Sure, it’s not easy being the new kid on the block. First of all, everyone else seems to know a lot more than you do about pretty much everything. And finding your own way can be really tough. Just ask any new REALTOR®. Getting a real estate career started under the best circumstances is not for the faint of heart. There are all of those regulations, trying to find clients, and then the awesome responsibility of all that money hanging in the balance between a client’s dreams and the harsh market realities.
Market challenges being what they are, we decided to find out from a few of our own new kids on the block – REALTORS® with fewer than three years’ experience under their belts – what it’s like being fresh on the scene of Virginia’s real estate profession.
With hundreds of fair-weather agents hanging up their spurs, we honestly expected to hear a lot about how hard life can be and maybe a little of what starvation feels like. So, imagine our surprise when five hearty souls gathered around a breakfast table recently to talk about their short experience in Virginia real estate, and nary a complaint was heard. In fact, these whippersnappers seem to have a few insights into carving out a successful real estate career that we think could help more than a few old-timers.
The latest to join the REALTOR® ranks are combining tried-and-true, traditional tactics with novel twists that come from having a fresh perspective on the business.
So, grab your own plate of scrambled eggs or bowl of oatmeal and see what these newbies had to say. We bet you’ll be surprised, too…
First things first: why did you become a REALTOR®?Is this your first career…or second, third or fourth?
Karen Newins, ABR, William E. Wood & Associates, Chesapeake I became a REALTOR® because I have a friend who is probably one of the top agents from our area. I had been in the medical fi eld for 15 years. It seemed like real estate would be a good fit for me, and my friend really encouraged me to get into it.
Karen Carpenter, 1st Choice GMAC Real Estate, Staunton My mom has been a REALTOR® for two decades, and I thought it would be a great way to subsidize my family income. I got my license in June 2007.
Bonnie Field, Real Estate III Crossroads, Charlottesville I retired from the medical field after 35 years. So I was looking for something I could do for myself. After working with patients for that length of time…working with people all the time, this is a good way to continue doing that in a different way.
Curtis Butterworth, Parr & Abernathy, Hopewell This is my third career. I practiced law for 19 years and then began to preach ten years ago. I am assistant pastor at Joy Fellowship Church in Hopewell. I received my real estate license in May 2006 and established a team, TheButterworthTeam, with my son, Brandon.
Willam Kimsey, GRI, ABR, ERA Kline & May Realty, Harrisonburg I became a REALTOR® in the spring of 2006. I had been interested in real estate for more than 10 years. Real estate is about helping buyers and sellers come together in a transaction that, ideally, allows both sides to get what they want by helping each other. In negotiation language this is called a win-win outcome.
My background as a teacher and trainer in communication and conflict resolution has prepared me well to serve as a VAR ethics instructor and a communication consultant for REALTORS® and brokers. In addition to completing my GRI and ABR, I am now working towards a broker’s license.
Butterworth Negotiating a legal contract as a lawyer too often winds up being a “blood sport.” Working with a client to obtain a ratifi ed real estate contract is more of an exercise in creating an end product, which is mutually beneficial to all the parties.
What was the market like when you became a REALTOR®?
Newins When I started two and a half years ago, it wasn’t that slow. Last year was a phenomenal year, and this year is going very well so far, as well. So I think the market is wonderful right now. You know you just have to stay positive, take one day at a time and move forward and work hard. A lot of it is about referrals, and I’ve found if you do a good job, people will pass your name along. I think that I have worked with an entire church because of that, which is phenomenal. You just have to treat people the way you want to be treated. It does come back to you. I’m a firm believer in that.
Butterworth When I began two years ago it was the tail-end of the hot market, and we participated a little bit in that. Last year was slow, however, since November, activity has picked up. Brandon and I have been blessed in that we actually have been busier than the market overall. When I started to take classes, beginning classes up to CRS classes, I kept hearing the same things: ‘It’s a good thing you are starting out in a tough market. You will have to learn to do the things that historically make you successful. Work the market, create your databases, do your mailings, hold open houses, etc. Be very targeted on how you spend your advertising dollars. Stay with your sphere of influence. Do what you do well and follow up. Look to the future and remember you are creating not just a client for now but a business.’ It is very easy to be so overly concerned about not having enough listings that you don’t take care of the people who have already entrusted you with taking care of their transaction. Follow up is crucial to maintaining your business.
Kimsey When I was licensed the market had just started to turn from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market. I realized that the market shift could present challenges that I had not anticipated. I listened carefully when more experienced REALTORS® expressed concern about the national media’s negative portrayal of the real estate market and the possible fallout on our local market. I figured the market could possibly present some challenges that required digging deeper into real estate education and thinking outside the box.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a REALTOR®?
Newins I think the biggest challenge out there right now is there are so many agents out there who think that it’s easy money, and they don’t want to take the time to really do the work for clients. They just want to say, ‘OK, that’s your house and move on.’ You can’t do that. You need to make them part of the process and understand that this is the most exciting time of their life and go to bat for them.
The challenge is to make everyone feel just as special as the first person you ever worked with. It’s a matter of doing the best job you can for them. I have been very blessed to have a lot of friends and a good network of people who will call me and refer their friends and family members to me. I really have not experienced a market slowdown. I do have to say I’m a member of a team, which really helps when you’re new.
Carpenter My greatest challenge is being able to be confident of the processes and legalities required to be an agent. Working with other agents in the office and gaining knowledge to be able to do the best job possible is how I spent the first couple of months after licensure. I have had a great mentor and leader in my mom. That’s been a great blessing. I advertise with her and she gets a lot of listings, so this presents opportunities to show her listed properties.
Kimsey I think the biggest challenge has been moving from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market. It is important to identify what is right about the market regardless of any present difficulties. The more anyone can learn about the market and the way it behaves, the better prepared you can be to anticipate and plan.
Field I just got started in September, and I’m not in a team, so it’s all a challenge for me right now. I’m just getting into my first contracts. The biggest challenge is just getting your name out there. I know the business will pick up. Right now, it’s great to have my broker behind me – to give me answers to all of my questions. That’s so important. That’s a big thing. But I’ve been in the area for 20 years, so my sphere of influence is pretty good. In my community, they all know me, and that helps. And if you’re nice to people, it will come back to you. I do think that the market is back where it should be now. Younger generations don’t understand, but some of us remember when you had to have 20 percent down to buy a house, and you paid 13 percent interest on your mortgage loan.
Butterworth I think my biggest challenge is to take the technology I have learned about in classes and try to put it into practice. It’s easy to get excited and say, ‘I want one of those and one of those and one of those,’ when you are looking at all of the options and things you can do with those options. It’s hard to narrow it down to the tools that can benefit you. You have to try something, and if it works, great. If it does not work, and it is not profitable then get rid of it. Do not become burdened with business practices which do not work. This is a people business. However, it is a business, and the bottom line gives us the information we may not want, but it is there nonetheless. Our two brokers at Parr and Abernathy Realty, Don Parr and Elizabeth Abernathy, are really helpful to us when Brandon and I are thinking about trying new ideas and marketing techniques.
What is your chief marketing tool? There are a lot of new communications tools out there now, like Facebook and Linkedin and blogs. Are you all using them, and are you finding that they are useful?
Newins We do a lot of marketing on Craigslist.org. We find that we get a good response from that. We put our listings in Zillow.com. We also have the Virginian Pilot’s real estate website, and with the younger generation – that’s how they shop and get their information now. That’s how they read the newspaper now – online. They don’t buy the rag paper. Our younger buyers almost all come from Craigslist.org or the Virginian Pilot online. We also run ads in the Clipper, which is a weekend publication. We are creating a website now and trying to get that up and running, but we haven’t used any of the other things that you mentioned.
Carpenter I have only used the Top Producer software for marketing so far to do mailings. I’m taking a seminar on driving prospects to your website.
Kimsey My marketing focuses on using online, virtual platforms. The idea is that you have to stay up-to-date, and you have to make your technical applications userfriendly.
Some of the marketing tools I use include having an updated webpage with multiple domains. It has been an excellent source for leads ending in closings. I opened my Facebook account last week for the purpose of setting up a site. Also, I am using the book Blogging for Dummies for the purpose of starting blogs. In addition, I use a survey company for generating mailing lists for specific areas targeted with specific messages; this has resulted in leads ending in closings. The bottom line is that you have to connect with people, and it’s still important to have that face-to-face contact, although, 16- to 22-year-olds are constantly instant messaging. Stay in touch with your clients the way they are most familiar.
Field Real Estate III has a website, and all of our agents have a website of their own on this website. I do want to learn about the other things. I want to learn about blogging and Facebook. I’m just going to have to go back to the last issue of Commonwealth magazine and re-read about those things. That’s where I’m headed. It’s good to have a really nice webpage to sell properties, but everyone has that. I do still send out cards. I sent out my announcement on a postcard, Christmas cards, and I send out something of value every quarter.
Newins You know Chick-fil-A will do a coupon to redeem for something, and that is great to send out to clients. They get something of value that they can use. You know, just to say, ‘Hello and have a Chick-fil-A on us.’
Carpenter My mom sent out a card with $10 off a massage from a local day spa, which gives something of value to the receiver and helps a local business at the same time.
Butterworth The classes I have attended have made me take a look at Craigslist, Facebook, and blogs. I have to approach them slowly because I did not grow up with these things as second nature. I believe blogs are very effective, and I hope to move in that direction shortly. However, I still like the personal touch. Before Christmas I ordered Crane stationery and cards. I use the cards a lot because they give me room to say what I want without having to fill up a whole letter-size piece of paper. I never realized cards were a male preference over letter-sized stationery. The responses I have received have been very good. Some of the younger people have never even seen engraved stationery with return address information. It is an ‘old/new’ cutting edge technology to some who have never seen it.
Are there advantages to being a rookie agent now?
Butterworth I think one advantage to being new at anything is doing what you are told at least for awhile. Being new, you have a tendency to say, ‘OK, I need to do one through ten. Whereas seasoned REALTORS® may only do one through four, five, seven and nine, because they have found that is what works for them. I think it goes back to it’s a good thing not necessarily to start off in a market that’s red hot. An experienced agent told me not long ago that it takes effort to make a living now.
Newins The problem for more experienced agents is that they have higher expectations. We don’t have that problem. We know that we are going to have to work hard to get business. You know that it’s going to take you a while. The seasoned agents have gotten used to a certain level of revenues from their business and they are having a hard time adjusting.
Carpenter I think you have to go into it with the understanding that it’s not going to be given to you. The boom is over, and you can’t just put the sign in the yard, and it’s sold. You really have to work.
Butterworth From the very first class I took from Leroy Houser I heard, ‘You have to have a system. You have to work the system.’ Many people do not have a system. That is one of the things I have found to be so beneficial from taking CRS classes. CRS gives you what works and what you need to build your business.
Carpenter There were a lot of agents who came into real estate during the boom. Having a system wasn’t so important because sales came easier in a seller’s market. Now they are finding they need to have a system to continue to attain the same income reaped during the boom.
Field You do see a lot of agents saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got to go get a job,’ because they don’t have this easy income anymore.
Butterworth You know there will always be a few people who can sell ice cubes to Eskimos, but when you look around, you realize that real success doesn’t happen by accident. Really successful agents got there with a lot of dedicated work.
Carpenter My mom’s been in real estate for about 25 years, and she’s a great mentor. She has a system, and she’s always telling me, ‘This works and this doesn’t.’ She’s been through many ups and downs in the market, and she just says, ‘You know you’ve got to work.’ There’s no getting around it. You’ve got to work and stay in contact with your clientele.
Field It’s really a good time to be a new agent, because you have to do things the right way. I don’t have lofty financial expectations. I can only go up. It’s a buyer’s market and you have to take the classes to get the real edge. This market helps, because if you want to buy, now’s the time to do it. People are easier to work with. Of course, the sellers are a little different.
Butterworth Sometimes I think we need a little sign for sellers that we should wear on our foreheads. ‘It’s a pleasure to meet with you; this is not the market of three years ago.’
Newins Sellers look at their tax assessment and don’t understand why the selling price is not what that is and they think, ‘My house is perfect; why shouldn’t it sell for that?’
Kimsey REALTORS® who started their license during the past two years have known the market could get tough. Unlike our predecessors who have enjoyed easier seasons, we have had to make a smart choice to stay the course and achieve our goals regardless of how challenging the market might become. I think the present market is probably normal, however it requires tenacity and smart work on the part of a REALTOR®. A favorite quote of mine by Winston Churchill probably fits how I feel about real estate now and in the near future. Churchill said, “Sometimes doing your best is not enough; sometimes you have to do what is required.” The present market is challenging and is often highly uncertain, yet opportunities exist. Keep your goals fresh; think clearly; and maintain an intelligent whole-heartedness are my recommendations to rookie agents and, perhaps, a reminder to more experienced REALTORS®.
Butterworth My son made up his mind that he was going to be at his desk at the office no later than 8:30 every morning. He has picked up business by being at his desk no later than 8:30 every morning. It did not have anything to do with marketing or anything else, it was just nobody else was at the desk at 8:30. He’s picked up business from other agents because they knew he was at the desk at 8:30 every morning, and they knew they could count on him. He is organized and systematic and handles some of the things that they don’t want to handle. He’s ready. I’m very fortunate to be on his team. I don’t get in until 8:45 a.m. Those 15 minutes are crucial.