A young couple longed for a two-bedroom condo in San Francisco’s posh Noe Valley neighborhood.
With a firm budget ceiling of $950,000, real estate agent Rebecca Preece knew that an early favorite, listed at $930,000, was out of her clients’ league.
As sure as cooling fog sweeps into the neighborhood from the Pacific Ocean nearby, she knew the Golden City’s blazing housing market would blow the sale price over the couple’s max. (It eventually sold for $1.28 million, according to Preece).
Noe Valley image via Michelle O’Riordan/Flickr
A newly constructed condo in hipster-haven Mission Dolores, a few blocks’ slide downhill from Noe, would be perfect. “I knew it would work,” Preece said.
They put an offer in two weeks later and closed in a month and a half.
The couple came to Preece as a realtor.com lead in early spring, and her market knowledge, coupled with a gentle, sure hand, helped her find them a home and close the deal.
Those elements are part of a winning lead-conversion formula that helps her close 8 percent of her online leads, more than twice the generally accepted industry standard of 3 percent.
Another online lead-conversion master, Florida agent Christina Stramiello, uses a similar blueprint to close online leads at approximately the same rate.
By delving into the guts of Preece and Stramiello’s proven online lead-conversion playbooks, real estate brokers and agents can wring more business out of their own online leads — or, if they’re digital marketing newbies, jumpstart an efficient online operation.
That would be smart, because if trends hold — more buyers finding their own homes online, top portals capturing more of the real estate audience — online leads will only become a bigger deal in real estate.
Preece and Stramiello’s processes center on realtor.com and Zillow, respectively, and the buyer leads that the two portals primarily deliver — but brokers and agents can adapt their proven strategies to any online lead, including sellers and leads who come from search engine marketing or Facebook.
|Preece and Stramiello’s generalized tips for converting online leads|
Generating leads is half of the battle; the war is won in closing them.
Turning leads into gold
Converting online leads at a high rate requires a team and a detailed system.
Preece and Stramiello’s respective brokers — Marker Real Estate (Preece) and Robert Slack Fine Homes (Stramiello) — have businesses built around portal leads (see parts one and two of this series for more information). They decided to plug into their firms to take advantage of this structure.
Preece, who’s been an agent for two and a half years, joined Marker a little over a year ago because she wanted a broker who was ” a little more hands on” than the larger independent she had been with. Through Sept. 18, she’s closed eight transactions at a volume of $8.2 million (five via realtor.com; four from portal leads and one from a former lead’s referral).
Stramiello, a long-time agent who re-entered the field three years ago, joined Robert Slack in February from a larger firm for a similar reason: “I wanted the specialized attention a smaller team could bring.” She’s closed 15 deals for a volume of $4.7 million through Sept. 18 (all but two came from Zillow leads).
Preece and Stramiello’s processes converge in many respects, but differ in an important one: Preece receives pre-screened leads from her broker; Stramiello handles every Zillow lead herself.
Preece receives between 3 and 12 realtor.com leads each month after her broker has already spoken with them and assessed their readiness to transact. She pays a 50-50 commission split to her brokerage on the ones she closes. Realtor.com leads account for 70 percent of her business.
Stramiello receives approximately 30 leads per month from Zillow, which account for all but 3 percent of her business. She owns the leads her brokerage purchases from Zillow Group from five ZIP codes (Zillow and Trulia ad products became one under Zillow Group earlier this month).
Her broker pays for most of the Zillow Group leads and takes a 60-40 commission split on the leads she closes.
An assembly line built to close
Closing online leads “is not rocket science,” Stramiello said — but systems are critical.
Without a defined process for handling online leads, agents will max out at converting two to four online leads each month, she said.
She focuses only on hot buyers and passes off others to her virtual assistant, Celly, for nurturing. Stramiello incentivizes Celly by giving her a substantial bonus after three transactions in a month.
“I believe in making it a serious incentive with a realistic goal and not a perpetual carrot,” Stramiello said. “It’s not just a pat on the head; she really wants it, and I want her to have it.”
She susses out whether buyers are close to a deal when they first talk. “A hot buyer will always show you proof of funds or a lender’s preapproval letter prior to showing,” she said.
Stramiello tracks each client in her CRM, Follow Up Boss. She has her own shorthand note-taking system so she can quickly assess her client list at a glance.
Preece has a similar process.
Each lead has already received a response from her broker, but Preece is quick to get in touch. Before, however, she calls the listing agent of the property the buyer is interested in.
This helps avoid an awkward conversation, she said. Some buyers think they’re contacting the listing agent when they fill out the agent lead form on a portal listing detail page.
Preece sets all leads up in the agent-branded search platform RealScout (currently only available in San Francisco Bay Area, Washington state and Southern California).
The software shows her where her clients are looking and automatically sends them properties that fit their search criteria when they hit the market. She pays for this, not her broker.
Screen shot of RealScout’s backend dashboard.
Preece, her broker and the firm’s sales manager share a CRM, Top Producer; they track details about each lead there, so they’re always on the same page.
Like Stramiello, Preece does not handle her cooler leads; her broker does. Of the 45 active leads she has now, she personally deals with the eight hottest.
A broker assistant calls the other clients; if and when they become hot, Preece takes them back over. Since they all share Top Producer, no information about the lead is lost in the process.
Connection: the glue that closes
“I always call,” Stramiello said. “Text message is not a legitimate contact.”
Establishing connection is key, she said.
“Text message is not a legitimate contact.” – Christina Stramiello, agent, Robert Slack Fine Homes
She asks her leads lifestyle questions and establishes a conversational tone while cleverly drilling down to learn their real estate needs. If they like boating, she’ll be thinking of places closer to the ocean; if hot air balloons are more their bag, she’ll start thinking of areas farther inland.
“If you can tap into their dream, they will open the door and let you help them achieve their goal,” Stramiello said.
Once that door opens, she asks drier questions about their timeline, financing strategy, schedules — but she keeps it as informal and casual as possible.
She prefers face-to-face meetings when possible. “I nail them 95 to 97 percent of the time (in person),” Stramiello said.
Preece, likewise, is careful to create a friendly, congenial vibe.
“I describe myself as an anti-salesperson salesperson,” Preece said. She focuses on making sure none of her clients feel pressured.
To help build rapport and trust, she describes personal experiences to help clients relate to her.
Communicating clearly with leads helps Preece and Stramiello head off potential transaction hiccups.
For example, when Preece’s clients are ready to sign a contract, she outlines the important parts and asks them to digest what she’s said, then email back a detailed acknowledgement.
Stramiello, too, said she keeps two steps ahead of her clients. She foresees possible challenges that may crop up and has solutions ready to suggest when they do.
Why don’t they buy their own leads?
Preece and Stramiello have well-developed lead-conversion processes; why don’t they build their own portal-powered brokerages or agent teams?
“Everybody has their skills,” Preece said. She doesn’t feel comfortable fielding initial lead calls yet.
She doesn’t buy realtor.com leads herself because she already has more than she can handle and, for now, appreciates the support her broker gives her.
Stramiello, on the other hand, is in the process of building her own Zillow Group-powered empire. She has started buying a few impressions from the portal giant in one ZIP code ($550 per month) and is looking to slowly build her business.
She already has her own virtual assistant and has her own closing coordinater on contract, so she’s on her way to building a team.
Stramiello feels her lead-conversion rate is poised to jump, too. After months of training, her virtual assistant is now fully up to speed.