Pam O’Connor: ‘We shouldn’t be pitting brokers against agents’

Predictions for the coming year from the president/CEO of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World

Pam O’Connor is the president/CEO of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World.

Are you excited about 2015?

Yes!

What are you worried about?

Despite a few things that could potentially derail our sluggish but steady economic recovery, I’m generally optimistic about the factors affecting the housing market. But internally, something that worries me is an increasing effort on the part of certain industry factions and individuals to marginalize the role and importance and value of the brokerage in our business. We shouldn’t be pitting brokers against agents; this is an interdependent ecosystem in which both add great value. Brokerages are the infrastructure of the industry, without which there would be no training, vetting, oversight or consistency in people or resources, and that would result in the Wild West — the polar opposite of what would be good for consumers.

There is room for improvement in all areas, no doubt about it, but I am weary of  those who blame every shortcoming in the industry on brokers. Brokers are the people who mortgaged their personal savings to keep their doors open a few years ago, and they deserve respect. If running a brokerage were easy, there would be many more taking on that responsibility and liability.

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Will agents be more productive next year?

It depends on which ones you’re talking about. What I have observed for my entire 25-plus-year career is that good agents succeed in any market — and often have their best years during the most challenging markets. Financial success isn’t always aligned with higher productivity, but unless an agent has a windfall of multimillion-dollar transactions, the two usually go hand in hand.

Why or why not?

The most productive agents: (1) plan their activities with specific and measurable outcomes in mind; (2) probe the wants and needs of their clients in order to consistently exceed their expectations; and (3) practice the art of communication, including responsiveness during the deal and regular follow-up afterward to retain customers for life. These practices generate raving fans who represent repeat and referral business.

What will be the biggest source of real estate leads next year?  

I might rephrase this question to ask about the best rather than biggest sources because quality correlates to productivity. Beyond personal referrals, I believe the best, most highly convertible leads will come from three or four key sources:

  • Brokerage and/or agent websites will continue to attract the bottom-of-the-funnel buyers who are most ready to transact after researching and learning for some period of time. The better and more consumer-centric these sites are, the more compelling they become.
  • Consumer commentary will become an increasingly important factor in driving buyers and sellers to particular agents. I think that those agents who not only perform at a high level but also seek out and leverage reviews from their clients, which can be done so much more easily in this age of social media, will find leads coming from unexpected quarters.
  • Broker-to-broker referrals from other professionals are experiencing a resurgence. We see this firsthand in our highly effective referral network of 30,000-40,000 referrals converting at a 44 percent rate and growing each year. In this age of information overload and online noise, I truly believe that many consumers appreciate more than ever the personal introduction to a proven, like-minded, service-oriented agent in another market, and the key to that is having a trusted way to select that agent.

One caveat: The first and second sources above originate online, and the success of these and all e-leads depends almost entirely on initial agent responsiveness and their patient cultivation of that lead over time, not the strong suits of many agents. Thus, an effective lead management system and/or business rules/structure that supports the customer experience ahead of agent control will make the difference and ultimately work in favor of the listing and the requested agent.

What is the biggest challenge for the industry in the coming year?

This isn’t a new challenge, but I continue to worry that we aren’t thinking like consumers think. We are consumers, too, and if we would just apply what we demand from other industries to our world, we’d be much more effective.

Just one example: Consumers today crave “experience,” and although we see more about lifestyle on our primary media — websites — it’s all still fairly static and inanimate about properties and places rather than showing how people live, work and play in their habitats. The growth of video will enable more of this, but it all needs to become much more interactive to engage and compel the consumer to want to work with us.

Would you like to participate in our 2015 outlook series? Email contributors@inman.com!