Real estate is one of the only industries where your ability to generate income is limited only by your imagination and willingness to work. One way that agents who aren't earning as much as they'd like can step up to a higher income level is to sell more expensive homes, which sounds easy and obvious on the surface but in reality can be a challenge, especially for a newer agent without an established sphere of influence.
But that doesn't mean it can't be done! If you're interested in boosting your earning potential as a real estate agent, here are some steps to getting started.
Assess your niche abilities
Not every agent was born to be on an HGTV show or to sell luxury listings to celebrities, although if that's your dream, more power to you. There are plenty of agents who have found a solid niche selling ranch home estates or specializing in ski condos in the mountain west, while others are super-skilled at selling high-end homes in small metros. Think about the areas where you have the expertise, either as a real estate agent or as a resident. And don't limit yourself to geographies; it might be useful to also think about types of residences with which you're familiar (like charming beach houses or slick city penthouses) and see if you can focus on those.
You don't necessarily have to focus exclusively on high-end listings. Some real estate agents help high-net-worth clients find investment properties or homes for their kids when they go to college, to name just a couple of examples. Consider areas in which you already have expertise or areas where you could feasibly develop some deep knowledge about property types and fixtures, and then start narrowing your focus through trial and error until you've landed on your niche.
Join a brokerage that specializes in higher-end sales
Just like real estate agents handle different types of sales, brokerages are set up to specialize in very different areas of real estate. If you don't have any experience with the type of home that you're hoping to sell, then aligning your brokerage with your long-term goals would probably be beneficial to your career and your plan to upgrade your skillset. If you're new in the industry, ask brokerages about the niche or niches you're considering, what kind of sales they can demonstrate and what sort of training they offer to tackle those sales.
You may wind up switching from a franchisor to an independent broker or vice verse, depending on which are the best options in your area, but choosing a brokerage that has brand recognition with the clients you're hoping to land is only going to be helpful for you.
Learn about high-end home features and the market
If you don't know anything about the niche where you're hoping to break in, start teaching yourself everything you possibly can. Attend every open house and look over every inch to familiarize yourself with the brands, fixtures, and styles that are typical among the homes you're hoping to sell. Talk to contractors and developers to see what's being built in the newest editions (if that's applicable to your niche) and what repairs or upgrades are most typical in the homes you're hoping to sell. Talk to interior decorators or stagers, too, about trends.
Most agents trying to break into a niche probably aren't going to dig into the county records for the homes they're aspiring to sell, but if you do that and can learn something about the developers that were active over the years and the differences in the homes they built, you'll be establishing useful education that would otherwise take decades to shape.
If you can teach yourself about what's happening in the market where you're hoping to break in, this can also be a huge benefit when the time comes to start talking to a potential clients. You don't necessarily have to be actively selling to know that a good chunk of the high-end buyers are foreign investors, who have recently been reluctant to close on homes in the area -- that's a piece of knowledge that might convince a stranger at a cocktail party to hire you.
Understand the sales psychology
Depending on which niche you're hoping to dig into, you will likely find that both buyers and sellers approach the transaction a little differently than you're used to seeing with buyers and sellers. Let's say you've always wanted to sell vacation homes in a resort area, for example. Even if you're not trying to sell the ultra-high-end vacation homes, most of your buyers will probably still be more or less active according to the resort seasonality, and they probably won't feel as much pressure to actually purchase a vacation home as they would if they were moving for a job and needed a place to live.
Oftentimes when you begin to sell more expensive properties, you being dealing with buyers who are looking at homes as a "nice to have," not as a "must-have," and so there typically isn't the same sense of urgency with buyers. Sellers might feel the same way -- if they're financially stable and don't need to see immediate liquidation of their real estate asset, they might decide to wait until the market is more favorable before selling their second home or one of several homes. This means a lot of the scripts and tools you may have used in the past to nudge buyers or sellers toward making a decision could be completely irrelevant, and you might need to develop new skills for working with these new groups of clients.
Make sure your wardrobe fits the part
Trust is an incredibly important part of any real estate relationship, and as buyers and sellers alike acquire more wealth and move up the property ladder, it becomes more difficult to win their trust because they have more to lose. Someone looking at ranch estates in Wyoming probably isn't going to think you know what you're doing if you show up ready to do business in a suit, and likewise, your Manhattan condo buyer won't appreciate that your blue jeans, cowboy boots, and pearl-button-down shirt are the best that money can buy.
Clothes signal to your clients that you're successful and also that you're familiar with the type of lifestyle they're either already living or hoping to buy. But you also don't want to look too successful; some high-net-worth clients don't like working with advisors (including real estate agents) who seem to spend frivolously on things like clothes, so there's a definite balance to be struck. This doesn't mean you need to go out and spend a fortune on a new wardrobe to be taken seriously. Shop for a few good, high-quality pieces that will last a long time, and look in consignment stores and outlets to find deals on clothes so you can build your wardrobe carefully and strategically.
Network to win
There is definitely merit in ideas like wearing your REALTORâ name tag to the local Starbucks, but most clients who are shopping at a higher-end price point want to have a trusting, established relationship with their real estate agents. Depending on how wealthy your potential clients are, they may be very wary about trusting anybody with sensitive information about their finances and personal lives, both of which are things that real estate agents become intimately involved with as they help clients shop for homes.
So the networking you have to do is going to have to reflect the clients that you hope to serve, meeting them where they are. Maybe that's the tennis court or golf course, the local charity board or the PTA, but your first goal is going to be to get to know this group of people as human beings and understand their needs, desires, and fears. That way when you authentically offer to help them solve a problem, they can trust your motivation.
Know your pricing strategies backward and forward
Remember what we said about sales psychology and how both buyers and sellers are different at certain price points? This is one reason why it's critical to understand your pricing strategies and know what to say when a seller wants to price their home well above what you know it could get on the current market.
There are plenty of luxury listing agents who don't waste time negotiating with sellers who aren't interested in pricing their homes fairly, but you don't necessarily have to draw any lines in the sand. Instead, you can start laying the groundwork for a price reduction by agreeing to talk about it on the front end, and you can also start thinking about other incentives to offer that might make the seller's higher price more realistic.
Understand timing for luxury sales
Unlike most buyers, high-end home buyers aren't usually looking for homes to buy year-round, all the time. There are some places where that's true, of course, but in others, the market for certain homes is intensely seasonal. On top of that, high-end home buyers may be more reluctant than other types of buyers to jump into a home transaction when there are certain types of stock market volatility or other economic instabilities that could affect their wealth. These are things you'll need to know (and be able to share with buyers) if you're going to be active in that sales arena.
Develop a comprehensive (online and offline) listing marketing strategy
Some high-end buyers might be looking at Zillow for listings, but you need to have a strategy that goes well beyond taking some nice photos and posting them on the MLS with a description that says just enough. Some potential buyers might live out of the state or even out of the country, and an immersive video or walkthrough experience could help pique their interest where they'd otherwise pass by your listing. Landing pages for listings is a standard operating procedure in some markets for some sellers, but others are too protective of their privacy, so your strategy needs to reflect the clients' needs and desires.
Online isn't the only place high-net-worth buyers are seeking out homes, of course. Print catalogs and ads in certain magazines and newspapers can be an excellent way to target qualified buyers for specific high-end homes, especially if paired with a soup-to-nuts online strategy.
Plan an end-to-end customer experience that slays
Everybody in real estate is talking about how clients are expecting more and more from the customer experience, which is true -- but it's even more true for clients who are spending millions of dollars on a house. They usually have even less time than the average homebuyer to spend on minutiae and details; not only do they not want to be hassled about the sale, but they also are seeking an experience that will feel empowering and exciting and one-of-a-kind.
Can you deliver a customer experience like that -- not only in one part of your business but every part? This will be key to helping you stand out in your niche, so start figuring out how to take your client experience to the next level and beyond.
Ensure any imagery is best-in-class
Whether you're using photos or videos, the listing imagery that you use for higher-end listings absolutely has to be pristine. You might be able to get away with snapping photos from your iPhone for certain price points in certain markets, but once you're trying to establish yourself in a niche to make more money, you really can't be cutting corners on things like imagery. Hire a professional to take your listings photos and videos, investing upfront in your listings to make them shine and bring the right buyer through the door.
Partner with an experienced agent
It's not always possible to team up with an agent who's got more experience and ability in a niche than you do, but if you can, it can be a marvelous way to learn the ropes without spending a huge time investment upfront (and not landing a listing to show for it). There are plenty of experienced agents who have been in the business for decades and who might welcome some fresh assistance, especially if you can bring a skill to the table like social media or email marketing that they haven't been able to put to use because they're too busy. Then you can offer them some help or even training while they help you learn the ins and outs of serving a particular client base.