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Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent over six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
There is a pair of statistics, published by National Association of Realtors (NAR), that has baffled me since the day I started selling real estate. The first is that 73 percent of “buyers interviewed only one real estate agent during their home search, and 91 percent of buyers would use their agent again or recommend their agent to others.”
The second? It’s that “41 percent of sellers who used a real estate agent found their agents through a referral by friends or family, and 26 percent used the agent they previously worked with to buy or sell a home.” That’s considering that 74 percent of sellers say they would definitely use the same agent again.
Why is there such a discrepancy?
One can only assume that people are willing to use their past agents, but they can’t remember their name or find them. (Sure, there are also some who are no longer in the real estate business.)
That’s understandable. Heck, I often can’t even recall what I had for breakfast, much less the name of someone who helped me years ago.
People don’t buy or sell a home every day. Usually it’s years, sometimes decades, between transactions. That’s a long time to hold a name in your head — no matter how wonderful the experience was at the time.
So, you’d think every agent out there would do whatever it took to stay top-of-mind with their past clients. Some do exactly that. Sadly, many do not. Here’s a true personal story.
Over 25 years ago, long before I got into real estate, my company relocated me to Phoenix. That relocation included real estate services, so we were assigned an agent. We met Nick on a Saturday morning, looked at homes all day Saturday and Sunday, and made an offer Sunday evening just before we jetted back to Austin.
We got that house, but Nick was busy on closing day. We never saw him again.
A month into living in our new home, a postcard showed up in the mail, complete with Nick’s smiling face. I have no idea what it said. Probably something like, “It was a pleasure helping you. Hope you’re enjoying your home!” I threw it in the trash.
The next month, we got another postcard from Nick. It also went in the trash. As did every monthly postcard for the next 10 years. Nick was relentless, never missing a month.
One day, about three months after I got my real estate sales license, my phone rang. I was giddy with excitement as I’d just gotten my first listing, and a fairly steady stream of agents were calling, checking availability.
I answered the phone, and the caller said, “Hi. This is Nick Klintberg with West USA. Calling to see if your listing on Dobson is still available?”
“Nick Klintberg! You probably won’t remember, but you sold us a home in Gilbert about 10 years ago.”
We chatted a bit (and he did remember us). The conversation wound down with Nick asking, “So, you’re in real estate now. Still getting my monthly postcards?”
“Yep, like clockwork!”
“Not anymore!” I never got another card from Nick.
But here we are, 25 years after I met Nick and worked with him for about 10 hours. Why? Why do I remember this guy’s full name 25 years after only knowing him for two days?
It’s not because he was good (he was) or because I liked him (I did). I remember his name because I saw it every month, month after month, for a decade. He pounded his name into my head — in a subtle, unobtrusive, non-salesy or spammy way. I gave his name to two friends, one of whom used him. If I hadn’t gotten into real estate, I have no doubt I would have used him to sell my house.
Nick spent about $5 a year mailing me a monthly postcard. Buying name recognition for $5 a year is about as cheap as it gets. I have no clue what Nick’s cards said, and it doesn’t matter. The content wasn’t the point; The name recall was the point.
You really need to build name recognition and recall with your clients. Odds are very good that your past clients will want to use you again —or give your name to their friends and family — but they can’t do either if they can’t remember your name. Make it so they can’t forget your name, even if they want to.
Nick used monthly postcards. If that’s not your thing, there are other ways to “touch” past clients. Again, it’s not so much the message or the method. It’s the consistency of getting your name seen that really matters.
1. Social media
Social media didn’t exist back when Nick was our relocation agent. Today, there are multiple social platforms that make it easy to reach out and plant a seed with your name on it in a client’s head. Friend and follow your clients on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Just ask them. No one is going to say no, or if they do, just move on.
There’s no need to go all stalker on them. No need to craft a message filled with love and longing for referrals. Just “like” the occasional post or image. Maybe drop a comment now and then, “Cute pic of the kids!” “I love your dog.” “Happy Anniversary!”
2. Make a call
Try the most underutilized feature of your smartphone — making a call. No app required! No occasion or script required either. Don’t know what to say? How about, “Hey there, I have no real reason for calling, don’t even really know what to say. For some reason, that time we were looking at homes just popped in my head so I thought I’d call just to see how y’all are doing.”
It’s your past client. You’re not trying to score a deal, and you’re not trying to convince a stranger you are a real estate pro. Just call to say hello. I’d bet big money when they hang up they’ll say, “That was nice. I really like them.”
3. Client events
It was probably easier in the pre-COVID world to host client events. Or block parties. Rent a movie theater. Even in the current climate, you can host client events. Just do them virtually.
An agent friend of mine recently had a chef hold a cooking class on Zoom. Her clients loved it! Host a virtual happy hour. Much like Nick’s postcards, it really doesn’t matter what the event is. Even if your clients can’t attend, they’ll appreciate the invite — and remember your name.
4. Coffee time
Depending on your state or local COVID precautions, it may or may not be possible or convenient to just sit down and have a cup of coffee with a past client.
If you can though, nothing beats personal face-to-face time. Again, you don’t need an agenda or mission to accomplish. Just talk about life.
The age-old traditional “pop-by” still works. A small gift or trinket comes in handy as an easy excuse to pop by a past client’s home. You can mask up and socially distance if needed. No need to spend a lot of money. It’s the thought — not the gift — that matters.
If you have a monthly newsletter (and you should), your past clients should be on the mailing or emailing list. It’s not as personal as many of the above things, but it’s still getting your name in front of them.
Even a quarterly newsletter gets your name front and center four times a year. Topics like winterizing pipes, spring cleaning tips, A/C servicing and maintenance reminders work well.
7. Personalized communications
Hopefully you have a CRM that lets you enter important dates into a client’s file. It’s a good idea to really personalize a message any time you can. A home purchase anniversary, pending lease expiration, and tips on challenging property tax assessments are all great times and reasons to reach out.
You work hard, you do good things for your clients. They want to use your services again. Yes, it may be years before they need you to help them. Don’t overthink the content. As Nick’s postcards showed, it’s not about the content.
Getting your name out there consistently and frequently is the key to building name recognition and retention. Remember that only 26 percent of sellers used the agent they previously worked with to buy or sell a home. Be in that 26 percent. Be like Nick.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree living in the Texas Coastal Bend, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.