With expertise in strategic marketing, business analysis, branding, new home project planning, product development, and agent/broker training, Denise Lones is nationally recognized as the source for all things real estate. You can follow her work at The Lones Group.
You’ve been working with real estate agents and brokers for over 20 years, teaching branding, coaching, and education. How were you involved with real estate before you started teaching and training real estate agents and brokers?
I was a top-producing agent in the highly-competitive Vancouver, Canada real estate market. The first six months in, I had sold zero homes because I was trying to sell real estate the way my colleagues were. But it didn’t work for me. So I made some changes, really thought about how I wanted to connect with people and generate leads. By being true to myself and how I worked best, the second six months I was able to sell 22 homes. And the numbers went up from there.
You’re a contrarian at heart, according to your bio, going against the herd and against the grain. What were some of the trends you were bucking, when you first started in real estate? How difficult was it to do your own thing, instead of following the accepted wisdom? What were the benefits, ultimately?
For example, one of the first challenges I had was with my broker over using my last name on my real estate signs. I come from a Greek family and my last name was a tough one to pronounce. My broker at the time indicated I should only have my first name on my sign, but I knew that wasn’t the right fit for me and it certainly wasn’t the fit for my strict Greek father. So I didn’t follow my broker’s advice and … sure enough … a short time later I was getting sign calls because of my hard-to-pronounce Greek last name.
Another great example was that, at the time, knocking on doors to generate leads or going through the phone book and calling strangers was something that a lot of real estate agents did. But the thought of doing that made me sick to my stomach. I needed to do something different and I started to mail to several neighborhoods in the Vancouver area. When a potential buyer or seller was ready to list or buy, they would call me. I know direct mail isn’t necessarily revolutionary but investing money month after month in a mailing campaign is not something that real estate agents are comfortable with – and certainly not at that time.
The benefits of learning to march to my own beat were – and are – many! I was able to create my business plan and systems according to my values and my rules. I had better control over my time. I had sellers lining up to work with me because I knew what would work for me. This created a sense of confidence like none other and confidence attracts business.
Similarly, what are some current real estate trends that you see people following blindly, that won’t serve real estate agents, brokers, or customers well, in the long run?
There were a few very tough years for real estate agents during the recession and, because of that, I see some agents operating out of a place of fear. When agents work out of fear, they may be afraid to take time off because the next deal may be right around the corner. They may be afraid to invest in a system or solution because of future uncertainty. Or, in some cases, they may continue to spend money on lead generation systems that aren’t serving them well because they are afraid to let it go. I work with agents every day to get past the fear and do what is right for their business long-term.
We are seeing consumers choosing to work with partial-service brokerages because they believe they will save a few bucks but who aren’t really looking at the bottom line and how full service can equate to dollars. We are seeing tech companies provide consumers with computer-generated valuations which consumers are seeing as a true valuation – yet the tech companies themselves indicate that their valuations are not the same as an appraisal and that additional information – such as getting a comparative market analysis from a real estate professional – is advised. Technology cannot replace a real estate professional and the value that pricing expertise, negotiating, and experience have on the real estate transaction.
The Lones Group officially incorporated in 2001. What inspired you to take the business to the next level, at that point? What was the real estate industry like, 16 years ago?
I had been managing a local real estate office when my daughter (who was two at the time) was injured in the pipeline explosion that happened here in Bellingham. She needed full-time care which wasn’t possible with managing the brokerage. Since the best part of managing was helping my agents with marketing and advising on their individual businesses, going out on my own was the perfect fit for me at that time. And now I get to do what I love to do!
Real estate agents and brokerages have to know a lot more than in the old days, to truly thrive in today’s market. What are the three main skills agents and brokers should cultivate, in your experience?
Many agents who come to me are overwhelmed by the amount they feel like they should know. And very little of it has to do with expertise in real estate, the laws around real estate, or in their local market. They feel like they should know how to blog, how to Tweet, how to send something to the printer, how to make an Excel graph, and how to work their calendars on their phones. And that isn’t even including how to deal with their accounting and taxes!
Therefore, the first skill that agents should develop is to learn how to operate your business with blinders. Just like horses need to sometimes wear when they need to stay focused on the road ahead. There is always going to be some company with a new product or service that is going to try to get you to buy. But so much stuff winds up collecting dust or you wind up paying for a subscription that you pay for monthly, but it isn’t being utilized. Only investigate products and services that you have a need for and time to implement.
The second skill that agents need to master is that of delegation. You don’t have to do it all. Whether it is having someone handle your bookkeeping, create your property marketing flyers, or even handle your database communication each month, find people who can help you and that you can rely on to do the things that you don’t like to do, aren’t consistent with, or just plain aren’t good at. That leaves you more time to do the things that you are good at and that create additional business for you.
The third skill that should be honed is that of specialization. Specialists always make more than generalists. Whether your special area of expertise is a neighborhood, a type of property (such as ramblers, equestrian properties, or condos), or serving a particular group of people (such as seniors, divorcees, or first time homebuyers) creating a niche market is a great way to stand out and work with the niche market you are best-equipped to serve.
You train real estate agents in a wide range of skills, from design services to consulting. What are some design elements that real estate agents should learn, and why is it important? Are there any useful design resources for real estate agents that you’d recommend?
Technology is causing us to become a more-visual society. Ten years ago, as a company, we were building text-heavy buyer and seller packages and now we are finding that we need to find photos and infographics that tell the story. The same is true on websites, on property marketing materials, and direct mail. I recommend aligning yourself with an individual or company who understands these changes and can help you explain visually what you want to say.
According to the Association Of Real Estate License Law Officials (ARELLO), there are over 2 million real estate licensees currently in the United States. How can real estate training help an agent or broker stand out against the competition?
As Tiger Woods once said, “When I grew up, I was never the most talented. I was never the biggest. I was never the fastest. I certainly was never the strongest. The only thing I had was my work ethic, and that’s been what has gotten me this far.”
What Tiger had was a work ethic, practice was a priority in his day, and he had a coach. Having a guide is critical for not only athletes but for real estate professionals as well.
Real estate agents generally work independently. They don’t necessarily operate their business with oversight or guidance because that isn’t how their businesses are set up. It can be difficult to take a step back and assess what is working and what is not when you are right in the middle of it. That is where additional training and consulting come in. A consultant or trainer can assess the situation and ask the tough questions such as, “I can see that you are doing this this way. But why are you doing that at all?”
There are only so many hours in each person’s day. Having a consultant or trainer helps you get the most out of those hours and operate at a higher level than the competition.
The real estate industry changes at a lightning-fast pace. Why is it essential that a real estate agent always be educating themselves, to thrive in their industry?
It may seem like it is changing at a lightning-fast pace, but it is still a business of connecting and serving. People want to trust what is likely their largest asset to someone they feel comfortable with and I don’t see that changing any time soon. I have no doubt that technology will continue to play a role, but technology can’t stand on a deck, enjoy a sunset over the hills in the distance and know that is worth something to a potential buyer; technology can’t predict that there will be some negotiation that needs to happen between a seller and a buyer over an heirloom chandelier; technology can’t review an offer and know in its gut the points that can be negotiated for mutual acceptance. I don’t expect these principles to be in flux in the coming years despite advances in technology.
That being said, it is important that agents go to their office meetings to learn about the new rules, forms, and technological advances that are coming out. Pay attention to the messages that come in from the MLS about new features. Of course, pay special attention to the legal updates that come out. Tune into your local and state REALTOR® association updates. Those are the changes and trainings that agents should absolutely be tuned into because they affect expectations, performance, and expertise – the key reasons to stay educated.
What are some useful resources for staying up-to-date with the real estate market?
Real estate agents should have a set of stats they track on a weekly or monthly basis. That might be median sales prices, active listings, pending listings, months of inventory, days on market, or other data that is relevant and readily available on the MLS. This can be tracked by area, price point, type of home, etc. When you have a system for tracking this information, you will be able to easily note trends and share that information with your clients.
For example, if you track an area and note that over the last 60 days, the number of days it took to sell a home was at 18 days but now it is closer to 28 days, that is important information to share with both sellers and buyers as it could be an indication that the market is slowing and both parties need information from their real estate professional regarding what that means to their particular transaction.
In addition, I recommend finding one or two sources locally, regionally, and nationally who provide analysis and research on the real estate market. For example, I read everything that Lawrence Yun, REALTOR® Chief Economist, writes or produces on a national level because I trust his expertise and the research. I also track employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I read the Eye on Housing Blog from the National Association of Home Builders. I track housing data nationally, regionally, and locally from the Census Bureau. I track consumer confidence, Case Shiller, and interest rates. I also have a set of stats that I track in the local MLS. Because I do research each week, I can easily spot trends.
What are going to be some of the most important real estate trends of 2017?
There are real estate market trends and then there are real estate agent business trends. For the market, I see urban areas continue to have little inventory and high demand. Interest rates are assuredly going to be heading upwards which I believe will change the buyer pool but not significantly enough to impact inventory levels. There are also unknowns as to what the new administration will be laying out in terms of infrastructure plans, housing, and regulations which will certainly impact the real estate markets.
In terms of real estate agent business trends, I would say the biggest trend is that real estate agents are going to be competing for listings at a strong pace. Therefore, agents who want a piece of this pie must be in contact with potential sellers in their area and let them know what is going on in the market. They need to be prepared to send out direct mail and create custom reports. They need to be prepared to listen to the seller and create a custom plan that is right for that seller and the property – and provide the wow factor in the process. That might mean a staging plan, drone photography, video, and/or walkthrough photography when the listing warrants it. The key is to have a go-to person who can do this for you when you need it. Agents who can produce the wow factor for sellers in 2017 are the ones who will be getting the listings.
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