As real estate professionals navigate the change that comes with technological disruption, one thing is certain — agents who do not focus on specialization will not survive.

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As real estate professionals navigate the change that comes with technological disruption, one thing is certain — agents who do not focus on specialization will not survive.

In fact, agents who continue to operate as generalists are actually the most vulnerable to being replaced, either by technology, or more likely, another agent who has carved out a specialty niche in the market for themselves.

In a role that entails so many responsibilities, agents can often let their business be guided solely by the latest opportunity and wherever the next deal is coming from. As a result, many agents find themselves operating as real estate generalists, knowing a little bit about a wide array of markets, clientele and property types. While this model worked in years past, it simply does not hold up in today’s market.

Consumers today have a vast amount of information at their fingertips, and they’re savvy when it comes to doing their own research. To justify a commission in the consumer’s mind, agents have to provide added value to the homebuying or selling experience.

This is where specialization will become invaluable for agents. By pinpointing their business and becoming entrenched experts within a certain market, client base, property type, etc., agents will be able to provide a depth of knowledge that makes them truly irreplaceable.

While it’s true that technology has facilitated easy access to consumers, the proliferation of websites like Zillow and Trulia don’t scratch much below the surface, providing a bird’s-eye view of markets and home values. When pundits in the industry talk about technology replacing agents, what they are really saying is that technology can replace agents who attempt to be everything to everyone. Like many real estate portals, these agents are all breadth and no depth.

Defining specialization

Specialization can take different forms, but the most important thing for agents to do is truly ingrain themselves within the niche they choose to pursue.

For many agents, it makes sense to own a segmentation within their specific geographic market as their specialty. Instead of trying to cover a swath of markets at a high level, agents who focus their efforts within a specific area can know everything there is to know about their neighborhood to effectively become the “go to” local resource.

Clients will value agents who can provide inside information about their potential new home or neighborhood, whether it’s recommending a restaurant that’s a favorite among locals or knowing which streets hold annual block parties.

From a marketing and brand awareness perspective, nothing says “I own this market” louder than a dozen lawn signs within a 10-block radius — this builds business momentum and agents become synonymous with a certain speciality, and referrals build on top of that.

Specialization can also take the form of owning a specific category, such as a specific property type (ranches, ski homes, farmhouses) or network of people. For example, CEOs, professional athletes or equestrian enthusiasts. Often, this type of niche is much more difficult to build and can take years for an agent to truly own. In pursuing this type of specialization, agents must have an authentic interest and passion for their selected category to make it work.

Choosing the right specialization

In specializing, agents take their skill level and expertise within a certain niche or segment to total mastery, something that is extremely valued by consumers when looking for a professional to help them buy or sell their home. According to our research, the top four factors that homebuyers and sellers say impact their agent selection are, in order:

  • Local expertise
  • Years of experience
  • Recommendations and referrals
  • Reputation of their brokerage

Because local expertise is the top reason consumers choose an agent, a geographic specialty will be the best place for most agents to start. Agents should choose an area with which they are knowledgeable and experienced. At the beginning of an agent’s career, it will be important to invest in hyperlocal marketing within their selected market to build awareness for their personal brand as a local expert.

Regardless of specialty, once chosen it is key for agents to promote it so that consumers will learn to associate the agent with a certain neighborhood or client niche. Agents can do this in a number of ways.

Promoting your specialization

Agents should always look for new ways to grow their network. It sounds obvious, but the importance of this point can’t be understated. Attend relevant events — a city planning meeting or local festival if your specialty is within that neighborhood.

Similarly, find ways to partner with other local businesses who service the same target audience. This can be extremely effective in building mutually beneficial connections within your specialty.

Given the insight that the reputation of an agent’s brokerage is very important to consumers, you need to align yourself with a brokerage that supports and speaks to your chosen specialty.

If your specialty is international buyers, it doesn’t make sense to align with a brokerage that’s only known for its domestic network, for example.

Becoming an influencer

Engel & Völkers’ study of millennial HENRYs (high earners not rich yet) found that the next generation of wealth is highly active on social media and increasingly looking to influencers on these platforms when considering a buying decision.

In fact, the most widely followed group of influencers, surprisingly, are not celebrities, but topic experts — personal trainers, makeup artists, nutritionists, and yes, real estate agents. The ultimate goal for agents when choosing and owning a specialty is to leverage the brand and expertise they’ve cultivated as the basis to become a “topic expert” influencer.

This is an opportunity for agents to demonstrate expertise within their chosen speciality in an authentic and entertaining way, while also building credibility among consumers in their niche.

For example, an agent who specializes in equestrian properties might use Instagram to post photos of themselves at a polo match. Whatever the specialty, it’s important to be authentic. Social is an effective way to show clients that you also “walk the walk.”

The bottom line

As technology becomes more sophisticated, an agent’s specialization becomes their unique value proposition and most important differentiator. Carving out and owning a niche speciality can be one of the most powerful ways to create a distinct agent brand.

Anthony Hitt is the CEO of Engel & Völkers Americas in New York City. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram.

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