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Exiting from 2022, one of the most disruptive years for the real estate world in recent history, one thing is clear: 2023 will not be a year for the timid. In fact, I believe this will be the year that separates the amateur real estate agent from the professional.

So what does a professional real estate agent look like? What separates them from an amateur?

I have the distinction of having scored a hole-in-one while playing golf. While that might sound amazing, a few key facts are in order:

  • It was on a tiny par 3 golf course.
  • It was the only shot in my life that has even come close to the cup.
  • On that particular day, the majority of my balls ended up in the water hazards littering the course.

Once the facts are on the table, it becomes clear that I was not on a real golf course, was not competing professionally but was a total amateur playing for fun with friends.

The concept here is simple: For those agents in the business a few short years, the overheated market made selling real estate look easy and it was not hard to look “professional.” The second half of 2022, however, revealed those who were real estate pros versus those who were amateurs without the skills required to succeed.

Those agents who want success in 2023 will need to be pros. So what separates amateurs from pros? While doing research for this article I found a blog post on Farnham Street entitled “The Difference Between Amateurs and Professionals.” The post completely captures the subject, so rather than invent new criteria, I would like to present some of their points verbatim and apply them to the practice of real estate.

1. Amateurs stop when they achieve something. Professionals understand that the initial achievement is just the beginning.

In a recent venue featuring Michael Phelps, holder of the all-time record of 28 Olympic medals, he outlined the workout regimen he used to prepare for the Olympics. It included countless hours of repetition and work on the most minute of details, such as hand position for each stroke. Regardless of any wins, he was immediately back in the pool preparing for the next event.

In real estate, amateurs get excited when they get an escrow and stop everything to service the transaction. Professionals, realizing that an escrow is simply a link in a long chain of successes, leverage as much of the escrow as they can to others and then go back to the basics: scripts practice, prospecting, meeting with clients and so on.

2. Amateurs have a goal. Professionals have a process.

James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits, clarifies the difference between setting goals and designing systems. He states, “Prevailing wisdom claims that the best way to achieve what we want in life — getting into better shape, building a successful business, relaxing more and worrying less, spending more time with friends and family — is to set specific, actionable goals.”

He continues, “For many years, this was how I approached my habits, too. Each one was a goal to be reached. I set goals for the grades I wanted to get in school, for the weights I wanted to lift in the gym, for the profits I wanted to earn in business. I succeeded at a few, but I failed at a lot of them. Eventually, I began to realize that my results had very little to do with the goals I set and nearly everything to do with the systems I followed.”

Clarifying that in any race both the winner and losers have the same goal, it is the systems employed by the winner that achieves success.

3. Amateurs think they are good at everything. Professionals understand their circles of competence.

No one is good at everything. This is one of the primary reasons we have seen an explosion of real estate teams in the past few years: As agents begin to understand the concept of leverage, they are able to identify their strong points and then find personnel with the appropriate gifting to offset their own deficits.

It helps to understand the Pareto Principle which states, “For many outcomes, roughly 80 percent of consequences come from 20 percent of causes (the “vital few”). Other names for this principle are the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity.” Professional agents understand the need to focus on their key 20 percent and leverage the remaining 80 percent as much as possible.

4. Amateurs see feedback and coaching as someone criticizing them as a person. Professionals know they have weak spots and seek out thoughtful criticism.

Every successful athlete has a minimum of one coach. While they can rely on video to see some of their mechanics, it takes an outside person to be able to watch and make recommendations that could dramatically change the outcome. To succeed at the highest level it is critical to be coachable.

5. Amateurs value isolated performance. Think about the receiver who catches the ball once on a difficult throw. Professionals value consistency. Can I catch the ball in the same situation 9 times out of 10?

While there are many receivers on college football teams, the ones who make it to the pros are the ones who can catch the difficult throws time after time after time. Coupled with innate skill, this ability is honed during countless hours going after balls thrown to all parts of the field.

It is the same for those who spend hours in the batting cage or on the practice range going through buckets of balls. Amateur agents get excited when they get a signed contract: pros have the skills to repeat over and over again.

6. Amateurs give up at the first sign of trouble and assume they’re failures. Professionals see failure as part of the path to growth and mastery.

Without failure, there can be no lasting success. Imagine a building built with steel that has not been enhanced after numerous stress test failures. As steel components are pushed to their limits and ultimately fail, the knowledge gained by the failure helps engineers and metallurgists develop better, stronger materials that ultimately will withstand the stresses required to make a building safe.

Professionals rely on failure to help them improve for the next round.

7. Amateurs don’t have any idea what improves the odds of achieving good outcomes. Professionals do.

Professionals know how to improve because of their long hours in the practice room with coaches helping to evaluate and enhance their performance. Professionals do not rely on luck, although they may occasionally get lucky. They rely on skills and systems developed through extensive training, practice and evaluation after every performance.

8. Amateurs show up to practice to have fun. Professionals realize that what happens in practice happens in games.

Let’s be real. If practice is fun, you are not taking it seriously enough. Practice is hard work and can be intensely boring. Imagine the hours spent by professional concert pianists practicing scales and replaying difficult passages hundreds of times. Think of the hours spent by professional ballet dancers grasping the rail and practicing jumps. Now consider the thousands of hours spent by professional Realtors practicing scripts.

9. Amateurs focus on identifying their weaknesses and improving them. Professionals focus on their strengths and on finding people who are strong where they are weak.

There are times and circumstances in life when applying countless hours of training and practice may not be in our best interest.

I met my wife in college and, after we finished that year, she transferred to a music school to study to be a concert pianist. As she spent time in daily lessons and then labored over 8 hours a day in practice rooms, she discovered that, while she was a gifted pianist, she did not have what it would take to become a professional concert musician. Later in life, however, she discovered staging, and went on to establish a highly successful staging company.

Had she continued to work on her piano, she may have had limited success, instead of receiving the hundreds of accolades she has garnered as her gifting has brought many listings to life.

She also exemplifies the principle of finding people who are strong where she is weak: She employs a group who, while not having the designer skills she has, are great at moving furniture. Imagine her spending hours weightlifting to be able to hoist a couch … it makes no sense at all.

This leads us again to the concept of real estate teams and how they can consistently outperform individuals as team members focus on their strengths and rely on others on the team to make up their deficits.

10. Amateurs react. Professionals prepare.

Although it happened years ago, to this day I have a vivid memory of playing flag football in college: A pass was tipped and headed my way. As a defensive player, if I managed to catch the errant pass, there was nothing but open space between me and the goal line.

As a fully non-professional and completely untrained player, I was unprepared and subsequently dropped the ball. The subsequent groans from my teammates still echo in my ears all these years later.

Contrast that with professional players who spend hours doing tipping drills so that when the inevitable tip comes their way, they instinctively respond.

Rookie Realtors, when faced with a crisis, respond with whatever thoughts cross their mind in that moment. If they are lucky, they will come up with a good response. On the other hand, professional agents with hundreds of hours of script practice under their belts have a substantially higher chance of responding correctly.

11. Amateurs think knowledge is power. Professionals pass on wisdom and advice.

Over the years, I’ve seen countless real estate students sit through trainings of all sorts and then park the books on their shelves and forget everything they’ve learned. Wisdom, however, comes from time spent in the trenches grappling with actual clients and real-life situations. From those encounters – some ending in failures – come tried-and-true wisdom that can be far more valuable than time spent in a classroom.

12. Amateurs focus on being right. Professionals focus on getting the best outcome.

While often very easy to be “right” and stand your ground, it can often result in the loss of a client or a transaction. True professionals know the value of negotiation and are always focused on getting the best outcome for all parties. The goal should always be win-win.

13. Amateurs think good outcomes are the result of their brilliance. Professionals understand when good outcomes are the result of luck.

Everyone gets lucky once in a while. Professionals rejoice when luck comes their way but know better than to build a successful business around results that are predicated on luck. Amateurs think a lucky outcome is about them: pros know better.

14. Amateurs focus on the short term. Professionals focus on the long term.

As an example, an amateur, in need of a close to get a paycheck, may try ramrodding transactions to a close, alienating everyone in the process. On the other hand, a professional agent is willing to give up a transaction to secure the best result for their client. Recognizing that they are a fiduciary and must put their clients needs above their own, they choose to put aside short-term gain for long-term relationships that may pay off with multiple dividends in the future.

15. Amateurs make decisions in committees so there is no one person responsible if things go wrong. Professionals make decisions as individuals and accept responsibility.

The adage “A camel is a horse designed by a committee” rings true here. Professionals make the tough decisions and lead whereas amateurs will often try to lead by consensus.

This also flows over into client/agent relationships: A pro will provide strong proactive leadership and effectively manage their client and the entire process whereas a rookie or amateur, trying to appease a client or be their “friend,” will allow their client to get out of control, Once that happens, chaos reigns for all parties concerned.

16. Amateurs blame others. Professionals accept responsibility.

Professional results often take gutsy calls. Pros are willing to make the difficult calls and accept full responsibility, even if they are in the wrong and make poor choices. Amateurs, on the other hand … not so much.

17. Amateurs show up inconsistently. Professionals show up every day.

Once again I will use Michael Phelps as an example: While preparing for the Olympics, he was in the pool literally every day for years. His rationale was simple: Every day he took off required two days to get back in rhythm. If he took weekends off, it would be Wednesday before he was back in the swing of things. Instead of a week of practice, he would only get three effective days.

By practicing every day, there was never a letdown and he accumulated multiple days a week over his competitors who routinely took days off. In a sport where hundredths of a second separated winners from losers, those untold extra days of practice propelled him to the podium more than any other Olympian in any sport.

18. Amateurs go faster. Professionals go further.

Professionals know how to pace themselves. In his book Great by Choice, Jim Collins describes the difference between the two competitors — Amundson and Scott — attempting to be the first to reach the South Pole. One group would succeed; the other group would all die in the process. The group that chose to travel every day regardless of the circumstances not only beat the other group, but in spite of horrific conditions, all made it home safe and sound.

From this epic adventure, Collins developed the principle of the 20-mile march. The idea is simple: Those who commit to a consistent daily regimen of 20 miles a day will ultimately go further and faster than those who sprint for a few days, hunker down to recoup their strength for a bit, stay in a warm tent when it is raining and so on.

Professionals know how to pace themselves and, in the end, just like the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady wins the race.

19. Amateurs go with the first idea that comes into their heads. Professionals realize the first idea is rarely the best idea.

While there is such a thing as intuition, pros know that it is better to weigh all the options and carefully think things through before they act. Over the years I’ve frequently managed to convince myself that the genius ideas I’ve concocted on the fly are the way to go. In mentioning my plans to others such as my wife, however, I’ve learned that the phrase, “Have you considered _________?” is their way of saying, “You might want to look at a few other options ….”

20. Amateurs think in ways that can’t be invalidated. Professionals don’t.

Amateurs believe their way is the only way to go and cannot be persuaded otherwise. Professionals are willing to listen to wise counsel from business partners, associates or their coaches. I’ve avoided many instances of what could have been a painful situation by allowing those around me the opportunity to speak into my life.

21. Amateurs think in absolutes. Professionals think in probabilities.

Keying off the two previous points, professionals are willing to explore multiple possibilities rather than accepting the status quo. Over the years I’ve met with clients who have been adamant about the type of home they wanted to buy. I’ve learned that by spending time counseling with them up front, I am frequently able to open their minds to new scenarios they would not have previously considered.

Prior to doing this, I would be shocked when clients would suddenly disappear, only to discover down the road they had changed their minds about what they wanted and gone with another agent who had presented them with new possibilities.

22. Amateurs think the probability of them having the best idea is high. Professionals know the probability of that is low.

This is why professionals spend so much time reading, attending trainings, listening to their peers and engaging with a coach. Amateurs … don’t.

23. Amateurs think disagreements are threats. Professionals see them as an opportunity to learn.

Professionals act with humility realizing that they do not always have the best answer for every situation. Wise individuals realize that disagreements, if handled correctly, can pave the way to profound long-term relationships.

Having been married for 43 years, my wife and I have disagreed on many things over the years. One of our secrets has been the ability to honor each other’s opinion and to “fight fair.” We never demean or belittle the other person, nor do we devalue each other’s opinions. Often, after carefully considering things, I’ve discovered that her opinion is actually better than mine.

Professional or amateur? You decide. One thing is for sure: When markets get tough, and 2023 is certainly shaping up that way, it is the professionals who come out in the winner’s circle while the amateurs are left standing on the sidelines.

Carl Medford is CEO of The Medford Team.

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