Book review
Title: "Shift: How Top Real Estate Agents Tackle Tough Times"
Authors: Gary Keller, Dave Jenks and Jay Papasan
Publisher: McGraw Hill, 295 pages, $21.95.

"The worst that happens to you can be the best thing for you, if you don’t let it get the best of you." –Will Rogers

There’s certainly no doubt that we’re currently in the midst of one of the most challenging real estate markets in decades, but if the authors of the book "Shift: How Top Real Estate Agents Tackle Tough Times" are to believed, this also marks a time of great opportunity.

Written in a fairly elementary format by Keller-Williams Realty co-founder Gary Keller and colleagues Dave Jenks and Jay Papasan, the book acts as both a primer for newly minted agents as well as a supportive roadmap for veteran agents in need of an attitude tune-up.

Although Keller and his co-authors — who also wrote "The Millionaire Real Estate Agent" and "The Millionaire Real Estate Investor" — take almost 300 pages to discuss themes that at first glance could have potentially been abridged to 100, as I read through the book I found myself scribbling in the margins and marking pages for further study, thereby making it as much a workbook as a future resource for ideas.

And therein lies the power of the book’s structure: by forcing readers to think through simple themes on everything from managing expenses to maximizing the conversion of leads to the signing table, Keller and team have created a to-do list that could suit a range of sales-related industries.

Whereas the first part of "Shift" focuses on a macro-economic overview of the how, why and when real estate shifts happen — both in terms of sellers’ and buyers’ markets — the second part is where the "workbook" begins in earnest.

Offering "12 Tactics for Tough Times" for readers in a hurry to put the advice to good use, the authors walk us through the various facets of running a real estate business, including being realistic; right-sizing staffing levels; using appropriate marketing techniques (including a take-no-prisoners approach to the Internet); pricing ahead of the market; creating urgency for buyers; mastering creative financing techniques; becoming experts on short sales, REOs and foreclosures; and bullet-proofing transactions by making yourself the last line of defense against flaky agents, dishonest lenders and skittish buyers.

For example, you might have the best-looking Web site among your peers but it’s only useful if you’re actively converting Internet traffic to registrations and appointments (this falls under "Tactic No. 4: Lead Generation"). If your investment in technology is to "earn its keep," then you’ve got to pepper your site with reasons for visitors to register and provide you with the information you need to land that first appointment, according to "Shift," which provides a variety of suggestions on building such a productive Web presence. The book offers a graphical overview on the role of the Internet as a part of a larger marketing strategy.

Perhaps you’re frustrated that potential sellers and buyers are left waiting for the credit markets to thaw out further before jumping back into the market. This is addressed under "Tactic No. 10: Expand the Options for Creative Financing," which includes a detailed overview on the three areas of creative financing (oriented towards sellers, buyers and lenders).

That leads into "Tactic No. 11: Master the Market of the Moment — Short Sales, Foreclosures and REOs" as an example of using a distinct market shift to your advantage. It’s in this chapter that the authors offer detailed steps on how to become the local expert on such transactions, which in some regions now claim more than half of all closings. Yet because these types of deals have a higher-than-average probability of falling apart, agents should pay special heed to "Tactic No. 12: Bulletproof the Transaction — Issues and Solutions" if they hope to turn today’s financial lemons into tomorrow’s lemonade.

Finally, the authors wrap up by declaring real estate market shifts as genuine gifts to those who are prepared for them. "Whether it is in response to the market or their own goals, high achievers are always changing," it advises. "And they know that to triumph in any situation they must always do one thing — shift."

Of course, any shifts also must involve a decidedly old-fashioned activity to work — simple, hard work on a regular basis, the book suggests, quoting Thomas Edison: "Opportunity is missed by most people because it dresses in overalls and looks like work."

For Keller Williams Realty — which was founded in 1983, started franchising in 1990 and has gradually grown into the fourth-largest residential brokerage in North America — the book "Shift" is just one part of a multi-pronged approach focusing on keeping its sales force competitive and optimistic.

As the real estate market began to shift over the past two years, the company invested $1 million in its "Operation Heart to Heart 2" initiative to assist agents manage a changing market, which includes the launch of the Web site, the "Thriving in a Shifting Market" national seminar tour, and 12 guidebooks for agents.

Keller Williams’ corporate culture focuses on constant education for agents, and the company shares profits with associates. The company has 690 affiliated offices and 73,000 sales associates in the U.S. and Canada.

In the latest annual Real Trends 500 industry survey, nine Keller Williams offices ranked among the survey’s top 100 brokers for total closed transaction sides in 2007. And eight Keller Williams offices ranked among the top 100 brokers for total transaction volume in 2007.

Also, the company had the second-highest number of offices listed in the Real Trends 500 report and had more offices listed than other franchise brands in an annual Power Broker Report by RISMedia that listed 700 top offices.

Patrick S. Duffy is a freelance writer. He is also principal of MetroIntelligence Real Estate Advisors and creator of The Housing Chronicles Blog.

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