One of the many great aspects about the real estate industry is that it has room for lots of different types of people. Whether you want to sell homes, condos, skyscrapers or pastures, there is a place for you. Even in our specific niche of rural real estate, this element of diversity still holds true. There are agents with all types of backgrounds, personalities, education and experiences. And they all reflect a lot of different ideas of what a “successful” real estate agent is.
For the sake of this article, I’ll define success in the rural real estate business this way…
”When the work you put in results in the amount of money you earn, the freedom you have, and the satisfaction you gain to live your life the way you want to.”
Can you see how this definition has room for different things that are of premier importance to different people? A high six-figure income may be the success mark for one person, but another may not view that as his version of success if he didn’t have the time to spend 40 mornings in a duck blind each fall.
I’m going to give you a list of the different traits I’ve seen in what I’d call “successful” land agents. Sure, a lot of these things would work in other areas of real estate but I’m just writing from the perspective of land sales. Some of these traits are from some of my own agents - some are from agents I know with other companies, but I have seen all these traits in the flesh during my time as a broker. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen all these traits maintained at a high level in any one agent, but I believe the best land agents exhibit all of them at some consistent level. Just like anything else, we all have our strengths and weaknesses, and we strive to improve those areas where we are weak in order to develop in our chosen field. Let’s start…
1. They follow up.
Perhaps the biggest complaint from the public regarding real estate professionals as a whole is that “No one called me back.” (…or its no follow-up equivalent). We’ve all heard that and we’ve all said that they are talking about someone else. Let’s face it, we have to deal with more tire-kickers in this business than just about anything I know…and it’s frustrating. However, there are a pile of us who, for whatever reasons – wait for it – just don’t follow up! And the prospect/client just moves on and someone else gets the listing or the sale.
There is no easy button for following up. It’s a function of professionalism and desiring to take care of your business. We have smart phones, email, text, computers, tablets…you get the point. It just takes some discipline and a method for tracking incoming messages, promises made, etc. to know who to contact, when to contact and with what information. Don’t miss another deal because you incorrectly labeled that person or request as just another tire-kicker. They may not merit an hour of your undivided attention, but a quick email may just meet the need and be the beginnings of a future deal.
I don’t think any of us are batting a thousand on follow up. I don’t think it’s possible. The best agents I know, however, carve out time each work day to do it and rarely have business get away because they didn’t care enough to respond in a timely way.
2. They solve problems.
I’ve said this from the very beginning of my experience with real estate. All this business is is solving problems – big ones, small ones – any problem that keeps a deal from moving from point to point until it closes and a check is received and a client is pleased. I think this is one of the top three reasons most people get a real estate license then head back to another line of work within a year. They didn’t realize how often they’d have to plow through the problems to get a check.
In my experience and through the hundreds of deals I’ve seen close with my agents, most – not all but most - problems can be solved to the satisfaction of all parties. I didn’t say the problems went away or that the problems weren’t sometimes tedious, painful, expensive or drawn out. But they were solved.
I can think of two examples with my own company where deals took a total of 8 months on one and 17 months on the other to work through issues and finally close. These weren’t complicated deals, either. Both were straight forward deals that should’ve been reduced to contracts and closed in 4-5 weeks. But this is the real estate business and stuff happens, and happens…and happens! All of the agents hung in there like pros and kept the deals alive. One of the agents was with another respected land firm in our state and represented the buyer. His buyer and my seller were equals in the strong-willed category, but we just kept putting one foot in front of the other until we got the mountain of issues and disputes resolved. The check was a good one and worth the time, but the satisfaction of closing the books on it was just as sweet.
The record length of time from contract to closing for my office – 17 months – was handled by one of my younger guys. He is full-time and makes his living selling land for us. He was the only agent involved and had to juggle attorneys, clients, serious title issues and no-where-to-be-found heirs to get his deal across the finish line. It, too, was a good check but it would have been easy to let it drift to the back burner after say – a year! – and just say it wasn’t meant to be. But this guy had heard me say a thousand times… the real estate business is just solving problems. And that’s what he did.
I’ve joked a number of times saying “If selling land was easy, every Century 21 (or insert your favorite residential company) agent could do it.” No offense to C21 or any other company. The point is sometimes getting deals done is hard. The successful agents at C21 or any other company for that matter know this and look at solving problems as just another necessary step to getting to the closing table.
3. They communicate well with clients.
This seems obvious, right? Well, most don’t do it well. I was eating dinner with a super guy in south Iowa recently. RecLand is getting licensed there and this young man is getting his license to be our first Midwest land agent. He wisely asked the usual question new people ask, “What is the main thing I need to do to be successful?”
I answered by saying that the main thing in all of real estate is solving problems. I then went on to tell him that the best land agents I know are quick to communicate issues with their clients in an attempt to stay on top of the problem and not let it become bigger than it should be. I know I was mixing success traits in my answer to him, but it’s really true. It takes excellent communication to stay on top of real estate problems as well as just staying on top of all the aspects of your day to day land business.
I continued on in my answer to my Iowa friend by saying that it’s natural for most of us to want to avoid conflict. And as a result we often put off making that phone call to the client. We’ve all seen issues that got way out of hand because the call was never made or made so late in the deal that other problems resulted. Successful land agents keep the ball moving down the court by keeping everyone in the loop and alerting parties to issues or needs right away.
In this day and time, email is so easy to use for providing general information, updates and requesting information. But we have to take the time to stay on top of it. Not every client is created equal, either. Some clients want to hear from us often while others just need to know when something changes. It’s kind of like the woman who complained that her husband never says he loves her. He didn’t know why she was so upset…after all, he told her he loved her 35 years ago and nothing had changed!
As handy as email and text are we all know which clients need for us to pick up the phone or go sit in their office when we have news for them. Do it as timely as the matter demands. Don’t let a problem grow or business slip away to another because we failed to communicate.
By all means avoid this: “The only time I heard from him was when the listing expired and he wanted to renew it.”
Just to clarify what I mean by being good at communicating…I’m not referring to having the gift of gab or knowing how to work the room with a smile and a joke. I’m glad that’s not it! If that were required, I’d never have done a deal or made a dime. I’m certainly not Mr. Personality at all, nor are the couple of agents I have in mind as being great communicators with clients. They simply keep everyone informed, to the degree each client expects it, and they are quicker – not slower – to pick up the phone when an issue pops up.
4. They are comfortable with muddy boots.
By this I simply mean that the top agents I know, in my company and others, spend plenty of time stomping through the creek bottoms and fighting their way through pine thickets to thoroughly understand a tract they are listing or helping a buyer with. This is one of the key elements that separates us as land agents from most residential agents.
Give me a supra key and 5 minutes on the MLS and I can find the house and adequately show any $250,000 home in the south without ever having set foot on the property. I may not know the difference between aqua and blue trim in the bathrooms, but I could give an adequate tour of the entire house. "Mrs. Johnson, here's the kitchen."
Ok, give a typical residential agent an aerial and the key to the gate and have him or her show the 200 acres of equivalent value we have listed along Caney Creek in central Louisiana! Well, IF they were able to get in the vicinity of the property and then get to any one of the several property lines by way of the three deeded access routes along timberland roads, I doubt they would be able to give any buyer a thorough showing of the tract. This isn’t their fault. They are probably excellent residential agents and know all the in's and out's of the neighborhood and the schools, but they are likely out of their area of expertise in bottomland.
The best land agents become experts on each tract they list. They understand the elements involved with the timber, surrounding wildlife habitat and hunting on recreational tracts, the grasses and low ground on pasture land, the soil types, ridges and yield history on crop land, etc. And most of the time, the best information can’t be gleaned from behind the windshield.
We happen to have several foresters as land agents with my company. A few of these guys are excellent at “tearing a tract apart” (that’s what we call looking and learning on a tract) and understanding exactly what’s between the corners. They have actually been to all the corners on most of their listings! That’s easier said than done on many tracts we deal with each year. Gathering this type of information takes time, and can require hard work, but it pays off for the people I’m thinking about as evidenced by the money they’re making and the enjoyment they have living their work-life on their terms.
5. They write stuff down.
Or type it in…or…something to keep up with the occasional contact they’ve had with a buyer who is the “real deal.” There isn’t enough paper in the world to write down all the requests from all the people who call or email us to tell us what they’re looking for. We get these calls and emails by the dozen each week. We politely answer their questions, listen to their wish list and tell them what we have listed that may be interesting in the area or the state they want…then we hang up and go about our business. BUT…occasionally…we get a call from someone who is asking the right questions. They are qualified to buy without having to tell us they’re qualified to buy. We just know that this person is a serious buyer, not someone looking for the needle in a haystack (for less than $1000/acre!). I know guys who write that call down…in a notebook…right then. Later, maybe a few weeks or several months later, they run across a tract that was a general fit to what that person wanted. They can find his name and number in their notebook, or phone, and that call to that guy results in the “it fell in my lap” sale we all love. Three or four of these easy sales a year adds a lot of cream to the top of a successful land agent’s year.
My company has a mechanism for keeping up with the general interest contacts. I do this for the benefit of my agents. And it results in many sales for us. But the really good land agents keep a much smaller personal list they can mine for added business each year.
6. They are big enough to do small deals.
I didn’t say it, but I believe it: “There are no small deals only small agents.” It’s fine to focus on certain types of properties. Be a specialist. I think that’s good. But I’ve run across some people in the land business who take the “specialist” thing to the degree that they only want to “specialize” in the big, sexy, marquis listings and sales. Ok…knock yourself out. I like the big acreage deals, too. But I’ve said many times I’d rather have 100 forty acre listings than one 4000 acre listing. The 40s, 60s, 80s pay the bills. The homerun deal is nice but the competition for the listing and thin air of the available buyers makes it hard to run a business or live a life between the deals.
One of my best agents and the top earner among my 20 plus agents had a 1-acre deal close the day I wrote this. One acre! …no, not a million-dollar commercial acre on a four-lane. It was a wooded tract two miles from the city limits of a small, rural Louisiana town. Total commission at 6% was $180. Sure, he had some other listings in that area of the state so taking the 1-acre listing close by was reasonable for him at the time. The point is he isn't too big to do a little deal. This same agent has several million-dollar listings and he just sent me a six acre listing today, sent me a 40 acre and 41 acre listings last week and closed on a 24 acre last week. That’s a pretty good cross-section of the inventory of business one of the top land agents in the south does!
One of my Texas guys has had a great start to this year in closings and has a large inventory of really nice listings. He has three deals pending now…all less than 50 acres each.
I can give lots of examples where agents I know are SO BIG in this business they do modest deals routinely. I also know agents who are TOO BIG to work a modest deal. The SO BIG folks are making a good living…the TOO BIG guys seem to struggle for some reason.
Don’t get me wrong, we make decisions quite often to turn down business that may be too small and too far away from an agent to service the listing well. This is just necessary business. I hate turning down anything but it’s sometimes in the best interest of the landowner for us to pass on it. We do, however, try to give them someone in their area who we know can help them. We don’t ask for a referral for this. It’s just the right way to go about taking care of our industry.
Make your own decisions about the business you take or turn down. But be encouraged by the fact that the top people I know didn’t get to or maintain where they are with the big deals. It’s the modest tracts that don’t make news in The LandReport that turn the wheel.
7. They get repeat business.
Wow! That’s a revolutionary concept, huh? I know, repeat business is the goal for everyone in business. It’s necessary for survival of just about any private business I know. But here’s a little difference…the successful land agents I admire don’t ask for new business, nor can they come out with a new product line they can use to go back and upgrade old clients for repeat business. They get the repeat business by doing numbers 1-6 above and by handling themselves with the words that I haven’t used up to this point…honesty and integrity.
You know it’s true that most information about successful real estate professionals begins with a tipping of the hat to honesty and integrity. Blah…blah…most every real estate agent’s personal flyer or bio will mention this. Go read some. There’s nothing wrong with writing about it but there are no teeth in that. The land agents I know who are getting it done and making a good living in this business never have to lead with their character resume. They don’t talk about how honest they will be…don’t have to. Clients quickly discern when an agent is telling it to them straight. Their instincts are confirmed when they see how the agent performs throughout the listing, marketing and selling process. They really see the true colors during any negotiations and problems that surface along the way. Wait until the deal gets tight and the commission comes into play to make the deal work! You’ll see who’s who then.
These folks are the real deal and the way they do business day in and day out is their bio. They know the repeat business, the strong reputation and the ability to look their kids in the eye when talking about right and wrong are worth more than a single deal or single commission. They are big-picture, long-term, what goes around comes around people…and they will always be on the top of the hill. Guess who gets a call when a previous client is ready to sell or make another purchase?
No of us are above making mistakes or exhibiting bad judgement occasionally. It’s evident though whose poor action or mistake at a particular point in time is the exception or the rule to their character. We’ve all fouled up including the people I have in mind who have a stellar reputation and real estate history. Fessing up, fixing the mistake, moving forward with better judgment and never letting a commission get in the way of good name will help us become the bright lights in our industry.
These seven traits are by no means a comprehensive list. There are probably points of issue many will take with my list, too. That’s fine. These are simply the main traits I’ve recognized in the top people I’ve been around in our business. I’ll be the first to concede that things beyond our control often occur to thwart our goals as well as fortuitous events sometimes spring people forward at unexpected times. The traits I’ve listed here, however, are all fully within each land agent’s control. And by getting up every day and going about your work doing them - from what I’ve seen among some great land agents - they will help you succeed in this great business.
- Pat Porter, Broker for RecLand Realty, "The Duck Commander and Buck Commander Endorsed Land Broker" selling land in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi & Texas at www.RecLand.net. Click HERE and scroll to the bottom of the page for information on being a land agent for RecLand.
RecLand conducted an electronic survey among its land buyer and land owner database in January 2015 to get the answers to a few general questions about ownership, mood for acquisition and sales, importance of minerals and cash vs. finance. 138 anonymous respondents from multiple states provided the data. An overview of the results are summarized below:
The first question asked about ownership and acreage owned. The largest segment of respondents - 37.% - indicated they didn't own land other than their personal residence of 5 acres or less or rentals and/or commercial property. This group is apparently eager to purchase land, however, based on 71% of all respondents saying they would purchase land sometime in the next five years. 22.3% indicated they owned up to 50 acres; almost 17% owned 50-200 acres and 23.1% owned 200 acres or more. This seems typical based on the audience of the survey.
The second question asked how those who owned land utilized their land. The largest segment, 39.7%, said theirs was a combination of income-producing land and recreation (hunting/fishing). Just under this group was almost 28% who indicated their land was exclusively for recreational use and generated no income at all. 11.8% of our respondents owned managed, investment-grade timberland. The large combined group of income/recreation and pure recreation speaks to the immensely popular outdoor industry and people's desire to own their own property on which they can hunt and fish. This is a big part of RecLand's base of business each year. This survey just put some numbers on the land-buying activity we see regularly.
Question three asked about plans to buy and sell over the next five years. As previously stated, 71% indicated they had definite plans to buy land (whether a first-time buyer or adding to existing holdings). 7.9% said they would most likely not buy or sell any land during the next five years. This kind of optimistic planning is a good sign for those of us in the land brokerage business as well as for lenders (addressed next), title companies, surveyors, etc.
The fourth question asked how land would be purchased...cash, finance, finance in part, etc. 16.6 said they would definitely pay all cash for any future land purchases. Whereas 47.8% indicated they had access to cash or cash equivalents to fund a purchase but would definitely finance at least a part of a deal. This may indicate an overall awareness of the lower interest rates available now as well as the fact that more and more lenders understand rural land sales and have good financing products to offer the marketplace. An even 1/3 - 33.3% - said they would definitely finance the entire land purchase. The overwhelming response to finance all or part of land purchases may be an indicator of the market's confidence in the growing value of land as a low-risk investment. This is also good news for lenders who understand rural real estate and have a good land portfolio.
The final question was about acquiring mineral rights with a land purchase. It seems that the last few years has ushered in more strong-headed positions about keeping minerals if selling and acquiring minerals if buying. I was a little surprised that 44.8% of respondents indicated that they would certainly negotiate for part or all the minerals but the final decision to purchase would just come down to price per acre with or without any minerals. Another 22% said minerals were not that important in their decision to purchase. The same mount - 22% - however, said they had to acquire all the available minerals in a purchase or they would walk on the deal. All said and done, 78% responded that minerals were somewhat important to a purchase, but the final decision would not be based solely on acquiring mineral rights. Maybe the strong stance we'd seen a few years ago has softened some.
All in all the outlook seems bright for those of us who serve land buyers and land owners. There seems to be a general sense of optimism toward land acquisition and continued ownership. And while income-producing land will always be the ideal, there seems to be a continued growth among people buying land for purely outdoor and recreational interests. I'm please with this overall optimism about land. Afterall...at RecLand Realty, all we do is land!
Pat Porter, Broker
RecLand starts off 2015 as the "Buck & Duck Commander Endorsed Land Broker" with a partnership with Duck Commander and Buck Commander. The Commander companies are icons in the outdoor and hunting industries and we're proud to be aligned with them.
Brian White is our newest RecLand agent. He lives in Jasper, TX and works quite a bit in south Texas. Brian and Brandon, a long-time RecLand agent, are brothers. Brian's contact information is on our Contact page.