Have you ever thought about becoming a real estate agent? Selling prime real estate, driving a fancy car, living the life? While that all sounds good, there are a lot of misconceptions about the life and challenges of realtor agents. Reality TV shows depict a life of glam, easy work days and money gushing from the seams. Not saying these perks are unobtainable or as a realtor, you can’t make upwards of $100,000 per year but the untold story is quite different. It takes hard work in becoming a top earner, not to mention, a strong commitment if you’re looking to turn selling properties into a career. For these reasons, we wanted to hear from experienced realtors who have found the way to make selling real estate work for them.
Throughout this series, we will speak to realtors and brokers, from all walks of life, who have made a successful career from selling real estate. We asked insightful questions about the technologies they use, principles they live by, daily challenges and the work ethic required to be a top agent.
In this first installment, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Baxter, owner of Dave Baxter Realty, located in Rochester, NY.
Thank you, Dave, for taking the time and allowing me to interview you today. Let’s begin with a basic question; how long have you been a realtor?
Wow, that’s a long time. What made you get into the real estate industry?
I was an inner-city landlord/fixer-upper/flipper/ long before the term was popular.
What’s your professional title? Do you classify yourself as a realtor, an agent, or just what exactly?
I am a full realtor and full real estate broker.
Awesome. So let’s dive into some questions. Do you use video marketing to sell properties?
A little bit. I use Animoto to create slideshows of still pictures. I also use Zillow’s video tool on my cell phone but that has been about the extent of it for me.
So, when you occasionally use video marketing, are you using it to stage a home? If so, what areas in the home are you advertising?
Great question. For me, when I use stills or video, I’m looking to sell an appointment, right. I’m trying to create enough interest from the stills or video to get the buyer to commit to a physical walkthrough.
Ok, so what platforms do you use to distribute your stills or video and get them in front of the eyes of buyers and sellers?
Another good question. In my MLS (Multiple Listing Service), we have an available field we use for unbranded virtual tours. Also, in Zillow’s product, they give preferential sort in their ranking. So, when people are searching on Zillow’s site for homes and you use their app to upload some video or stills, they show your home higher for more noticing.
Do you use traditional business cards?
I keep maybe four or five in my wallet and I might have to backfill them once a month. Like when people ask me, “Can I have your card”, you know sometimes I say, “Google Dave Baxter realty”, or something. I’ve been anxious to get more experienced with your app, Switchit. I think it’s really the next wave! Your app is beautifully done, I like the connectivity it has and I’m anxious to get it out there more.
Thank you for the compliment. So, in using Switchit’s digital business card, how has it benefited you as a realtor? Does it make showcasing properties easier?
Yeah. For one thing, in your product, I used the website field to link to the Reviews page on my website, so people can read reviews from my past customers. I feel if someone was to ask me for my business card, that’s probably what they’re most interested in seeing. I’m starting to think, with your product, I could have a short video for a new listing that I could keep fresh, which could be kind of fun, unlike a static physical business card.
– Absolutely, and to your point, we have discovered realtors are creating multiple cards with embedded video of inside the home, similar to a virtual tour, for each property they manage. Then based on the conversation with a potential buyer, they share the digital card most closely associated with the property the buyer is interested in. So, realtors are using Switchit not only as their digital business card but also as a digital marketing tool.
As a realtor, is following up with buyers in a timely manner important?
Yes for sure. I’m very text-centric; I really like to text. I have a way of texting from my PC, which is a lot more comfortable for me. So yeah, I primarily follow up with buyers and sellers via text.
Ok, and by texting from your PC, what application works best for you?
Yeah, I really use Google Voice, which gives you a second virtual number and it rings to my cell phone, office phone, or whatever I want and it also has a web interface for sending and receiving texts, which is great. I also use another tool to text from my PC called MightyText, which sees the native texts I receive on my phone and keeps them in sync with their software and I have Google Voice connected to MightyText as well. So, I have a couple different ways and both have their strengths and weaknesses.
Do you feel buyers and sellers today prefer to communicate through text as opposed to email?
Actually, I think they do. What I’ve noticed is many young people feel uncomfortable speaking over the phone. I don’t know if it’s a new generational thing, social anxiety or what but I find people prefer to text than to speak live. Also, so many people have lost control of their email inbox, it’s very hit and miss whether your email will get read.
Very true. Do you use any applications or programs to remind yourself of appointments or follow-up meetings?
I’m a big user of Google Calendar. I have multiple calendars within it and the system lets you show as many as you want, so I use it often to schedule reminders for myself. I’m also a big user of Gmail and I use this great Gmail add-on called ActiveInbox HQ, which I just love to pieces. It’s really been carefully thought out and is beautifully done and beautifully supportive. I’ve used it for maybe five years or something and I’d be completely lost without it. It’s killer.
– Switchit is integrated with Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar, and iCloud Calendar. You can sync your accounts and schedule follow up meetings or create reminder alerts without having to leave the app.
That’s a great feature.
Do you write down or keep notes about your clients?
Yeah, I think you have to in order to serve them well. What they like, what they don’t like, you know, the communication preferences. So, I use Evernote for that – I’m big into Evernote. It’s funny, I was an early adopter of what we now call CRM programs. Back in the day, I used a CRM called Act!. I started using it in 1989 for roughly 11 or 12 years. Then I switched to one called myBase, which was a free-form database I used for a few years but I’ve been all Evernote for the past 10 years. Evernote is like a beautiful bottomless pit that you can type text notes in, cut and paste information into, link to, etc. I have a little macro, inside Evernote, that date and time stamps my notes. I feel like I would be completely out of control and not able to catch all the moving pieces without having Evernote and Google Calendar to keep me honest.
– We have a dedicated Notes Manager inside Switchit. So, if you need to add a note about a particular client or person, you can do so from inside the app. We’re also considering integrating Evernote into Switchit, so users can sync to their Evernote account as well.
Man, that would be killer.
You’ve been selling real estate for over 35 years, so obviously you’re doing something right. What are some methods or practices you found to be most successful for you? And what methods or practices would you recommend to other real estate brokers or agents to better help them sell homes?
Well, that’s a nice question and thanks for asking. In my town of Rochester, New York, there are about 3000 different agents working in roughly 600 different companies, covering about an eleven-county area. I’m a little different in that I never was a part of someone else’s firm. I never trained at any of the big brand name franchise real estate companies. I have always been on my own – always been independent and embracing my own homebrew system for what works for me. I’m very checklist driven. Whenever I make a mistake, I log it into this big checklist I have, and it helps me to not make the same mistake twice. So, if I’m sitting down with a buyer or seller, I’m kind of looking through my checklist and I’m thinking, oh, I should tell them about this right now or I need to ask them about this. You know, it’s funny; I use to live in my checklist all the time but now I don’t have the need to add to them that much but every once in a while, I’ll get in a weird situation that I’ve never been in before and I think back and say I could’ve done something better and I just add a new line item to the checklist, so I don’t make the same mistake in the future.
You know, your checklist system makes a lot of sense and it’s practical. Are there any other practices or methods you use to better serve your clients?
Here are a couple things I do differently than many other agents; I like to be hired by a seller. I like to be hired independent of my opinion regarding their homes price. I think there is kind of a built-in conflict of interest between realtors and sellers where maybe a seller is interviewing multiple realtors, which is a great idea. In a way, the seller is looking for the one who will tell him the highest price tag and I think that often leads to heartache where, you know, do you have someone who was unrealistic and can sell the house for the price they suggested. So, I like to say, hey, why don’t we just meet for coffee away from your house? That way, you’re not worried about what I’m thinking of the house or rushing to get your house ready for me. We’ll just meet for coffee; maybe for five minutes, maybe for an hour. It just depends on how much we enjoy talking with one another. We’ll outline next steps to take. Ultimately, one of those steps will be for me to come over and see the home but I will coach the seller on how to prepare the home. I don’t make them feel like they need to prepare it for me but rather I will coach them on how to prepare it properly. Another thing I like to do is, I like to do pricing as a partnership because I can’t just spitball a price. I can’t just say out of thin air, oh yeah, maybe your house should be, you know, 249. That’s very unusual if I can do that accurately. So, what I like to say is, we’ll have a separate meeting. We’ll have a screen or web meeting, where I will share my screen to your screen as we talk live, and I’ll take you inside the router only MLS (Multiple Listing Service) and show you all the proprietary information that we have.
So, those are the different approaches I take with sellers. Some agents tend to have a more strong-armed approach where they want to meet at the house, sign a whole bunch of papers and discuss the price. To be honest, realtors and sellers don’t control the marketplace. Just as it is in the stock market, in real estate, it’s all about supply and demand and it’s very easy to make a mistake and short someone either by starting too high, which ultimately forces them to sell for too little. Or starting too low, which leaves money on the table.
So from what I’m hearing, being realistic, accommodating and not overly pushy has really worked for you?
For sure. Like many times someone hires a big brand name franchise or agent and that’s fine. Then that agent didn’t successfully market their home and a friend tells them, oh you should try this guy, and they end up calling me and we go for coffee and we start the whole process. I guess you could say, I’m like an unRealtor or an unSalesman. I’m more of a technologist and after 35 years, I have certain technologies and processes I utilize for selling existing homes and for me it boils down to one thing; it’s all about finding the right combination of pricing condition. Every home sells when there’s the right combination of pricing condition. I don’t like to tell people things, I like to show people things. So doing that screen meeting, that’s gold for people to see the reality. They are seeing everything that I’m seeing completely unfiltered. I haven’t manipulated something and showed it to them. Like, for an agent, the old school way is they show up at your house with some printouts and say, oh, well I did these printouts and it says your house is worth xxx. They filter those printouts heavily just to get down to a few they can print and take with them and they haven’t even seen the house yet. So I marvel at how they do that.
That makes sense. Do you use social media to market homes?
Not too much. Really, for almost all my listings, finding the right combination of pricing condition, having spectacular pictures, really good remarks and descriptions in the MLS works for me. Now, all that gets pushed to Zillow, Trulia, realtor.com and all those kinds of places. Not to mention the buyers who are ready, willing and able are already on those sites anxious for fresh inventory. Also, I’m like a complete nut on pictures. I almost feel like you can’t spend too much time taking pictures. I routinely will spend two or three hours at someone’s house, as a separate visit, working with them, going to each room, moving things in and out and staging the home perfectly.
We’re doing all the fundamentals rightly together. That’s why the overall product will always be much more polished than the guy who delegates to his assistant, hey, go take some pictures, throw together some remarks, don’t read through them with the seller. So, when I take over for another agent it’s not like I’m doing brain surgery. I just immediately correct the fundamentals. Hey, our pictures could be a little bit better, our description could be a little better, let’s understand what the pricing should be; the market will tell us, we don’t have to guess.
Finally, do you use sales sheets, flyers or conduct open houses?
No, I don’t use sales sheets or flyers really. I don’t even do open houses. In the modern era where you have 25 pictures online, that’s an open house, right. So, no, I don’t do many open houses but if a customer insists on having an open house, sure I’ll do it. Ultimately when I do them, I like to have a 20-minute open house. So, instead of me standing for two hours, you know, people walking through and being standoffish because they don’t want to talk to me. If I make everyone who was going to come for the two hours instead come from 2:00 to 2:20, for example. And typically, there’s three, four or five people who were going to come in that two-hour window, instead, I have them all come in a 20-minute window and maybe four of them could care less but they will make the fifth person nervous because, wow, there are so many people here. And so, I just chill and wait for someone to say to me, hey, here’s my name and number, we’re going to talk later.
Realtor Blog Series: Tips for Becoming a Successful Real Estate Agent.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll be posting more interviews with realtors and brokers who have made a successful career from selling real estate. We want the series to be insightful, with practical solutions realtors can apply to their everyday workflow.
We’d love to hear what you think. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any suggestions for questions, ideas or topics you want to be discussed.