The Making of a Top Producer

How to Make it to the Top 1%

Earlier this year I wrote an article titled: “Are Residential Real Estate Agents Really Needed?”.  If you read the article you would see that my conclusion was a resounding YES.  While there is plenty of room for new models (iBuyers being one), and there are clearly opportunities for technology to streamline the buying and selling process, agents play a critical role in the real estate ecosystem.  Clearly not everyone agreed, as evidenced by the comments below: 

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but as someone who led a large brokerage division I can attest to the fact that many agents are putting in 80+ hour weeks which include nights and weekends.  People may argue about the value of an agent, but there is no disputing how much work goes into every transaction.  As I have stated before, just because real estate agents work hard doesn’t mean that their jobs cannot be disrupted.  But this article isn’t about the justification of the brokerage business. My goal is to dive deep into what makes a great agent a great agent.  There are roughly 1,000,000 residential agents in the US.  Like most businesses, there is a clear delineation between an average producer and a top producer.  The average annual sales volume for an agent in the US is estimated to be just over $2,000,000.  However, some agents are closing over $100M of sales volume each year.  Some of this is attributed to luxury markets where the average sale price is much higher, but that is only one factor.  I wanted to understand what the secret sauce is to generate production at this level.   The amount of money in play is staggering (approximately $70B of residential commission dollars annually in the US), so the prize for being great instead of good is not nominal.

I spoke with 6 top producing agents from across the country and I asked them what it takes to build a business of this magnitude.  Combined, these 6 agents generated over $750,000,000 in closed sales volume last year.  

In Their Own Words:

Nancy Roth - Gibson Sotheby's International Realty - 2020 Sales Volume $89,000,000

“One of the Pillars of my Success – Specialization

When I first started in residential real estate in 2002, I made the decision to specialize in a 1-mile patch (the village of Charlestown, MA). I have not done a single deal outside of this small village of Boston in almost 19 years.  This was a significant commitment to make or break my career on, but I stuck to it.  I certainly know my way around all the neighborhoods of Boston, but I can’t quote information about each and every street like I can in Charlestown.  What better way to sell a neighborhood than to say you live there, are raising your kids there, and are investing back into the community at every opportunity.  I can share my experiences of living here through various stages of my life and how we have successfully managed to have a great quality of life in this village. I never use a GPS device and I can tell people who live in the buildings around their prospective home.  It’s nice to pitch the dream that you really believe in yourself.”

Learn more about Nancy here

Sena Baron - William Raveis Real Estate - 2020 Sales Volume $57,000,000

“In thinking about what I have done to build my business besides just old fashioned hard work, I’d say that the following is what has set me apart and led to success:

  • Razor sharp communication skills: Provide more than asked for, respond quickly, acknowledge every communication

  • Wealth of knowledge/share information: Knowledge is power, educate the client, informed decisions are the best decisions, stay current on all factors affecting the market and the flow of the transaction, know your market

  • Do more than the next guy: Never cut corners, offer value, provide a robust experience

  • Listen: Listen, listen and make sure you listen

  • Build relationships with honesty and integrity: Always put the client first, but remember transactions involve a team, collaboration with colleagues and ancillary professionals is key

  • Promote: Never be a secret agent

  • Get it done: Organize each day, set a structure and prioritize tasks, never fly by the seat of your pants

  • Passion: Love what you do, it shows, provides the energy to ride through the rough spots”

Learn more about Sena here

Stephanie Vitacco - Keller Williams Realty - 2020 Sales Volume $190,000,000

“After 30 years and just shy of 7,000 sales, my career of selling homes primarily in the San Fernando Valley in Northern Los Angeles has been nothing other than dedication to my craft, hard work and an obsessive compulsive work ethic of mastering the process. The only place that success comes before work is in the dictionary.  I take tremendous pride in knowing just about everything there is to know about the process and continually fine tuning my skills by putting it into practice each day. When I was 10 years old my father told me ‘pick one thing and do it well’.   I look at each property as if it were my own and think what would I do to maximize the price and streamline the process to assist my clients to make it as smooth as possible. Additionally,  I am fortunate to love what I do.  Work is only work if you would rather be doing something else.”

Learn more about Stephanie here

Phil Chen - Compass - 2020 Sales Volume $204,000,000

“I’ve always been entrepreneurial and have been fortunate to become good at my 3 passions starting from my competitive skateboarding days, to fitness and owning my own health clubs, to real estate.  I learned in my fitness days about customer service and working with high net worth individuals and that helped segway into luxury real estate. First with my own brokerage, then as an owner in multiple Keller Williams offices based in Burlingame, San Mateo, Half Moon Bay and SF, and now as the Founding Compass Peninsula agent.  My success is derived from hard work, thinking outside the box and taking risks, maintaining a great reputation, and some luck.” 

Learn more about Phil here

Brett Jennings - Real Estate Experts - 2020 Sales Volume  - $131,000,000

“I owned 3 businesses before real estate. The last one was in financial services and I worked a lot with real estate investors. I saw first hand how smart real estate decisions could be life-changing financially, and then I decided to enter into the field as a real estate agent and then broker. I wanted to find a way to facilitate buying and selling for clients so that they ended up much better off financially through the advice and guidance we gave them. Now through our expert negotiation tactics we help our clients end up with a better outcome and more equity whether they’re buying or selling by acting as a true fiduciary.  We provide training every week on the market and the economy so that our agents act as the local market economist and empower our people to make smart real estate decisions.”

Learn more about Brett here

Chris Adlam - Vista Sotheby's International Realty - 2020 Sales Volume - $113,000,000

“There is no, ‘secret sauce’ to building a successful real estate business.  It’s a combination of hard work, knowing the inventory in the area, being aware of lending options, and being the calm amongst the storm.  A real estate transaction is full of ups and downs, and it is the Realtor’s responsibility to be the steady during those highs and lows to guide the clients without emotion.”  

Learn more about Chris here

Putting Advice into Practice

As I distill down the advice from these top producers, there are a few themes that come through.  Being customer service obsessed is at the top of the list.  Most professionals believe that they deliver great customer service, but as we have learned from Jeff Bezos, there is a huge difference between delivering good customer service and being obsessive about it.  If you haven’t read about Amazon’s Day 1 culture, it is one of the most impactful reads for any professional.  When I first read it 3 years ago, it changed my entire perception about business:  Check it out here

The second theme revolves around expertise: expertise in your neighborhood, the sale’s process, deal economics, and trends.  A client doesn't hire you because you have the keys to the home they want to tour, they hire you because they trust you in advising them in one of the most important decisions of their life.  Without dedicating time to learning everything about the business, you are never going to join the ranks of the professionals listed above.

Attention to detail was another point consistently highlighted above.  This is an area in which PropTech can play a significant role.  Technology cannot replace the human element needed for a successful real estate transaction, but it can help automate a lot of the mundane administrative work that requires attention to detail.  By automating this work, you not only reduce errors but you also save precious time that can be invested back into the sale’s process to generate additional deals.  There are dozens of solutions on the market that promise to save agents time and and money, and I covered a handful of them in a prior article found here.

Real estate is considered a cutthroat business.  You aren’t just competing with the agents that work for your competitor, but you are also competing with the other agents in your office.  That is why I am so grateful to the top producers who contributed to this article by generously sharing their insights with others in the industry.  Whether you are just getting started in real estate, or you have been in the business for some time and are looking to supercharge your production, I encourage you to take some advice from each of the agents above, and build a business plan to make sure that you take your share of the market.

The last piece of advice that everyone shared is their love of the industry.  The brokerage business is tough, and if you find that you are not enjoying what you are doing, you owe it to yourself to consider a change.  Life is too short to spend your days doing something that you are not passionate about.