Ask anyone who has survived and succeeded in real estate what the key to his or her success was and most likely you will hear something close to this: “Never forget it’s a relationship business.”

While the widget we work with is houses, buildings and land, what we really sell is something invisible. It’s our service, it’s our knowledge, and it’s our expertise. We provide direction, understanding and hopefully trust.


If we do it right, we get to do it again and again, earning our clients business for more than just one transaction but for repeat business and hopefully referral opportunities. Our “life cycle” of a client is much longer than, say, a grocery store, a restaurant, an airline or hotel chain, because people don’t buy and sell homes every day. It could be years before people get a chance to use us again. That’s why it’s all the more important that we maintain and strengthen those relationships to increase our chances for referral business from our satisfied clients.

Losing our spot at the top of their mind

Each year, the National Association of Realtors publicizes the results from the Home Buyer and Seller profile, and each year the gap between clients who love us and clients who forget us remains large.

According to the 2011 profile, 65 percent of buyers said they would definitely use their real estate agent again or recommend the same agent to others, yet only 9 percent of all buyers in 2011 used a previous agent to buy the home they purchased.

On the seller side of the transaction, 69 percent of people who sold in 2011 said they definitely would use the agent again or recommend to others, and 16 percent said they probably would.

So let’s do the math: 85 percent of sellers said they definitely or probably would use the same agent or recommend them, but only 9 percent of buyers actually did. That’s 74 percent of buyers that were either forgotten about or didn’t have a compelling reason to maintain the relationship.

So what can you do to minimize the chances of losing a chance for future business and maximize the chances to gain “clients for life”? Simply keep in touch!

keep in touch image via shuttertock

K – Involve or ask about the kids. There is one topic that most people are 100 percent experts on and love to talk about: their kids. Chances are when you were working with them during the purchase or sale of their home, you learned about their family and heard stories about their children’s school, sports or social life. You may have shared common ground on parenting issues or got advice from an older couple whose kids are older than yours. Sometimes it’s us that are the ones giving advice on the “terrible twos” or handling a teenager.

It’s so important that you build rapport and earn trust early in your relationship with your clients so you can learn about the other members of the family that will be end users of the home or benefit from the sale.

Ask about their school activities, sporting endeavors, hobbies and interests. Listen to their “favorites” so when you score those tickets to a boy band concert you’ll never attend you will know which client’s tween-age daughter you will be a hero to.

And don’t forget people’s pets. For many animal lovers, their pets are just as much a part of the family as the children are. Any time you can ask about Fido or Mittens, do it.

EEvents are a great point of conversation with your former clients and others in your sphere of influence. You can look at the macro-level events happening in and around your city (music festivals, fairs, art shows) or even at the micro-level activities in the neighborhoods or subdivisions such as Easter egg hunts, garage sales or block parties.

Keeping your contacts in the know is great, but taking time to make them the focus of your call is even better — so events like birthdays, anniversaries or any other special occasion are a great reason to reach out and touch someone. Facebook has made it almost too easy to recognize people’s birthdays, but a “have a great day” post on their wall gets missed after 50 people have left messages before and after you. Instead, reach out with a phone call, a personal visit or a video message using a video tool like Eyejot or FaceTime.

Anniversaries are always special occasions worth recognizing, but even for your single clients, how about reaching out to them on the anniversary of when they bought or sold their home? “Hey, Mr. Sullivan. Happy anniversary. Can you believe it’s been five years since you purchased that home? How’s everything in the neighborhood these days?”

EEmail should be one of your main ways to stay in touch with people because it’s easy and, in most cases, free. The first thing most people do when they wake up each day is reach for their mobile phone to check their email, and, at the end of the day, they give their inbox a glance before shutting down. There has to be an opportunity for you to catch their attention sometime between sunrise and sunset, no?

mail image via shutterstock

If you’re looking for more ideas about how to leverage email into your keep-in-touch system, check out the recent webinar hosted by Inman’s chief evangelist, Chris Smith, in which he shared 25 Awesome Email Marketing Tips.

P – Make your contacts personal as much as possible. Sure, it’s great to create easily duplicated templates and mass mail your list of contacts, but it will be obvious to the recipient that it was a generic effort. Seek opportunities to be specific and unique with your connections.

Think about the last few contacts you have had with people. Does it make a difference if they use your name and make direct eye contact? How about if they really seem interested in you? Anyone with any sales training has heard the concept of F-O-R-D, right? Ask about their family, their occupation (job), recreational activities (hobbies, interests) and dreams. Where are they going on vacation? What are their plans for the holidays? What will they do when the kids all leave home for college?

IInvites and Improvements. One of the best ways to deepen a relationship is to make it more than just a few postcards or emails throughout the year. A systematic contact like an e-newsletter or calendar card is great, but getting those face-to-face opportunities is even better.

Invite your contacts to an event that you and your broker might be hosting. Call them when you’re headed to the local pub and offer to buy ’em a beer. If you have an open house in their neighborhood, invite them to pop over and see you. Just think — they might know someone who wants to buy the house.

Improvements are also something on most homeowners’ minds. They either want to update or repair something, or maybe they wonder if it’s even worth doing because they may be moving soon and can’t figure out if the return on investment would be worth it. Can you find a way to share an overview of what additions, repairs and improvements help add the most value to their home? You can always find a generic report like the one at CostvsValue.com, or you might want to get more specific by creating a few blog posts where you interview local contractors, appraisers and service providers.

N – What’s new? You want to be looked at as the neighborhood expert? When people think of “in the know,” are they thinking of you? Who is the “go to” guy or girl in your area for all things?

A great reason to reach out to someone is to share something with them that they might not know.

What is that new building going up on the corner going to be? Where did the weatherman on the local ABC affiliate come from? How challenging is the new golf course or what’s the food and service like at the new bistro on the town square?

You know who does a great job with this in our business? Chris Smith and Katie Lance and their team of experts at local Agent Reboot events are always sharing new tools, tricks and techniques with their followers and friends, and, because of it, they have earned a spot in our “trusted adviser” list.

TThanks. It’s such a great reason to reach out to people that we have an entire holiday focused on it. You would be hard-pressed to sit at your desk on any day and not come up with someone you could say “thanks” to. Have you reached out to the last few people who have sent you a referral? I’m sure you thanked them at the time they sent you the name, but what about now that the transaction is in progress?

How about a neighbor for watching your house while you were away? A friend for inviting you to a movie? The barista at Starbucks for the extra shot of espresso the other day when you weren’t operating at full speed?

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” ~G.K. Chesterton

OOne-on-one contact is the best because it really allows you to make the contact about them, not you. We mentioned earlier that making the contact personal was important, and one of the ways you can do that is make it in person. These can be scheduled appointments or sometimes, for even more impact, completely random “pop-bys” to say hello, drop off cookies or flowers, or maybe even those extra set of tickets to the ball game that you won’t be able to use but you were hoping your client could take his son who is home visiting from college?

What’s your schedule like this week for coffee? Call a client now and plan to meet for a cup of joe.

How’s your lunch calendar looking? Could you squeeze in a sandwich with someone from your neighborhood?

Happy hour? Arrange to meet up with an old friend or co-worker and share some laughs.

Even just a few minutes of face time in the aisles of a grocery store will be infinitely better time spent than generic postcards to random residents.

UUpdates on the market help to reinforce that you are the professional when it comes to real estate. This could be a regular blog post you write or as easy as harnessing your local MLS reports and delivering them to your sphere of influence. Do you run a “hot sheet” each day on your market place? How often do you reach out to someone who lives near one of the new listings or perhaps shoot an email to the person who lives down the block from the latest sale?

“Greetings Diane – Just wanted to let you know that the house down the street finally sold. It ended up selling for 94 percent of the asking price.

By the way, I hope we’ll see you at the club this Saturday night. It’s family night at the pool so make sure you pack the kids’ swimsuits. We’ll save you a table.”

CCommunity is what a great Realtor is all about — being part of the workforce but also being part of the tapestry that makes up the area we call home. What can you do to help the local small-business owners in your area? How can you serve as a liaison between your schools and residents? Can you help spread the word about the local parks or library’s needs for volunteers?

What can you be to be the “source of the source” in and around your community?

Do it because being a part of the community is the right thing to do, not because you’re looking for business. When you have the right intent, others will see that and want to do business with you.

It’s funny how that always seems to work out that way.

HHolidays are an easy reason to touch base with others yet we so often overlook them because “life gets in the way.” Of course the big holidays like Christmas and Easter, the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving seem to get lots of attention and deservedly so. But if every other Realtor in your town is sending Thanksgiving cards or putting out American flags on the Fourth of July, how are you going to stand out, be unique and, most importantly, memorable?

I remember one year I invited all of my friends and contacts to meet me at one of the local Irish pubs on St. Patrick’s Day. I called, emailed and texted people and said that I was going to be there in the afternoon and if they had the time to stop by, I’d buy them a beer. I ran into a few and we enjoyed some cold ones together and caught up on their lives. It was great.

St. Patrick’s Day image via shutterstock

The real impact of my invite came after the holiday when I would run into people who didn’t make it to the pub. They would start by apologizing that they couldn’t make it to my event and wished they would have been there. Most of them offered a rain check of sorts and asked if we could meet up another time.

Imagine that — just by inviting people to a place I was going to be anyway, St. Patrick’s Day became “my event at that pub.” How can you hijack a holiday and make it your own?

What’s your approach to holidays like April Fool’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day or Halloween? Could you reach out to any mother you knew the week of Mother’s Day and tell her about a special brunch location in the area? Would any of the fathers meet you for a round of golf on Father’s Day? Wouldn’t it be fun to share some funny voice messages or prank calls with good friends on April Fool’s Day?

So there are some pretty easy ideas to keep in touch with people you already know. They say it’s cheaper to keep an existing client than it is to earn a new one, but it may not be easier. You’ve got to invest your time and follow a system.

Keep it simple and remember that people want to do business with people they like. Just focus on building relationships, solving problems and having fun, and your chances for success will be high.