pack your part of the seminar full of useful knowledge, and your co-sponsor decides to spend the same amount of time on a sales pitch. One way to avoid this — and a good best practice no matter what — is to run through the talk in advance at least once with your co-sponsor so that there are no surprises.
Are you comfortable putting together a talk?
Your seminar doesn’t have to be as slick as a keynote presentation at a conference that costs thousands of dollars to attend, but you should still put enough effort into it that attendees feel it’s a professional, well-executed event. This means you’ll probably want to put together a slide deck or create some videos or provide some kind of visual supplement to the things you’ll be discussing.
Fortunately, if you’re not comfortable using software to create a compelling presentation, and you have no interest in learning, this is something you can outsource pretty easily as far as the actual presentation goes … though you’ll still be on the hook for putting together the seminar as a whole. (Please, don’t just show up planning to wing it!) To get started, write down a list of everything you know about your topic, then see if you can group some of the items on that list and then arrange the groups into a series of points. Once you have your outline and an idea of where you’re going, the presentation should be relatively easy to produce.
Are you comfortable actually talking?
There is such a thing as an introverted real estate agent, and those agents might prefer to focus on other methods of generating leads besides seminars. Remember, in a seminar, you are going to be standing up in front of a group of strangers and attempting to convince them that you are competent, trustworthy, and a good businessperson. If you suffer from stage fright and know that your public speaking skills aren’t up to scratch, then it’s a good idea to address those things (Toastmasters?) before you launch a seminar as a lead-generation tactic.
On the other hand, very few people feel completely at home while educating a room full of strangers. A modicum of stage fright is absolutely normal and human, so don’t procrastinate by trying to eliminate your stage fright entirely before you’ll commit to creating a seminar.
What materials will you provide for attendees?
It’s a good idea to offer some take-home materials for your seminar guests, both to help them remember what you said and to provide an easy way for them to find your contact information if they have questions (or want to reach out about hiring you!). You can create a handout or a packet of handouts, of course, but another easy way to distribute materials can be through USB flash drives that you provide for everyone.
In addition to the materials and handouts, tell your attendees that you’ll send them a copy of your slide deck if they provide their email addresses for your follow-up process. If you have the time and your seminars are popular enough, eventually you might want to put together a guide or an ebook that you can offer to send attendees for free as a lead magnet.
Do you have a space to host it?
Your brokerage real estate office may be big enough to accommodate your seminar group, but if it’s not, or if you’re co-sponsoring the seminar, you might want to find an alternative venue. Library and hotel conference rooms are popular spots for agents to host seminars. Hotel conference rooms tend to offer more amenities, but libraries are free; make a decision based on the convenience of your attendees and your own budget for the seminar.
Some companies might even ask you to come in and present to employees on topics like saving up for a down payment if your seminars are up to scratch, so once you’ve started working on this strategy, you may be able to pitch big employers in your area and ask if you can come in for a lunch-and-learn.
What dates and times would be best?
You might need to think more strategically about this than you imagined. If your audience is going to include a lot of buyers with small children, then evenings might not be easy; you may need to offer your seminar on a weekend during the day and perhaps provide child care. And if there are other events happening nearby that could conflict with your seminar, you’ll want to avoid scheduling your seminar at the same dates and times.
If there are dueling times or dates, think about possibly scheduling a second one after the first. There’s no reason why you can’t try to accommodate everyone’s schedules who might be interested in hearing what you have to say.
How will you market?
There are infinite ways you can tell the community about your seminar, from fliers in different public spaces to social media campaigns to advertising in local news outlets and beyond. Again, this is a good time to consider your audience. Ask yourself where you can find them during the day and how you might use those spaces (digital and real) to your advantage. Potential first-time homebuyers might be lurking in the neighborhood Facebook groups or on Nextdoor, and as long as you’re clear that your seminar is primarily educational, most groups will allow you to advertise your seminar to the users. Coffeeshops and recreation centers or libraries with public bulletin boards can also be popular choices.
If your CRM is in good shape and you have contact information and sales journey stages determined for your contacts, you can also use targeted email campaigns to let the people in your sphere know about your event. (And we know you know this is a good thing to do anyway for lead-generation purposes.)
What’s your prep plan?
Running through your seminar with an audience of loved ones to provide feedback is a good idea, but setting up for success at your seminar is about more than just feeling confident in your presentation. Will you have beverages available for your clients? Just iced bottled water, or will you also provide coffee and tea? Where will your attendees sit? Will you pass out the handout materials to them once you’re seated, or make them available on a table while attendees walk in? Will you provide pens for them to take notes? Will there be desks or tables for them to sit their drinks and materials? How will you capture contact information? Who will set the room up?
Think about the experience you’re seeking for your attendees, from beginning to end, and then consider what you need to execute it and how long it might take. You could wind up spending several hours or even a full day preparing for and delivering your seminar, so make sure you accommodate for that time in the rest of your schedule.
Do you have a plan for circling back with possible clients?
There’s no sense in creating a seminar if you don’t know how you’re going to reconnect with the attendees after they leave. Your first priority should be to provide an educational, informational experience for them, but right behind it should be capturing an email address or phone number so that you can follow up with everybody who came. Remember to mention that you will email your slide deck and any supplemental materials you can offer to attendees if they write down their email address on the form.
In addition to deciding how you’re going to collect all of this information — a paper form? signing in on an iPad? — you should prepare to create as many materials as you can to offer your attendees as a thank-you for their attendance. Most people won’t mind providing you with an email address if they know they’re going to get something in return, and you can then use their email address to follow up with more information about buying or selling when they’re ready.
Will you do this regularly?
It isn’t the best use of your time to offer the same seminar over and over again every month, but if you put together more than one seminar, you can start cycling through them once or twice a year, updating them every time. The hard work of creating the seminar will be complete, so you might as well iterate on what works; then you can also apply some of what you’ve learned and maybe incorporate some of the questions and requests from past attendees.
You don’t have to offer seminars as a real estate agent, but it can be a wonderful lead-generation strategy and a good way to build your brand in your local community as a trusted expert advisor. If you do decide to create a seminar, think about how you can make it as useful as possible for your audience, then don’t forget to follow up. The more seminars you put together, the better they will all become, and the more people in your community will refer to you when they have a question about real estate.
Selling a house isn’t exactly like selling any other piece of property; there’s no reference book on how much a home should cost because home value depends on so many different factors that vary widely from residence to residence. For this reason, when many sellers are preparing to sell their house, they want to “test the market” — throwing a home price at the wall to see if it sticks, essentially. In practice, this usually means that sellers get a sense of how much their home might be worth by talking to some experts, then deliberately overprice their home when they list it on the market … just to see if anybody will bite.
This is an incredibly risky strategy that might work for some one-of-a-kind items like antiques or rare animals, but if you try it with home sales, it’s most likely to blow up in your face. Here’s why.
You’re squandering the ‘just listed’ window of opportunity
Think for a moment about what it’s like to be a buyer in most real estate markets in the country. When you first get pre-approved and start seriously looking at houses to buy, you look at everything available that meets your general specifications and price range. If you don’t find your new home in that first batch of listings, though, then you play the waiting game, stalking the MLS for every new listing that could be a match and racing to view it as soon as it hits the market.
Now think about this pattern from the perspective of the listing itself. When is your home likely to get the most attention from qualified, ready buyers who are eager to see it? You may see small spikes of attention when you drop the price, but your home is going to get the most eyeballs on it when it first hits the market, and if you’re testing the market with a price that you know probably isn’t realistic … well, you’re blowing a huge opportunity to get your house sold quickly for a decent price on the very slim chance that a rare buyer is going to fall in love with your house and pay your dream price.
It’s not ‘room to negotiate’ if you can only move down
If you think your home is the very best in the neighborhood, and you price it at the very top of the range of homes in your area — even if you’re correct, you’re not giving buyers any room to negotiate except for down. And if any variable doesn’t align with your ideal, if the market is slightly less hot or if your home has one fewer bedroom or the kitchen is a bit outdated, then you’re only going to be negotiating down or dropping the price.
A smaller pool of buyers is not better
One basic law of economics is that more buyers will be able to afford your product if it’s priced lower than higher. This is why companies do extensive research on the demand for a product and rarely decide to price what they sell at the very top of the range they determine is possible — at a certain point, it’s better to sell more units at a lower price than fewer at a higher price because there will be more consistent demand.
When you only have one unit to sell, you might think that the best approach is to price it as high as you can and hope that the buyer who’s willing to pay the most for your home is in the pool of buyers who can afford your ideal price. But if that perfect buyer’s budget doesn’t stretch to include your home, there’s every chance they might miss your “price drop” announcement in a few weeks … or that they might have settled for a different house by then.
Buyers are educated …
There is more information available to buyers today online than ever before in human history, and considering the importance and financial impact of a home purchase, you can rest assured that those buyers are taking full advantage of all that available information. They’ve seen every valuation available for your house and know what the algorithms think it’s worth, and they will instantly recognize your attempt to inflate the price. If you don’t have a very good reason for that inflation, you might have trouble keeping their interest.
… And they don’t always want to talk sellers into a fair price
Some people relish the prospect of a tough negotiation, and it can be difficult for those people to recognize that not everyone enjoys going back-and-forth to see what each concession is worth. For buyers who aren’t interested in negotiating, an overpriced listing is a huge red flag that they’re going to be spending more time than they’d like talking the seller back down to reality.
Even if it’s their dream home and they’d love nothing more than to move in (at a more reasonable price), those buyers are going to move on to greener pastures. So which buyers are left over? The ones who appreciate the art of negotiation just as much as you do … and who are looking forward to getting one up on you so they can tell all their friends about the great real estate deal they just made.
Your house isn’t more attractive for the price, but maybe your neighbor’s will be
Real estate prices don’t exist in individual bubbles; they’re part of a larger ecosystem of the real estate market, which includes every home on a block, or in a neighborhood, or an entire metropolitan area. If you price your house at the very top of the realistic price range, and everyone else in your neighborhood who’s selling is behaving more reasonably when it comes to pricing their homes, you’re all but driving buyers into their arms when they see that they can get a similar home on the same street for tens of thousands less.
A lingering home makes buyers wonder what’s wrong with it
Sellers who test the market usually do so with the rationale that they don’t have to sell their house immediately — they have time to experiment and see what works best. This might be a solid philosophy with many other industries, but in real estate, most sellers are under some kind of time pressure, and homes that linger on the market for weeks, then months, sometimes even years, tend to raise buyers’ suspicions. They’re used to the best homes flying off the shelves, so to speak, while homes that don’t sell immediately usually have issues.
So what will buyers think when your home has been on the market for months and you’ve dropped the price several times? It will depend on every buyer’s individual experience, but it’s safe to say that their impression probably won’t be good.
The house won’t appraise at your full price
Even if you’re somehow able to find a buyer who thinks your home is worth the inflated price and is willing to buy it, unless that buyer is paying all-cash, they’ll need to get their mortgage lender to agree that the house is worth the loan amount. Rules and regulations implemented since the Great Recession have created an environment where lenders are adamant about confirming a home’s value, and appraisers are nowhere near as easy to influence these days. If an appraiser evaluates the neighborhood and comes to the conclusion that your home is overpriced, no matter how enthusiastic your buyer is, they won’t be able to close the sale.
There are several tactics you can use to maximize your profit on your home sale, none of which include testing the market. If you’re curious about what price your house could fetch realistically in the market today, what improvements might get you more money, and the best approach to listing your house for the neighborhood and type of home, talk to a licensed real estate agent or broker today.
You may know that more productive, successful real estate agents have assistants to help them manage the minutiae of the business — but how do you know if you’re there, yet? The question of when to hire an assistant can be a daunting one for many agents, and quite a few of them realize after they get an assistant that they probably could have hired one (and been appropriately relieved) much earlier than they did.
Hiring an assistant doesn’t hinge on how long you’ve been in real estate, and you can absolutely justify hiring an assistant if you could use some help with the tasks that assistants are allowed to complete. Remember that flexible arrangements, such as sharing an assistant with another agent in your office who’s at a similar stage, can help you bring help onboard faster than you otherwise would, making you more productive and saving your sanity.
Is it time to hire an assistant? If these are signs that resonate with you, it’s at least time to consider it.
You feel like you’ve lost your work-life balance
This is the biggest sign by far that it’s time to start thinking about hiring an assistant. Everybody knows the real estate industry is nonstop, and it can also feel isolating, especially if you’re a solo agent who’s trying to juggle everything by yourself. That can be a lot of pressure for someone when the stakes are as high as someone else’s place to live, immediately or for years — it’s a stressful environment with a lot of details to remember, and it’s no wonder a lot of agents struggle to keep all those balls in the air once they reach a certain level of success.
If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, consistently neglecting your family engagements for work, can’t exercise or eat well because you’re too busy — you know the signs — then consider it a serious warning that if something in your real estate career doesn’t change, you might not have a long-term real estate career.
You know how much money you make (gross and net)
Most agents ask themselves first whether they can afford an assistant, not whether they need one. Well, before you can assess whether you can afford an assistant, you need to know exactly how much money you make and how much of that money you take home, usually, two different numbers for real estate agents who have to factor in brokerage fees, franchise fees, pay for photos and marketing materials, or other expenses that result from assisting a home sale transaction.
Last year’s tax return might help, but it would be beneficial for you to keep running track of how much money you’re generating and what you’ve got to work with so that you can start to think about standardizing pay for someone who will help you maximize your production.
You know what you like and what you don’t like to do
It’s probably not hard to think about the tasks that you relish and the ones you loathe when you consider the day-to-day of your job. Some agents thrive on the marketing and networking aspects of working with buyers and sellers, while others are lead-generation whizzes, and still, others make transactions run so smoothly that everyone’s head on all sides is left spinning. But nobody likes to do everything, and nobody is good at everything.
Make a list of the things you have to do every day, every week, every month, and every year in your job, then divide it according to things you enjoy and things you really don’t. Are there enough things on the list of things you don’t enjoy that an assistant could tackle? If not, maybe an inside sales associate (ISA) is a better fit?
You understand which activities really require your personal touch … and which don’t
If your sellers really expect you to answer every phone call personally and schedule all appointments, then maybe you have an issue with a high-maintenance client base that can’t really be solved with an assistant. But there are plenty of things that require your personal touch and hand-holding with your buyers and sellers, and plenty of things that really can (and should) be delegated to someone whose time isn’t at quite as much of a premium.
This isn’t just about your sellers, either. Maybe you truly believe that you have to personally craft your business Instagram and Facebook presence in order to be taken seriously as a real estate agent. And it’s possible that in your market and in your niche, you’re correct. But you also need to be aware of what activities should be most hands-on for you, and which ones you can logistically and ethically release to someone else.
You have a well-structured lead generation strategy
Again, this goes back to the fear that you might not be able to pay an assistant consistently. Looking harder at your business can tell you whether that fear is founded or not, and lead generation is, of course, a big part of your financial stability.
If you’ve just kind of been letting leads fall in your lap and have happened to get pretty lucky, then don’t hire an assistant until you’ve been able to establish a consistent lead-generation strategy that’s yielding some solid, reliable returns for you. And keep a regular eye on whether those lead sources are continuing to work well for you or whether some of them start to run dry so that you can start to diversify before your leads disappear “without warning.”
You’re consistently closing at least a couple of deals each month
Depending on which market you’re in, closing about two deals a month (on average) will give you the ability to take care of your own business expenses, pay bills, and have enough left over to invest in your business somehow. Making that investment an assistant could increase your productivity and boost your earning power, so if you’ve reached the stage where you can count on closing at least two deals a month or 24 a year, then it might be time to think about on-boarding someone to help with the minutiae.
You know what an assistant can legally do
Some real estate agents get lost in fantasies of being able to lie on a beach while an assistant handles the bulk of the heavy lifting — which is just not realistic. Real estate assistants are legally allowed by law to complete only certain tasks, and it’s critical that you know what an assistant can (and can’t) do so that you don’t run afoul of the legal system and get yourself into trouble when you were only trying to alleviate stress and elevate your business.
Real estate assistants can:
* Answer phones, collect mail and relay messages
* Schedule appointments, including closings, home tours, and inspections
* Manage social media accounts
* Place advertisements and create marketing materials
* Create documents, presentations, and spreadsheets
* Take photos of listings and enter the listings into the MLS
* Help with expenses
You know what kind of assistant you need
In that list of things that real estate agents can do, you may have noticed tasks that they can’t do but that you are going to need to be done. So what are your options there?
One is to hire a different type of assistant that will be a better fit for your particular business needs. Real estate inside sales associates (ISAs) can legally work with clients on documents (including sales contracts), manage paperwork or prepare escrow files, or call new leads on the phone — you would need to use an ISA for these tasks.
You have some time to hire and train an assistant
Real estate is a seasonal business, and there are definitely some times of the year when you are simply going to be too busy to onboard anybody new; it would be too big an interruption to your flow with clients. On the flip side, there might be some times of the year when it makes perfect sense to train an assistant, such as the beginning of the year, when you might be going over all your processes anyway, identifying inefficiencies and making improvements.
When you have a decent handle on your schedule and it wouldn’t be too big a burden to spend a couple of hours a day for two or three weeks training an assistant, then it might be a good time to think about hiring somebody. Make sure you carve out some time for the hiring process, too!
You have a budget for paying your assistant
All of this talk about financial preparation has ignored one critical component that you’ll need to lock down before you’re ready to bring an assistant on board — the budget. It’s a smart idea to wait until you have three or four months’ wages for your assistant set back, whether you’re hiring someone part-time to share with another agent or two, or you’re hoping to have your own full-time helper bee.
If you haven’t yet figured out where this money is going to come from, start by assessing the wages for good assistants in your area (no point in aiming low), then figure out how many hours a week you’d need, and do your best to stash up at least twelve to sixteen weeks’ pay for an assistant. Then you can feel like a responsible employer.
You feel comfortable ceding control in some areas
Some agents gravitate toward real estate expressly because they can control a business down to some of its most minute details. If that’s you, then you might find it hard to hire an assistant specifically because you don’t want to give up control of what you’ve built, and that is an entirely understandable sentiment. It’s also one that’s going to cost you a lot of time and energy over the long term as you spend your own precious minutes on tasks that are, frankly, below your pay grade at a certain level of real estate sales.
Where do you feel comfortable giving up control to an employee — one you’ve hired and trained yourself? If you just can’t see handing over the steering wheel in any capacity to someone else, then you’re probably just not ready (or not desperate enough), and that’s OK. It’s better to understand that now than hire someone and realize you don’t want to give them anything to do.
You’ve talked to your mentors about hiring an assistant
Every real estate agent should have trusted mentors to provide advice; if you don’t, that’s a separate conversation. Hopefully, you do, and you can bounce questions off them about hiring an assistant. Ask them when they made the move in their careers and whether they wish they would have done it sooner or later — and why. Try to get as many details as you can about what went smoothly and what pitfalls they didn’t expect.
Maybe your mentors have assistants today and you could ask them for their perspective about what they wish they knew about the job, their thoughts on training and, and anything else that you might want to know. After all, if you have resources, it makes sense to use them!
You have a system for keeping track of transactions
An assistant can help you communicate with clients to some extent, but they’re going to need to know what’s happening before they can tell one of your buyers or sellers what’s going on while you’re otherwise occupied. So you’ll need a way to keep track of everything ongoing that clearly delineates to your assistant where it’s fine for them to be involved and where they would need more training in order to respond to a question or request.
This will also benefit you from a bookkeeping perspective, and any partners you work within the title or mortgage world will appreciate your newfound organization if you haven’t already systematized your transactions.
You’re organized enough to start handing over some tasks
Another barrier some agents have to hire an assistant is that they are barely hanging on to the current state of affairs by tooth and nail; they definitely don’t have time to pause and outline job responsibilities and transitions, let alone even think about the mess that can be the hiring process. If that describes you, then you probably already know an assistant is more critical for you, personally than ever.
Start by getting organized with some of the smaller tasks that you know an assistant can help with, such as scheduling appointments and entering listings into the MLS. Maybe you can hire someone part-time to start, with the understanding that you’ll ramp up hours as you get more organized.
Technology won’t solve your challenges
There are a lot of fun toys available for real estate agents in this day and age, and it’s entirely possible that one of those is going to be a decent answer to your problem. Perhaps you don’t really need an assistant to handle your social media posting and instead, there’s an app that will coordinate everything just as well.
The question you have to ask yourself is, how well do you need these things done, and is it really something you can trust in technology? A bot that schedules appointments might work fine for something simple, but for a more complicated request, you might need a human involved. Similarly, maybe your social media needs a personal touch. Use technology tools where you can, but don’t become blinded to their limits.
Some agents struggle with the question of when to hire help for their business. If any of these scenarios describe your life as an agent, it might be time to think about bringing an assistant on board, boosting your productivity and catapulting you into the next echelon of real estate success.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to real estate agents publicly supporting charities. One school holds that this is a solid business strategy — it can help differentiate agents in crowded markets especially, and many clients like to feel good about helping good people accomplish good things. The other school, however, holds that incorporating a charity and your support of that charity into your real estate business is too risky. The world is too divisive as it is, and choosing a particular charity that you’re going to advocate for and financially provision above others can drive people away just as much as it can draw clients to your door.
If you’re on the fence about whether to support a charity as a real estate agent, consider the many nonpartisan, non-controversial options that are open to you, then have a discussion with your broker about any brokerage policies they might have. Agents who carefully select the charities they support and have backing from their brokers can find that supporting charitable causes can be an excellent way to elevate and differentiate themselves.
Why give back?
Many real estate agents want to give back to their communities or to organizations or networks that have meant a lot to them in their lives, but they are hesitant to indulge that desire because they’re worried that giving to certain charities could reflect poorly upon them. Today’s very divided political landscape means that if certain issues such as gun control or protection of the Second Amendment are high on your priority list, then you could wind up alienating a certain group of your client population.
It’s true that choosing an overtly political charity or cause is probably going to be a turnoff for a least a portion of your client base. Some agents are willing to sacrifice those clients in exchange for reaching others who align more closely with their views. Even if you’re not, though, it’s still possible to find charitable causes that are close to your heart and values without driving off a large group of people who might be otherwise very happy doing business with you. For example, someone who believes strongly in the Second Amendment might have grown up hunting and also have strong feelings about conservation and nature preservation, which are potentially more widely shared among the general population. And someone who’s a gun control advocate in private life might choose to support children’s causes or animal charities, which may overlap with their values.
Believe it or not, giving to charity can be a very smart business decision, depending on the market in which you’re operating and your client base. Millennials, in particular, tend to value companies and businesses that prioritize community health, so if you can show that you’re paying attention to social issues that matter and you’re contributing what you can to those causes, your clients will feel proud to affiliate themselves with you and your business — and could even start humblebragging about how great it is to support charity while buying or selling a home to their friends, which is only a win for you as their agent!
List your options
There have to be at least a dozen different ways to give back to your community or the world at large when you start to think about it, so even if you’re on the fence about charitable giving, spend some time making a list of the things you might be able to do that could provide good reputation points for your business and your name. If you’re serious about putting real ideas down on this list, you might be pleasantly surprised by the possibilities that arise.
Some different areas to consider might include:
Local organizations, charities, and support efforts
Start by listing different local opportunities for giving back that you can uncover or explore. Many agents might disavow the idea of helping out charity as a business differentiator because they think it alienates some people, but if you decide to help out local schools, food pantries, or natural resources by organizing school supply drives, grocery drives, or park cleanups, you’ll probably find that more people are drawn to you than repelled. Even clients who don’t have kids or who don’t use the park may appreciate your efforts to help out the community in which they live and could respond accordingly. Maybe you could even host some kind of gala event and donate the proceeds to a local group, such as a historical society that works to preserve landmark homes in the area. Even if you don’t want to advertise too many of your personal values to clients, there are ample options to give back to your local community that are laudable and will help you connect with buyers and sellers alike.
Think of the children
It’s really true that the children are our future, and even people who don’t have children can often appreciate your efforts to make things better for kids and help prepare our future leaders for the jobs ahead of them. There are countless sports teams and clubs to sponsor, and if you’re feeling really ambitious, you could also fund a scholarship to help a local child (or several children) go camping or take advantage of educational opportunities they couldn’t otherwise afford.
Home is where the heart is
A real estate agent sponsoring real estate-related charities makes a lot of sense! Whether you’re partnering with Habitat for Humanity or an outfit like Giveback Homes, or have some other home- or housing-related charitable outfit that you’re supporting, opting for the real estate charity can be a safe and easy way to show you care without risking too much. That said, it’s also relatively common especially because it is a little safer and more obvious. There’s nothing wrong with supporting real estate-related causes, especially if they’re close to your heart or there’s some intensely local housing issue that your support will help address, but be aware that it might be considered an easy option and make sure you’re giving equal weight to other charities.
Leverage life experiences
One great alternative to going with a real estate-related charity just because it happens to dovetail with your job is to think about your own personal experiences and see if you can make some kind of charitable connection that way. Perhaps you have a soft spot for animals and several pets, so it might make sense for you to focus on animal shelters and foster groups. Veterans may find that they want to devote some of their time and energy to veterans’ causes, while people who have suffered from certain diseases (or have seen loved ones suffer) could feel inspired to pledge some of their earnings toward that disease’s eradication. Real estate agents who have been victims in domestic violence situations may want to help out others by donating to shelters or offering seminars on how to achieve financial independence, for example. There’s nothing wrong with making a personal connection to the charity you’d like to support, so don’t be afraid of delving into your own experience and seeing what emerges.
Let the client choose
Maybe you know you want to offer some kind of charitable incentive or bonus to your clients, but you really don’t want to be the one to select which charity. You can always let your clients decide which charity will benefit from your generosity, which can be a nice way to involve them in the decision — and you can also give them an opportunity to claim a tax credit for the donation. This can really help set you apart in the eyes of your clients and give them something to talk about, once when they transact with you and again when tax season rolls around!
After you’ve outlined your options, decide whether you want to choose just one strategy, or perhaps try a couple of different ones. You will likely find that one is a better fit for your business than the other, but there’s no harm in doing some testing with different models before you decide whether you’re going to incorporate charitable giving permanently into your sales system and how, exactly, that will look for you.
Some people are under the mistaken impression that you must have good (or even great) credit in order to buy a house. That’s truly not the case — there are plenty of opportunities for people with poor credit to start on the journey toward homeownership and end with a set of keys to their very own home in their hands. But it’s true that buying a house with bad credit can be a challenge that not everybody is equipped to face.
If your credit isn’t exactly shiny and pristine, there’s still hope for your dream of owning your own house. Assess your situation, do what you can to improve it, and you’ll be working on the fun part of home buying (the shopping part) before you know it.
Face the music
Maybe you don’t know your exact credit score or what’s on your report … you just know it’s, you know, not great. That’s perfectly understandable and nobody is judging you for shrinking from the truth a little bit, but the first step toward fixing the problem of a poor credit score is understanding exactly how bad the situation is so that you can start addressing the low-hanging fruit and easy-to-tackle issues first.
So if you don’t know what your credit score is or have access to what’s on it, now is the time to procure a copy of your credit report, which you can request for free. You might be nervous about what’s on the report, and that’s entirely natural, but refusing to look at it isn’t going to solve any problems — so if it helps, just tell yourself that your score is as low as it could possibly be and you owe millions of dollars on your credit report. Maybe that’s true, but if your situation is even a little bit better, you’ll feel pleasantly surprised!
Check for errors
Believe it or not, there are mistakes on credit reports just like any other document, and if you haven’t been paying attention, then you might find some on your report. Getting mistakes removed can feel tedious and time-consuming (and, let’s face it, it is), but you’ll be improving your credit without having to spend any money doing it, and that can be a solid payoff all on its own.
Take that copy of your credit report and run down it line by line to see if you can find anything that’s worth disputing. Obviously, larger line items are going to be worth more time than smaller ones, but everything that doesn’t belong on your report is worth disputing. It might take some untangling to get there, but it’s going to make a difference in the end on how quickly and easily you get in the door of a home of your own.
Do what you can to improve where you can
You can still buy a house even if your credit isn’t perfect or very good — and we’ll get to the specifics of how in a minute. But the fact of the matter is that you’re going to get the very best deal on your mortgage loan if your credit is in decent shape. That’s important because it affects how much money you’re going to pay overtime on the house; the lower your mortgage rate, the less you’ll pay, and you won’t be able to get a low rate with poor credit.
So instead of throwing your hands up and accepting your fate, start looking for ways to improve your credit score right now. First and foremost, if there are any bills you can pay automatically, sign up to do so; late payments will wreak havoc on your credit score. Once you’re paying all your current bills regularly and on time, start tackling the highest-interest debts first. If you’re in default, see if you can set up a payment plan with whichever entity now owns the debt; that may take some investigating to figure out. But any efforts you can make to improve your financial situation and your credit now will benefit you later when you’re actively looking for a house.
Meet with a housing counselor and take classes
The Department of Housing and Urban Development offers resources for buyers (especially first-time buyers) who are struggling with credit issues and affordability. It’s well worth checking out because they can often direct you to additional resources (even grants and loans for down payments) that could make all the difference in your ability to reach the finish line. Visit https://www.hud.gov/buying/localbuying to see if HUD offers any programs in your area.
Know your loan options
There are a few different types of loans that are specifically geared toward buyers with poor credit or financial struggles, including FHA loans, USDA loans, or VA loans. If you’re a veteran, then it’s a good idea to contact the Veterans Administration and ask for information about VA loans, which require a credit score of 620 and often offer very good rates even for borrowers with credit challenges, and you can get a loan with no down payment at all and with no private mortgage insurance (PMI) penalties.
If you have a credit score of at least 580, then you can qualify for an FHA loan, which is a loan with a lot of flexibility — it’s not restricted to first-time homebuyers, for example, and the loan requires just a 3.5% down payment (although if you can put more down, you’ll get better terms. Employment qualifications for an FHA loan can also be looser.
A USDA loan is available only in some rural areas for some borrowers who have a low-income range for the area. These also require a credit score of 620 and don’t require a down payment or PMI, so depending on your income and where you’re buying, they can be a good option for some borrowers.
Private mortgage loans are also available even to borrowers with poor credit, but you may need to make one or more of the concessions listed below.
Pay upon PMI
If you don’t have a full 20% down to bring to the sale, it’s standard procedure for the lender to charge an additional mortgage insurance every month on top of your payment. This is usually calculated as a percentage of the total loan; it can be well worth it for buyers to pay PMI if it means building equity and working up the homeownership ladder.
Offer a bigger down payment
Alternatively, if you have poor credit but you happen to have good access to a lot of money, then it might make sense for you to offer a larger-than-average down payment to offset your lack of credit. Some lenders will accept a riskier borrower with more skin in the game, so to speak, so it’s worth a shot if you’re able to come up with those large amounts of money before your home purchase.
Bring a co-signer to the table
Borrowers whose credit isn’t good enough to get a loan on their own also have the option of bringing a co-signer to the table who can also be financially responsible for the loan. This is a big deal, and most co-signers will be family members — all of the normal advice about entangling yourself financially with family members applies even more stringently here, but if there are no other options, bringing a co-signer in can get a deal to close that was otherwise lost for good.
Be realistic about your price range
It’s incredibly important for homebuyers who are more financially challenged than they would prefer to be ultra-realistic about the budget they can afford and how they plan to pay for it. The last thing you want on your credit report is a foreclosure, and the best way to avoid one is to make sure you’re not getting in over your head in the first place by shopping aggressively within your price range and aiming low if at all possible. You aren’t obligated to stay in the home you buy with poor credit forever; it can be a jumping-off point to something better, but you have to get your foot in the door first, which might mean compromising here and there.
Refinance when you’re settled
Homeownership can help boost your credit in a big way; that financial stability and equity building will only benefit you over time. And after some time, you can take advantage of your newly polished credit to refinance. Depending on what mortgage rates are doing, you might even spend less money every month on your mortgage, be able to get rid of your PMI, or otherwise tweak your payment to your best advantage.
There’s no reason why you can’t buy a house with poor credit. It just is going to require a little extra work and planning on your part, but the end result — a home of your own — will be worth all the sweat and tears you put into it.
Buyers and sellers are becoming more and more educated about real estate transactions, but they also don’t know what they don’t know. As a result, agents have to answer more and more questions from buyers and sellers about their commission rates.
This can be a sensitive topic because, after all, it’s about money, and agents have to get paid for their work just like anybody else. So what do you say to a client who wants you to take a lower commission?
Above all, remain calm
Nobody likes to hear a client say that, essentially, you make too much money and you should be willing to take less. That’s both a blow to the ego and, potentially, the pocketbook. It’s understandable that some real estate agents react strongly to the commission conversation; after all, this is their livelihood at stake.
All that said, do your very best to stay cool, calm and collected while you’re talking about commissions to clients. Getting agitated and lashing out might feel like the thing to do at the moment, and the points you make about your value might actually sink in with your clients…while they’re working with a different agent.
One simple way to smooth your tone when you have this conversation is to practice! Come up with a few responses to commission objections that you can deliver and practice saying them to your pet, your pillow, the wall, your significant other, or just out loud in your car while you’re driving around. Sooner or later, they will feel so familiar that they’ll just roll off the tongue.
Buyers don’t pay commission; sellers do
For buyers, there is a very simple argument for why debating your commission is a waste of their time: They aren’t going to be paying your commission, anyway. It comes out of the seller’s list price, and the seller is hardly going to give a buyer a discount because the buyer doesn’t want to pay an agent.
When a buyer asks if you’ll lower your commission, explain exactly how you are paid. After a check is cut to the seller at the closing table, the seller then pays both the listing agent and the buyer’s agent. So even if you take a cut on your commission, the buyer isn’t going to get a better deal on the house.
Sellers might need this fact pointed out to them as well. Some sellers who don’t want to pay a full commission to any agent will realize that it’s tough to attract qualified buyers, especially if you don’t want to pay a buyer’s agent a fair amount. (But more on that later.)
Explain the current market
Even the most educated buyer or seller probably doesn’t understand the nuances of the real estate market in the same way that you do as an agent. They might have heard stories from friends or neighbors about a home sale, but those stories might not be at all current, and of course, they’re anecdotal.
This explanation can go well beyond whether you’re in a buyer’s market or a seller’s market; perhaps you can discuss how one block is leaning more toward a buyer’s market while the next block is still firmly at the seller’s side of the market spectrum. And maybe you can share details about the homes that are in the highest demand and why. Seasonal trends, local economic details, and other granular factors that will impact a home sale are all things that real estate agents know quite a bit more about than most people think, and you can leverage those to help illuminate your value.
Show them the numbers
One way to illustrate how much you know about the market and what will get a house to sell is to provide raw data that gives both buyers and sellers an understanding of what’s happening in the area and how you can help expedite their particular transaction. Real estate agents have access to much more information than the average consumer, who might have done a little bit of research on the portals around pricing, but don’t really understand it.
Not only is it helpful to share the days on market and average price per square foot with them, but it’s also a kindness to explain as plainly as you can why those things matter to their particular situation. A seller who wants to get to the closing table as quickly as possible is going to want to see days on market data so they know what they’re up against, while first-time buyers will want to know what a reasonable price for a fixer-upper, entry-level home is in that one neighborhood — so be ready to provide that information.
Then show them your numbers
Data is great, but data with context is even better. After you lay the marketplace groundwork and you’re confident that your clients understand what home sales are looking like, it’s time to show them how you measure up to the standard.
Start by explaining how many buyers or sellers you’ve helped in the area in the past six months to one year, depending on how quickly your market moves. You can speak to specific sales that involved similar situations to theirs (without compromising your former clients, of course). Provide your own days on market data, list-to-sales-price ratios, homes sold, and so on, to help give your clients an idea of how their experience will measure up against the standard (and why you’re worth the commission).
Offer testimonials or references
Everyone gets sold to all the time these days, so it’s no wonder that clients don’t always automatically trust real estate agents. But you know who they do trust? Other buyers and sellers who have been through the process and understand the pain points.
You already know that testimonials and positive reviews can help your business, and you can also use them to help strengthen the foundation of value you’re laying with clients. If other people like them decided to work with you — and they already know you don’t negotiate your commission with clients — then future clients can be persuaded to work with you, too.
Provide a list of what it takes to buy or sell a house
If you don’t sell real estate for a living, then the amount of money an agent makes on a home sale transaction might seem absurd. But if you’re a real estate agent, then you know exactly how much work goes into that money, and your commission seems utterly reasonable.
So why not educate your clients about exactly what it takes to list a home successfully for its full market value, or what it takes to get buyer clients the very best possible deal on a house they love? Some agents balk at this strategy because they think it will make it easier for buyers and sellers not to hire them. After all, the buyer or seller now knows exactly how to do the agent’s job. But those agents forget that buyers and sellers have their own careers and lives outside of this one home transaction, and looking at the vast list of tasks that need to be completed in order to get to the closing table can feel overwhelming at best.
This list is also important because it can be a massive leverage point when you’re talking about commission splits. People want a deal and think they should ask for one, but they also don’t want to cut any corners when it comes to their home sale or purchase. You can explain that your commission helps support the services they’re going to get an outline which ones would need to be cut if your commission were to be reduced, which may end the conversation right there.
Explain how commission splits work
Be warned: This won’t work on every client and is far from a foolproof argument. However, if you think your client will be swayed by the fact that you have to share your commission with other players in the transaction, such as the brokerage, then it’s possible your client will stop pushing for a discount.
Some people are operating under the assumption that agents get to keep the entire commission, so describing how it’s sliced and diced for different purposes and what you actually get to take home can help them understand why you’re not interested in reducing your commission — and why doing so could serve to cost you money on a transaction instead of making money.
Give context around your personal authority
If you’re a REALTOR, explaining the difference between your own qualifications and that of a standard real estate agent can be another way to explain value and professionalism to your clients. If you’ve earned any special designations that might pertain to your client’s situation, then you can also reference them and talk about your training and experience.
Some of your authority may come from outside the real estate industry; perhaps you used to work as a contractor or an interior designer and can offer assistance with envisioning upgrades and repairs to a home. Or maybe you used to be a teacher and have insider knowledge of the local school districts. Whatever the case, make your case for why you, personally, can get the job done better than anybody else.
Compare and contrast
Oftentimes when a client asks about a discount, it’s because they heard someone else talk about how they got a rebate or a discount on their own home sale or purchase, or perhaps they heard an ad on the radio or saw a commercial on television. It’s time to pull out your list of what it takes to buy or sell a house and start pointing out where your discount-offering competitors are cutting corners and why.
It might be worth your time to create a table that lays out everything you offer compared to your competitors if you find yourself having this conversation frequently. This will make it very easy for your clients to see at a glance what kind of value you add and what they’re getting out of the deal.
Show them expired listings
Sellers are more likely than buyers to object to paying the full commission (again, probably because they are paying it). One excellent way to showcase how the cutting commission can hurt a seller’s opportunities on the market is to show them the expired listings in their area and ask them to look at the commission rates on those listings. The odds are pretty good that your potential seller clients will notice a pattern there without you having to explicitly point it out or what it means; then you can use this as a jumping-off point to talk about their preferred days on market and how serious they are about selling. If your possible client is at all motivated to sell, they will probably also be more motivated to adequately compensate their agent once you show them that there are real consequences if they don’t.
Outline your marketing game plan
A seller might think that marketing a house is as simple as putting the listing up on Zillow, but experienced agents know the price advantage you can gain by being strategic with when you list, the price you list at, how long you’ll accept offers, and what the house looks like when buyers walkthrough. And marketing tactics aren’t just constrained to sellers; buyers might also want or need to know how to tug a little on a seller’s heartstrings to get their slightly-lower-than-asking-price-but-the-most-we-could-afford offer accepted.
Give your potential clients a clear, specific game plan for how you personally are going to help them get to the closing table with a positive outcome for their situation. After laying all of this groundwork, they should have a clear idea of your value and what you can bring to the table, and hopefully, this should be the last piece of the puzzle that helps you cement your relationship with your newest client.
If nothing else works, don’t hesitate to walk
Sometimes a buyer or seller is adamant about getting a discount when it’s not warranted, and instead of taking the listing or representing the buyer and then regretting it later, why not just walk away? This is a step that some agents hesitate to take, but if you’re spending time arguing over commissions that could be better used helping out another client who’s happy to pay you what you’re worth, why fight that fight?
As discount real estate alternatives become more prevalent (and advertise more frequently) to customers, agents should expect more questions around commissions and discounts, but those are really opportunities to talk about the value that you bring to the table.