Jennifer is one of the authors of the new real estate business book, Becoming A Local LeaderⓇ. This book features stories of 22 local agents who share their story and their strategies of how they build their business through relationships and referrals in their geo farm.
What’s really interesting about Jennifer’s story is she does it part-time. There are so many agents who have a career and they want to get into real estate. They’re trying to figure out how to do it. They’re trying to figure out how to balance both. They’re trying to figure out how to eventually one day, go full-time into real estate.
One of the reasons why she is a great person to include in the stories is because she’s been able to do it. She’s on that journey. She’s learned a lot, and she has a lot to share to help other agents out there manage that. Jennifer will share her secrets on how to build a real estate business while maintaining her original career until the full transition.
When you decided to be a part of this book, you had a main message you wanted to share with other agents out there. What was that message?
I think it’s interesting how one finds their way and path in life and having the opportunity to be an educator, and then move into the real estate world and talking to people about the importance of following their dreams and how to live with their relationships. Definitely, quality over quantity.
Can you maybe give people a little background of who you are, how you got into real estate, and what’s your business like today?
I’ve been an elementary administrator, so vice-principal, and principal for nine years now, which I love. I love serving my community and having the opportunity to help students and families academically on a journey, but I’ve always had a hidden passion for real estate.
One day, I was just like, “You know what? Let’s do it.” It’s actually kind of funny how often both cross but in different ways. From a school mentality, we say you choose your school by where you purchase your home, but then other people who are looking often choose their home by where the school of choice is located. Because here in Ontario, you don’t get to choose your school. So, a little bit interesting there.
As an educator advocating for the needs in Ontario, we have a wonderful school system so I think no matter where most people live, they do very well. But for me, I approached my real estate business very much like education.
My tagline or slogan is “Helping you make educated decisions”. I’m ensuring that when working with clients and families, that I bring that education lens into the experience and the picture and make sure that no matter good news, bad news, that everybody knows everything up front and that we’re open, honest, and transparent to make a transaction. Not just a transaction but a long sustainable relationship. That is a base on which we can build for the future.
How do you juggle the workload? What was the transition like getting started in real estate? How did you spend your time to get started? How did you get your first clients? How has it evolved? Walk people through that transition to getting started and how you spend your time today.
I think getting started, no matter whom and even to this day, I always open up about the fact that I’m an elementary administrator, and that my hours of availability for going out and looking at homes is evenings and weekends.
I’ve aligned myself with wonderful partners and work colleagues who, if there’s an emergency or something that absolutely needs to be done during the workday, they do that with me. I think that’s instrumental for people who are looking to be part-time and not always available.
Although I will say over the years, it’s probably just a handful of times that something like that comes up. But you know, having a backup plan in the event so that clients are never ever left without somebody there to support them.
I think in terms of media and social media and that kind of thing, definitely scheduling posts, having a monthly plan and sticking to that helps to keep you on schedule so that posted things do happen, and making sure that you’re responding to your social media at the appropriate times.
As we kind of talked about, whether or not and finding that line of when to hire an assistant or not, and when it is beneficial for your business, for your personal life, is always going to be a balance. I think the bar moves for everybody based on their own personal preferences and sustainability.
For me, I have a wonderfully supportive family, who is very good about the fact that I’m a bit of a workaholic, but I’ve always been that way. They are very supportive. I think, again, that’s important because if people at home don’t support you, it might be a little bit tough. I’m fortunate in one sense that my children are a little bit older. If you have really young children, I think you have to have a plan in place for that as well.
When we talk about clients, I’m about quality, not quantity. Mostly, a lot of my clients are friends, and referrals or people I’ve met in the coaching world or just within my local community. I’m not doing a ton of cold leads because that’s not the base of my business. I want to have that deep relationship.
Some leads sometimes or even referrals, take a year plus in order to come through. It’s just about having a warm relationship and approach. And I don’t pressure folks. I think, again, it comes down from the very beginning, even on that first call, or that first meeting, just saying, “What are your priorities? Who are you? What are you about?” and determine if you’re a good fit or not?
There are three buckets of work for an agent; get clients, serve clients, operate the business. How do you block time? How do you chunk out? What are the activities you do to get clients? How do you chunk out the time for all the work you have to do for serving your client? And then, when do you make time for the administrator, the operational stuff for the business?
I think getting clients is a 24/7 piece. A lot of it for me is about networking and establishing relationships, whether it be at the baseball diamond and the gym, when coaching or just out in the community. If it’s brought up casually in a conversation, always having a business card with you.
I also get some leads through Facebook, but just from my friend base. I do casual occasional sponsored posts but not a ton. I kind of got into Parkbench to help me overcome some of the videos that I had not been doing. Call it a perfectionism thing, call it a lack of time, I’m not sure but Parkbench has definitely helped me to reach out to some of the business owners that I may or may not have already had established relationships with to start that conversation.
I’ve lived in my community now going on 20 years. As business owners and I start to make those relationships, and because we support a lot of local businesses, I think it definitely helps. For me, I think number one is just ongoing relationships.
In terms of how do I manage the real estate, all my clients know, and most of the time, I would say at least 90% at least in our area in the Greater Toronto Area, relationship happens on evenings and weekends because the majority of clientele have two incomes and most are working during the day. However, as I said, if someone needs to go during the day, then one of my partners or colleagues will definitely take them for me. So, I think it’s just working on that.
And being flexible with hours. I’ve had clients who work shift work. I’m willing to work after hours. I do offers at 11 pm on a Friday night because that’s what works for me. Other people that wouldn’t work at all so you have to know your own personal limitations and what works for you and your business and your family.
And then, paperwork. Well, because I do a lot of paperwork in my educational job as well, I do a lot of things using the cloud and Google Docs and things you can do on the run or quickly have files stored and ready to go. So, I think having an organization system in order to make paperwork easier definitely helps there as well.
I know we’ve talked about some of those checklists. Even as a branch partner for agents, having created transactional checklists for them to ensure that all the paperwork and things are there before submitting a deal. I would say those practices help.
Now, in your chapter, you talked about the role of the brokerage in helping you. What have you experienced as this is what you need and want from a brokerage, and this is why this brokerage is so much better for you than this other brokerage? What do you value? What has been most helpful for you from your brokerage?
I think it depends. Everyone’s a little bit different. For me, I had started with one of the large three, as I would say. If the people were wonderful, the brokerage owner was great, but the company philosophy was very much all about corporate and being an educator and somebody who differentiates plans for children and families all the time, I wanted to have more of that availability to do so to create plans and approaches based on my client’s needs and what worked with me and my schedule as well.
After about a year, I kind of was like, “I don’t know that this is the exact fit for me.” I kind of aligned it to anyone who has ever looked at a franchise. Not even in real estate. Purchasing whatever it might be. A restaurant or a coffee shop. They all have plans and franchising agreements. You have to find one that works for you.
The same could be said, I think, about real estate brokerages. Every brand comes with something different. Different levels of training, desk fees, monthly fees, transaction fees, commission split. They’re all different but you also get different things with different plans.
My advice would always be to do some shopping around. Interview some different brokerages and companies. Find out what they offer for what you pay. Some people are happy to pay nothing and get minimal because maybe they’re experienced or they have a partner that they’re working with.
Other people might say it’s worth it to pay higher fees, get some amazing training, and then make decisions from there. But you know, there are different feelings from smaller family-type approaches to big corporate kind of box policy. So, finding one that works for you is definitely really important.
Now, one of the other decisions that you made with some agents who question whether they should do this or not, is working where they live. Some agents are like, “Should I work where I live? Should I go do real estate in some other area away from that?” You chose to be hyperlocal to work in your backyard. You live in Milton. You do real estate in Milton. How come? What would have been some of the benefits or reasons why you did that?
Well, I think when starting out, you definitely go where the business is, for sure. I think it’s a long-term goal to be 100% or near 100% exclusive to your local community. I’ve chosen to make Milton home since 2002 and I love the feeling of our town, how supportive we are of one another, the businesses, the people. But I also grew up in Toronto and have connections and friends from all over the GTA.
We can’t help the affordability issue as well. Milton is becoming extremely costly, especially for those who are moving into the town at this time. I think you can have a focus to want to be in one particular area but you also have to have some flexibility to service your client’s needs as best as they can as well.
Or maybe someone wants to buy in your community, but then you’re going to be working maybe on selling another property outside. So, definitely still having the knowledge and experience in your surrounding community is important. But I believe if you’re passionate about selling and working where you live, it says a lot about you, and that you’re prepared to walk the walk and talk the talk, and put them together when selling an area.
People always want to know what doesn’t work, especially part-time agents, because they have limited time, they have limited resources, and they want to start growing their business. In your years of experience now of doing this, what are the things that have not worked for you to help you with your business? And why do you think they didn’t work for you?
For me, those traditional cold calls, door knocking, and farming without any kind of interaction, I found didn’t work for me. I know there are plans and people who definitely succeed. I know it’s about a numbers piece. But I think for me it’s because it’s not my style and not who I am.
For me, everything is about relationships and genuine relationships. And in those pieces, it’s very hard to establish. And then, of course, when COVID hits, no one wants you to go knocking on their door or necessarily leaving things on their porch, right? They’re a little bit nervous, not sure. So, those things didn’t traditionally work well for me.
I’m more of interactions, existing relationships, and referrals from friends and family, children whom I’ve coached in the community over the years. To me, I have that warm base already established. I don’t necessarily need to be the agent of first choice but I would love to be an agent that’s maybe top three to five in mind that they would provide an opportunity for me to interview and perhaps compete for their business.
When I read your chapter, you talked about quality over quantity because you can’t work with everyone, especially if you have two careers. Therefore, you can’t follow up with everyone, you can’t prospect everyone, you can’t stay in touch with everyone in the same way so you really have to be selective with who you choose to spend time with, who you choose to follow up with, and how you do it. How would you teach an agent if you have limited time and you have this database and these networks and time to network or build it but you have to strategize around who and how, how do you do it?
I think it’s important to have a good CRM system in place where you can record and know when you’ve touched base with those people, even if it’s just a “Hello”. Sometimes I send recipes, things like that. Just a non-sales touch.
But honestly, for a lot of people, it’s just genuine getting to know your potential clients about their families, what are they looking for, if something comes to mind. So, having a good note system. Honestly, a lot of text messaging tends to work for a lot of my clients, but I will ask clients or future clients, I’m available on messenger, on Instagram, on WhatsApp, via text or email, what is your preferred method of communication? I think that says a lot to them from the very beginning.
Some people work different hours, have young families, they don’t always appreciate a call. Sometimes they do. Sometimes it’s sending a quick little video just saying, “Hey, I’m still thinking about you. Hope you’re doing really well. If anything comes to your mind, please feel free to reach out. Know I’m here for you.”
Again, I think it’s about sticking with what you’re comfortable with and what speaks to you as that leader and that industry expert in sharing when you have information to share and not over-spamming people.
What’s your response to either a prospect or an agent that says, “You can’t be as good as I am because you are part-time and I’m full-time.”?
That’s a funny question. When I was 14 I worked in sales at Champs Sports. Being a part-time person and out-selling full-time people, I say, definitely part-time for me. What does that really mean?
Is it solely about a number of hours that you think you put into a business in a week? Because if that’s true, then it’s possible to work two full-time jobs. Is it about the number of close transactions or about the number of clients you have on the go? I guess I always just push back and say, “Define part-time. What does that really mean?” Because there are a lot of people who work really, really hard, and I could argue, easily work more than two full-time jobs.
I believe it’s about a perspective. I believe it’s about taking on a manageable number of clients. And whatever that magic number is for you, it might be different for me. If it’s two or three clients at a time and you know that you always have a day on every weekend to give to the clients and their families that are actively looking when they call because that’s important, right? Especially in today’s market, where there’s a lot of bidding wars, and it’s a seller’s market, you need, you know, if you call me up today and say, “Hey, can we go tonight or tomorrow?” You need to also be able to be available or have a colleague that can be available in order to, I think, keep your clients happy.
If you then say, “I’m going to actively try to work for a number of 10 or 20 clients at a time” how could a full-time agent even do that and do it well? So, that’s just how I’ve built my business. That’s how I explain it to my clients as well. I try not to overbook in giving that amazing one-to-one customer experience each time.
If you were an agent starting your career again, why would you want to read this book? What do you think the benefits to you would be reading this book, if you were to pick it up as a new agent?
Honestly, I’m even excited just to read the other agents’ perspectives because I think it gives you that true firsthand account of what’s made people’s approaches successful within a dichotomy of communities. Whether it be from a smaller community base to a larger Metropolis, which we do have as well. How do they go about and what is their background to create their relationship-based business?
As we know, most of mine come through education and through sport, but others come from other areas. I know that it will be fun even for myself to read and learn about what made each person successful.
I think finding ways to build relationships is great, but at the end of the day, it has to come from the heart. And if a relationship is genuine, I don’t think it goes anywhere or lasts near as long. So, I do look forward to reading other people’s stories. I think everybody else likely would be as well.
If people do resonate with you and want to get in touch with you, want to build a relationship with you, want to learn from you, how can they get in contact?