Sales volumes are down, prices are down, and it’s time to get creative. That’s been the message so far at Connect ’08. Although I’m lucky enough to be partly insulated by being in Manhattan (“those of you from New York and the Hamptons can just check your BlackBerries and ignore the following part of my speech,” Brad Inman joked during the welcome), I did learn a lot from dropping in and out of panels. With apologies to those of you I didn’t get to, a sampling:
1. There’s a place for virtual tours and video. The strongest proponent was at the high end, panelist Richard Ferrari of Prudential Douglas Elliman, who had a $10 million listing with a client who said, “I want a CD that you can send to Russia, to China.” The property, he said, sold a year later as a result of that very CD. For the rest of us, it’s worth thinking of those visual packages as something that markets our services, just as a well-designed flier or advertisement would.
2. Blog with an end in mind. We’re no longer at the point where you’re a neat, tech-savvy agent just because you have a blog. You need to plan out what results you want: Brian Brady, a mortgage blogger who can be found online at mortgageratesreport.com, said, “Blogging is a tool; what do you want from it?” Also, consider what you have to offer: Lockhart Steele, the publisher of curbed.com, who offered the bloggers’ keynote, pointed out that one strength of agents is their analysis — because agents have expertise, they can offer commentary and interpretation of the news that’s useful to consumers. In the “Long Tail” discussion panel, recurrent stories came up that another thing agents have to offer is personality — if you write about your favorite movie or soda, occasionally a customer with those same loves will stumble in your door.
3. Get out your negotiation skills to bridge the gap between buyers and sellers. Dottie Herman, president and CEO of Prudential Douglas Elliman, noted that she has been in real estate for 25 years. “I lived through eras where there were no buyers out there, zero. Now there are buyers out there, they’re just not going to pay these prices.” If you’re interested in getting into the defaulting end of the market, be especially willing to talk — one example cited was a deal involving 10 lenders!
4. There is a huge appetite for resources in the foreclosure space. The panel of Rupi Rupwani of Rupwani Associates, Rick Sharga of RealtyTrac, Ryan Slack of Property Shark, and Royce Brown of Harlem Homes could have gone on for three hours. Agents who are new to working with foreclosures see the increased volume of business, and want education about the best practices in this area — a need that Inman News will step up to meet in the coming months, so watch this space. In the meantime, agents who have already submitted clean offers to banks — one agent called her offers “pristine” — face the frustration of not being able to close because the decision-makers at the banks are so swamped by volume. Be persistent: If it helps, it’s not you, it’s them. As Rick Sharga put it, “I have 3 million visitors to my Web site, and I can’t get to the guy at Wells Fargo.”
5. Don’t forget to accept your authority. Personal finance expert Ilyce Glink, who has become a refuge for consumers because of her on-target, yet sympathetic, advice, stated the case for agents best: “I don’t think any buyer should be unrepresented. Buyers who think in this market they will save 3 percent on an already negotiated contract need to be saved from themselves. The customer needs your expertise, and needs you to negotiate for them.” Pam Liebman, president and CEO of the Corcoran Group, mentioned that in the current market, it helps to move the buyer away from trying to time the market and towards the reasons — expanding family, new job, next hot area — they are buying that new house in the first place.
6. Since advances in technology and structure are so radical, pick an avenue or two to explore – and then explore them. Inman’s Jessica Swesey led a session on productivity tools where Marilyn Wilson of WAV Group (check out their newsletter online) brought us back to basics: “If it doesn’t help you sell more real estate, what’s the point?” Focus points could include everything from offering search services on maps (Rich Bailey of WolfNet and Patrick Morgan of MapQuest did this in a way that I could understand) to checking out new media platforms (a big welcome to HGTV’s frontdoor.com) to understanding new financing structures (Equity Key’s new reverse mortgage alternative, available in California, Florida, and newly, New York). One panelist advised us to spend a little time daily for two months trying out something new, figuring that for the first month, you’ll barely know what you’re doing. Sounds like a great rule of thumb!
7. Finally, have a little patience and remember humans are, well, human. It’s a tough market, but that doesn’t suddenly make consumers more rational. Michael Shermer, the science writer who just wrote “The Mind of the Market”and served as Connect’s keynote speaker, put it well: “There’s no reason to believe that human beings, irrational in all other areas of life, become rational when they make investments or go shopping.”
Alison Rogers is a licensed salesperson and author of “Diary of a Real Estate Rookie.”
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