Dan Lesniak didn’t set out in his career to become a real estate agent.
The founder of Orange Line Living– one of Northern Virginia’s most successful real estate teams– went to the Naval Academy and served as a submarine officer before working at the Pentagon. He got his MBA from Georgetown figuring he’d get a job as a strategy consultant at a large company. He was in the process of buying his fourth home when he realized he knew just as much– if not more– than his agent.
“I thought I’d get a license and just use it for friends and family or myself when buying a home or doing investments,” he says.
He did some marketing in the building he lived in, and after a few months got so busy he had to quit his job.
How did he find success so quickly as a new agent?
“I narrowed my focus,” he says. “That was pretty critical.”
A lot of agents try to be everything to everybody, Dan says. He found early on that it was tricky trying to build a business based on just friends and family. For one, when you’re just starting off friends and family don’t really think of you as an agent and two, especially when working outside of a major city, like Washington, D.C., people can often be spread out an hour or more in all directions.
“It makes it hard to build on success and leverage on success,” Dan says.
So Dan decided to just focus on the 200 condos in the building he was living in. Every time he got a new client and closed a deal, everyone was aware of it. Pretty soon, word spread to the next building.
Having a super narrow focus in the building was key.
Segmentation, Targeting and Positioning the Important to Success
In his book, The HyperLocal HyperFast Real Estate Agent, Dan details the stories about some of the transactions he made during his first year as an agent. He stresses the importance of going through the process of segmentation, targeting, and positioning.
“Decide how you’re going to break the market up, pick which segment you’re going to target and figure out how you’re going to position yourself to that segment,” he says.
Picking the right market can be tricky. You need to look at the turnover rate and whether there are established agents already serving that mark it. It needs to be big enough to give you business– but not overly competitive– and small enough that you can break into it and make an impact.
“The other thing to remember, too, is you need to pick an area that has some kind of common characteristics that the same marketing methods would apply to that area,” Dan says.
This characteristic doesn’t necessarily have to be geographic either– it could be a group of 200 people that all work for a certain hospital, for instance.
Another factor in his success as an agent is a willingness to think outside the box on how to create value for his clients and solve their problems. One of the most notable ways he’s done this is to buy homes from his clients to save deals and make them feel more comfortable.
He said the first time he did this wasn’t planned. He was helping a client purchase a million-dollar penthouse, which was contingent on the sale of their home. Someone put an offer in on his client’s home, but three weeks before closing, that buyer was denied financing.
“I stepped in and bought the last house and those clients definitely loved me for it,” he says.
Since then, he’s done more deals this way and has marketed it to clients.
Realtors Need to Be Persistent, Have a Thick Skin
There are several qualities that a realtor needs in order to find success, Dan says.
The industry requires a thick skin– a willingness to be told “no” several times and not take it personally. It also demands persistence, creativity and a willingness to take risks.
“You’ve got to care about people, care about doing a good job, care about helping people,” he says.
Looking back, Dan says there have been a couple mistakes he’s made over the years.
The first happened early on when he was switching brokerages. He partnered with an individual who wasn’t operating at the same level as he was. The partnership was convenient at the time because they were both leaving the same brokerage, but looking back he’d wished he’d vetted his options more thoroughly.
“If you’re going to get in a partnership, do a lot of due diligence up front and make sure you’ve got some solid plans for what happens if it doesn’t go right.”
On the client side, he knows there have been missed business opportunities with clients he’s lost touch with.
Today, he makes sure to stay in touch with clients in a variety of ways including a monthly newsletter and a more detailed quarterly letter that’s a more personal update about his life. He also hosts events for clients every quarter– whether it’s happy hours, going to a Nationals game, or throwing a family-friendly fall festival.
Win More Deals by Being Flexible
There are mistakes Dan observes both seasoned and novice realtors alike making.
“I think a lot of times a lot of the older school agents get stuck on contingencies for their buyers,” he says.
Dan and his team are able to win in more competitive situations and get better deals by getting their clients to be more flexible about contingencies. Ultimately, realtors aren’t the ones making the decisions, Dan says, clients are.
“We’re just educating them up front on the potential pros of not having as many contingencies and what the actual risks are and letting them decide,” he says. “A lot of agents don’t even have that conversation.”
Another conversation agents should be having at the start of their relationship with a client is to sit down and discuss the sales process and get them to sign a buyer agreement up front. When they don’t do this, realtors run the risk of running around showing houses to someone who isn’t committed to them.
In general, Dan believes agents could do a better job with time management. They should be blocking one to two hours a day when they’re not responding to incoming emails or calls in order to spend time on marketing and prospecting.
When creating and implementing a new marketing plan, agents often quit a couple months after couple months because they’re not getting leads. But Dan advises they stick with a plan for at least six months.
“A lot of people put the time and money into starting and they give up right before they were potentially about to have a lot of success,” he says.
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