If your end-of-year business feels frozen, it may be time to look for lead referral sources “upstream.” Marketing and fulfillment expert Oliver Graf offers seven proven strategies to uncover referrals to boost your business right now when you need it most.

As a real estate professional, you already know that getting more referrals is the key to building a large, profitable business. In fact, according to the 2021 Profile Of Real Estate Firms by the National Association of Realtors, repeat and referral business is the top source of leads. Here’s how to go “upstream” to set up your business to unlock seven sources for getting more real estate referrals.

So how can you set up your business to get more referrals?

We have 1,400 agents at our company, and these are some of the top tips we use for generating referrals. First, what does going upstream mean? It means getting to customers before they have a need to buy or sell. It means playing the long game.

These are people who have not yet opted into any real estate websites, have not downloaded any market reports and haven’t reached out to an agent because they are not that far along in the process.

When someone is thinking about buying or selling a home, oftentimes there are certain professionals they talk to before they make the decision to move forward with a sale or purchase. In other words, those professionals have your customer before you do.

By aligning yourself with these “upstream professionals,” you can create a never-ending supply of business. They are close to the customer and have the ability to notify you long before any of your competitors even know about it.

Build a relationship with them where they are able to recommend your services to their customers (when they mention needing to buy or sell real estate) and likewise, recommend their services to your clients, as well. Consider these seven sources for building referral relationships.

Home service providers

If you’re looking for people selling real estate, home service providers will often hear about it first. When someone is looking to sell a property, the first thing they generally do is get the house “fixed up to sell.”

Having one person with whom you have a partnership within each of the following categories will create a very profitable stream of business for you:

  • General contractor
  • Insurance broker
  • Plumber
  • Electrician
  • Painters
  • Handyman
  • Property managers
  • HOA managers
  • Landscaper

Note: This is a relationship play, so always make sure you are referring business to the people on your team as well.

Pro tip: Create a one-page “Real Estate Resources” PDF, and give it to all your prospects and clients for reference. That way you can feature all your referral partners in a simple and effective way, and it’s a massive value to your clients.


In addition to home service providers, there are a few types of legal professionals who have clients looking to sell at critical points in their lives.

Divorce attorney: Although we hope that no one has to go through this, it does happen, and many people going through a divorce will need to sell a property and/or look for a new place to live (potential buyers). Being the go-to option for divorce lawyer referrals can land you a couple of deals per month.

Estate planning attorney: People who are finalizing their wills or estates as they age will frequently be looking to downsize their property portfolio. Lawyers who provide these services will be able to connect you with potential clients far before anyone else could.

Probate attorney: Upon death, family members often find themselves wanting or needing to sell a property, and if there is no will, the property will go to probate court. A decent probate attorney can easily send you an additional one or two deals per month.

In most cases, these are great referrals because the clients are looking to move quickly.

Big companies and sports teams

If there are large companies and sports teams in your area that frequently relocate employees to and from your community, forming a partnership with them to help their people find a home is a massive win. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that these partnerships need to be genuine.

You can’t just go after big companies or teams and say, “Hey I want your referrals.” You need to form relationships with them and provide value first.

Once they see how much you’ve helped them, they’ll be more likely to recommend you to others. Many times, these relationships can start through another sale.

If you sell Mr. and Mrs. Jones a home and they work for a large local company, that’s a great time to build a connection and use them as a case study when you reach out. You might say something like:

“I helped your accounting director (Mrs. Jones) get settled into our community, and I can be a lot of value to others at your company.”

In addition, when people see that you’re affiliated with big name brands or professional sports teams, they’ll be more likely to trust you. As your reputation grows, so will the number of leads and referrals you receive.


If you live in an area with a university, you can form partnerships through the university. Why? Because universities are full of potential customers.

Many graduating students are just starting out in the world and are looking for their first home. There is also a large pool of staff and faculty to connect with who may be looking to upgrade or downgrade their current living situation.

Others may be interested in real estate as an investment. I remember when I was in college, there were several students whose parents bought a house or condo near the school, then rented it out by the room to their children and other students.

No matter what the reason, there’s a good chance that a university can be a gold mine of referrals.

Here are a few potential ways to get involved:

  • Could you sponsor the alumni association?
  • Could you be active at university events?
  • Could you work with fraternity and sorority members and alumni?
  • Could you work with school clubs and athletics?
  • Could you help with the teachers union and events?
  • Did you attend the school yourself? (Many schools love working with alumni)

There are many great ways to add massive value to these university communities and become their trusted source of referrals.

Pro tip: Partnerships with universities go beyond lead generation; you can also use university resources to help promote your business. For example, many universities have online publications and social media accounts that feature local businesses.

Financial planners and CPAs

When someone is looking to buy or sell a home, financial planners are almost always among the first to know. It’s a significant financial decision and can come with some heavy tax consequences if not handled properly, so consulting an adviser is natural.

Having a CPA to build an exclusive two-way referral relationship with can easily produce an additional three to five referral clients per month.

Other Realtors in different markets

As we all network and attend industry events, what are you doing with all the business cards you collect? If the answer is nothing, you could be leaving a lot of money on the table.

Instead, build relationships with real estate pros in communities that you don’t serve.

When you come across people moving to those other communities, you’ll have someone to recommend to them, and you’ll earn a referral fee. At the same time, they have someone to refer when they know someone moving to your area — an extremely warm referral.

Pro tip: One of our top agents has a separate CRM just for Realtors he meets in other markets. He keeps notes in the CRM on where he met them and where they are from, so he can send them referrals and collect a commission. Then he sends a weekly email with value-added information and things that are happening in the area from his social media accounts.

He credits this strategy to getting him 15 local clients and seven referral commissions over the past 12 months.

Hairdressers and barbers

This one usually makes people laugh because it’s really random. But when you think about it, many people have a great relationship with their hairdresser or barber.

While they sit there getting their haircut, they’ll often talk about life and what they have going on, and if they are thinking about moving, you can bet they are going to mention it to their hairdresser far before pulling the trigger.

Try to cultivate a relationship with a great hairdresser, and you could easily get a few extra deals a year. We all know referrals are vital to our business, and if you want more of those valuable leads coming in the door, it’s time to stop waiting and start building relationships that can flood your pipeline.

Oliver Graf is the co-founder of Big Block Realty in Oceanside, California, and an industry-leading marketing and fulfillment expert. You can connect with him on FacebookInstagram, or LinkedIn.

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