Back to the Basics of Prospecting

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By Beverly Bidney
When the real estate market is flying high, many agents give little or no thought to the task of prospecting for potential new clients. But when the market is slow, you may find you have to return to the old-school basics of client prospecting, say a number of Miami real estate professionals. First order of business: honing their skills in an effort to stay afloat in a turbulent real estate environment.

The excitement of a vibrant real estate market is invigorating for agents, with clients aplenty and homes that all but sell themselves. But a downturn in the market can teach agents to go back to the old school, tried-and-true techniques for attracting new clients.

“This market brings us back to doing business the old-fashioned way,” says broker Veronica Cervera of Cervera Real Estate. “It’s about finding out what clients want and taking care of their needs. You have to be a good listener, have knowledge of the market and be willing to put in the hours. If you do that, you’ll do fine.”

Strategies for finding clients are as basic as getting involved in the community, religious institutions and schools. The end results for an active agent are name and face recognition, which lead to referrals when someone is ready to buy or sell a home. By joining clubs, professional groups and attending broker open houses, agents also get acquainted.

“When you have a property to sell, buyers think of your listing because they know you,” says broker Consuelo Stewart of Stewart de la Vega Group. “I know brokers who have gotten listings from being active in the school PTA. Your children’s friends’ parents can be a great source for clients.”

Paola Oriol, a luxury real estate professional with The Keyes Co., has taken community involvement to the next level: She and her partner, Mohammed Morsy, sponsor a team in an adult soccer league in Miami. Their goal is to sponsor the entire league. “You have to get involved in the community and network,” says Oriol.

Advertising is always important in a challenging market, but it doesn’t have to be pessimistic. In fact, promoting a positive message is crucial to success, as is a higher volume of direct mail. When advertising a listing, agents are wise to use upbeat language. Never use the word “reduced,” but say a price is “adjusted” instead.

“We have to keep ourselves very positive,” Stewart says. “Never send out a negative ad. In the end, it’s price, price, price that sells a home.”

Cervera, a 25-year real estate industry veteran, epitomizes positive thinking. She believes Miami is the city of the future and looks at this market downturn as an opportunity. Cervera has clients who think this is a great time to buy, and she agrees wholeheartedly. A frequent traveler to Europe, her European clientele talk about Miami in the same way they do London, Paris, Madrid and New York. For these clients, the Euro is strong, and Miami is a premier destination.

What about local buyers and sellers?
When local buyers and sellers don’t grasp the complexity of a changing market, the expertise of an agent can be an invaluable resource. With inventory up and prices down, sellers often need the guidance of a knowledgeable agent.

Clients hire agents to be the experts, so it’s important to know everything about a market. Professionalism includes knowing what the going prices are for homes in an area and familiarization with information found on the tax roles. Old-fashioned farming is a useful tool. Once an agent has become an expert in an area, it is easy to approach FSBO properties and offer valuable information. Especially in a down market, these sellers don’t know the best way to sell their homes. Even if the agent doesn’t get the listing, the seller will appreciate the effort and will likely refer that agent to friends and family.

“When you pick up the phone and are in a positive frame of mind, it makes a difference,” says Oriol. “If you have a great attitude about the market, the client will know it.”

The key to a successful career lies in forged relationships with old and new clients. A real estate career isn’t only about today’s business; it’s about 10 years from now as well. Clients often become friends who refer new clients. Cervera makes it a point to keep in touch with clients. “We provide two things: knowledge and service,” she says.

Stewart has a data base of clients going back 30 years. Prospecting for her includes going back to her sellers and updating them on the condition of the market. Buyers have a lot of sources for information, including the Internet and advertising, but it is the agent’s responsibility to assure a home is priced properly for the market. The sobering reality of the market is illustrated by one of Stewart’s recent sales. A home she sold three years ago for $1.09 million sold recently for $870,000.

“Sellers have to adjust to the market,” says Stewart. “As agents, we have to get our sellers in line. I won’t take an overpriced listing.”

Neither will Oriol, who has been investing a lot more money on prospecting this year. Moreover, she will only price her listings at their appraised amounts. She even has appraisers do a pencil search on each listing to form a price. By the time a seller gives Oriol the listing, she has sent them a few packages with pertinent information. “You have to stand out in a market like this one,” she says.

Although most of her clients are sellers, Oriol is devising an action plan for buyers that will require them to make a financial commitment to be held in escrow, and to pre-qualify for a mortgage. Then, in an increasingly common custom, Oriol will show the buyer 10 homes only. The twist is Oriol tours the homes first, to ensure each home is suited to the clients’ needs.

Oriol often travels to Latin America to find clients, usually in places with unstable political situations. Agreements with brokers in those countries combined with today’s technology makes it easy to communicate with clients all over the world.

Cervera, another world-traveling real estate pro, knows how important it is to constantly think about business. “My daughter and I were having lunch at a restaurant in New York City and overheard people at the next table talking about real estate in Miami,” she recalls. “You can’t be afraid to talk to people. We started a conversation with them and, ultimately, got them as clients. You have to be available for business any time. I never get on a plane without a brochure for whatever projects I’m working on.”

Economists believe this market could last another three to five years. People who expected to sell their properties quickly are walking away from their deposits and are losing their investments. If buyers can find a way to hold on for a few years, they can probably make money on their investments. But, if they are losing sleep over it, they will likely price it low and sell it fast. Savvy real estate agents are aware of the trend and are there with their knowledge and services.

“Good brokers will continue to do well in a down market,” says Stewart. “Real estate is like the stock market: It goes up and down.”

The common factor among these and other successful brokers is passion. No matter what is happening in the market, passionate agents find a way to thrive. A positive attitude is contagious and remains a key component to a long and prosperous career.

“You’ve got to have enthusiasm for life,” says Cervera. “People want to be around positive people. If your sentiments are in the right place, people will feel it.”

Veronica Cervera
Cervera Real Estate

Paola Oriol
Luxury Real Estate Professional
The Keyes Company

Consuelo Stewart
Stewart de la Vega Group

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