If you’ve never worked with one, you might be skeptical that real estate coaches can actually deliver on all the promises they make.

But an Inman survey on real estate coaching found that the vast majority of agents working with coaches see a return on investment.

In an industry where brokerages often leave agents to fend for themselves, many agents say they hire coaches to provide personal accountability and moral support. But the survey shows others view the real estate world’s “personal trainers” as hucksters (click to download full report and charts as PDF file).

More than 9 out of 10 respondents said their business climbed by 10 percent or more during the first year they worked with a coach. More than half said the increase exceeded 25 percent.

For a fifth of respondents, business jumped twofold or more, by their reckoning.

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What exactly are coaches doing to produce these results?

“Do I need someone to get my ass in gear?” one skeptic asked dryly.

For many real estate agents, the answer is “yes.”

The most often cited benefit of working with a real estate coach was that coaches hold agents accountable (80 percent).

“Giving me perspective” (77 percent) and “training me to use certain business strategies” (73 percent) followed close behind.

“Even with 20 years experience, I still need someone to help keep me motivated and on task,” admitted one participant. “Too much opportunity to ‘squirrel,’ [and I] get distracted.”

Real estate coaches “let me know what others are doing to be successful so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” said another. They help me “see things clearly, help me focus, put things into perspective, [and are an] unbiased second eye,” was another representative response.

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A crucial benefit of working with coaches appears to be more clients for real estate agents.

Close to 9 out of 10 respondents said their coach contributed to their number of listings, while 8 out of 10 said coaching increased their buyer client count. Survey responses seemed to support these findings, with feedback suggesting that agents tend to lean on coaches for help with chasing listings more than buyers.

Real estate agents shell out quite a bit of cash for coaching. About 6 out of 10 respondents said they drop between $300 and $749 a month on an individual coach, with the largest share putting the monthly cost between $400 and $499 (27 percent).

Seventeen percent even pony up between $1,000 and $1,499 a month, while only 7 percent pay less than $300.

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Costs predictably tend to run higher for team coaches. Seventy-two percent of respondents said that their team coach costs more than $1,000 a month or more.

Some real estate agents seem to gravitate toward coaches because they feel the traditional real estate brokerage model doesn’t provide the structure and resources they need to be productive.

Asked what coaches provide that brokerages don’t, the most popular responses were accountability (73 percent), motivation (62 percent) and consulting (50 percent).

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“I like the one-on-one attention,” said one respondent. “I don’t get that from my manager.”

Some brokerages provide coaching to their agents, but the survey suggests only a very small share of companies keep coaches on staff. Just 3 percent of respondents said their coaches work at their brokerage. (It’s possible a larger share of brokerages hire coaches as contractors, rather than employees.)

Many real estate agents say they sign on with coaches for the same reasons professional athletes hire their own personal trainers.

“Think of the Michael Jordans of the world, Tiger Woods or any other athlete, artist or entrepreneur,” said one survey respondent. “We all need someone to look at our swing from a distance if we want to improve our accuracy and distance; [it] takes the guessing out of [the] equation.”

In that vein, respondents were more likely to say that a real estate coach is most like a personal trainer, mentor or adviser than a drill sergeant, therapist or boss.

Still sounding a lot like athletes, survey respondents said coaches help them “do stuff I know I should but don’t” (42 percent), and by giving them a “competitive edge” (24 percent).

Perhaps surprisingly, only 12 percent of respondents said helping them make more money was the biggest benefit of using a real estate coach.

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“Provide a wider outside perspective that I don’t have working on my own; sharing successes and failures of more top agents than I would otherwise be in contact with as well; and accountability, which is something I’ve struggled with since I was 2,” one participant said when asked what their coach does for them that they can’t do themselves.

Asked to choose the biggest reason why real estate agents hire coaches — a question posed to all survey participants, not just those with coaches — the largest share of respondents selected “to grow their business” (44 percent), followed by “to be held accountable” (26 percent) and “because they need motivation” (15 percent).

Demand for such results were among the most popular reasons listed for seeking coaching, along with a desire to learn cutting-edge business tactics and gain a fresh perspective.

Some respondents also said access to the circle of agents coaches travel in is a big draw.

“The referrals within the agent network more than pay for our coaching investment,” said one respondent.

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Real estate agents working with coaches at big companies that maintain agent networks, like The Mike Ferry Organization, Buffini & Company and Tom Ferry’s coaching firm, represented the lion’s share of respondents (70 percent) who took the survey.

Only 27 percent said they used coaches employed by small companies, while just 3 percent said they worked with in-house coaches.

Many respondents lavished praise on big-name coaches, bringing into focus their shaman-like status among followers.

“My life!” declared one respondent enrolled in a popular coaching program, when asked about the return on investment.

Detractors shake their heads.

Coaching is “like a cult thing,” was one representative opinion. “I have (tried working with a coach) in the past but once you leave the workshop, your head clears and it seems unnecessary.”

Another respondent noted that signing up for a program headed by a highly skilled coach does not necessarily mean you will get that top-notch coach. Some of the coaches working under a highly skilled coach can’t hold a candle to their boss, the respondent said.

Character traits that may prevent agents from achieving goals like self-accountability and successful follow-up and door-knocking are myriad. But respondents often cited “fear” as the biggest weakness their coach has helped them addresses, such as “fear of failure,” “fear of success,” “fear of taking listings” and “fear of making calls.”

Procrastination, focus and confidence were other mindset-related issues mentioned by respondents.

“Totally changing my attitude from feeling worthless and suicidal to believing I have a wonderful future and having exponential confidence in myself,” was how one respondent described the benefits of working with a coach.

Such comments point towards the therapeutic value of coaching to some. That aspect was underscored by the survey’s finding that 56 percent of respondents generally discuss their emotions during coaching sessions (though respondents were more likely to say that their coaching sessions usually cover business tactics, “stumbling blocks,” “goals” and “performance”).

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Other weaknesses that agents said coaches helped them address were more business-focused, such as poor prospecting skills, inadequate scripts and difficulty with implementing an agent team model.

Not all respondents think real estate coaches are the best thing since sliced bread. Some objected to the concept of paying for accountability.

“I should not be in the business if someone has to motivate me to do what I should do to be successful,” declared one.

Others complained that the cost — 8 out of 10 respondents said they spend at least $400 a month on coaching — doesn’t justify the return.

Critics also wagged a finger at the marketing tactics used by some coaching companies, alleging that agents are suckered into signing long-term contracts by peddling get-rich-quick schemes that don’t deliver.

“John Brown went from a poverty-level income to making a zillion dollars a year because of my coaching,” said one respondent, poking fun at some of the come-ons employed by real estate coaches.

“I feel like they should add ‘results not typical of the average client,’ like weight loss gimmicks,” quipped the same respondent.

Many of those who participated in the survey believe that some real estate coaches take advantage of real estate agents.

“They all prey on our fears and insecurities,” one said. “Sometimes that HELPS us grow, and sometimes it’s just parasitic.”

Many coaches don’t have adequate experience (if any) as real estate agents, teach outdated or cookie-cutter business tactics, or induct clients into “cults,” grumbled other knockers.

“Most have never sold a home in their lives,” jabbed one participant. “And if they did it was in a whole different market.”

“I am better than the coach I hired,” declared another.

Respondents listed similar reasons for quitting coaching, but other deal-breakers included demonstrating a lack of commitment and running out of things to teach.

“It became repetitive and predictable once the fundamentals were learned,” offered one participant.

Stale advice may cause some agents to drop coaches, but it spurs others to search out new ones.

“It’s important to switch up your coach to force new methods and keep your business evolving,” advised one respondent.

Real estate agents commonly jump between real estate coaches, with plenty of respondents indicating that they’ve worked with at least three.

Some real estate agents drop their coaches for new ones because they feel like they’re being treated too harshly.

“Previous one was a drill sergeant,” said one respondent. “I need a cheerleader.”

Others wanted to switch things up the other way around.

“Needed a little more [prodding] … Buffini is too soft for me,” said one respondent, explaining their decision to switch from Brian Buffini to Mike Ferry — both of whom run coaching companies that have trained legions of agents.

But with all the nitpicking about the approaches taken by individual coaches, many agreed that the effectiveness of the advice proffered also depends on the student’s level of commitment.

In fact, about 72 percent of respondents said that the payoff of coaching depends most on the agent’s level of commitment. Only about a quarter said the quality of coaching had the greatest impact on its effectiveness. One percent said cost of program was the biggest factor.

Nonetheless, the quality of coaching obviously matters.

So how do you find the right one?

Respondents said they chose their coaches over others based on criteria including experience, ideas, personality, passion, authenticity and charisma.

Drawing on these enviable qualities, real estate coaches must find ways to motivate their clients to make things happen. They do this most often by inspiring (51 percent) and encouraging (47 percent), hardly ever by browbeating (3 percent), according to the survey.

Respondents were most likely to have found their coaches through a colleague (53 percent), followed by online search (20 percent) and advertisements (16 percent).

Real estate coaching doesn’t always involve regularly hashing it out in calls or meetings. Some coaching can take place in a one-off session or event, as with seminars or training courses.

But nearly all respondents said they receive regular counseling from their coaches, with 95 percent indicating that they talk to their coaches either once a week (45 percent) or twice a month (49 percent).

Sessions rarely involve face time, however. The vast majority of respondents (89 percent) said they usually speak to their coaches on the phone, not in person (11 percent).

Click to scroll through additional survey results (below)

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