Pairing new agents with first-time buyers pays off

Minnesota-based Barker Hedges Group shares how it successfully targeted a niche market

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I’ve written that real estate is missing a significant opportunity to reach first-time homebuyers and millennials who don’t know that they are qualified to buy a home today.

However, we do see agents, brokers and others in the real estate industry who are aggressively and successfully capturing this growing market. (By the way, if you doubt that serving first-time homebuyers is going to be essential to your success, look at the latest demographic projections for this group.)

Today, meet Matt Barker and Brandon Hedges from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota.

I first noticed the Barker Hedges Group several years ago because of their website’s phenomenal click-to-lead conversions using our tool provided by NorthstarMLS. They have been most generous in helping us understand how they’ve built a successful business focusing on first-time homebuyers and education.

We commiserated over a warm lunch on a recent cold Minnesota day about why so many agents intentionally choose not to serve first-time homebuyers. On the surface, the answer may seem simple enough — bigger houses generate larger commissions. And I get that — I was a commissioned agent and loan officer for many years.

But the real factor in growing sustainable success is expanding your referral base. Very few agents kick-start their new careers by listing and selling million-dollar homes. More competitors chasing fewer units makes that difficult for an inexperienced agent.

Focusing on first-time homebuyers is how Barker and Hedges built their business, but even as they and their clients graduated to bigger, more expensive homes, they did not turn their backs on new homebuyers. If anything, they’ve redoubled their efforts by providing more tools, education and well-trained colleagues to deliver consistently high levels of service.

And it’s paid off with volume and a team of almost 20, which they believe still has plenty of room to grow. So how’d they do it?

One method they use is recruiting agents new to the business and then supporting them with training, tools and implementable systems. These agents think it’s pretty cool to start writing their first contracts within weeks of coming on board. And those commission checks that veteran agents turn their noses up at? They beat the take-home from the new agents’ last jobs and sustain them on their way to becoming top producers. Some end up with million-dollar referrals early on in spite of their primary focus. You’ll get more chances at home runs if you just get in the game and hit for singles and doubles.

Faster startup times, regular commission checks and building a successful business are the results of such efforts.

One of many interesting insights that Barker and Hedges shared over lunch was that pairing new agents with first-time homebuyers makes for great chemistry and happy customers. Neither has preconceived ideas about how the process is supposed to work; therefore, both are open to following tried-and-true best practices.

Their company website converts so many clicks to leads because it opens up more opportunities for their buyers by sharing information about available state and local homeownership programs.

According to Hedges, “It gives us a jumping-off point, and a lot of people are able to start sooner than they thought.”

They also don’t feel the need to become subject matter experts; they work with lending partners who know how to get the job done. Barker and Hedges say that providing more education and data about local programs on their website is one more way to help people see that they need the help of a professional.

Or, as Brian and Anna, two of their many satisfied clients, say, “You really do need a Realtor who knows what they are doing and has time to really explore your options with you.”

I’d love to highlight you next time, so send me your stories!

Rob Chrane is a former Realtor and broker with more than three decades of experience in real estate and mortgage finance. He is the president of Down Payment Resource.

Email Rob Chrane.