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J U LY / A U G U S T 2 0 0 9

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BEN Kinney

grip, rip, & copy: client handout

How to get noticed online

Legal Hotline: L&I is offering a number of concessions to the real estate industry

Realtors® Launch Major Campaign to Stimulate the Housing Market Washington REALTORS P.O. Box 719 Olympia, WA 98507

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Welcome to the premiere edition

m a gazine

www.warealtor.org   Phone: 1-800-562-6024

of the Washington Association of Realtors® Real Estate Magazine (RE for short).

RE magazine will be published every-other month in June, August, October and December this year. When advertising sales pick up we will be able to bring you this magazine every month at no cost to the Association. RE Magazine is distributed to 20,000 members and affiliates. If you know an advertiser that needs to reach the Washington real estate industry, RE Magazine is an excellent choice.

The magazine has been revised to meet the wants and needs of our membership and everchanging marketplace. This publication is a hybrid of our nationally award winning Washington Realtor® News Magazine and the national design winner PROfile Magazine. We are excited about this concept and think you will enjoy the new publication.

We wish to extend a special thanks to the members that serve on the Publications Advisory Committee. Your support and guidance in designing our member publications has been very successful. Our most recent surveys indicate that member satisfaction in our communications, the amount of communications and the quality of our communications are all in the ninetieth percentile. In fact, our magazines have ranked as the top benefits of membership in the Washington Realtors®. We will continue to improve the publications and tailor the content to your expressed wants and needs.

President Greg Wright CEO Steve Francks Art Director/ Managing Editor Erika Lari Executive Editor Steve Klaniecki Copy Editor Kaaren Winkler Photographer www.amorestudios.com Contributing Editors Julie Moore Barb Lally Erika Lari Steve Klaniecki Stevie Benge Editorial Board Glenn Crellin Meribeth Hutchings Nancy Jones Dan Kennedy Pat Maddock Gregory Moe Jane Tobin Narva Walton A d v e r t i s i n g S a l e s Marketing Manager Deborah Divers deborah.divers@warealtor.org 360-539-6172 The statements and representations made in news articles contained in this publication are those of the authors and Washington Association of REALTORS®.

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past you answered that you wanted stories about successful Realtors® and tips and tricks to help your business. Last year you asked for more market trends, research and tips in dealing with a slow market. We will continue bringing you profiles of successful Realtors®, the legislation that you need to know about, the very popular legal hotline and the latest in education offerings, but now all in one cool magazine.

Each year we conduct a member communication survey and ask you what information you need to help you in your business and how you want that information delivered to you. In years

Do you know an outstanding R

ealtor®

that would be a great

PROfile? If so, submit his/her name, contact information, and why he/she has become a top performing Realtor®. Email your entry to: profile@warealtor.org. Not all entries will be contacted.

R E magazine is produced bimonthly by the Washington Realtors and direct mailed to over 20,000 Realtor members. For more information on subscriptions, please call the Washington Realtors at 1-800-562-6024. ®

®

®

Address Letters to the Editor to: Editor R E Magazine Washington Realtors P.O. Box 719 Olympia, WA 98507 profile@warealtor.org

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fielding Bellingham Realtor® Ben Kinney

believes the best businesses are built in down markets. And the current market has definitely given him an opportunity to prove that point. Kinney, 30, has been an agent for less than five years, but he’s already gained accolades—including Whatcom County’s 2008 Realtor® of the Year and Realtor® Magazine’s 30 Under 30—that many agents with many more years in the business never see. Plus, his business has continued to grow exponentially as the market took a turn for the worse. His first year, while he was still working full time at his previous job and real estate agents were still living in “the world of multiple offers,” he sold six homes. His second and first full-time year, he sold 25; his third it was 84; his fourth he sold 142. Now in his fifth, he has the lofty, but he believes attainable, goal of 240 transactions. “This market is funny,” says the owner of Home4Investment Real Estate Team. “When the market was good, no one was interested in talking to us about switching companies because they could work with any agent they wanted and the house would sell in two, three, four weeks. Now that the market is bad, people want to hear something different. They list a house with an agent for 90 days or 180 days or a year, and when it doesn’t sell, all of a sudden, they want to talk to somebody different. So it’s been an opportunity for me in this market to introduce myself to people who normally wouldn’t have talked to us and that are more open to talking to a younger agent who has a different marketing plan than just putting things in the newspaper. It’s been a big gift for me.” The market may have presented opportunities for Kinney to offer something new to clients, but it is what he’s offering that has kept them coming in at a time when some agents are hanging up their hats for lack of business. Basically, the key to his success revolves around technology, and most importantly, how he has harnessed the Internet for generating leads.

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Realtor

PROfile

a dream

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“We’re not sitting around waiting for people to call us. We’re taking initiative and taking our business into our own hands.”

“The real estate industry is changing super, super fast. Technology is evolving right now. Things are coming out that people never really thought were possible.” For example, he says he can take someone’s email address, enter it into a database and find out more about them through their Facebook or LinkedIn profile, or find information such as where they work, their phone number, even pictures. He says it’s making networking so much easier because while email may get screened out as spam, he can connect with people directly through Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking sites. Plus, everyone is doing it. The latest data shows that across all demographics, all age groups, in all parts of the U.S., the Internet has become the number one resource for house hunting. In 2008, 91% of buyers used Internet as resource for searching for homes, leading Ben to point out, “There’s no such thing anymore as the Internet buyer.”

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“Everybody is using these resources. I don’t think it’s a phase,” he deadpans. Which means agents need to get on board. “People have got to start adapting and embracing. And once they start, they’re going to start seeing how much this technology can leverage their time. And they can start getting back to working Monday through Friday, 8 to 5, and getting all their stuff done. Because technology allows them to get so much more done in a shorter amount of time.” Kinney says two years ago he took a look at NAR’s profile of buyers and sellers, specifically at a pie chart that showed where buyers found the home they purchased. The biggest share of the pie came from agents and the Internet, while open houses, yard signs, referrals from family and friends made up smaller pieces of the pie. The least significant piece of the pie—representing only two percent of buyers— was made up of those who found the home they actually ended up buying through a print advertisement.


Search Engine Optimization “And that’s what agents spent 90 to 100 percent of their budgets on, was something that only resulted in 2 percent of the sales,” he says. “So we make our efforts focused on the things that we know sell houses—Internet, working with other agents, making sure our signage is correct, making sure our flyers are always filled at our boxes, making sure that we’re hosting open houses and that we’re doing a good job networking with anybody the seller might know who might want to buy a house. And I’ve found that if you do those things, you can do the most effective job in marketing the house, and it doesn’t have to cost you that much money.” Clearly, the best tool in Kinney’s tool box has been the Internet. “When I first got started, the Internet was one of these things people were talking about, but it wasn’t a really a major part of their business yet,” he says. “Since I had a technology background, I started building websites. I found out pretty quickly that when you build a website correctly, you could generate leads, mostly buyers that wanted to go out and buy properties.” Building it correctly sounds simple enough, but it is often what agents don’t understand, Ben says. Unlike the baseball diamond in Field of Dreams, if you build a website, they won’t necessarily come. Kinney knew he needed a way to drive traffic to his websites. “For so many people websites and domain names are what I like to call a billboard in the desert or a like a business card that you don’t hand out to anybody. They’re absolutely useless,” he explains. “What we’ve done is we’ve figured out how to make our websites get actual visitors.” He says that five or ten years ago, someone would open up the Internet and type in www.realtor.com or www. agentname.com or www.somebrokerage.com and go directly to a site he’d heard of from word of mouth or an advertisement. But the Internet has evolved, and so has its users. “Now consumers don’t type in an address. They open up their Internet and the very first thing they see is something like Google or Yahoo or MSN. And they don’t go in and type the brokerage name and they don’t go in and type my name—even against my best tries—they go in there and type something like ‘Bellingham homes for sale’ or ‘Seattle real estate.’” Knowing this, Ben harnessed the popularity and the power of the search engine to drive potential clients to his websites.

Many people think raising your site’s search engine rankings is akin to black magic. While this is not exactly true, it does take time and patience. Improving search engine rankings is both an art and a science and taking SEO into account when coding your web site is a great place to start. However this is not always possible. Here are a few best practices that are integral to SEO: • Identify your “keywords” and use them in your content. Use them conversationally as you would if you were speaking to another human. • Take the time to read and most importantly comment on other web sites and blogs related to yours. This is a great way to generate traffic and referrals. • Be consistent about when you publish new content. Let your visitors know, for example, that you publish new articles on Tuesdays and Fridays at Noon... And stick to the schedule. • Invite visitors to subscribe to your RSS Feed • Write engaging content! Create a buzz. Encourage commenting. The more people write about your site or blog around the internet the more Google will take notice. • Track your site’s visitors and data using a package like Google Analytics. Being able to peer into the fine lines in how your site is being used is priceless information. Employing these best practices are part and parcel for a winning SEO strategy.

“We’ve figured out how to make our websites rank in the search engines for specific phrases, so we’ve figured out the way to get actual traffic to our website so that we can be more successful,” he says. “We want to do what Google likes the most. And the search engines like websites that have lots of content, it’s unique, it’s information that we’ve actually written about a specific topic. So we make websites about specific cities or specific communities and only make them about that.” He says with up to 15,000 unique visitors each month, one of his most successful sites is www.LiveBellingham.com. “And that’s not paid advertisements, that’s just people who end up on our website for free,” he says, by typing in search terms like: Bellingham real estate, Bellingham restaurants, Bellingham hikes, Bellingham airport. RE

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That’s the other ingredient to successfully utilizing the Internet to generate leads: focus on luring potential clients with the information they often seek out before they get to the point of looking for homes, including schools, parks, restaurants, jobs, and just fun things to do. “If you can write articles and build websites about those things, they’ll find you before they even start their home search. And they’re already on your website and of course that website has a ‘Search for Homes’ feature, so we catch them really early in the process.”

Snohomish and King—thus he has leased office space in Marysville, Everett and Seattle so his agents have a local place to hang their hats. And every day, Monday through Friday, they follow a relatively rigid schedule: agents arrive at 8:15 a.m.; from arrival until 9 a.m., they role play and practice scripts together; 9 a.m. until about 11 a.m. or noon the agents are either on the phone calling clients or on the computer emailing clients; and finally, the afternoons are reserved for showing properties or attending listing appointments.

With his Internet lead-generating strategy, bringing in more business than Ben could manage on his own, he began to build a real estate team. The Home4investment Real Estate team began three years ago with marketing and office manager Jillene Snell—who Ben refers to as his “best hire ever” —and now includes a transaction coordinator, a webmaster/Internet marketing specialist, and a number of buyers agents and listing agents.

“We’re not sitting around waiting for people to call us. We’re taking initiative and taking our business into our own hands. If you do these activities, if you practice the words you need to say and you talk to a certain amount of people, you’re going to get a certain result. Any agent out there, if we told them to make X amount of calls and practice these certain words, if at the end of the year they didn’t get a certain result, it’s either because they didn’t practice the words or weren’t saying the right thing, or they actually didn’t do the activity. It’s much easier to hold people accountable if you have tangible, measurable, actual items to do every single day.”

“A lot of people assume that people who go to real estate teams are maybe less experienced or not as good of agents, but on the contrary, my agents are some of the smartest, hardest working people out there. They come to me because they want to spend their time helping buyers buy and sellers sell, instead of putting up signs and creating flyers and working on websites and paying all the expenses and doing all of the paperwork. I create the business so the agents can just do things that they actually get paid for.” As owner and team leader, Kinney considers himself the Rainmaker. “My job is changing more into somebody who negotiates and motivates the agents to work harder.” He also takes an active role in what his agents do, including going on listing appointments and leading in-office trainings. “The buyers agents kind of do their own thing—they drive the buyers around and they write the contracts and I only get involved if I need to negotiate a deal or fix a problem. But listing agents are a little different. We always go on listing appointments in pairs. And whenever I can, I go on listing appointments with our agents. I love going on listing appointments. I will go on a couple hundred listing appointments this year.” He adds, “It’s probably my favorite part—sharing with people our value proposition, our marketing plan and getting them to hire us to sell their home.” After they get the listing—which he says his team lists 9596% of every appointment they go on—Kinney will step back and let the agent take over. “And I’m on to the next seller or the next builder or development. Or building the next website.” Ben’s team works a four-county area—Whatcom, Skagit,

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During the morning dialogue sessions—led by Kinney two days a week and other agents the rest of the time—they will talk about current challenges and how to overcome them. Kinney will begin with a presentation where he offers scripts, and then the agents will break away in pairs to practice the same scripts. They will come back together and discuss challenges with the “dialogue,” and then break off again, but switching roles. “It’s really interactions between everybody. It’s not going to a class and listening. It’s role playing,” he says. Examples of recent dialogue sessions include practicing how to convince sellers to lower their asking prices and explaining to buyers that now is a good time to buy, walking through the right words to use as well as the general concepts and supporting data. To illustrate, the role playing on the latter subject went a little like this: Buyer: “I’m waiting for the market to hit bottom.” Agent: “I understand, we all want a great deal. However, affordability is more a function of interest rates than it is of home prices. May I explain?” Agent then practices his explanation to other team member (aka the Buyer), who in turn gives feedback. Reaching out to as many people as possible is just as important as practicing the words you need to use once someone is a client. Kinney has set a goal for each agent to make contact with about 50 people a day. He says he’s


“It doesn’t matter if the market is good or bad. All that matters is that we talk to people or we get so many people in our cars for tours.” found that if agents call 50 or so people, they’ll talk to about nine, and out of that nine they’ll get one appointment. The equation goes further in that when you go on X number of appointments, you will get Y number of listings, and so on. “It all becomes a mathematical problem. So we’re not dependent on the market. It doesn’t matter if the market is good or bad. All that matters is that we talk to people or we get so many people in our cars for tours,” Kinney says. “That’s why when people ask me how the market is or tell me that the market is bad, I just kind of ignore the question. Because it’s great for me. And it’s great for my agents.” “There’s even more seller leads out there than there ever has been, as far as I can tell. Seller leads are not hard to come by—so many homes expire and there’s so many pre-foreclosures and there’s so many banks to talk to for bank-owned properties,” he says. “The buyer leads are less common. You have to work harder to catch the buyers because there’s fewer of them.” Buyers may be harder to find right now, but Ben has a system for catching them as well, which he fondly refers to as “ten days of pain.” He says it’s based on N.A.R. data that says the average buyer will search for homes independently during 12-14 days prior to deciding on an agent to work with. Kinney’s team aims to capitalize on that window by repeatedly contacting people in the ten days immediately after they visit one of his team’s websites or calls on one of the yard signs. Contact includes a combination of phone calls, emails, mailers, even a door knock if they have an address. “Someone may get contacted 15-20 times in the first 10 days after they’ve logged into our website because leads are so valuable right now we can’t afford to let one buyer get away and go somewhere else. So we work them really, really hard.” Aside from reaching out to traditional buyers and sellers, Ben has found business with builders who are struggling to sell all of the inventory that came from the building boom of the last several years, whether they are completed, under construction or just vacant lots. 24

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“What happened, I really believe, was builders got the message on marketing a little bit late. They’ve been overspending. They’ve been spending their money on print advertising. They have their own in-house sales people because they thought it was more cost-effective. And they had a lot of these sales people on salaries. They had all of their print advertising going out and they weren’t focusing on Internet advertising,” he says. “So now, more than ever, builders need somebody that can show them a marketing plan that isn’t as expensive, that focuses on generating real leads, real buyer leads for their projects.” And when one of Kinney’s agents can work from the site of the development, it essentially provides the builder with a commissioned, not salaried, staff person. Kinney says he started the new construction focus just about a year ago, and already has commitments on over 800 new homes that will be built over the next 12-24 months. “Basically, we’re just trying to get them back into a position where they can start building at a reasonable level in today’s market.” In some cases, he says that means explaining to them the type of product they should be building for the current market, not the market of three years ago. With low interest rates and dropping prices, as well as not having to sell a home in order to buy a new one, today’s market is really great for first-time buyers, which means it should be affordable. “It doesn’t have to be granite, it doesn’t have to be the highest quality product as far as extra, bonus amenities. It just has to be affordable housing. That’s what we all want right now.”


REVISION Magazine