In Part 3 of How We Built Our Seniors Niche, I discussed the steps that we focused on in order to get our highly successful seniors real estate sales business off the ground. Here is a quick review of those steps.
Step 1: Learn as much as possible about the challenges of downsizing seniors.
Step 2: Educate senior living counselors.
Step 3: Provide educational talks and seminars.
Step 4: Market to targeted neighborhoods.
Step 5: Branding ourselves as experts.
As with any business, there is the start up phase and when done correctly, the growth phase then follows. So in Part 4 of How We Built Our Seniors Real Estate Niche, I am going to give you the insiders view of what made our seniors real estate business tick. These are things that I haven’t really shared much because so many people seem to get stuck in the start up phase and never make it this far.
I want to take a moment to congratulate those of you who are reading this and have already laid the groundwork and can now attribute 10 or more sales each and every month to your seniors division - you are a one percenter! It’s you who are probably dealing with the very stuff I will be sharing today.
The consistency challenge
When business started to trickle in, we got really excited and life was good! Our efforts were paying off and we began to receive consistent listing referrals, opportunities for newspaper interviews, speaking engagements, and strategic partnerships.
It wasn’t until the trickle became a stream and then later a full on downpour that I found myself focusing all my time on lead conversion, appointments, new listings, and customer service and less and less focused time on nurturing my all important referral sources.
My visits to senior communities became inconsistent and my attendance at networking events was scattered. People noticed - they began to see me as the same ol' real estate agent they believed me to be early on - all about the deal - "Realtors are all the same," they would say. It took time, energy and effort in those early months to convince them that I was NOT all about the deal and that I truly was different. I wasn’t about to turn into “that” agent and cause them to doubt my intentions. (My students now know why I am so adamant about this piece in our trainings!)
Not only did I care about these relationships, but I also knew that if I didn’t maintain them, the referrals would dry up and I would be back on the real estate roller coaster of lead generation, sales, and closings on an inconsistent and unpredictable cycle - not good. No way - not going back there!
The old saying, “Build it and they will come” - it’s true. The phrase that people need to know about which comes after that is, “Keep it maintained or they will leave.”
With my husband and business partner’s help, I was able to structure my week such that I had designated days where I was totally 100% focused on maintaining relationships within the aging community and adding value back to them. I did “pop-bys” made famous by real estate coach, Brian Buffini, each week on Wednesday and my Thursdays were devoted to networking groups, giving talks, or sponsoring events - period. Nothing got in the way of that.
Chris handled any client appointments or needs on my “marketing days” and we quickly realized that we needed help to get it all done.
The customer service challenge
Even with Chris and I working together in the business, we were having a hard time with all the daily tasks of listing and selling. By this time, we were taking 10+ listings month and they were turning quickly - about 30 days on market average. This meant a lot of contract negotiations, signatures, home make-overs, client moves, and communication with clients and our resource team members - all time sensitive.
Thankfully, the negotiation processes belonged in Chris’s domain. He is masterful at putting things together and facilitating agreement within the parties. What he is not so great at - details. And as you already know, real estate sales are chalk full of tiny little details!
Treating our business like a business.
I believe too many agents fail to recognize what they have as a business. They run around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to be all things to all people all the time. Believe me - I did it too and it is probably the leading cause of burn out. No one can keep that up and do any significant amount of business effectively. I said “effectively.” But then Chris and I have very high standards when it comes to customer service and our reputation and we are willing to invest in our business to maintain those standards.
Knowing our strengths, Chris and I both knew that we needed help in the detail department, so we hired our first “real” administrative assistant. We had hired people before, but they were quick fixes rather than long-term investments. This time we wanted someone to help us grow and expand while offering the highest level of client care possible. Oh - and they had to work effectively with seniors since about 50% of our business was average age of 83 years old!
Not only did we hire an assistant, we also hired marketing consultants, graphic designers, buyers agents, and a runner - not all at once. The assistant was great with daily tasks like handling incoming calls and emails, setting appointments, and preparing files, but that took the bulk of the time. We knew that creating flyers and presentations wasn’t her highest and best use.
The marketing firm we hired was a start up company in town with an awesome writer and an amazing graphic designer - putting them on retainer at $500 bucks a month was the best thing we ever did! Our marketing was consistent and beautifully branded and they did regular press releases that caused our names to be top of mind all over our city giving us free press opportunities - credibility and validity baby!
Darrel, our runner, was undoubtedly one of our favorite and least costly hires. I found him by announcing to my Thursday 7am Kiwanis club that I needed a part time person to help put out signs, deliver paperwork, and help our senior clients out with small household jobs when needed. After the meeting, my friend Darrel, a retired electrical engineer and avid volunteer, came up and said he wanted to apply for the job. At 6 ft tall, bald and wearing a felt cowboy hat, I virtually hired Darrel on the spot. A gift from Heaven! He came in 3 days a week from 8am to about noon and took care of all the signs, lockboxes, photos, deliveries, pre-listing packets, and tedious tasks which freed us up to list, sell, and nurture relationships. Bonus - His wife was happy to have him out of the house for a few hours a week!
Burnout is not an option
As time went on and our seniors business increased to more like 60%, we had to begin thinking about even more support for our downsizing seniors. Not only that, I was tired. I didn’t want to work weekends and evenings with buyers anymore - we had lots of them because we had great listings. Leads were falling through the cracks and I was basically taking only the easy ones and referrals. As I talk about in 5 Consequences of Not Hiring Help, burn out is one of the top causes Realtors get out of the business and I wasn't OK with that.
The next hires as we saw it had to be coaches who could help us better clarify what we wanted our business to become, buyer agents who appreciated our senior clientele and who were willing to field all the buyer leads, and someone who could help our beloved senior clients with their downsizing needs - I no longer had time to do it all.
It would be these 3 key hires that changed EVERYTHING.
Stay tuned for Part 5 where I will share more about adding coaching support, buyer agent team members, and a senior move management department to our thriving seniors real estate team.
|Nikki Buckelew is the Founder and CEO of the Seniors Real Estate Institute and administrator for the Certified Senior Housing Professional® (CSHP) designation. A veteran REALTOR® of over two decades, she holds a bachelor’s degree in gerontology and a master’s degree in counseling psychology. As a professional speaker, coach, and trainer, Nikki is committed to empowering, equipping, and educating real estate sales and senior housing professionals seeking to better serve the mature market segment.