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Vanessa Bergmark's Ingredients For Success In Real Estate

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The following is a chapter from the book REAL: A Path to Passion, Purpose and Profits in Real Estate. The author of this chapter is Vanessa Bergmark, partner at Red Oak Realty.

Picture this: It’s 2001. The place is the [San Francisco] Bay Area. The economy is booming, dotcoms occupy every nook and cranny, and the only thing inflating faster than the Internet bubble is the price of homes. From Berkeley to Saratoga, demand far exceeds supply. It’s a seller’s market. Multiple bids, outright bidding wars, and overbids are commonplace. For even the most stalwart buyer, house hunting is exasperating. But I loved it.

"If a client feels cared for, she’ll be far more likely to refer you to others."

Watch our recent Webcast With Vanessa

Real Agents. Real Life. Episode 2 - 7.5.2018

Mind you, I wasn’t a realtor at the time. I was a buyer, and the experience was vexatious. My husband and I spent almost a year casting and losing bids on one house after another. Yet even when the phone rang with crushing news of yet another failed offer — “You came in eighth,” or “Two other offers were higher” — I was hooked. Moreover, I was fascinated.

So, with my own home finally purchased, I quit my day job, negotiated a one-year pass with my husband, and started a real estate career. I expected little, if any, income in the first twelve months, but I was determined to succeed, or perhaps driven to not become an employee again.

At first, the freedom is delicious. It’s very liberating to wake without an alarm, stay in pajamas, and enjoy a third cup of coffee before settling down to work. And there’s the rub: What is work when your sofa is your office? There’s no product to create. No one looks over your shoulder; and deadlines and accountability are self-imposed. How do you spend the day, let alone craft a career? To many, the lack of structure is anathema. Frankly, how you behave as your own boss largely determines whether you succeed or fail.

Some ten years into my real estate career, and now an owner of a brokerage with eighty sales people, I’d like to share some ingredients for success.

Treat your work like a job

We joke in the industry about the low barrier of entry into real estate: Taking a real estate course is a nominal expense, and passing an exam is the only hurdle to launching a career as an agent. But licensure is really the easiest task you’ll ever face. If you want a productive, sustainable career in real estate, you have to take the work seriously. Building your business takes time, patience, focus, energy, and money.

Let me rephrase that: Running your business takes time, patience, focus, energy, and money. On your first day and on every day thereafter, you must always be learning. Educate yourself not only on trends, legal contracts, and local nuances, but on the challenges and market forces that confront consumers. Don’t treat your role as a part-time job. Clients expect and deserve a realtor that’s expertly informed.

Create a business plan

Of course, like running any business, you can use tools (like a customer relationship management (CRM) system) to organize, track your schedule, and stay connected. But more important, create your own business plan.

When I joined my first agency, the broker asked me to create a budget and a business plan. I was also told to write down the exact amount I wanted to earn that year. Huh? Proofing a contract and opening a lock-box seemed more immediate, relevant, and tangible pursuits, but I assembled the plan all the same. I wrote down a number. A healthy number.

Some eighteen months later (around the time I did my taxes) I realized just how much such a seemingly inconsequential exercise had influenced my results. I exceeded my already aggressive target by $10,000. Writing that plan, making goals concrete, helped me identify and stratify my priorities. To this day, on each anniversary, I still write down a number. Sure, completing a fill-in-the-box business plan may seem hokey at first, but do it anyway. The process forces you to think about what you actually need to do. 

Organize a formal schedule, too. It too may start somewhat contrived, but establishing a routine is a necessity in this business. Your schedule is your virtual boss. Time-block your lead generation schedule. Be certain to schedule brokerage meetings, training, and one-on-one coaching with your broker or mentor. Put your dates on a calendar to help acquaint yourself with the inventory, neighborhoods, and other players in the business.

Block out time for your own education, and yes, make time for life, too. As your career evolves, what you invest your time on will change, as will your goals, but you should always have a plan.

Understand the business, but understand the people, too

Real estate is about sales, but it’s about relationships first. The most effective agents focus on people.

The Golden Rule may be cliche, but that doesn’t diminish its truth. From clients and colleagues, to vendors and competitors, be fair, be intelligent, and be respectful. I like to say that each escrow is akin to the tango: move with confidence, but try not to step on your partner’s feet. If a client feels cared for, she’ll be far more likely to refer you to others. If an agent feels you were fair and honorable, he’ll be more receptive to your next offer, share information with you, and look for new opportunities to work together.

The truth about lead generation. Truth be told, the best real estate agents usually don’t turn paperwork in on time, show up promptly at the office every morning, or even advertise widely. Instead, the best are usually not working.

Soon after I started my career in real estate, I realized that attending a barbecue with strangers or celebrating Christmas with my neighborhood was actually part of my job. Each was a chance to connect, put myself out there, and create and further relationships.

Yes, you have to generate leads, but there are plenty of opportunities to do it and have fun. You can volunteer, chair a community group, or promote a charitable cause, all the while developing clientele. 

Value your family, your health, and your downtime

Now you have established goals and a regular schedule, and your days are filled engaging with people. Your career has taken off and you are successful. Congratulations. Now here’s the trick: You have to stay successful in life as well.

Virtually all the advice so far can be applied to your personal and family life just as well. Find the time to work out, rock climb, bike ride, or do yoga or crossfit. Find activities that challenge you. Take a vacation every year at a minimum. Schedule time off to take stock of your success or just to recharge. Turn off your phone and laptop and engage with your partner, your kids, and your soul.

If asked to name the trait that’s most valuable in this business, I’d say tenacity. It’s getting up every day, doing the job over and over again, all the while striving to do better. When the market shifts, you adjust and don’t go out of business. When you get tired or frustrated, you remain engaged, get over the hurdle, and re-focus.

Doggedness makes all the difference.

 About The Book

REAL book coverMost real estate books fall short. REAL goes beyond mere tactics and strategies to focus on the core of what really matters - You. In addition to the authors' lessons learned, this book also includes contributions from some of real estate's most influential thought leaders: Vanessa Bergmark, Marc Davison, Spencer Rascoff, Sherry Chris, Krisstina Wise, and many more.

If building a real estate business that lasts is important to you, this is a book you surely won't want to miss!


Dave Crumby

Dave is the Chairman of Firepoint / Realvolve, a state-of-the-art customer relationship management (CRM) platform built expressly for real estate agents. Dave began his real estate career as an agent in 1996. Dave authored in 2013 the book titled 'REAL: A Path to Passion, Purpose and Profits in Real Estate’ that has since become a best seller. The book features Dave's experience and the wisdom of other successful real estate leaders, such as the CEOs of Zillow, Trulia, Better Homes and Gardens, and many others.


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