Risk And Reward: How To Succeed In Luxury Real Estate


As independent contractors, real estate agents are able to make choices about positioning themselves and finding the right market niche. Find out how agent Dwayne Leatherwood developed a luxury client base.

All month long in July, we’ll survey the changing luxury real estate market, talk to top producers and offer advice on how to level up — all leading to the gathering of the year, Inman Luxury Connect, Aug. 2-3 at the Aria in Las Vegas. Make plans now to join us there.

I’ve been in real estate for 18 years. I started my professional career as a human resources recruiter. I had my own business for many years, but I became immersed in real estate at a young age because my father was a homebuilder in South Florida. A significant component of staff recruiting is relocation, and I decided that if I got my real estate license, I could get the placement and referral fees. 

When I made a move to full-time real estate, I started in Fort Lauderdale and leveraged my knowledge about relocation to connect with potential clients.

Over the years, I built a successful business but ultimately wanted to move to an up-and-coming place with a change of seasons and low taxes. That’s how I landed in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Raleigh is attracting talent from established tech hubs like San Francisco and Seattle as an emerging tech center. Recruits come to town with West Coast salaries and can afford to live well in Raleigh. I have strategically structured my business to capitalize on these inherent opportunities. Here’s how I did it:

Be able to tolerate risk

When I started my real estate career, I knew I needed to invest in building my business, which meant I needed to spend money to make money. The only challenge was that I didn’t have much to spend, so I used my credit card and savings. It was a scary couple of years, and it took time to pay off the initial expenses, but it ultimately paid off. 

Live where you list and sell

People like to use agents who live in the community, so I made a conscious decision to live in a higher-end area. I was able to use my knowledge of luxury homebuilding and be involved in building my own home, as well as leverage available discounts, which helped in reducing the price.

Similarly, I dress professionally every day, and I drive the part. I wouldn’t say this is a reflection of my personal status or who I am as a person, but rather an investment in how I present to prospective clients. In my experience, I have found it makes a difference.

Be authentic

The secret to a successful sales career in any industry is being able to talk to anyone — to find some common ground that you share. It’s important to not feel intimidated by higher-end clientele — they are people just like you. And always remember that you have an expertise they respect and rely on.

Invest in top-tier marketing

Although we would all agree that an expensive brochure doesn’t sell a home on its own, a high-quality printed piece and a variety of other sophisticated marketing elements can work together to create an upscale experience that discerning clients appreciate.

I use Matterport 3D tours to emphasize how people would live in a home, creating a high-end experience. I also strategically advertise in well-respected and well-positioned publications that I can include in my listing presentations, as it demonstrates my expertise through a third-party lens. 

Another investment I made was purchasing a box at PNC Arena — where the Carolina Hurricanes play — as a premium experience for networking and client appreciation.

Be a strategic networker

I had my own recruiting company before I started my real estate career, and it was very successful due in large part to a commitment to very active networking. I would connect with people through professional human resources organizations, the chamber of commerce, economic development organizations — anyone who had a line on good talent and open positions. 

Those avenues are still very helpful in my real estate business. In addition, I regularly connect with every high-end homebuilder in the area and have been able to receive referral fees for bringing clients to the builders. I also work with three property managers who can provide temporary housing for my clients until they can buy a home. 

Don’t limit yourself

Although I have made a conscious decision to orient my business prospecting toward people who purchase homes at the higher end of my market, I do not limit myself to only working at this price point. 

That is one of the main reasons I am affiliated with my current brokerage. At my previous firm, which was predominantly high-end, potential clients assumed I would not work with them, and I saw myself losing business opportunities. I am much better positioned now to work with a wide variety of people across many price points.

As independent contractors, real estate sales professionals are in control of their business. We make strategic decisions about positioning ourselves in the market, what segments to target and what brand or brokerage to join. We leverage our skills, build our network and take risks because, ultimately, the rewards can be great. 

Dwayne Leatherwood is a top-performing real estate professional with ERA Live Moore in Raleigh, North Carolina. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.





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