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What Makes a Great Real Estate Agent





An essay by Paul H. Belz, 2014,

I spent 1979 to 2010 as a licensee wandering through the residential real estate wilderness in a Lost Ark-like search for the elusive secrets of the profession’s elite. Insatiable curiosity diluted focus and kept me well-credentialed and poor. In 31 years I never unlocked the secrets of the super listers, the industry’s difference makers.


Many top achievers in various professions actually lack understanding of their own success and can’t adapt when their lives or industries change. Slumping star major league baseball pitchers are an excellent example. If they understand the nuances of their success, as did Hall of Famer and broadcaster Jim Palmer, they recover. Many don’t because they lack his combination of skills and insight. As he aged and the game changed, he adapted. Similarly, real estate stars with insight into their success can adapt to sea-changes in their lives and the industry. Those without that insight fade away.


The secrets of the super listers were finally unlocked for me when curiosity and a superb real estate education coalesced with my status as the client of such an agent. That happened in 2013 when the administration of my mother’s estate required selling her home. A prominent goal in choosing my agent was to assuage that nagging curiosity and the subsequent experience clearly unveiled one iconic listing agent’s secrets which I am thrilled to share here.

1.      Top listers concoct an exquisite witch’s brew of flattery, tough love, and attention to detail. That blend keeps the sales process moving forward, like a good novelist’s plot. Many agents tend to either patronize and over-indulge their listing clients or alienate them with constant demands. Either way the sales process stalls. In the former instance the listing remains overpriced and activity stops. In the latter the seller provides push-back at every turn and eventually switches to another agent or broker. The super lister walks a tightrope between empathy and gentleness on one side and steely determination and toughness on the other. This allows her to carefully protect a painstakingly nurtured reputation which makes cooperating agents confident they are not wasting their time by showing one of her listings. Those listings may not all be Taj Mahals but agents with buyers know what they will be getting. The emotional balancing act with clients is worthy of the Wallandas and agents not blessed with the witch’s brew recipe never achieve top-echelon status because their listings won’t move fast enough to sustain stardom. This is not a secret which a real estate school can impart. It is a gift meshing personality, intellect, and instinct. The quicker one discerns they don’t have this gift the quicker one can switch to a career that’s a better fit.

2.      My agent evokes Civil War generals who led charges instead of remaining safely behind the lines. I was pleasantly startled when this delicate butterfly in a designer dress began staging our home and suddenly morphed into a lady wrestler type, manhandling furniture and working up a profuse sweat. I thought of those Civil War generals who never asked their men to do anything they weren’t prepared to do as well, and won their hearts in the process. Her action created an immediate bond with me as it implanted the conviction that this agent would deliver good value. The paradigm for demonstrating inspiring leadership is limited only by the imagination and by no means should all agents start manhandling their seller’s furniture.

3.      My agent has the ingenious ability to make a seller feel his/her listing is the only one she’s got while the house may actually be fairly insignificant in her portfolio. She accomplishes this through conversation and availability. Conversations never compared our house to other listings or touted her credentials.  She knew what our house needed to compete in its class and worked toward that goal with realistic requests, praise, and minimal denigration of the home’s functional obsolescence. Her availability was a fresh breeze through an industry-wide code red of voice mail. Not once did an assistant call. She called frequently and when I phoned she answered immediately. Neither of us text messaged. We both preferred live voices. Assistants only did non-client contact jobs such as website maintenance, listing processing, mass mailings, database updating, sign placement, and photography.

4.      Listing turnover rate is a critical barometer in forecasting success in real estate sales. An agent must use listing selectivity and pricing to achieve a low-enough average-days-on-the-market to reach her target income without having to carry an unwieldy number of listings. Our super lister never has stale listings. She can intuit motivated sellers from time wasters. Time is an agent’s most precious commodity and stale listings devour it mercilessly. Listing selectivity doesn’t equate with snobbery but
simply means an owner must be willing to set a sale price reflective of the home’s condition, market conditions (esp. competition in the immediate area), and projection of an average or below average number of days on the market. An owner also needs to be amenable toward lowering the list price at predetermined intervals based on an agreed upon number of showings and/or days on the market. It is important to note that houses are like horses in that the cheap ones demand as much time as the expensive ones and time is both the best friend and worst enemy of the real estate agent. My agent will list any price home if the seller fulfills the aforementioned conditions, which demonstrate motivation to sell rather than test the market and egregiously waste a professional’s time.

5.      My agent loves the work and her life is defined and choreographed by it. A realtor’s schedule is not an employee’s nine to five but an independent contractor’s seven to eleven and unlike a teacher’s programmed day of carefully crafted lesson plans, an agent’s problems erupt spontaneously and inconveniently and must be dealt with promptly. It’s a problem-solving profession and super agents view surprises as welcome opportunities to hone and broadcast their skills rather than as intrusive annoyances.


6.      My agent doesn’t utilize many assistants because she has the amazing ability to reverse a normal sales dynamic. She leads, involves, and bonds with sellers to the point where they don’t want to let her down rather than vice versa. The seller becomes her de facto assistant. Making certain homes are priced attractively to buyers reduces the number of listings needed for a targeted income and therefore the need for assistants.

7       My agent over-delivers to her clients. She NEVER under-delivers on expectations, it is simply not in her sales DNA. A seller never feels the need to call her to see how things are going, yet she never becomes an annoyance with calls that convey nothing, which necessarily happens when stale listings must be nursed along. She’s a brilliant problem solver but even better at anticipating and heading off hurdles, leading some to say she’s just lucky. She’s both a strategist and a tactician and preparation
creates her good luck. The key to this seventh attribute is to understand the industry norm for listing services and reset the edge with something unexpected and effective in marketing the house.  I’m not suggesting doing the seller’s grocery shopping or reinventing the wheel. Just get the seller’s attention with something that’s not “cookie cutter” within the industry.

8.      My agent is well-connected and highly regarded within the satellite businesses because of her work ethic, competence, genuineness, engaging personality, and integrity. Reasonably-priced niche contractors will move mountains to make her happy. By the time our home closed we had a new electrician, gardener, cleaning person, estate attorney, plumber, and consignment professional. Her referrals to wealthy sellers have enriched many contractors and she is not hesitant to collect IOUs when current sellers need help on short notice. The contractors all responded enthusiastically, promptly, and at below-market rates.

9.      Career longevity and its concomitant adaptability is the key yardstick for stardom in any industry and my agent has been elite since 1975. Listing stars like her aren’t flashing comets who burn out quickly or dominant grizzlies who hibernate with the first market chill. They have the drive and persistence to endure and adapt. The satisfaction they derive from both the process and the results fuels that drive. They are the Cal Ripkin Jr.’s of their industry──consistent, always visible, diligent about caring for their health, and always finding ways to give back to the industry that has enriched them. They earn the respect of their competitors as well as their clients and set a high standard for newcomers.

10.    My agent never forgets past clients. She calls to chat with some and several of them confided to me that for 30 years since working with her they have never failed to receive a birthday, Thanksgiving, or holiday card. This unrelenting but  non-intrusive expression of appreciation is her pre-eminent prospecting tool because it nurtures surrogates who prospect for her by word-of-mouth. There can be no better tool in a listing kit.

None of the individual secrets listed here are revelatory to veteran salespersons. The revelation is that a few of these attributes aren’t sufficient for stardom. My agent has them ALL and hedging on any will probably preclude status as a paragon of  excellence within this exciting industry.

My agent is over sixty and her client list is gradually moving to warmer climes, healthier tax environments, or retirement homes. She needs only technological adequacy to service her list. For young agents an 11th secret is required for stardom. They must strive to set the bar for technological expertise. Standing in that annual long line at the mall’s Apple store is not an addictive luxury for them, it is a career necessity. Self-imposed and government-imposed educational requirements will skyrocket for them.

The death of the real estate profession has been forecast many times.

I believe the secrets of the super listers elucidated here will always keep such professionals in high demand as consumers navigate increasingly problematic minefields that jeopardize good outcomes for what is frequently the most important and expensive investment they will ever make.