(This is Part 1 of a three-part series. Read Part 2, “Marketing to younger, first-time buyers can pay off,” and Part 3, “Consumer secrets Realtors can’t afford to ignore.”)

There are currently 1.3 million Realtors and approximately another 1.3 million people who aren’t Realtors but hold real estate licenses, according to the National Association of Realtors. Competition, especially in a declining market, is tough.

(This is Part 1 of a three-part series. Read Part 2, “Marketing to younger, first-time buyers can pay off,” and Part 3, “Consumer secrets Realtors can’t afford to ignore.”)

There are currently 1.3 million Realtors and approximately another 1.3 million people who aren’t Realtors but hold real estate licenses, according to the National Association of Realtors. Competition, especially in a declining market, is tough. What can you do to stand out from the crowd and have a great year in 2008?

At its annual conference in November, NAR released its “Member Profile” for 2007 as well as its “Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.” These two documents reveal what’s working in the real estate industry today, as well as potential opportunities for savvy real estate professionals to capture more market share.

1. Get rich in a niche

The NAR study showed that 88 percent of all Realtors earn more than 50 percent of their real estate income for their primary real estate specialty. Top-producing agents normally niche their businesses to a specific neighborhood, a specific type of property such as relocation or resorts, or to a specific market segment such as first-time buyers. Serving a specific niche is a great way to build your business in 2008. To determine which niche is right for you, review your income figures from 2007. Identify the primary areas that produced the most revenue. Expanding these areas is the best way to produce more profits in 2008.

2. Don’t rely exclusively on referral strategies

For individual agents, only 25 percent of their business is based upon referrals compared with 29 percent for residential brokers. These numbers increase with the agent’s longevity. For those with 16 or more years in the business, 41 percent report that more than 50 percent of their business comes from referrals. The bottom line is that if you want to increase your business in 2008, on average you can expect 25 percent of your business to come from your referral database. The other 75 percent must come from other sources. To keep your business strong, utilize referral strategies, Web-based strategies, as well as working with the tried and true fundamental lead-generation strategies.

3. Respond immediately to consumer inquiries

Consumers today expect immediate response to their inquiries. The younger they are, the greater this expectation is. Given that the median age for agents is 51 versus 32 for the median age of first-time buyers, there is a considerable gap between how each group communicates. Only 23 percent of the brokers surveyed reported having wireless e-mail. This means that 77 percent of the agents are unable to respond to their e-mails while they are out in the field. An even smaller number know how to text message. If you haven’t upgraded to one of the new smartphones and learned how to text, now is the time to take the leap. Text messaging is actually quite simple. Type a message on your phone and then hit the send message button. Unlike e-mail where the receiver has to go online and open his or her e-mail program, a text message appears automatically on the recipient’s telephone.

4. Customize your personal Web site; don’t rely on your broker’s site

Surprisingly, only 35 percent of all Realtors have a Web site that they developed and maintain. Thirty-nine percent lack a Web site, and 27 percent rely exclusively on their broker’s site. Furthermore, the more money agents spend to maintain their Web site, the more money they earn from it. To gain a competitive edge, expand your personal Web site. You may also want to consider providing each one of your sellers with their own personal site that uses the property address as the URL. Two resources include AgencyLogic.com and ListingDomains.com.

5. Earn a NAR designation

For the most part, the public doesn’t understand the alphabet soup of Realtor designations. Nevertheless, additional training increases your professionalism and differentiates your services from those provided by competitors. Also, since 70 percent of all Realtors lack designations, the time and effort is worthwhile to help you stand out professionally. Those who hold designations are among the best in the business. When they make referrals, they normally refer to someone who shares the same designations. The latest numbers show that 18 percent hold GRI designations, 8 percent hold the CRS designation, and 9 percent have an e-Pro designation.

6. Blogging

Of all the opportunities to distinguish your services from those provided by other brokers in 2008, blogging is probably the best with the least amount of competition at this time. Only 2 percent of the agents “frequently use blogs” compared with 88 percent who “rarely or never use blogs.” Four percent of the survey respondents had blogs. The younger the agents, the more likely they are to have a blog. If you can establish your blog as the one with market dominance in your area this year, it can generate leads for you for years to come.

7. Podcasting

This is one of the hottest trends among Gen X and Gen Y, yet very few agents have recognized the potential that podcasting (computer audio broadcasting) has for growing their business. Only 1 percent of the agents report that they regularly use podcasts compared with 94 percent who rarely or never use them. Implementing a weekly podcast to your referral database with information about the local market as well as good buys in the area is an excellent way to build your credibility and acquire more clients.

Need more tips for 2008? See next week’s column to discover what today’s buyers and sellers are really doing.

Bernice Ross, national speaker and CEO of Realestatecoach.com, is the author of “Waging War on Real Estate’s Discounters” and “Who’s the Best Person to Sell My House?” Both are available online. She can be reached at bernice@realestatecoach.com or visit her blog at www.LuxuryClues.com.

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