Hustle, Hustle, Hustle

by Alistair Helm in ,


I find serendipity an amazing thing. I find it strange when you start seeing repeated comments in the course of a day, especially when they come in fast succession and when they so clearly resonate in the context of your own day-to-day life. So it was the other week, when I felt I was being bombarded by advice to Hustle!

I’ve been a real estate agent for 9 months now and have been ‘encouraged’ to hustle to get listings, hustle to get your name out and about, hustle to ask people incessantly “are you looking to sell, do you know anyone who might be?”

Just last month a couple of local real estate agencies latched onto Hustle as a theme to grow your business.

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Thinking about this notion of hustling for business, reminded me of one of my favourite sessions I used to undertake in my role at Trade Me Property. I regularly spent about an hour providing insight into the everyday life of a real estate agent to enlighten software developers. This was invaluable; they relished the opportunity to get a sense of the world from the perspective of their customers. And in so doing, take this learning and apply it in the products they designed and built, given the agile environment in which we operated.

I recall that I’d often shock and surprise them with the simplicity of the role of an agent. However, on the other hand for every one of them, the lack of a cushion of a salary, and the incessant need to be working every hour of every day to seek out their next business opportunity. I could sense every one of them were nervous of this. It certainly didn’t illicit an instant rush to join the band of agents, despite the potential earnings.

However, in retrospect what I said then and what I know now seem even further apart apart as my first hand experience has grown. The fact is, what I was talking about then in my opinion actually bares little relationship to the true experience of my first year as an agent. Some months ago, I wrote an article sharing some of my early experiences of being an agent and the challenges I had faced breaking into this new role. Subsequent months have not seen that change much.

Real estate is as is so often said; is simple but by no means easy. To my way of thinking this relates to the process of engaging buyers and sellers in the core element of negotiation. Yet it also fully reflects the process needed to be undertaken before a rookie will ever get close to this end of the business, ever gets close to getting a listing in the first place. It’s again incredibly simple to understand. Without a listing, prospective agents have no presence and no involvement with clients, either as buyers or sellers. Add to this the fact that without a listing it is hard to prove your skills and capability. Sadly, this doom loop is staring every rookie in the face – no listing, no case study to demonstrate capability, so no listing.

How to break out of this doom loop is the core challenge for every agent in their first 6 months. I say 6 months, as the sad fact is that more than half of new agents barely make it past the 6 months mark, fewer last until the first anniversary. The reality is few can self-fund themselves through this period with no income.

I know there will be some readers who will by this stage be thinking to themselves “but this is good ; it sorts out the grafters, the hard workers from the people who just can’t handle it” and the other comment I suspect “fake it till you make it”. I get this. Darwinsim and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ syndrome combined. However, might this actually be the counterintuitive? Might the industry be fast tracking people into this industry who are great as prospecting machines rather than being great practitioners of this profession at its core? I may be splitting hairs, but I sense as a reader you will see my point. Is Hustle, Hustle, Hustle the right proving ground of this industry?

Every agent need to get their brand known and ideally top of mind. The simple fact is there are no shortage of agents across all of the country. All of them can and want to, support every customer. So it’s a tough battle every day to win a listing and unless you are known you are literally invisible.

There are many methods of getting known. Door knocking is still favoured as it provides an ‘in your face’ experience that says “here I am I’m a local agent who’s looking for work”. Other agents, such as a former colleague of mine have a natural exuberant personality that shouts from the mountain top. Jadyn Dixon is one of those people who loves the limelight and is doing a stellar job of getting known in a way that may not be suited to everyone – just look at his recent videos and through this his feature on Seven Sharp – incalculable marketing impact.

I am not really in either of these camps to be honest. I cannot muster the courage, or as I see it the disingenuousness behaviour of door knocking, nor do I intend to undertake outlandish videos. I’m choosing a more structured and credibility based route. I’ll readily acknowledge this strategy is potentially going to take longer, but I feel it’s better to remain true to myself and my principles. Principles such as offering deep property insight, significant marketing knowledge and experience, delivered with professionalism in a personable and trusted manner. To date it is working, but to be honest I have to wish I was succeeding more of the time!

As a final note whilst writing this article I came across this interesting post on Medium highlighting the trend of overwork in the tech start up world “Hustle Porn Is the Latest Toxic Scourge to Hit Entrepreneurs’ not a notion I had come across before, but I related to the depiction of the dog-eat-dog attitude that the only way to succeed is to work 18 hour days. Maybe real estate as an industry needs to take a breath and realise endless hustle may actually be counter-productive to the profile and the resultant opinion many people have towards this industry. That’s just my opinion.


The challenges facing a new real estate agent

by Alistair Helm in


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I’ve been a fully licensed real estate salesperson for 3 months and I thought it would be interesting at this point to share my thoughts, experiences and insights. Valuable, I hope for others who may be thinking of embarking on this career path and also potentially a valuable reflection piece for those already established in this industry.

The fact is real estate is tough. There is a saying I remember from years ago and echoed at a recent training session “Real estate is simple, but by no means is it easy” – it is true; if a little overly simplistic. The fact is real estate in 2018 is a detailed process-based business with a high degree of legal requirements and obligations, more so each year. As I stated in an earlier article tracking the process of studying for the Certificate in Real Estate, there are 30 Acts of parliament that are studied on the course and all potentially have a direct impact on this process and need to be understood and adhered to by all agents.

However, long before you ever get close to talking to a buyer or seller and providing any form of service, the life of a newly licensed real estate is all about building a profile and making an impression so you can be seen at least as relevant. It’s all about building a brand. This is so key. The hard truth of this industry is that there is no shortage of real estate salespeople. Nowhere around the country is currently underserved by a real estate agent; and in the main cities there will be tens of capable, experienced and competent agents ready at the drop of a hat to list a property for sale. So this is the highly competitive marketplace into which you need to launch yourself and create a point of difference, and even before that, just get to be seen and known.

Real estate is a numbers game and in general terms the numbers (the odds) are not great. At any one time there are probably around 20,000 people in NZ actively involved in selling their home, that’s less than half a percent of the population – 1 in 200. However this group who are easy to target are not the audience you want to reach out to and engage in order to succeed to gain a new listing.

The target audience you want to address are the people in the stage before that. A very short window in which people who have possibly been looking to buy, get that confidence to say “right let’s going, let’s get our house on the market and let’s buy that new property” – I suspect that audience is fewer than 1,000 any one time and  with 14,000 agents in NZ today ready to serve that market that’s a highly competitive environment for a new agent to take on well-experienced and established operators. Imagine trying to identify that target audience in your local area, you are talking about a needle in a haystack; 1 person in 4,700 – virtually impossible. What you have to do is rely on connections and engagements. That is why agents constantly reach out through networks, make new connections, market extensively and make proactive approaches to everyone in their local area. For unlike established agents, new agents have no referral network of previous clients to rely on for future work or referral.

In my case from the outset I chose to focus and leverage on two clear points of difference when compared to my well established local competitors. These were my analytical capability focused on local property market trends and insights; matched to my unique and extensive experience in digital property marketing. That was the easy part, the hard part was to communicate these capabilities and break through the paradigm that sees people use the same agent time and again or rely on agent's presence (existing listing stock) as the arbiter of the decision of which agent to use.

As I will highlight in a forthcoming article this decision making process in selecting an agent, based on a survey I am currently undertaking is heavily skewed to established agents.

To substantiate my analytical capability of the local property market I am writing and publishing a hyper-local property report for Devonport each month. I maintain a detailed database of property listings and sales, enabling me to publish this report early in the month. This initiative is already bearing fruit with a growing subscriber base for the full email version of the report which enhances my brand awareness and my role and is supplemented through the publication of the abridged report in the local fortnightly local paper The Flagstaff.

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However passive marketing is as ever, a slow build. The massive hurdle that needs to be overcome to really kick-start an agent’s career is getting a listing; this is the mark of credibility. However the ‘chicken and egg’ conundrum kicks in – how to get a listings without having the credibility of a listing? This is where the numbers game comes back into play. You need to try a myriad of initiatives to see if somewhere, something bears fruit. As I described it the other day when sharing experiences with my fellow Bayleys newbies – it’s like growing crops, you have to sow masses of seeds and tend and nurture the ground, feed and water and eventually shoots will arise – it takes time, patience, fortitude and tenacity.

Here is a selection of the initiatives I have undertaken to date.

-       I held an local event with Bernard Hickey invited to speak about property and the economy. An excellent foundation with over 60 attendees

-       I personally door dropped over 500 flyers for Bernard’s event

-       I distribute my monthly property report to properties on the market. Sure these properties have an agent, but if the property remains unsold I want to make sure the vendors know of my presence should they decide to change agents in the future. This I see as classic reciprocity, I share the value in my report which has real contextual relevance and thereby establish my brand credentials

-       I target local streets where recent sales and listings have been active and communicate through personalised letters to all home owners with my property report and insight as to the local market dynamics. There is well know fact that properties tend to come onto the market when those around them are listed - a strange correlation that I think needs investigating!

-       I target private sellers offering my experience and advice on marketing, seeing if I can be of assistance to build trust and hopefully a future listing if they stumble in the process themselves

-       I contact owners who are undertaking renovations to discuss latest online valuations and the potential value-add of the work they are doing

This is sample of the tactics I have employed to date. To this you can add digital marketing through Google Adwords, Trade Me advertising, Facebook promoted posts. All focused to drive traffic to my personal brand website which I have tweaked regularly as I have reflected on what I can do to trigger the right engagement with my prospective target audience. I've also had produced a personal brand video so as to allow people to evaluate me as a person.

 

So what success so far?

– well as of today there is no listing with my name on it.

However there are germinating seeds which I am confident are soon to blossom. I have a client who will sell their home, however my task is to find them their next home which is challenging, but exposes me to the world of being a buyers’ agent which is a valuable experience. I also have three further clients for whom I am working to find them their next home and hopefully from that I may gain another listing or two. I am also working outside my home area when helping people as a buyers' agent which is surprising and valuable.

As I have said it is a numbers game. I should think that over this first 3 month period I have engaged and contacted over 250 people in my local area directly, plus an unknown number through other marketing. I’ve already invested over $12,000 in real cash in this new business of being a self employed agent which does not take into account the cost of my time everyday I work in this business, nor the cost of the time studying for the course and certificate.

The brutal fact is that more than half of all agents do not remain in the industry past 6 months, I am at the 3 month stage. I am sticking with it, I can see the future and I am confident that I can establish myself in this industry and deliver a professional service that is respected and valued. I’ll keep you all posted with future articles in the coming months.

and by the way...

I almost forgot this. If anyone tells you or you suspect that establishing yourself as a new real estate agent is a lifestyle choice, then tell them politely from me - if you are prepared to let that lifestyle consumes your every waking moment 7 days a week with no hope of a holiday then they clearly they are open to a new form of lifestyle.

Sure I choose to work where and when I like, but every moment you are not thinking about where the future business will come from, you will be worrying about where that future business will come from. Just some advice!


Real estate marketing – create a local presence through data

by Alistair Helm in


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I am embarking on my new career as a newly licensed real estate agent and looking to create a point of difference in my local market. This challenge is faced by literally thousands of new salespeople each year in NZ.

In 2017, there were 2,084 new license applications received by the licensing authority – the Real Estate Authority. That’s over two thousand aspiring new salespeople prepared to challenge themselves to make a career in real estate. The hard fact is that around half of all new salespeople fail to make it to their first anniversary. It is, as I have outlined before, a highly competitive industry; an industry where tenure and relationships hold huge value and getting started is a massive uphill challenge.

So set against this backdrop, I have been mapping out my own strategy as to how I am going to create a local presence in my own market – the Auckland suburb of Devonport. I want to share my approach, as for many years in my prior roles at both Realestate.co.nz and Trade Me I have advocated the importance of digital profiling as a means to build presence and to be found online; as prospective customers actively prospect for you and your skills; in stark contrast to the time-honoured tradition of real estate prospecting via the well-trodden path of door-knocking and cold calling.

My strategy is to position myself around knowledge and insight in the property market. Sounds familiar! As I am sure most real estate agents would propose that they can reference this positioning quoting the latest REINZ of QV stats on the property market from a national or regional perspective. However I am going for a more tightly defined hyper-local market of my suburb. I want to be recognised as a local expert able to talk confidently and write articulately about the trends of the hyper-local property market segmenting house sales separate from units sales and from townhouse and apartments sales.

In addition to sales stats and the median prices I am going to analyse and comment around the trends on the inventory and new listings in the suburb by property type.

This is a tall order and requires a lot of data analysis, but I judge that to establish this level knowledge and insight is critical to creating a highly differentiated credible and trustworthy platform in the minds of my prospective customers.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks putting all this together into a single site that I have created. A specialised property website for Devonport and I am launching it now

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The site is a visually rich destination with a clear focus as a call-to-action of a monthly property report, added to which there are tracking charts that demonstrate the key trends by property type setting out the last 5 years.

I have combined this rich data and commentary with a visually engaging design which allows me to showcase the images of Devonport – all of which are my own photo collection, taken as I have walked the streets of Devonport over the past months. It’s great to combine the two passions of property analysis and commentary with a passion for photography.

At this time as I am still awaiting my full license to practice real estate so the "about" section merely profiles me, but once officially licensed I will be clear as to my role as a licensed real estate salesperson.

 


The path to becoming a real estate salesperson

by Alistair Helm in


I’m taking a new direction in my career. I’ve decided to stay in the real estate industry; with over 12 years of experience I feel I hold a deep knowledge and experience that I can apply to the operational side of the industry.

So I am about to embark on the first steps to becoming a licensed real estate salesperson in my local market of Devonport, Auckland. I wanted to share the process so as to provide insight and potentially advice to others proposing to follow this path and to provide a wider audience with some insight as to the real estate industry and the operational processes within it.

I alluded to this new direction in my career a few weeks ago as I wrote a personal perspective on the real estate salespersons course which I have now completed. Now with my NZQA National Certificate in Real Estate (Salesperson) (level 4) in hand I am applying for my license to practice real estate. This needs to go through the Real Estate Authority and all the appropriate checks as to my suitability to hold a license as well as a public notification.

My focus will be residential real estate which has been my main focus whilst working through my roles at Realestate.co.nz and Trade Me as well as my prior roles in consumer marketing.

A key decision I have need to make was the choice of company to work for. My local suburb is well served by real estate companies of which there are 5 offices all within a local block, they are second only in number to cafes in Devonport.

According to their collective websites these 5 offices would appear to have 53 salespeople all competing for an annual sales of around 220 properties. It’s a competitive market! In just the past 6 months there have actually been 65 salespeople who have had their name on at least one listing, the reason being that salespeople and real estate companies outside of the suburb have had listings -it’s that competitive!

Having made the point that this is a competitive market, it will come as no surprise that of these 65 salespeople just 11 represented half of all listings, this is the Pareto principle of real estate – not 80/20 but 50/17.

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I have decided to work with Bayleys, whilst not the largest operator in my local market I felt that the brand works well with my personal brand and the scale of their operation on the North Shore and their market aspirations fit well with mine. The other larger operations in the local area being Barfoot & Thompson and Harcourts equally have strong brand presence, however, having examined the positioning of the key top performing salespeople I saw a better opportunity with Bayleys.

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As anyone with an understanding of the business model of real estate here in NZ and many other countries, the decision of who to work with as a company has few parallels with joining a company as an employee. I will be a self-employed contractor and the act of signing a contract to work with a real estate firm does nothing to benefit my bank balance, it merely ensures that I understand and agree to operate under certain policies and procedures. The rest is up to me, for in that regard I am the brand. I need to build my own presence; to prove that I can undertake the work required in a diligent and professional manner and gain the trust of my future clients whilst my fellow local salespeople challenge me with their years of experience and deep local connections, seeking to in many ways undermine me and my ambition. It is a competitive environment and I hold no allusions!

I propose over the coming weeks and months to share some observations on the role, the strategy and hopefully the success in my new career.


The Real Estate Salesperson Course – some personal insight

by Alistair Helm in ,


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I have spent the past few months undertaking the real estate salesperson course. This course which leads to the ‘Salesperson - National Certificate in Real Estate Level 4’ and is the educational requirement under the Real Estate Agents Act (2008) for anyone who plans a career as a real estate salesperson.

Funny enough, I did attain just such a certificate to practice real estate back in 2005 but at that time let my license lapse, as I never really got started in the industry. So, I decided it was time to re-acquaint myself with the course and have the certificate as part of my commitment to the industry.

The first comment I would make, is that the difference between studying for the certificate in 2005 and today is akin to the difference between Jean Batten’s preparation to fly across the Tasman in 1936 and the preparation that nowadays takes a Boeing 777 across the same Tasman Sea. The outcome is the same, but the attention to detail and adherence to protocols and processes is vastly difference.

In 2005 I remember I rocked up to the Albany Tennis Centre at 9am one Monday morning to participate in a training course undertaken by Unitec along with a dozen other would-be future agents. For the next 2 weeks, I spent 4 hours each morning attending a series of lectures on the core parts of real estate, which largely comprised understanding the laws pertaining to land transfer, as well as some great home-truths of the industry colourfully shared by industry stalwarts. There was some course work and tests which required my time some of the afternoons, but largely the acid test for the certificate came at the end of the second week when I was required to sit in front of an invigilator and demonstrate that I was competent to correctly fill out a Sale & Purchase Agreement. Once able to prove such capability (which took about 20 minutes) I was issued with a real estate certificate and was on my way to practice real estate the very next day. Or so I thought, what actually happened was that I chose a career with Realestate.co.nz a couple of months later!

Let’s now compare that scenario with the reality of training to be a real estate salesperson today.

I chose to enrol with the Open Polytechnic, who I commend wholly as their online course (supported by excellent tutors who are readily available to help) is excellent. However rather than the previous experience of a 2 week semi-part time study, the current course has taken me an elapsed period of just under 6 months. Now, I chose not to pile into the course as a full time student. I recon I spent around 2 to 3 full days a week working through the course papers and undertaking assessments. The Open Polytechnic indicate that each of the 3 papers required for the course would expect to take around 170 hours of study each! So committing yourself full time, you would expect to spend 3 months doing the course.

The course is comprehensive, here are some of the statistics.

  • The course comprises 6 written assessments, 7 online multiple-choice assessments and a final in-person assessment that takes over 90 minutes roleplaying the process of documentation and negotiation of a sale.
     
  • All assessments allow 3 attempts, if you fail after the third go on any assessment, it is back to the start of the whole course again with a new fee payable, which is around $1,000.
     
  • The course work comprising 3 discrete papers is all online and delivered through an excellent application. The scale of the course work is pretty staggering with a total of 280,000 words equivalent to close to 800 A4 pages!
     
  • The written assessments I completed and submitted (and maybe I was a little verbose) totalled 31,000 words written on a total of 90 A4 pages.
     
  • The 7 online multiple choice assessments are timed at an hour in which you have to answer all the questions correctly (with the 3 goes).
     
  • The course work covers a staggering 30 Acts of Parliament, obviously involving the expected Real Estate Agents Act 2008 as well as Land Transfers Act 1952 and the Residential Tenancies Act 1986. However, would you have imagined the course would additionally cover aspects of the Human Rights Act 1993, the Building Act 2004, the Civil Union Act 2004 and the Secret Commissions Act 1910 to name just a few ?

The course naturally covers all the legal aspects of property transactions (as well as some degree of business transactions) in significant detail as well as the legal obligations, as well as focussing significantly on the Code of Conduct of the Real Estate Agents Act Professional Conduct and Client Care Rules 2012. The course material also covers as broad a syllabus as personal brand marketing, all aspects of property marketing, as well as appraisal procedures and the complete process from assessment to settlement.

I feel, having completed the course in a far better position to advise and support buyers and sellers in the process of property appraisal, marketing and transaction than I ever would have done back in 2005. This vastly different entry criteria to the industry is the result of the 2008 Act that set up the Real Estate Authority and improved the standards of procedure and process in the industry. An industry that sadly was all too often lambasted in the media for sloppy procedures and archetypal bad-apples that certainly reinforced the poor reputation of the industry.

As ever such changes do not solve issues overnight. The education threshold on entry to the industry is not retrospective, although on-going training is nowadays mandatory. Bad-apples continue to plague the industry, far less-often than before, and the implications for those that break the law or are found to have breached the code in terms of fines and disbarment are now more significant. However I have confidence that the new entrants to this industry – some 2,000 last year will demonstrate the best of capability and adherence to the laws governing this key process that involves many hundreds of kiwis everyday.