Don’t get voted off the island. To survive and thrive in real estate, you need a range of skills, according to three Ontario REALTORS®. These seasoned pros share their “survivor” instincts and advice for enjoying a long and successful real estate career.
Self-discipline is a trait that not only serves people well in life, it’s also crucial to success in the real estate business, says Bill Johnston, a Toronto broker and lawyer who has been working in real estate for 34 years.
“The single most important skill in our line of work is self-discipline,” Johnston says. “All your excellent selling skills will go to waste if you’re not a good self-manager. We do a lot of training and emphasize prospecting, because if you don’t prospect, you will fail. A lot of people simply don’t prospect, but you must do it -- whether or not you feel like it.”
Communication is a key skill in real estate, says Barb Guiden, a Kingston Realtor with 26 years of experience. She sees communication as the skill that oils the wheels of commerce.
“We must constantly communicate with clients and fellow Realtors,” she says. “People want to be kept in the loop. Good communication starts with courtesy to fellow agents and extends to clients.”
"Good communication starts with courtesy to fellow agents and extends to clients."
Negotiation skills are also critical for success in real estate, says Conrad Zurini, a broker of record in Stoney Creek with 20 years of experience under his belt.
“Our ability to read the situation ties directly to our success in negotiations,” Zurini says. “I firmly believe in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and the need to consider the emotional side of a transaction. For our clients, it’s about much more than closing dates or dollars. Good negotiation skills can make the transaction a win-win situation for everyone involved.”
Knowing and understanding the needs of your clients is also vital to success for Realtors. Johnston remembers one of his most satisfying transactions. His buyer clients were an extremely indecisive couple with two young children. He worked with them for a couple of years and took them to see many, many houses. One day, he stumbled across a new build in Richmond Hill and simply knew it was right for the family. They weren’t interested in the neighbourhood and initially refused to see it, but Johnston was persistent. He asked them to humour him and view the home. The family eventually agreed to see it.
“They walked in the door and looked at the place and within a day, we had the deal done,” Johnston says. “They’re still living there. I knew they’d love it and they did.”
Patience and persistence are also important qualities for success, Guiden adds. She remembers an instance when her determination never to give up paid off. Her clients put an offer in on a house and found out they were in third place.
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“We got all our ducks in a row, just in case,” she says. “The first person’s financing failed; the second bidder couldn’t sell his own house; and we won the bid, despite being the third choice. It’s unheard of.”
Zurini recounts a challenging transaction, still relieved that it finally came together. “I had a triplex for sale in a less desirable area of a town nearby,” he says. “The very bad news was that the third floor tenant was murdered in his unit while I had the listing. The seller was devastated and we had to deal with issues of stigma and disclosure. The market for the house went completely cold.”
He finally helped one of the other tenants in the building get financing to buy the property, with the help of the seller. The landlord helped with a second mortgage that enabled the tenant to buy the property, a creative strategy under the circumstances. “We arrived at a good solution in the end, but it required a lot of effort from all of us -- it was all hands on deck. I’m pleased to say that it finally became a win-win situation.”
Difficult experiences often provide useful career lessons, Guiden adds. She remembers working with a young, male buyer who frequently made disparaging comments about women. She initially refrained from commenting, but the client’s personality was a roadblock for her.
“I really didn’t like this person and after reflecting on it, I didn’t feel that I could serve his best interests,” she said. “I ended up referring him to a male Realtor who could make a fresh start. I realized that when you work with a buyer and your personalities just don’t mesh, it’s best to set them free.”
All three Realtors have seen incredible changes in technology during the years they have been in real estate, from carbon paper and the dawn of the fax machine to today’s mobile devices, apps, social media and electronic signatures.
“Agents who don’t embrace technology will lose out,” says Guiden. “We must stay ahead of the consumer or they’ll wonder why they need us.”
Zurini believes strongly in using social media. “I think it’s the best way to brand yourself and tell the world that you do things a little differently,” he says. “This is the age of the self-educated consumer and we have the opportunity to help them decide which Realtor they think best fits their needs. Advances like electronic signatures are a phenomenal example of technology that makes us more efficient. Consumers love that accessibility.”
Technology also has a downside, says Johnston. “It has diminished our face-to-face contact and unfortunately some of the collegiality has been sucked out of the business,” he says. “More Realtors are working from home and becoming lone wolves, and from a social and psychological point of view, that’s not healthy. There’s a benefit to getting out and talking to people face to face.”
The human side of real estate can’t be ignored, agrees Zurini. “A home is still a home and emotions are still important. People care about creating memories. There are three things clients want that have not changed in 50 years: the most value in the least amount of time with the fewest headaches.”
Another thing that has not changed, says Johnston, is that real estate still offers a positive level of competition, an attractive element of the business.
“It’s not unlike being a golfer,” he says. “You get paid if you win; otherwise, there’s no payday. Real estate attracts people with a lot of faith in themselves and the courage to strive for success.”
Advice for Newcomers to Real Estate:
- Accept that markets are cyclical and won’t always be buoyant. Those who survive and thrive have established good habits.
- Make a commitment to prospect regularly, deliver great service, keep in touch with your clients and build a referral business.
- Remember that each transaction is about the buyer and seller, not about you.
- Treat each deal with the same level of care and effort, whether it’s a low-end sale or a high-end transaction.
- Find yourself a mentor to help you with the more personal aspects of real estate.
- Be flexible.
- Embrace technology.
- Be prepared to re-invent yourself on an ongoing basis.
Story by Elaine Smith
Sources: Barb Guiden, Bill Johnston, Conrad Zurini
Editorial Policy: The REALTOR® EDGE newsletter is produced 11 times a year by the Ontario Real Estate Association. The newsletter aims to provide practical and useful news and information about the real estate industry to members of the association. The opinions expressed in the newsletter are not necessarily those of the publisher. The newsletter welcomes submissions from the real estate community, including letters to the editor, opinion pieces, events and news. The newsletter reserves the right to edit, based on space restrictions and/or suitability, and/or to refuse submitted material for inclusion in the newsletter without reason. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the express written permission of the publisher, OREA, is prohibited. Contents are copyright of the Ontario Real Estate Association.
Editor: Mary Ann Gratton
Contributors to this issue: Elaine Smith, Merv Burgard, Mary Ann Gratton
Web Editor: Shade Lapite
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