How to Handle Ups and Downs in the Real Estate Market

real estate agent on phone

Working as a real estate agent sometimes feels like you’re playing craps in Vegas. If the housing market is hot, your phone never stops ringing, and you rake in the chips. If the market is cold, every deal seems to fizzle out. How can you stay afloat through ups and downs in the real estate market until the real estate gods favor you, again?

Successful real estate agents share how they survive when the going gets tough.

Go after clients others don’t want

Sure, everyone wants a $2 million listing. But until you land that whale, represent buyers and renters looking for more modest dwellings. You may have to schlepp a little more and earn a little less on each deal, but commissions add up.

When Amy DalCanton became an agent 10 years ago, she worked with renters, who have since become some of her best clients. “Renters become buyers who become sellers,” says DalCanton, a real estate agent for Unlimited Sotheby’s International Realty in the Greater Boston area.

“I make it a point to give landlords excellent service, and they usually come back to me year after year to use my services, and eventually some of them are ready to sell. It’s been a great source of income for me.”

Practice card tricks

Giving out business cards is a good way to keep your name, face, and number easily accessible when someone needs a real estate agent.

But the real advantage of handing out business cards is the interaction that happens before the card changes hands. Each card left in the world can cause significant ripples. People have family, church friends, and business associates with whom they can share that little piece of card stock.

Kevin Vandenboss, a Lansing, Michigan, commercial real estate broker, remembers a super-successful agent who went through 10,000 cards a month.

“He gave everybody he met two of them, ‘One for you and one for anybody you know that’s thinking of buying or selling,”’ Vandenboss says.

Maybe distributing 300 cards a day seems like a Mount Everest–like challenge. But if you set a goal to hand out, say, 10 cards a day, “It will pay off,” Vandenboss says.

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Set aside capital

Just because a real estate career doesn’t typically require large chunks of capital—you are not building factories or purchasing widgets, after all—you still must maintain a financial cushion throughout your career, which will help you weather the bad times. Agents differ on how cushy that cushion should be.

Don Johnston of Johnston Properties in Jersey City, New Jersey, says agents should put aside money for two or three years of personal and business expenses.

Others say less or more. But the point is, rainy days and stormy months happen, and you must be able to protect yourself financially when they do.

Always stay in touch

When things are rosy, and you don’t have enough time to breathe much less catch up with old clients, you should catch up with old clients!

One of the best ways to cushion the ups and downs of the real estate market is to nurture your network, relationships, and past clients during good markets.

“Keep in touch even though you’re crazy busy now with new business and opportunity,” says Darin Persinger of Persinger Group in Everett, Washington. “Keep in contact with the people from your past, or they won’t be there when you need them.”

Set aside time every day—at lunch, at the end of the day, whenever—to check in with people in your sphere. Even if they’re not planning to sell at the moment, they might know someone who is.

Be strategic about those calls. Don’t just ask for listings or referrals. Share news of the Whole Foods that’s coming to the neighborhood next month, or offer some movie coupons you happen to have laying around.

The point is, make a reaching-out call as valuable to the person who picks up the phone as it is to you.

Keep learning

Slow times give you the opportunity to take continuing education classes that will boost your skillset when the market heats up again. Take a digital or social media marketing class. Enroll in a public speaking course that will help you polish up your act. Learn about commercial real estate so you pivot when things are slow in the residential quarter.

“Be. Know. Do,” Johnston says. “That’s how we don’t starve.”

Views bad markets as half full

Not every down market is “all bad,” says Persinger. Tough times separate the dabblers from the professionals. In the end, fewer agents remain standing; and those who are, have less competition for business.

Remember: People buy and sell homes no matter how hot or cold the market is. Be prepared, and you’ll emerge from tough times smelling like that apple pie you stick in the oven before an open house.

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