Although sales aren’t expected to bottom out, it doesn’t hurt to reconfigure the budget to build a more robust nest egg that’ll help you expertly navigate whatever the market may throw your way. If you’re trimming back, brand new, or need to shore up a little cash, here’s how to throw a (nice) open house, host a client appreciation event, stage that listing and more on a budget.

With fewer deals to go around, many markets experiencing a downshift and more agents than ever, it makes business sense to reach for the fundamentals. That’s why at Inman, we’re going Back to Basics with curated throwbacks to some of our most-read stories as well as new insights from agents in the field — all culminating in Inman’s Playbook for the Fall Market, a two-day virtual event that you should make plans to attend.

This article was last updated on Aug. 30, 2022.

After a red-hot 2021 with banner sales and record commissions, 2022 is shaping up to be a more somber year as rising mortgage rates, crushing inflation and several other market factors point to a rockier real estate landscape ahead.

Although sales aren’t expected to bottom out, it doesn’t hurt to reconfigure the budget to build a more robust nest egg that will help expertly navigate whatever the market may throw your way.

House Real Estate agent Jessica LaMar, ERA Carlile Realty broker Taylor Greer, RE/MAX Victory + Affiliates Vice President Donna Deaton and ERA King agent Hunter Cain share eight simple ways to cut costs without sacrificing service.

1. Utilize your brokerage’s tools

One of the easiest and most effective ways to cut costs is simply tapping into the tools and resources your brokerage already offers, from technology to marketing and education, LaMar and Deaton said.

Donna Deaton

Deaton, who oversees the 120-person RE/MAX Victory + Affiliates, encourages agents to at least use the brokerage’s marketing and social media suite, which includes signage, business cards, easy-to-use social media templates and a variety of video editing tools, she said.

“There are ways [agents] can not overspend. They don’t have to go out and buy the top-of-the-line business card, but I see that mistake made a lot,” she said. “They can use the normal business card that most of us get.”

“Especially if you’re new in the industry, find a brokerage that helps you with things like signage and other marketing tools — that’s a big help,” she said.

LaMar, who is rounding out the first year of her career, agrees with Deaton’s advice, as LaMar primarily relies on her brokerage’s suite of services, support and tools to handle her business needs, she said.

“My brokerage, through Side, offers so many tools and resources. I have access to a legal team and marketing assistance — literally, anything I need is at my fingertips,” LaMar said. “I really rely on our brokerage, and it’s been a really big asset to me, especially when you’re new and don’t have $50,000 to throw at marketing or something else.”

However, if you’re not happy with the results you’re getting from your brokerage’s tools and platforms, LaMar said agents should connect with a more experienced agent for best practices before venturing to third-party vendors.

“I think having a mentor within your brokerage is huge,” she said. “I think [having] someone who has experience within your brokerage, using the platforms, using their resources, who can kind of guide you as you need help, is really beneficial.”

2. Go old-school with door-knocking, phone calls and handwritten cards

There are plenty of tech-tools ways to superpower your marketing and business efforts, many of which cost a pretty penny on a monthly or annual basis. In addition to tapping into your brokerage’s resources to cut tech costs, agents said going back to old school methods, such as door-knocking, phone calls, handwritten cards and emails are free and über-effective ways to market yourself.

Hunter Cain

Cain, who logged more than $13 million in sales last year, said one of his business pillars is door-knocking.

“Me being fairly new, I have to make sure I can last and not spend every dime that I make,” he said. As far as prospecting, when I first started, I relied on door-knocking. I actually enjoy it, and I still do it. And frankly, it’s super cheap.”

When he started in 2019, all Cain took with him was a business card. Now, he takes a door hanger with contact information, sales stats and other market data. If he is able to talk to homeowners face-to-face, he also gets their email addresses for his weekly e-newsletter.

“So another thing that’s free is sending a weekly email that has market statistics,” he said. “Every market is different, but in our market, school districts are super important. So every week, I’ll focus on a different school district and the homes that are available there, which usually isn’t much because of a huge lack of inventory.”

“People will reply and ask to see a home or what the interest rate is, and that’s been a huge engagement,” he added. “I also ask questions about their real estate experiences, like, if you’ve bought a house in the past year, respond to this email with your favorite and least favorite thing about the experience.”

“Because, again, in this email, it’s not just my clients, there are people that I’ve met at chamber of commerce events or other places. So I’m getting feedback all the way around.”

Deaton encourages her agents to call past and potential clients to talk to them not only about real estate but also about their kid’s high school graduation, a job promotion they may have shared on social media or an upcoming vacation, she said.

“It’s important that they reach out to their sphere at least once a month, and it doesn’t mean reaching out about real estate,” Deaton said. “It’s reaching out and going, ‘Hey, what vacation plans do you have? I went to this beach recently, and I think this is a great place to go.'”

“These things keep you in front of their mind,” she added. “I also can’t emphasize enough the power of handwritten notes. Send a card along with a $5 Starbucks card — well, you can’t do $5 anymore because coffee costs more — but send enough for them to have a coffee on you.”

Or the note can include an invite for a coffee date to catch up about real estate or whatever else they would like to chat about, she said. “They’re not going to read things that come in a letter size envelope because they’ll think it’s spam mail, so send something that looks like an invitation,” Deaton said. “They’re going to be excited to open that.”

3. Drive organic social media traffic with consistency and geo-focused hashtags

The social media landscape has changed dramatically over the past several years, with various platforms adjusting their algorithms to favor certain kinds of content (video, IG stories, reels, etc.) and pushing users to invest in paid advertising to get the most eyes.

Although you can (and probably should) create a small fund for some paid ads, Cain and LaMar said they’ve struck social media gold with two things — consistency and expertly crafted hashtags.

Cain, who has nearly 3,000 followers on his business Facebook, primarily grows his social media presence through engaging with commenters, using geography-specific hashtags, investing in professional photography and doing targeted advertising through Homespotter, he said.

“I’ve gotten several listings from out-of-state sellers just because they go to my website or social media, versus other agents, and see the quality of the photos,” he said. “For hashtags, I use #housebyhunter, which is my logo, the company name #neweraking and hashtags for my area.”

“Aniston, Oxford and Alabama are the three hashtags that I use at the bottom of every page,” he added. “I also use my personal Facebook page a lot too. I probably have 10 times more activity on there than my business page.”

Meanwhile, LaMar has found the most success on Instagram with consistent posting and a mixture of business and personal content.

“I’m constantly sharing parts of my normal life, and I’ll do value-add posts like tidbits for buyers, tips for sellers, or insight to what’s going on in the market,” she said. “I’ve been really consistent with what I post, and I’ve already gotten multiple referrals.”

4. Turn the digital conversations to in-person connections

Taylor Greer

Although social media requires little money and little time, especially if you spend a couple of hours a week batch creating posts and content, Greer said there’s nothing like putting in “sweat equity” through hosting meetups, joining professional organizations or volunteering.

“There’s a difference between sweat equity and check equity,” Greer said. “I have the opportunity now to do check equity; I can afford to send out mailers and other things.”

“But sweat equity is what a young man or woman has to do when they don’t have a large book of business or sphere of influence,” he added. “They’ve got to get in and do some volunteer hours.”

In addition to volunteering for an organization or cause you care about, Greer said it’s important for agents to join professional groups, such as your local chamber of commerce or a young professional’s group, which may have no- or a low-cost membership.

“I think the most cost-effective way of building your business in the real estate world is networking events,” he said. “I’m a firm believer in chambers of commerce and different types of meetups. But you have to be consistent with attending these events so you become familiar.”

“[By] becoming familiar, you become top-of-mind, and when you’re top-of-mind, then you’re the person they think about when they decide to list or sell or finance a home,” Greer added.

If your schedule doesn’t jive with events planned by others, agents should create their own, he said. One of his newest agents uses Facebook and the MeetUp app to advertise professional meet and greets at a local restaurant, he said. The only cost the agent has is maybe $20-$30 for a few appetizers.

“One of my agents, who just recently started, found a pub and grill and asked them if he could host a meetup once a month,” he said. “He doesn’t pay them a dollar, and he buys a couple of appetizers to put on the table.”

“Mainly, he’s just getting people together and creating a central hub to allow people to come to meet. He doesn’t limit the number of guests, and he doesn’t limit their occupation,” he added.

As you move up in your career, agents must remember check equity doesn’t replace sweat equity, and if anything, you should begin giving more of your time as you build a team that can handle other tasks, Greer said.

“It’s not just showing up for the mixers but actually going in and putting some effort on a committee. My favorite thing is social committees, and I’m on one for every chamber of commerce that I belong to, which is probably six of them,” he said.

“I’m on the social committee, which means I plan the events, and I go and meet with business owners,” he said. “I’m bringing 50 to 100 people to their bar, grill, restaurant or salon, and I’m getting to know the people there who are very likely candidates to buy or sell a home.”

5. Get the best out of your (and others’) open houses

As COVID protections relax and open houses come back, real estate agents have been contending with open houses that may feel like a circus with hundreds of people shuffling through. Although it takes little effort to get attention with such a breakneck market, Deaton and Cain said adding a little razzle-dazzle goes a long way in getting more for your seller, while capturing new clients.

Before the open house, Cain said he reaches out to his local home-cleaning partner to do a deep clean so the home looks its best, even without extensive staging. After that, Cain sets up a snack bar with branded bottles of water, chips and other portable snacks.

“I used to go all out and do fruit trays and all that, but I’ve learned that most people, especially since COVID, pass on the food, so I’m really simple on the snacks now,” he said while noting he spends no more than $70 on water, snacks and the listing information pamphlets for buyers.

Deaton also keeps it simple for open houses, with a few balloons at the door to guide buyers and light snacks. As far as staging for open houses, Deaton makes sure her listings are neat and tidy so buyers enjoy their time going through the home.

But, she also guides them to a virtual staging of the home, so they have an idea of what it could look like with a little sprucing up. “I think [virtual staging] is more cost-effective than actually going out and purchasing furniture or material items for homes,” she said while mentioning she uses BoxBrownie.

“But another way is picking up things at secondhand stores,” she said. (Here’s our list of 35 Dollar Store finds to help stage your next listing.)

If you really want the help of a professional, Deaton said some stagers are willing to accept post-escrow payments. Greer also said iBuyers’ home-prep financing services can be helpful in getting homes listing and open houses ready without paying upfront.

“The time on market shouldn’t determine whether or not you put your best foot forward, even if you have the expectation of getting 40 offers at a weekend open house,” Greer said.

Beyond the task of hosting your own open house, Greer and LaMar said volunteering to oversee other agents’ open houses can be incredibly beneficial.

Greer, who has 42 agents across four offices in Sacramento and Menifee, California, said he has his agents create geographic farms, reach out to agents in those farms and offer to host their open houses. Although many agents pass on the offer, Greer said there’s always a handful who have an important event or appointment to attend and allow them to take on hosting duties.

Jessica LaMar

“Many of them will say, ‘No, we don’t allow for people outside of our office to hold our listings open,’ but you better believe that, at some point, some agent is going to have a life event, right?” he said. “The kids gotta go to the ER, they forgot about their husband’s anniversary, and they’re gonna remember John or Jane Doe was willing to hold their house open.”

Greer said one of his agents hosted an open house for another agent last weekend and got six leads from it. “So again, it’s that consistency,” he said. “It’s being consistent and making sure that somebody knows that you are willing to drop your weekend to do that.”

LaMar also hosts open houses for other agents in her brokerage, which has helped her build her business — for free — as a new agent, she said. “That’s one avenue that I’ve been able to gain other clients,” she said.

6. Build relationships with vendors for more negotiating power

All four agents said building relationships with vendors, lenders and other entrepreneurs is one of the top things agents can do to save money on services, merchandise, events and other needs, such as closing gifts.

LaMar, who once worked in the luxury retail world, is laser-focused on creating relationships with local businesses by frequenting them for her personal or business needs, she said. LaMar doesn’t make any sales pitches, but she does let them know she’s a real estate agent, she said.

“You may have to spend a little bit more to support their business, but it can go a long way within your community,” she said. “I honestly don’t set the expectation that [my support] has to be reciprocated because it’s a core value of mine to be generous. It will come back around, and it has.”

For client appreciation and closing gifts, Cain and Deaton said having a list of trusted vendors and business partners goes a long way in receiving discounts for bulk orders or scoring unforgettable experiences.

“The main thing is working with a local marketing company instead of Etsy or VistaPrint. You can get a much better price from a local partner,” Cain said. “I do bulk orders on tumblers, coffee mugs, koozies, [charcuterie] boards and all the other branded stuff, and I purchase other things from Walmart or Target.”

Agents must remember there’s a $25 limit on what they can write off for closing gifts; however, they can partner with local businesses to kick in another $25 through gift cards or a discount on their services, Deaton said.

When it comes to client appreciation events, it gets much harder to have a memorable event with a slim budget, she said. In this case, agents must use their razor-sharp negotiation skills to get a deal on venues and pull in partners to cover some of the costs, she said.

“For a client appreciation event, you may want to rent a movie theater, or you may want to rent a ballgame suite if you’re in a city such as Cincinnati,” Deaton said. “So you would get vendors involved to help out with those costs.”

If you’re a new agent, these tips — especially about vendors — may seem daunting. In that case, a little humility goes a long way, Greer said. Although you’re unlikely to have someone dole out hundreds of dollars on an event or cement some other relationship, you can set yourself up to experience that in the future.

“A shy person doesn’t want to call a vendor because he or she knows that this Farmers Insurance agent has been in the business 30 years, and why the heck would [they] give you anything when you’ve been in the business for a month,” he said. “But a humble person calls and says, ‘Hey, I’m new to the business. I’m trying to learn from some respected pillars of my industry. I know that insurance is required, and maybe you can explain to me what it is that you offer,'”

“That’s humble. Asking for somebody to educate you is not the same as being dumb or ignorant,” Greer added. “It’s asking somebody to literally download on you what they’ve done for the last 30 years, and that’s a way that you can build relationships with vendors without having to be the market expert.”

7. Gas tank running low? Do this one thing to streamline your schedule

Outside of business expenses, the overall increase in everyday needs is squeezing everyone’s budget. With an on-the-go schedule, real estate agents can easily blow a few hundred dollars a month on gas to view listings, go to meetings and take care of other tasks.

Greer said the price per gallon in his city is more than $6, so he and his agents have to be more exacting about eliminating unnecessary errands, spending time with clients who aren’t serious about homebuying or homeselling, or shuttling buyers to listings you know won’t work for them.

“You must understand what a buyer’s intention really is,” he said. “Really look at buyer qualification process,  lenders pre-approval process and understanding exactly what their intention is, knowing that there’s no three-bedroom on earth that’s going to support six kids, so don’t show those listings to them.”

“That’s your budget because especially now it’s six-and-a-half-dollar gas for California,” he added. Your time is also your gas money. We don’t have enough money for that. It’s crazy.”

When it comes to other needs, such as clothing or other essentials to make sure you’re looking your best for clients, Cain and Deaton said to stock up on brokerage-branded tops that you can pair with simple bottoms for an easy, comfortable and affordable uniform.

However, if you’re more of a fashionista, outlets like Nordstrom Rack are the best place to find brand-name clothing at a discount, LaMar said. “I try to get staple pieces that are transitional and can work with different outfits, so then it lasts a little bit longer and can be worn through all seasons,” she said.

8. Save money on the backend with a certified tax professional

Lastly, LaMar said the biggest boost to her budget has been working with a certified tax professional, who has helped her understand how to maximize write-offs and secure other tax savings.

“This was actually the first year that I hired a tax person,” she said. “My biggest learning curve was probably figuring out what I can write off on my expenses. It’s saved me so much.”

Email Marian McPherson

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