Is real estate a seasonal business? It can certainly seem that way. After all, in most markets home sales predictably peak at certain times of the year and slow down at others. This hills-and-valleys rhythm is something that many practitioners—perhaps even you—have come to accept.
But during traditionally slower months, many practitioners reason there's little use in trying to find customers. The result: They all but abandon effective and consistent lead generation until the market picks up. And the notion that it's harder to find customers at certain times of year becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In reality, there's no reason your business has to suffer at any time of year. But in order to make that happen, you have to make the decision that lead generation is a priority 12 months of the year, regardless of how your market is performing. Just think: If most of your competitors are not putting forth effort during the “slow” times, you have a huge opportunity to reach prospects who are serious about buying just by being consistent.
It sounds like an easy enough concept. So why don't more real estate professionals do it? For starters, most people dread lead generation more than anything. Cold calling, organizing client parties, buying big billboard ads—these traditional activities can be time consuming, expensive, and downright unpleasant. And like most unpleasant tasks, it becomes something that practitioners worry about and subconsciously avoid, choosing to keep themselves busy on the more enjoyable aspects of the business.
In my 22 years in the business, my success came in large part because of the way I approach lead generation. I took the seasonality out of my business because I had an easy system I used throughout the year. The cornerstone of this system is what I like to call "reverse prospecting," in which qualified prospects are calling me, not the other way around.
My pipeline was filled on a consistent basis, which meant I always had enough good customers to work with no matter what season it was. I consistently sold 40 to 45 homes per month in good markets and bad. My system can be modified for budgets small or big, but let’s focus here how to execute the strategy with very little cash—through classified ads you place online (think Facebook) or in your local newspaper. Why a classified ad? First, they're inexpensive. And second, because people who are reading the real estate classifieds tend to be prospects who are actively looking for homes. They are serious buyers, often with a short turnaround time.
Here are five steps to effectively reaching and converting those buyers by using my system:
THINK OF ADVERTISING IN A NEW WAY - Even though you're placing a property classified ad, your goal is not to sell the property, as counter-intuitive as that may sound. That's because it's virtually impossible to sell a house with a classified ad.
When a potential buyer sees a real estate ad and calls, in what percentage of cases does that person come to view that particular listing and then buy it? It happens once in a while, but what happens most often is that as you begin to describe the property, the buyer starts to eliminate it and politely tells you that it’s either too big or too small, in the wrong area, or too much money.
If you've mastered the art of call conversion, you can get the buyer interested in a different listing. However, even if you're successful on this front, in most cases you end up selling the buyer a different property— which, in most cases, isn’t even one of your listings. So when you’re writing your classified ads, you shouldn’t be thinking about how to showcase all the wonderful features of a particular home. Instead, think about how you can get the highest response.
MAKE YOUR ADS COMPELLING AND NONTHREATENING - The most effective and least expensive way to generate leads is to offer prospects something they want and make it very easy for them to get it. That means respecting the fact that no one likes to be sold to—you'll get a much greater response if prospects don't have to speak with a salesperson to get the information they’re after.
How does this translate to a tiny classified ad? Using the reasoning that you shouldn't be trying to sell a particular home, but rather get the highest response, don't focus your limited ad space identifying how many bedrooms a particular listing has or whether the garage is attached. This will only eliminate great prospects who think they're looking for something else. Elimination means they won’t call you, which means you’ll never get a chance to convert them to client.
The better option: Explain your listings in general terms, and prompt the reader to contact you or visit your website or a recorded phone message for more information.
Let’s take a look at two ad examples (see below). The first property ad is very typical of what I see in newspapers and websites. The second one is an actual ad I ran in my local paper week in, week out, every time the paper ran. I found that when I placed these two ads in the same paper, on the same page, I received about four times the number of calls on the second ad.
A typical "feature" driven ad will eliminate prospects who think they're looking for something else. Also, they may be wary of calling you directly, especially if they're not sure the property is perfect for them.
NEWMARKET - 2 story, 2 bedroom, new windows, corner lot, C/A, C/V, professionally decorated, main floor laundry. (905)898-1234. Bob Smith, XYZ Realty.
This benefit-rich, prospect driven ad uses universal descriptions and hot words that make prospects want to know more. Also, potential buyers don't have to contact the salesperson directly. Instead they are directed to a Web site or a recorded telephone message.
PREPARE FOR INCOMING CALLS AND WEB VISITS - The whole point of running classified ads is to get motivated buyers to contact you. When they decide to take action, you need to provide a compelling reason for them to want to continue doing business with you.
As I explained in point 1 above, it’s virtually impossible to sell the house in the ad. You know yourself from inquiries you’ve fielded on your own ads that when a prospect reaches you to discuss a certain property you’ve advertised, most often they’ll disqualify this particular property once they speak with you for one reason or another (i.e. it’s too big, too small, wrong location, too expensive, etc.) When you speak with them voice-to-voice, you can often turn the situation around by telling them about other properties once you get a feel for what they’re looking for. However, because you’re not speaking with them voice-to-voice on an automated hotline, or through your webpage, you have to approach the situation a bit differently to accomplish the same goal. Clearly, if all you attempt to do on your hotline script or on your webpage is sell a particular property, odds are high that your prospect will hang up or leave your landing page without a trail and you’ll lose any further opportunity with them.
For example, when driving prospect inquiries to an 800# hotline, each property you advertise should have a unique ID# that will allow a prospect to hear pre-recorded details (without talking to an agent.) Your main greeting will give prospects the opportunity to get Property information immediately by entering this 4-digit ID#, but should also make universal offers of much wider appeal to buyers and sellers (e.g. a free list of recent home sales in their area, or how to buy a home with a low downpayment — in other words, hotlists or reports that are of universal and compelling interest to buyers and sellers.) Since we all realize that very few prospects will be interested in the specific property they call on, it’s the universal offers (communicated on the main greeting) that appeal to many more prospects, compelling them to leave a trail.
On the web, make sure you use a specific domain name for tracking each campaign with a landing page that provides a similar friendly message and a form where they can submit their name, price range, and contact information.
FOLLOW UP WITH A PERSONAL CALL - Here’s an amazing fact. Most agents do NOT follow up on leads. Not really. What they do, they do haphazardly. Some days they do, some weeks they don’t. They have NO SYSTEM. The result? Their leads grow cold … in other words, they WASTE their leads. If you waste your leads, you can’t hit your income goals, and your advertising costs may even eat you alive.
NEWMARKET - Lovely detached home, private yard, quiet street. Free recorded message 1-800-000-0000 ID#0000 or visit www.DomainName.com. Your Company Name.
You must always follow up your new leads with an actual phone call, not just an email. The purpose of your follow up call with prospects is to:
- Establish top-of-mind consciousness with these prospects in a non-threatening manner
- Probe them with qualifying questions to determine the prospect’s motivation and timing and the quality of the lead
- Schedule an appointment if they do represent an immediate opportunity
- Put them on the right Follow-Up Plan (which should include direct mail, email and verbal follow-up) if they are a longer term opportunity.
What you do with these prospects after this point will depend on how your call goes. Here’s what I do:
The best way to encourage them to meet with you is to make a targeted offer that provides a great benefit to them and very little work on their part to get it. For example, asking buyer prospects, "Would you like to receive a daily list of homes that match your criteria including distress sales and bank foreclosures?”, or offer seller prospects a free market evaluation to determine what their home will sell for and tips on how to prepare their home for sale. The script I’ve taught my students to use takes three minutes to deliver, and those who follow it religiously consistently convert 25-30% of their leads to appointments.
TRACK YOUR RESULTS AND TEST RELENTLESSLY - When you're trying a new advertising strategy like this one, it's important to keep at it week after week. Modify the wording in your classified ads and run tests to see what works best. By tracking each approach you can quickly determine the best messages and the best places to run them to get the best return on your advertising.
Craig Proctor invented his real estate success system during his own, highly successful 22 year Real Estate career right here in Canada. While an active agent (not a broker), Craig consistently sold over 500 homes a year for annual GCI of almost $4 Million. In fact, for 6 years straight, no one listed or sold more homes in the Greater Toronto Area than Craig Proctor (Source: TREB Statistics). Experience matters! Craig successfully battled in the trenches just like you. He understands the challenges that real estate agents face and he believes because he better understands you that he can better help you. Known within the industry as Real Estate’s Millionaire-Agent-Maker, Craig has created more Millionaire Agents than any other real estate coach or trainer in the world. You can request a free business consultation that will show you how Craig’s system can transform your real estate business into a highly lucrative enterprise that will earn you millions without high lifestyle costs >> MORE. Learn about free half day Craig Proctor Discovery Days in your area >> MORE.
- NOW BUSINESS - try to set up a meeting to present your listing / buyer presentation to them (offer CMA, Prepare Your Home for Sale information, Buyer Profile, Free Home Loan Pre-Approval etc.)
- FUTURE BUSINESS - set call back date on contact management system in half the time they specify, and put them on the Market Watch Plan (this is a monthly newsletter system I developed that my students use very successfully) if they still seem to represent a good or future opportunity but are not ready to meet with you yet
- NO BUSINESS - delete them from the system if they are listed with another agent or if they have indicated clearly that they're not moving (or won’t be using you.)