BY K. K. SNYDER
Most real estate agents with any amount of ambition strive to reach the level of top producer. But this isn’t an easy task, especially in a market as competitive as South Florida. Rising to those ranks takes hard work, perseverance and integrity, but the results are worth every effort. We found some top producers in the Miami area to take time out of their busy schedules to let us know what it takes to rise to success and make it to the top.
While most top producers have their own personal secrets to find success, across the board these winning agents attribute their achievements to a number of commonalities, including honesty, knowledge, aggressive marketing tactics and strong communication with clients. While these points may seem like a given, the challenge comes in being consistent and persistent.
Realtor Claudia Lewis, a fine homes and estates specialist with Century 21 Premier Elite Realty and an 18-year veteran of the industry, has worked on the high end of real estate since the start of her career.
“It takes years to work up to the level that I am at, but when I started, I started very aggressively,” Lewis admits. “In order to succeed, you need to create a niche for yourself and become the expert in that area. Specialization is the key to succeeding in this industry, and effective and consistent marketing is the way to make it happen.”
Well-known among her peers, Lewis is the No. 1 top producer for Century 21 in Miami, as well as Century 21 Premier Elite Realty’s top listing and sales agent. In the last few years, her hard work has earned her the highly-coveted Century 21 Centurion Award for outstanding production and the Double Centurion Award for an incredible level of production two years in a row.
Known as “The Ritz-Carlton Specialist” in Miami, Lewis became involved in the Coconut Grove project early on and completed many of the first pre-construction sales. Currently, she is marketing luxury condominiums at The Residences at the Ritz-Carlton in Coconut Grove, The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne and The Ritz-Carlton Club and Residences South Beach. In addition, she has listings at Grovenor House, The Four Seasons, Fisher Island, Midtown Miami and South of Five, the most exclusive oceanfront address on South Beach.
“There’s definitely a sense of security and comfort working on the high end,” she says. “Luxury clients are not generally affected by fluctuations in the market.”
Lewis suggests those agents aspiring to become top producers create a long-term marketing plan and stick to it, recognizing that it can take years to create a strong presence in any area. Above all, she adds, agents should always speak, dress and behave in a professional manner.
“You have to be able to set yourself apart from others through the way you work, present yourself and structure yourself with the clientele,” says Lewis, who is known for handling business in a discrete manner, keeping confidential transactions under wraps and representing celebrities, athletes and corporate CEOs without running to report every transaction to the newspapers.
“I have pride in my ability to do that [work with famous clients] and do it in a very professional manner,” says Lewis, who is also technically astute, a skill that has served her clients and the other agents in her office well. She encourages up-and-coming agents to educate themselves as much as possible, especially when they have free time.
Ranked in the top 1/4 percent of the 10,000 Miami Dade County agents and top 1/2 percent nationwide, Carlos Garcia, broker/vice president of The Keyes Company/Realtors, is a top producer based on his sales and listing volume. He hit the ground running when he joined the group in 1995, earning the Rookie of the Year award and immediately became a top-producing listing and sales agent.
Garcia has consistently remained in the top 10 since joining Keyes, and while he was named vice president of his branch in 2004, he chooses to continue selling rather than just managing the office. He averages $20-$30 million annually with 80-100 transactions, is a luxury home specialist and a member of The Keyes Luxury Portfolio. Garcia has career sales exceeding $275 million and has sold over 1,000 homes.
“Training is a vital part of becoming a top-producing agent,” says Garcia, who has earned CRS and GRI designations in addition to upgrading his license with the State of Florida to broker, which carries additional training and exams. “Our company has Keyes University, which offers extensive training in both residential and commercial real estate. Many agents join our company for our training. I took all the courses we have to offer and went to all the networking groups to learn our business to the max.”
Garcia says his success is due in great part to sheer determination, and the hard work it requires is always rewarding.
“My drive for this business is that I enjoy people. I communicate well with different types of people and every day is a different day with different tasks,” says Garcia, who relies on team members to assist him with tasks so that he can remain available to his clients at all times.
“The sky is the limit with being a real estate professional, and it is very rewarding at the end of the day both personally and professionally. It feels great when you know you are helping buyers with their dream home and sellers with the ability to continue with their moving plans and keeping their family together. They appreciate my work and refer me to their friends and family, which is a large part of my business and certainly feels like a reward for my hard work.”
Though he started to enter the commercial side of real estate after handling the merger of his family’s large electrical company, Garcia wound up on the residential side instead, a move that has paid off for him tenfold. Today, his success is admirable and he continues to set the bar high for himself.
Two more people setting the bar high are partners Jill Eber and Jill Hertzberg, broker associates with Coldwell Banker and collectively known simply as “The Jills,” who are both consistently ranked as top producers in the South Florida market. Based on their production, the women are ranked as the No. 1 team in Miami and the No. 1 team in Florida. In addition, they are currently ranked number six nationally and internationally and in 2005 ranked No. 1 in the team category.
Hertzberg, who has been in the industry for 16 years, is a master of the luxury market, extremely knowledgeable and well connected, from South Miami to Palm Beach; but she didn’t start out on the top. As a new agent, Hertzberg worked everything that came her way, including rentals and any other opportunities that presented themselves. She worked hard and quickly moved through the ranks to reach her current status.
“I’ve always worked hard and just don’t think about it,” Hertzberg says of her drive to succeed. “It was an expectation my family had of me and I had for myself, so I didn’t mind working hard. I didn’t have family in this business; I built it myself with my partner. It’s possible for anyone to do, but you have to have a determination to always want more for yourself, to try another way to get what you want.”
Hertzberg defines a top producer as someone who is extremely active in his/her market, has extensive knowledge of that market and has come into contact with many people in his/her community. She loves the challenge, her territory and the opportunity to work with a diverse group of people. In addition, she strives to find motivation every day.
“I’m always pushing myself and basically trying to do better,” says Hertzberg, who feels the energy she shares with her partner serves them both well. “When one isn’t feeling energized, the other is. Having a partner is a critical component of a business, but you have to be completely aligned for it to work.”
One way Hertzberg frees herself up to attend to clients’ needs is by delegating tasks to others in the office. For example, she has two people that handle all of her marketing and advertising needs and others who deal with listings, contracts or answering the phones.
“Basically, we’ve made our own business within a business,” she says, noting there are now six agents in her office. “You have to go with the attitude that it’s going to take time to become a top producer. You can’t look for instant gratification; you have to be patient. If you are, one by one you will build your business into something very substantial. Some people may call it luck, but I call it hard work.”
Hertzberg’s partner, Eber, had a different beginning and was fortunate enough to start her career at the top. Her parents live in “the building” of the time in Bal Harbor, and she started selling in that building. Soon after, she sold a $1.6 million property in Boca and business has only gone up since then. She says being tenacious and focused and being able to handle rejection are keys to finding success as a top producer
“I attribute success at my level to persistence and not being afraid to approach anyone,” says Eber. “But most of all it’s having the kind of partner I have and the team I have and the support of the people involved.”
Eber didn’t aspire to be a top real estate professional. In fact, her ambition and drive were focused on performing arts. But when she lost her voice and a friend suggested they attend real estate school, she didn’t miss a beat. Today, she relishes the opportunities offered by the luxury market and believes the forecast is good.
“People who have the wealth will spend what they have to get the properties they want. We started the year with two $10 million sales and now we’re working on another big offer, setting up a meeting for a top property of $52 million,” says Eber. “We have been very busy showing our properties and we have $150 million or more in properties [listed].”
Above everything else, Eber says it’s her partnership with Hertzberg that has made her career so successful.
“It’s like your partner in life. We probably spend more time together than we do with our husbands … In addition to the business that we have, we have a great time together.”
Weathering the storm can be difficult in the real estate industry, admits Garcia, but agents will do well if they maintain an inventory and strive to be excellent listing agents. “Be prepared to explain yourself to the seller or homeowner as the pricing that increased dramatically during the boom needs to be adjusted to today’s marketplace,” he advises.
“A listing priced correctly will sell. It is the perfect time to buy as interest rates are low and we just passed the property tax relief amendment (in January), which will give the buyers waiting the go ahead to buy now. If you have the inventory of listings, you will sell and make the projections happen.”
Hertzberg agrees, having recently sold a number of multi-million dollar properties, including 23 Indian Creek for $20 million, 94 Palm for $16.4 million and 271 Hibiscus for $9 million. While all three sold for slightly below asking price, they were priced right for the luxury market and therefore appealed to buyers in that market.
“The buyers out there are extremely savvy,” she says. “[Properties] have to be priced to what you have, priced intelligently, because these buyers have other choices.”
Changes in the market have found Lewis with new clients in the form of developers asking her to list their higher-end units for them, units they’ve been unable to sell themselves or through a more mainstream real estate agent.
“That’s been an interesting twist and turn in today’s marketplace,” she says. “And it says something about the type of marketing I do to sell those properties.”
Garcia has a positive outlook for his market this year, even though he admits the “joy ride” agents that were around from 2002 to 2006 have disappeared. “We went from 25,000-plus agents to 10,000 agents last year. The strong, organized, skilled and seasoned agents will stay in the business, while the ones that enjoyed the ride without training and education will leave,” he predicts.
The same can be said for top producers. The strong will survive and persevere, and those that really stand out will rise to the top.
The Keyes Company/Realtors
Fine Homes and Estates Specialist
Century 21 Premier Elite Realty
Five Things Top Producers Do One Hour a Day
By Rich Levin
Doug Doebler earned a multiple-seven-figure personal income last year. I started coaching Doug three years ago when he was earning mid-five figures. Cathy McWilliams is the No. 1 agent in her company. She sold 115 homes last year. My work with her began seven years ago when she sold nine homes.
What are Cathy and Doug and all other highly-successful agents doing every day that you are not? First, they are conscientious with lead follow up. Average agents are often very concerned with generating more leads, yet they lose many of the leads they already have. Highly-successful agents know how many listings and sales they need each month to reach their “exceptional goals.” They focus and follow up on enough leads to achieve those goals.
Notice that I do not say these top producers follow up on all their leads. Highly-successful agents know when they have enough in their pipeline, at which point the focus on service, marketing, managing their business and enjoying life.
Some of our clients accomplish this, following up on enough leads to reach their exceptional goals without scheduling a specific time to make it happen. If you are not able to do this without thinking, coaches at Rich Levin’s Success Corp. teach our clients to set aside an hour a day, three days a week to follow up and manage their leads. We call these “success hours.”
Putting these three success hours on your calendar, showing up for them and using the time to manage and call your leads is the first thing you may not be doing, unlike more productive agents.
The second habit of highly-successful agents is that they are conscientious on service. Do you speak to each of your listed sellers each week? Do you speak to each of your pending seller and buyer clients each week? Do you speak to your hottest few buyers every day and your less urgent buyers each week, in addition to automated receipts of new listings?
Highly-successful agents always agree with our belief that, “There is more business in good service than in most forms of good prospecting.” So we coach our clients to set aside one hour a week to call their listed sellers, call their pending clients and update their active buyers. We call this the “service hour.”
Occasionally, we get the comment that there is no time to schedule this additional service hour in your already busy days; that is dangerous thinking. That type of thinking costs you business, peace of mind and makes every phase of every transaction more difficult for you.
Many agents comment that their clients are in the habit of calling all the time and nothing will prevent that. The reason for clients’ constant calling is that they don’t know when (or if) you will call. They don’t know if they can depend on you. As you build the service hour habit, you train your clients to expect your call at the predetermined time. If you are true to your word and you make the calls when you say you will, you’ll soon discover that your clients appreciate your dependability and you recapture a lot of your time, and your life. Keep in mind that implementation of your service hour is more important than your success hours habit.
The most important habit is your “leadership hour.” This is one scheduled hour each week that you step out of working in your business, and work on your business. During this leadership hour you look at your numbers, your appointments, your sales and listings. How did you do this week? How are you doing this month and year to date? Where are you in relation to your goals? What marketing campaign is next? What service system needs to be established? Are your presentations working or do they need work? This one hour soon becomes the driving force for your business. For our clients, that is their coaching hour and when their coaching agreement is complete we teach them to apply the same coaching practices for themselves during this leadership hour. Those that do this find their business continues to grow and their quality of life continues to improve.
The final thing that highly-successful agents do that you may not is a “success habit.” It is not scheduled, like those above; it is a mental and emotional habit. When something goes wrong, these top-producing agents get past it quickly and get back into action toward their goals. They have a habit that can be broken into four steps: acknowledge the error regardless of who made it, forgive yourself, re-commit to your goals and then get back into action. Lesser agents allow errors, theirs and others’, to slow them down for hours, even days. Highly-successful agents are just as bothered by errors, perhaps more so, but, they know how to get past their thoughts and feelings and get back into action.
Be patient with yourself; yet, be persistent in putting these habits into place and you are on your way to becoming a top producer, and enjoying a life of greater control and happiness.
Rich Levin is a nationally-recognized Coach, Trainer and Speaker. For more information visit RichLevin.com. Register for The Rich Levin Success Club and receive tips, articles and other information to take your career to the next level and beyond. Contact Rich at 585.244.2700 or [email protected]
10 Steps to Becoming a Top Producer
Becoming a top-producing Realtor is a difficult process, which is why there are only a select few that can comfortably call themselves top producers. We’ve compiled a list of 10 tips for making it to the top, and staying there.
1. Decide that you want to be a success.
No one is going to make the leap for you. Once you realize success is what you want, then you can jump in and begin your trip to the top.
2. Be patient.
Success won’t arrive overnight. It will take a while to establish yourself as a top producer, so be prepared to wait out the hard times. Once you reach your goals, you’ll realize it was well worth the wait.
3. Listen to your instincts.
If you’re nervous about a potential sale or a property, make sure to seek out the source of those fears. Those that are in tune with their instincts and the world around them will find success more easily than someone who runs head first into an unfortunate situation.
4. Document concrete goals.
Make a list of what you’d like to achieve. Then, cross off the list as success comes your way. Once you have made it to the top, you can look back at all you achieved along the way.
5. Be persistent.
The squeaky wheel is the one that gets the grease. If someone says “no,” that’s just a starting off point. Burying your head in the sand at one rejection will only get you a mouthful of sand.
6. Education, education, education.
No matter how much you think you know, there is always more to learn. Find out what classes you can take to become a more educated agent. Having more knowledge than your competitors will give you that extra boost to make it to the top.
7. Get out there and meet people.
Networking is a key part of the real estate industry, and one that people often ignore. The only way to get the word out there that you are the one to hire is to make sure everybody knows your name.
8. Confidence is your most important accessory.
If you are confident in your abilities, then your clients will be confident as well. This leads to more sales, and puts you that much closer to the top.
9. Surround yourself with a great team.
No one makes it to the top alone. Surround yourself with people you trust to help you make it to elite status. Once you get there, don’t forget who helped you on your journey and make sure they are appreciated.
10. Give back.
Now that you’ve made it to the top, you have a responsibility to give back. Send money to your favorite charity, or spend time at the local soup kitchen. You’ll feel great for what you’ve done and it will only motivate you to go further. Those that think only of themselves might make it to the top, but they’re not the ones that stay there.
The Lighter Side on Top
By K.K. Snyder
Even top professionals need a good laugh now and then. Though tricky situations with clients or listings might not seem funny when you’re in the midst of them, looking back on them lightly once the issue is handled can provide humorous stories for hard workers.
Carlos Garcia, broker/vice president with The Keyes Company/Realtors, recalls a past incident in which he listed a home and placed his sign in the yard, showing it right away to a prospect. Over the weekend, the prospect went to the property, removed his sign and placed a rental ad in the local newspaper, advertising the home way below rental market value. She then broke in through the back door of the home and graciously hosted a mini open house, taking deposits from a number of potential renters who answered her ad before disappearing.
“Monday morning I had calls about this vacant home [from people] telling me about what happened and we found out she ripped off three people,” shares Garcia. “We located the ad, reported her to the police and the person was arrested. It appeared she had done this before.”
Fortunately, he adds, this was the only time he experienced an incident so devastating. He has, however, had some humorous experiences in the industry, though they didn’t always seem funny at the time. At the outset of his career, before he even had business cards, Garcia was given a listing by a seller who said he looked hungry and aggressive.
“I sold it with my own buyer and at closing everything was going smoothly and everything was signed. Then the buyer was asked for the cashier’s check and he said he’d spent the money,” recalls Garcia. The room fell silent and Garcia was horrified, but took control by explaining to the client in another room that he had 48 hours to come up with the money or face losing his escrow deposit. The buyer said he’d loaned the money to his brother for an emergency.
“I explained [the situation] to my seller and we held all the paperwork and gave the buyer 48 hours to resolve the issue. I did not sleep well … the buyer did come up with the funds and I was able to get this finalized. This scenario taught me a lesson that you are not closed until you close, so don’t spend the money until you get it in your hand and be sure to go to all the closings, which is something I do religiously.”
Claudia Lewis, fine homes and estates specialist with Century 21 Premier Elite Realty, runs a tight ship and can’t recall any out-of-the-ordinary mishaps during her career. But she does receive some rather unusual requests from her high-end clients, who tend to keep her on speed dial for a number of tasks unrelated to her work.
“I have a sense of humor, but when it comes to business I’m a very serious person,” says Lewis. “I definitely go to all kinds of extents and find myself being an expert on all kinds of things. Once you’ve been an agent for a high-end client, they want you to do everything for them.”
Lewis says she’s had clients call her to ask for someone to set up their new digital television, for the name of a financial advisor and even someone to water their plants.
“But it’s a good thing,” she laughs. “It shows the relationship there, and that they can count on you and trust that people you refer them to will be high-quality people.”
Jill Eber of Coldwell Banker, who, along with partner Jill Hertzberg, represents basketball great Shaquille O’Neal, recalls having laryngitis one day last year while riding with O’Neal to look at a property. She had to write little notes to him in the car to communicate.
“I wrote a note and told him to please call Jill (Hertzberg) and tell her to drive faster. So we get there and he gets out of the car and Jill asks how it was. So he starts mimicking me. It was very cute.”
Eber also laughs about receiving “romance letters” from a couple of men in prison -whom she doesn’t know – one of which mentioned wanting to come and work for her when he was released.
“Can you imagine that?” she laughs.
Being able to laugh in an adverse or unusual situation is just one more trait that can serve agents well while trying to take their business to the top.