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Alphas Of Real Estate Reveal Their Secrets

by Alf Nucifora

I recently had the opportunity to chair a panel of six residential real estate agents representing the Bay Area of San Francisco. Each was a representative of a leading real estate firm selling to the luxury home buyer in upscale areas such as Lake Tahoe, Carmel, Marin County, the East Bay enclaves including Walnut Creek, and the affluent areas of San Francisco itself such as Pacific Heights and Nob Hill. Each of the panelists was the # 1 producer in his/her respective firms with one of the presenters holding the title of top producer in the whole of San Francisco in 2005 (with a collective lifetime sales volume exceeding a billion dollars). These are agents for whom a $20 million sale is not a rarity, and where transactions in the $5-10 million range are not uncommon. Understand, of course, that we're talking here about San Francisco, one of the most bizarre and irrational residential real estate markets in the country.

While interesting observations flowed from the discussion, a number of universal themes and common success attributes emerged. Judging from this panel, the unifying platform for success is the fact that star performers achieve the pinnacle of success by executing the basics, but by doing it more consistently than their competitors and with much greater degrees of ferocity, perseverance and discipline.

Develop the trust

The alpha agents share a common trait, they "listen". From the moment the prospect walks into the office or gets into the agent's car, the listening has begun. Like a dog acutely attuned to its master's every move, gesture or inflection, the alpha agents read the body language, listen for the physiological tell-tale signs and probe for a clear understanding of the buyer's state of mind and intent. So refined is their listening, that they can nail the profile in just a few meetings or encounters. At the same time they're developing trust with the client, by what they ask, how they listen and how they respond. With trust established, the game is over. It's simply a matter of locating the right property and closing the deal. The hard part is the upfront cultivation of the relationship between the agent and client, and the formation of a partnership based on trust between the parties. For the alpha agents, this process is second nature. They can do it in their sleep. But they've worked to achieve that state of incisiveness and understanding. Most of us lack the patience and the drive.

Responsiveness is a mandate

The alphas will testify to the fact that responsiveness is the # 1 client demand. That means constant hand-holding, 24/7 availability to client request, and the ability to be present at those moments of unscripted and unplanned vulnerability and crisis when the client needs psychological reassurance or a course correction. Remember too, that responsiveness means different things to different people. It's as much a perception as a state of readiness or reaction. Either way, alpha agents never let the client out of sight or mind. It's constant baby-sitting until the contract is signed and the closing takes place.

You can never have enough information

Agents will tell you that today's buyers, particularly the educated tech-types who populate major centers like San Francisco are data junkies requesting every piece of abstruse information that they think they need to make the right decision. One agent recounted an incident where the potential buyer of a new home requested deviation from the mean for the selling price of the home when it had previously changed hands. And of course, the more expensive the home, the more detailed the data and comprehensive the information sought. The alpha agents understand that to maintain their pre-imminence and success rate, they have to do their homework, keep on top of trends, have the information at their fingertips, or know where to find it.

You've got to be first to know

The alpha agents always have the pulse of the marketplace at their fingertips. They're motivated by the constant paranoia and fear of missing out, of not being first with what's new, what's hot and what's happening. They're inveterate networkers, spying on the marketplace, divining meaning from the gossip, and always the first one called when the seller has decided to list that luxury home. That's how market leadership manifests itself, not in hollow advertising clichés and yard signs, but in the strength of the agent's network and the dollars transacted over the course of the year.

It's always a referral business

To a man and women, each of the agents reaffirmed the principle that the majority of leads and sales (more than 90%), particularly in the high-end luxury home category come from referrals. While each of the agents directs a marketing strategy employing traditional communication tools including brochures, direct mail and information-rich web sites, they do it because they're scared not to (there's that paranoia again). But the reality is, for the sale of a multi-million dollar home, Craig's List or the local Sunday newspaper classified section is not where it's happening. Interestingly, the smarter agents consider the sale and closing as just the first step in a life-long relationship with that client, one that may lead to another transaction down the road as the client's lifestyle changes, and one that should definitely lead to referrals. The ideal state is to move the relationship from agent-client to agent-friend, an indispensable, trustworthy one who can be relied upon to do it all from finding the optimal financing to sharing a contact list of trusted remodeling contractors.

You can't rule without passion

In listening to these alpha agents expound their ferocity of style, in work habit, persistence, competitiveness, ego and passion for the job stands out like a beacon. They tower above their competitors because of it. Which reinforces the point that conviction and commitment will win out over background, schooling and industry best-practice every time. You can see it in the eyes. It's the alpha stare. And all six had it.

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