Create Your Own Strategy for Strong Realtor Relationships: Benefitting From Well-Planned PartnershipsDaryl WizelmanRealtor, Relationships, Strategic Partnerships, United Pacific Mortgage, Daryl Wizelman With the largest percentage of mortgage lending referrals still coming from real estate agents, it is more important than ever for loan originators to establish and maintain strong, ongoing relationships. It is imperative that each agent is viewed as a partner, especially if you are an originator who plans to tap into this market as a referral source for loans. Now is the time to step back and assess how you conduct your relationships. I strongly believe that, in building any kind of relationship, there first has to be a foundation of trust. This should comprise the philosophy of any company. Therefore, when approaching a real estate agent relationship, the experience will be more worthwhile if you view it as a mutually-beneficial partnership, rather than a simple sales call. To work successfully with real estate agents, you need to create your own strategy for establishing and maintaining your relationships. Instead of contacting agents en masse and hoping someone will call you with a referral, create a definite plan. Whom will you contact? What can you contribute? What do you hope to gain? Establishing a Productive Relationship Show your real estate agent that you care about your relationship. Keep apprised of what they value and what is important to them. Stick to the following guidelines, and your prospects will get the message that you are different and worth doing business with: 1. Under-promise and over-deliver. Too many mortgage originators break this rule, and too many real estate agents have experienced their broken promises. By exceeding expectations, you'll stay well ahead of your competitors. 2. Keep your sales calls and visits short and sweet. 3. Return phone calls as quickly as possible. It will show just how much you really value the relationship. 4. Be a resource. For example, my company, United Pacific Mortgage, offers marketing support, such as full-color flyers or brochures showcasing properties, finance sheets, postcards and open-house presentation materials. 5. Return the favor. Offer reverse referrals of qualified or pre-approved home buyers. Developing real estate relationships is definitely a proactive endeavor. You cannot plant the seeds and simply wait for them to grow. However, I have found that when you follow these recommendations and cultivate each partnership, your loan referrals will flourish. Here are specific ways to plan before you even speak with an agent: 1. Choose your partner(s) wisely. How many real estate agents should you have in your client base? It depends upon your production goals and their performance level. One rough guideline is to plan on approximately one-half to one referral, per agent, per month. For example, if you want three or four referrals per month, you may want to partner with at least six to eight real estate agents. However, don't try to work with too many agents. This could result in shallow, unproductive relationships. Choose only those whom you feel will be especially worthwhile to partner with, and concentrate on maintaining close ties with them. 2. Know your prospect. Before you arrange a visit, learn as much as you can about each prospect. What is their highest core value? If they focus on one particular market, learn more about it. You'll make a better first impression, which often seals or kills the deal in sales situations, if you've made an effort to know your agent beforehand. If you truly care about creating a relationship, this is how you will gain trust and begin building a quality partnership. 3. Prepare for each visit. Before you meet with a prospect, plan your visit in detail. Based upon your reasons for pursuing the relationship in question, ask yourself: a. What can I offer that other lenders cannot? b. What can I contribute to this relationship? c. What is the real estate agent bringing to the table? Be sure to include this information in your presentation materials. Prepare a list of questions to ask about the agent's business, needs and goals, along with friendly, personal questions about their family and hobbies. By keeping all lines of communication paved and open, you will continue to pile trust on top of your foundation. 4. Sell yourself. As part of every new relationship, introduce yourself with a brief but compelling description-who you are and what you represent. It is important to set yourself apart from other lenders and establish your credibility, while providing a brief overview of your company, products, services and pricing. Make your profile interesting, and resist the temptation to simply deliver a stack of numbers. Otherwise, your words will go in one ear and out the other. Conducting Successful Realtor Meetings Two important goals to set before any meeting are: (1) make the meeting productive; and (2) build your image as a reliable lending source. Here are some tips for ensuring productive meetings that will, in turn, help build strong relationships: 1. Listen! While you may want to set the stage with a brief introduction, ask the real estate agent as many relevant questions as time allows. You will make a far better impression and learn much more about their needs by asking relevant, open-ended questions, rather than spending most of the time talking sales. 2. Leave behind literature. Even if it's as simple as a folder with a few sheets of key information, have your capabilities, major benefits and rate sheets ready to present in a simple, hard-copy format that the agent can easily refer to. 3. Create a concrete service plan. In the mortgage industry, everyone promises outstanding service, but most originators deliver mediocrity, at best. Write down and explain, in concrete terms, the type of services you promise to provide, from returning phone calls with same-day service, to providing referrals from pre-approved home buyers. Then deliver on those promises consistently! 4. Be specific. Make sure you explain exactly what you would like to establish in the relationship, rather than a vague request of "earning your business." Let the real estate agent know that you are seeking both quality loan referrals and a partnership, based on integrity and mutual respect. Maintaining Successful Relationships After establishing rapport, you must remain actively involved, or you will risk losing the relationship and referrals you may have gained. You simply need to plan ahead, stay in contact and track your activities. A post-meeting thank-you letter may be an obvious way to stay in touch, but it's critical to stay on top of correspondence. To keep the relationship lively, vary the types of contact you have with the agent, adding value whenever possible. Some potential ideas include: 1. Arrange weekly visits to exchange useful ideas; 2. Set up quarterly lunch or dinner meetings; 3. Suggest an after-work social hour to talk on a more informal level; 4. Send birthday, anniversary and holiday cards; 5. Send helpful bulletins, newsletters or news clips via e-mail and parcel mail; 6. Periodically call, e-mail or send a personal note just to express your appreciation and say thanks; 7. Attend your closings together; 8. Attend or sponsor real estate events; and/or 9. Follow-up with thank you cards in addition to verbal thanks. Take a more strategic approach to nurturing your real estate agent relationships, and with a healthy dose of integrity, you will soon see a definitive return on your investment, in terms of repeat and referral business. Daryl Wizelman is president of United Pacific Mortgage. He may be reached by phone at (800) 400-7166, ext. 226, or e-mail [email protected].