Two executives from Redfin and Leading Real Estate Companies of the World share the benefits of referral programs and how to turn referrals into sales.

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Although the coronavirus halted the spring homebuying season, the months in lockdown sparked a massive shift in priorities for homeowners and homebuyers that prompted a wave of migration in the summer and fall.

As waves of Americans relocate, Leading RE Member Services EVP Kate Reisinger and Redfin Operational Manager Maggie Cross told the virtual Connect Now crowd there’s no better time than now to dig into referral programs.

“Our referrals year over year are up 11 percent this year,” Reisinger said. “In the period after the shutdown, if you isolate May, June and July, they were up actually 40 percent year over year in initiated referrals.”

Kate Reisinger

“That’s because I think our agents were creating that awareness that, ‘Hey, you want to get out of New York City and you want to go live and work in Nashville now because it’s all remote, I can help you with that,” she added.

Reisinger and Cross explained that there are multiple referral models agents can take advantage of, as evidenced by their respective companies’ programs. For Redfin’s Partner Program, Redfin agents can refer would-be clients to outside agents within or outside of their market. The agent then takes on the client and doesn’t pay a referral fee until closing.

Meanwhile, LeadingRE has a broker-to-broker referral model where brokers can send clients to any one of LeadingRE’s 550 member companies. The brokerage is also entering the e-commerce realm where agents can begin generating business through e-commerce referrals.

“I think the one really critical thing is 15 to 20 years ago, people might have said, ‘Oh, e-commerce leads those aren’t really great leads,” Reisinger explained. “But what we’re finding is they are really strong leads and those are real people behind that computer screen that have real estate needs.”

No matter which way agents decide to go with building a hearty referral business, Cross and Reisinger said quick responses, excellent customer service and follow-up, and building relationships with agents outside of your market is key.

Maggie Cross

“I can say that for the partner program, I think what agents should consider is whether they’re comfortable developing relationships from scratch, with people from all walks of life, and who are at every stage of the homebuying process,” Cross said. “I think it’s also important for them to really evaluate if they want to grow their book of business, the best agents are those who are responsive and available.”

Cross said following up shouldn’t just be through email; agents must employ a number of tactics that include texting and calling every few weeks to see where the buyer or seller is on their journey.

Beyond creating connections with consumers, Reisinger said it’s imperative to create brand awareness with fellow brokers and others in your sphere, including family and friends in other markets.

“It’s all about creating the awareness to your sphere that you have a global reach,” she said. “You know, I think it’s imperative you tell your friends and family, ‘Hey, you’re in Florida, and I’m in Chicago, but I’m connected to great agents down there that are like-minded [and] who work in the same capacity I do. They excel in customer service, and they really can be your trusted advisor in Florida, and I can make that connection for you.'”

Reisinger also suggested agents include mentions of their referral service in their marketing, whether it’s a note added in their email signature, a line in an email blast to colleagues and clients, or a social media post.

“I’m actually a big proponent of on your social media, having these marketing pieces interspersed throughout your marketing plan that say, ‘Hey, are you looking to get out go down to the southeast or the Southwest? Are you looking for warmer climates?'” she explained.

“I’ll tell you over the COVID period, the agents who really excelled in the referrals were really good at calling their clients and checking in, you know, ‘Hey, how are you doing? How are you feeling about this?'” she added. “What resulted from that just touching base and letting them know I’m here with anything you need, is [that] our referrals, year-over-year, are up 11 percent.”

Although jumping headfirst into a referral program may be tempting, both executives agents need to evaluate which models work for them and honestly determine if they have the time and will to reap the potential benefits.

“I really believe that any kind of opportunity you can get in is a new opportunity, it’s the chance to meet a new client and create a client for life,” Reisinger said. “It’s really a ripple effect. When you do a really amazing job with that client, they’re going to tell their friends and family, they’re going to follow you on social media — there’s so many intangible benefits of accepting all types of leads.”

“So again, I think any agent is a viable candidate, they just have to be willing to work the process,” she added. “And I think they have to have a process in place and they have to follow through with it.”

Furthermore, Cross said agents in these programs must be dedicated to nurturing leads as consumers get closer to actually starting the homeselling or homebuying process.

“We do always get some agents who are interested in having referrals that are pre-vetted or pre-approved [and they’re] really good agents,” she said. “But the majority of our agents, in fact, feel like they’re the best ones to determine what stage of homebuying someone is in.”

“Also, they really want to nurture that connection and add it to their sphere, even if it’s just for the future,” she added.

Looking forward, both Reisinger and Cross said the real estate referral program business will only strengthen and expand, as evidenced by Zillow’s recent announcement of a pay-at-close referral model similar to Redfin.

“I can speak to the pay-at-close model; I have to say we at Redfin are very proud, we’ve always had a pay-at-close model we’ve understood from the start,” Cross said. “But the best way to be successful as a program is to align your interest with your agents’ interest, and that’s why we only make money when our partner agents make money.”

Reisinger also said companies must be dedicated to building a solid relationship with their partner agents and utilize technology to streamline the experience for agents and consumers.

“On the broker-to-broker side, we are seeing the emergence of new platforms into our space, which I think is really exciting, and I think it’s a long-overdue thing,” she said. “We’re looking forward to seeing how it evolves, I think what it will do in my personal opinion, is with the broker-to-broker model, the relationship is still key.”

“But I think the technology component is just going to streamline the process,” she added. “And I think it’s just going to facilitate some of the logistical elements of the referral.”

Email Marian McPherson

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