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How do you define success?

Realtor Notebook

I have been searching for the definition of a successful real estate agent. I have asked real estate agents and brokers from around the country, clients, neighbors, and industry experts.

One real estate agent I consider successful because he has sold so many homes told me that he defines success as the ability to support his family the way he wants to.

Some agents have business practices like being paperless, blogging, using video, or having a Facebook page with a huge following. We point to them as role models, and hold up what they do as examples of best practices, even though some of them don’t sell many houses.

Other agents sell a lot of houses, but don’t have much of a presence on the Internet.

It would be nice if we could assign some kind of a success number to agents. It would help consumers take the guesswork out of hiring an agent, and we could learn the best real estate business practices from the agents who are the most successful.

We don’t have a universal definition or mathematical formula describing "success" for real estate agents, but I think actual transactions should at least be part of the equation. 

I know real estate agents who have thousands of followers on Twitter and high Klout scores who only sell one or two houses a year. I would not choose an agent by his or her Klout score or number of Twitter followers.

The top agents in my area lead large teams. They do not sell every home that they list, and they use a different set of skills to build a team than they use to sell real estate. The brokerages with the most agents sell the most real estate. They say it is about the brand, but I think having a lot of agents helps, since the agents sell real estate.

Sellers want to work with an agent who can sell their house quickly and for a lot of money. In their eyes, any agent who can do that is successful — even if they are slow to return phone calls.

Buyers also want a successful agent, but they don’t want to be sold anything.

Buyers and sellers have their own beliefs about what a successful agent looks like. Sometimes when buyers or sellers interview me, they ask the wrong questions.

But that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that I give them the right answers. Sometimes I rephrase the question for them so that my answer works.

When sellers interview us they like to ask us how many listings we have. Personally, I would be more interested in knowing how many homes an agent lists each year, and how many of those homes sell. But that’s because I know that listing a home is one thing, but selling it is another matter.

A friend of mine who is a successful entrepreneur believes that a successful agent has clients that actively tell others that the agent was a key factor in the success of their positive buying or selling experience. My friend thinks the agent can replicate that experience over and over enough times to make as much money as they want to make.

That formula works well in other businesses, like software development or running a restaurant.

Successful agents are more likely to get repeat business. But we all have clients who never move. We also have clients who are thrilled with our services, but never recommend us to a friend. Most of the referrals I get come from the same small group of people.

Five years ago when the housing market was tanking the former head of our state Realtor’s association suggested that any agent who did not have at least a dozen transactions a year should quit so that there would be more business for higher producing agents. His reasoning was that agents need a certain amount of business to stay on top of the housing market and to be successful at selling real estate for their clients.

But no one seems to know how he came up with 12 as the number of transactions an agent needs to have each year to be successful.

I would rather make more money per transaction than have more transactions. But if I have more transactions I meet more people and gain more of the transactional experience that helps make me a better agent.

If I asked a home seller what they want in an agent, I’m pretty sure they would take an agent who sells houses over one that makes more money selling fewer houses.

One agent told me that the definition of success is personal.

I am not sure I totally agree with that. But I think that if we really like what we are doing and are making enough money, we are probably better off than a whole lot of people who go to work each day to jobs they hate.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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