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How To Get Real Estate Referrals: 6 not-so-quick-or-easy steps

“There is no magic shortcut. Contrary to what the gurus tell you, referrals need to be earned; they are not given simply for the asking.”

- Kendyl Young, DIGGS

Okay guys, I have good news and bad news.

First, the bad news: Getting real estate referrals from your past clients is a long, ongoing process. There are no easy wins or quick-hitters. If you want to get referrals, you have to continuously put in the work to earn them.

The good news: Not every agent is willing to invest the time and care required to build a powerful referral process. By putting in some extra effort upfront—to plan and automate—you can rise above the competition as the most-referred agent in your market!

Below, you'll find that we've outlined 6 steps to help you build and implement a process for getting real estate referrals. But first, let's talk about the two golden rules of earning referrals.

The 2 Golden Rules of Earning Real Estate Referrals

As our good friend Kendyl Young said, referrals must be earned. For a referral to be earned, two things must happen:

  • You have to build trust. Without laying a foundation of trust among your clients and past clients, even the most clever referral script will have you coming up empty.
  • You also need to provide a memorable, remarkable experience—something your clients will be moved to talk about. What do you do that is unexpected? How do you delight your clients?

"Ask yourself, am I providing a referable experience?"
- Dave Silva, The Silva Team

I'd love to tell you I have 6 quick and easy tips for accomplishing these two objectives and earning tons of referrals. But it's just not that simple.

Instead, I have these 6 not-so-quick-or-easy steps. (Nothing worth having comes easily, right?)

Step 1: Listen.

The only way to really, truly know someone is to listen to them. Genuinely listen. Be interested in your clients' opinions, interests, histories, fears, and dreams. Focus 100% on what they're saying (instead of thinking about what you will say next). When your clients feel heard and understood, they'll be more willing to put their trust in you.

Step 2: Practice empathy.

Another benefit of listening is that you can get a deeper understanding of your clients' pain points—the things that scare them or stress them out about the home buying/selling process. Practice empathy by acknowledging and sympathizing with their feelings—then do everything in your power to ease their worries and provide solutions.

If you're there for them in their time of need, they'll never forget it.

Step 3: Provide value.

Instead of focusing on asking [for referrals], make giving your top priority. Be a person who provides value. This can happen constantly (before they become clients, throughout the transaction, and long after close) and can come in many forms of content marketing: a free downloadable guide for first-time homebuyers, a head's up to all of your golf-fan clients about a deal going on at the local golf course, or even an hour of your time having coffee with someone who has a lot of questions about the listing process.

Here's a cool idea from Kendyl Young:

"Become the 'Propportunity Specialist' (properties that are opportunities = propportunities). Find a great property that excites you, and turn it into an opportunity to provide value. It can be any property that is any sort of opportunity—listed by you, them, or even a person willing to sell off-market. It doesn’t have to be the deal of the century, just something you think is really cool. Start telling people about these propportunities, and you’ll start to be known as someone who makes stuff happen.

By GIVING info about propportunities, you stop being in a place that feels like ASKING people to give you referrals."

Another great idea comes from our own Dave Crumby:

"Build community. Start a club or informal group based on one of your skills or interests—maybe a gardening club or a book club, or a weekly group that meets at Starbucks and talks investments. The idea here is that you're providing value by creating a community where these people can connect with others and learn new things—but it benefits you, too. You're building relationships and, as the leader of the community, earning their trust and respect."

Step 4: Demonstrate success.

Part of building trust is letting people know (through marketing) how you've helped your clients. You can share success stories in many different ways: by publishing written testimonials on your website, posting video testimonials on your Facebook page, asking your clients to leave you reviews on Yelp or Google, etc. 

When you're promoting yourself, just be sure to balance it with plenty of that GIVING stuff we just talked about. For example, when posting to your Facebook page, you should include testimonials and plenty of useful, informative articles that provide value.

Step 5: Ask!

Once you’ve earned the right to ask someone for a referral (by following the steps above), muster up the courage and JUST ASK!

And you don't necessarily have to wait until a client signs a listing contract or closes on a home. Maybe you did something really heroic, like drove them to a last-minute showing on Christmas Eve, and they said you were the greatest real estate agent of all time. That would be a great time to say, "Hey, know anyone looking to buy/sell a home?"

Other good times/places to mention referrals: during your listing presentation, after a clients' loan is approved, in your email signature, in pop-bys, and at the end of every past-client follow-up email or phone call.

Step 6: Build a process.

The listening, the empathy, the giving, the demonstrating success, the asking...you must create a process for making it all happen. Then automate your process to ensure that every step happens correctly, at the correct time, for the right people.

Not sure what we mean when we say "automate your referral process?" Here are some examples:

  • Create a checklist of questions to use during each past-client follow-up phone call. Include questions that encourage the client to open up and share—and allow you to focus more on listening.
  • Create an email template that can be quickly personalized and sent when you need to show empathy to a discouraged client. "I know it's frustrating to miss out on a home you loved..."
  • Build an automated drip email campaign that sends interesting and useful home care/maintenance tips each month to your list of past clients.
  • Build a workflow that reaches out to recently-closed clients two times asking for a quick video testimonial or review.
  • Build a workflow that notifies you when it's time to purchase pop-by supplies, which products to purchase, when to assemble the gifts, who to distribute them to, and when to make the deliveries. Wrap it all up with an automated email that goes out to each recipient to make sure they got the gift—and to ask them for a referral! 

Want to learn more about automating your referral marketing? Schedule time to talk with one of our workflow specialists!

Talk to a workflow expert 


Start Earning More Real Estate Referrals

To earn referrals, you must first prove yourself worthy of them. You have to build trusting relationships, so listen up when people talk to you, and respond with empathy (What is worrying them? How can you alleviate their anxiety?). 

You have to position yourself as a dependable, valuable resource for your sphere of influence—your mantra should be Give, give, give. Educate them, advise them, and hold their hand throughout the entire process.

But it's also okay—nay, necessary—to promote yourself and your success stories. Those referred clients are going to want to see evidence.

Then you have to summon the courage to ask. (Isn't it funny how referrals are reported to be the #1 source for new real estate clients, yet so many agents still feel uncomfortable making the big ask?)

Finally, once you've figured out the formula for making referrals happen, you must put everything into an automated process so it can be repeated over and over again.

And that, my friends, is the arduous journey that lies ahead of you. Are you up for the challenge?

This blog post was originally published on August 7, 2018. It has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Sammy Harper

Sammy Harper is the content marketing coordinator for Realvolve. In addition to a decade of digital marketing experience, she has spent the last six years immersed in the world of real estate and CRM. Fascinated by the real estate industry and inspired by agents’ stories, she is dedicated to providing valuable content to help real estate agents thrive.


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