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This week, New York City-based brokerage Compass took over Atlanta to celebrate its tenth year in the industry at Compass REtreat.
After a heartfelt keynote from co-founder and CEO Robert Reffkin on Wednesday, the brokerage focused the rest of its programming on helping agents, brokers and team leaders effectively navigate a perilous real estate market that’s poised to get much worse before it gets better.
“Now we are an optimistic people as entrepreneurs. We like to believe things are always gonna get better, but there was a moment in June where I realized that hope is not a strategy,” Reffkin said of his own ah-ha moment this summer. “You need to plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
Although Reffkin didn’t provide a deep dive into Compass’ exact strategy for 2023 and beyond, the REtreat’s sessions on Wednesday and Thursday serve as clues for how the brokerage and its agents will move forward: Through slow, careful and consistent action.
“I promise you on our 20th anniversary, I will be on this stage still working for you,” Reffkin said of his company’s next 10 years on Wednesday. “Yes, we will have a little more gray hair. Few more wrinkles. But we will have a lot more pride in the company that we have built together the future of real estate.”
Compass didn’t allow press to view live streams of each session; however, five of the top speakers — Schlichter Team founder David Schlichter, Compass Head of Agent Development Skye Michiels, Maya Vander Group founder Maya Vander, Richard Steinberg Team founder Richard Steinberg and Compass Vice President of Marketing and Head of Luxury Division Felipe Hernandez — spoke with Inman between their sessions.
Here’s what they had to say:
Get off auto-pilot with recruiting and retention
During a market shift, the first inclination for many leaders is to focus on getting lean for more challenging times ahead — with company hangouts or other fun things going on the chopping block first. However, Denver-based team leader David Schlichter has taken a different approach.
“This is a very stressful environment,” Schlichter told Inman in a brief interview after his session. “It’s stressful for everybody, whether you’re a real estate agent or any other kind of business owner. The last two-and-a-half, almost three years have been incredibly volatile, incredibly unpredictable and difficult to plan for. ”
“And so I think, as a team leader, it’s really important to celebrate the wins when you have something to celebrate, it’s really important to celebrate it,” he added. “For example, from the peak of prices earlier this year to where we are today, prices have fallen about 10 percent. But our team had our best month of the year in September. So I think that finding ways to celebrate occasions like that, or accomplishments like that will keep morale high, keep people engaged, keep people motivated and enable a team to persevere through adversity.”
In addition to weakening sales activity, Schlichter said market headwinds also weaken the pool of new talent as potential recruits seek more stable careers with guaranteed salaries and other benefits.
“In this environment, where it’s likely that a lot of agents will have to get out of the business and do something else by necessity, those who remain will be able to demonstrate their value not just to the team leaders but also to consumers,” he said.
Brokers can use a shrinking talent pool to become more exacting in their recruitment process and redirect some of their recruiting resources toward retaining existing agents with training, education and a solid company culture, Schlichter said.
“If you’re expecting to kind of be on cruise control in this environment, you’re probably not going to be as successful,” he said. “I think team leaders should recognize the importance not just of recruiting, but also refraining from recruiting. So if the forecast is that deal volume will decline, it might not be the best time to add a significant number of agents to your team.”
“I think that it’s an opportunity for team leaders to raise their own bars and get an even higher level of quality for new team members,” he added.
Stay top-of-mind by tending to your database
Like Schlichter, Compass Head of Agent Development Skye Michiels encouraged agents to place a greater premium on tending to their current spheres of influence.
“Agents, for the most part, get very overwhelmed. When they hear the word database or CRM, every agent knows the importance of it, but they get either distracted, they don’t have time to work on it or they don’t know what to say, et cetera,” he said. “The whole goal of my workshop was to illustrate to agents how they can take the relationships that exist in their world, and make sure they view their database as a databank — meaning the database of people they know is the greatest source of income that is available to them, and it’s an infinite return on their investment of time.”
Michiels said agents must learn how to maintain relationships with their clients outside of transactional needs, especially since most buyers and sellers will only complete a handful of transactions in their lifetimes. With that in mind, he suggested agents focus on providing value to clients outside of their sales skills.
For example, Michiels said he’s spearheading a “Five Days of Giving Challenge” that includes agents reaching out to their databases for Thanksgiving recipes, which they’ll compile into a sleek and unique recipe book.
“I have an agent in Texas, for example, that will be creating recipes that are authentic to Texas,” he said. “Now she can also share that via social, she can share that with people who are moving to Texas, etc. It’s a really great way to insert authenticity into providing items of value to people they know.”
“We often feel like we need to talk about real estate, but most people we know are not in the process of buying or selling. Right?” he added. “Most of your clients don’t care about your open houses, or your just sold, or just listed. But what they do care about is what’s going on in their life.”
Create work-life balance with a well-crafted team
During the first two seasons of Selling Sunset, broker Maya Vander won over millions of viewers with her calm personality, killer real estate skills and ability to work on two coasts while tending to a growing family. Vander no longer has to split her time between Los Angeles and Miami since moving to Compass in June and establishing the Maya Vander Group, but a shifting market still makes maintaining a healthy work-life balance hard work.
“It’s very easy to get burned out,” she told Inman. “I think it’s very important to find a balance and work on your mind. If you are in a slow period in your business, you have to know how to snap out of it and avoid getting in a funk. It’s not an easy business, it’s very challenging. And I wish it was easy. But you have to take a moment and avoid burnout.”
To avoid burnout, Vander said brokers must learn to outsource certain activities, such as posting on social media or editing listing videos, to staff members and vendors and pass extra leads to qualified agents.
“You have to find the right agents with the same passion to be in real estate and know what they’re doing,” she said. “I love the girls on my team, and they have a great mindset. That’s good for me because if I have too many clients, I can give them those leads. So it’s very important to trust your team.”
Lastly, Vander said agents must prioritize their personal lives as much as their professional lives and create boundaries that keep work overshadowing time with family and friends.
“I learned to prioritize. I know what needs to be done every day,” she said. “Every day is different with real estate, sometimes you might have to be involved with an inspection, and sometimes you might have to deal with an appraisal. Whatever it is, you have to do a time block. You have to write down what’s important.”
“And for me, personally, I try to get everything done that I need to by 5 o’clock, then I pick up my kids from daycare, and I’m with them until 9 pm,” she said. “Granted, if I have clients that need me, from a phone call or an email, I will be responsive. But I try to really dedicate time to my kids and then do more work after they go to bed. Prioritizing and time blocking are two things that are important for every business.”
Let data and information be your guide
Top-producing New York City broker Richard Steinberg has been through at least three market shifts during his real estate career, which all ushered in unique sets of challenges and outcomes. However, the one thing that remained the same in each shift was Steinberg’s reliance on data to create the best strategy for him and his clients.
“This isn’t my first rodeo,” he said. “I think that the first thing that you have to do is have organizational skills that help you to streamline the process of real estate. I’ve been in the business for 27 years, and the process of real estate has changed dramatically, it has now become data-driven.”
“Unless you have enough information to feed your buyer, it is so easy for them to shift to another brokerage or another real estate broker who does have the information that they want,” he added.
Steinberg said the best strategies are built on data and information, which should come from various sources including your brokerage, real estate news sites and fellow agents at competing brands.
“But what you need as a real estate professional is to have two things at your fingertips. Number one is data. But the other thing is information,” he said. “We speak to brokers that we have relationships with from all over the city, different firms that we have a relationship with and we exchange experiences to get information. We speak to brokers from Brown Harris and Sotheby’s and Douglas Elliman. Compass is a team player, and we work together. We’re not only speaking for ourselves, but for New York City real estate.”
Once an agent has the proper data and information, Steinberg said they can use it to stay top of mind through valuable in-depth newsletters that educate past, current and potential clients about the market. He also said data and information are helpful in making real-time decisions that impact the lives of buyers and sellers.
“We have meetings with our buyers and sellers, to help them translate the data and information we have into real terms in real-time,” he said.
Beyond the benefits for clients, Steinberg said having a solid grip on data and information is one of the best confidence boosters for experienced and new agents alike.
“Information and data are power,” he concluded.
Move beyond marketing listings
Like many of the other speakers at Compass REtreat, Compass Vice President of Marketing and Head of Luxury Division Felipe Hernandez said the market slowdown has presented an invaluable opportunity for agents to slow down and refine their marketing strategies.
“It’s very easy for the agents to focus all their marketing on listings, right? Here’s another listing. Here’s another just sold right now. But there are not that many listings when it’s a little slower,” he said. “This is the right time to really tell your brand story, focus on brand awareness and what your brand identity is.”
Hernandez said agents should use this time to develop their niche and create a marketing plan that speaks to their ideal client, whether its a millennial purchasing their first home, retirees who are looking to downsize and relocate to a smaller locale, or a luxury buyer who’s adding onto their multi-million dollar real estate portfolio.
“What is your specialization? Are you defining what your superpower is?” he said. “Make sure during this time that you use all your marketing to tell that story to your target,” he said.”Your story is the point of differentiation from other agents. It’s gonna get very competitive, and we don’t have listings to talk about. This is a great time to really set yourself apart by who you are and really align yourself with your key target groups.”
After sharpening your target audience and brand story, Hernandez said agents must figure out creative ways to consistently reach those audiences. For agents focusing on first-time buyers, creating fun and educational material for TikTok or other social sites is often the best way to go.
“There’s a lot more education happening on social media. I see a lot of our younger agents sharing their knowledge on TikTok,” he said. “They’re explaining escrow, how to get a mortgage, why a mortgage is better than rent and the other basics of a transaction. A lot of the newer generation of wealth that’s coming into play, doesn’t understand many of those things.”
Meanwhile, agents who are working with more established luxury buyers and sellers are using strategic brand partnerships to raise their profiles.
“I think at that high end, I think I’m gonna see a lot more activity and building brand partnerships,” he said while highlighting Compass’ partnerships with Ferrari and Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand, Goop. “It’s really about finding brands that share the same goal, the same target group and coming together.”