Connect the Speakers: Stephanie Lanier on managing work-life balance in real estate

"The average agent is just chasing things that are not helping them make more money"

Stephanie Lanier used to work as a clinical social worker — her clients included at-risk teenagers, homeless people and people ending their marriages in high-conflict situations, to name just a few. After a few years as a stay-at-home mom, her son was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder, so she needed to think about returning to the workforce to tackle what she knew would be some hefty health care bills — and she needed something that offered more flexibility and opportunity to create a steady life rhythm than social work.

Since then, Lanier has founded her own brokerage that emphasizes the ability to have a life and a career — and has killer marketing materials to boot. You can see why she was tapped to discuss work-life balance and creating a brand that stands for something at Inman Connect New York, January 29 through February 1 at the Marriott Marquis Times Square (though as Lanier says, she believes more than creating a rhythm than a balance between work and life). We talked to her about how she does it and what she thinks are some of the biggest opportunities in the real estate industry today.

Tell us a little more about your session. How will it address how the industry can embrace the shifting market?

It’s a complete mindset thing. You have to be curious and not afraid. If you’re afraid, it shuts down your brain; you cannot make good decisions if you’re afraid. It’s just so unnecessary for most of us in most markets — we are way too busy focused on an article we read than our sphere of influence and the people who have been working with us for ten years. It’s important to pay attention to it, but for the average agent, paying attention to the sphere you have — if you lose one client to a discount broker, it’s not going to break you. If you own four brokerages and have 2,000 agents, you need to pay more attention to that. But the average agent is just chasing things that are not helping them make more money. The way you want to think about it is, “That’s interesting, I wonder how that might work in my market and what I could learn from that.” And if we see a groundswell — if 50% of consumers are going with discount brokers — you’ve got to pivot because you don’t want to be Blockbuster. But that’s not this year.

Your plan for 2019 should be whatever your lead gen strategy is and taking care of the people who already know, like and trust you. If you’re in a small town in Iowa, then you can take a deep breath and keep going. Get advice from people in peer markets. I’m in a small Southern town and listening to someone who works in Orange County just doesn’t make sense. Pay attention to the corporations, but you still be the person with the kid and the PTA president who’s taking care of your community after a hurricane.

I just got hired by developers to represent a property; they have to have a local person dealing with city council, zoning, permits. Real estate agents need to be smart about where they’re going to fit into the ecosystem in the future, and now is the time to be playing with that. Do you want to think about development or inside sales agent models and how they work? There are pockets of real estate that are going to be unaffected by disruptors — find those.

What do you think are the biggest opportunities to focus on in the real estate industry right now?

I’m telling my agents this all the time, but writing out your favorite date night for your town, writing out 24 hours in your city — the New York Times has that 36 hours in whatever city, why not write that about your town and highlight the fact that at the coffee shop you should see Dave because he’s the owner and he makes a killer vanilla latte? I get asked all the time, where should I take my wife for an anniversary dinner? Trying to share those pieces of personal information; I think video is huge, and if you can get comfortable with going live, that’s critical. In March of 2019 they’re projecting that Instagram Stories are going to take over Facebook Live feed, so I think every Realtor needs to be posting on their stories, it’s a wonderful way to interact with people.

And the other thing people don’t want to do but coaches have been saying it forever, is taking good care of the people who’ve worked with you, whether there are five people or 500 — that’s where most agents’ business will come from. So you don’t need to run around chasing leads when people who already care about us and have good feelings about our services are already there. Taylor Swift at her concert texted and emailed several times after it was over. And it’s so easy to be like “Oh my gosh it’s over” instead of ordering them a pizza when they’re moving, or checking back in at day five, day 14, to see how things are going.

The last thing I think they should focus on is reviews. We’re a tiny company in our market, but we’re probably the third or fourth most reviewed company in our town — and we have five agents. You and I don’t buy anything on Amazon without reading reviews, and why should real estate be any different? As soon as reviews rolled out on Zillow, I focused on that, and the first 100 reviews we worked really hard. Now if you count Facebook, we’re at close to 225 five-star reviews.

To stay competitive, agents, brokers and companies need to execute quickly. What do you feel are key areas where quick execution can vastly improve the customer experience?

Speed is everything, and I think it’s just so critical for consumers today. The place where a practicing agent can drop the ball is those questions like, “Hey, what’s the deal with that empty lot on Pine Street?” and it just gets buried. The amount of information that comes in through my phone on a daily basis is overwhelming. Text messages — you can’t forward to your assistant or sort it, they’re difficult to organize, but it’s where speed is expected. Email, people get, you can put an away message, but you can’t put an away message on texting and that makes me feel crazy — if I’m in a doctor’s appointment all day and have 25 texts to get back to…. It’s a big operational challenge for Realtors. They’re expected to have the kind of availability that is not sustainable once you get to a different growth pattern.

I like the idea of two phones because I know agents who go to Europe and have their assistant take the phone; one of my friends did that, and her assistant quit the day she came back — and she got her back but was like “I don’t think I had a proper awareness of how crazy this is.” When we’re talking about work-life balance or self care, agents are the worst about dismissing their health and being reactive, not proactive. The busier you get with clients, 99 percent of your time can be reactive.

What are your hopes for the next 12 months, and what will you be working on?

I’m working on increasing my energy because I think there’s a really big focus on weight loss or health, but energy is the thing that will change your business, and I want to take it to the next level. And clarity — as your business grows, I want to be clear about my values and vision and not so easily distracted and influenced by other companies.

Discover the opportunities in a changing market at Inman Connect New York, January 29 – February 1. Jumpstart 2019 with tactical takeaways, unlimited networking and thought-provoking speakers. Learn more.

Thinking about bringing your team? You may qualify for special group perks! Contact us to learn more.