As markets change, real estate agents must adjust to go where the sales are. Agents who merely printed business cards in 2003 typically made a great living, but if they didn’t at least have some interface with REO/HUD listings, chances are they probably didn’t make it through the downturn in the market very well. Similarly, those who are still focused primarily on foreclosures now are finding a slim paycheck compared to 2011.

I have seen top agents in residential brokerage fail after a slight turn in the market, while scrappy realtors who are adaptable are still going strong year after year. So, how can an agent buffet against the winds of change?

Know the market

When is the last time you actually did market research for your area? Not just the sales data year over year, but days on market, trends of foreclosures, owner occupied vs investor owned, rent rates and vacancies, tax changes, FSBOs, auctions, new building permits, or the growing or declining population of your city/ town? While it might seem like a lot of work, once you determine what information is helpful for your clients (and future clients), it is easy to maintain. All the data in an excel sheet can populate a visual graph that can create an “aha! moment” where your data informs your next market play.

Have both buyer and seller streams of revenue

“List to last,” is good advice but is it always a seller’s market? Of course not. Ensure your marketing is both buyer and seller focused. Consider marketing both to renters and to non-occupant owners at the same addresses. Find the highest turnover subdivision and become the resident expert. Push what is already moving downhill. If you are the go-to agent for both sides, that makes for a happy paycheck. If a neighborhood trend moves from a buyer to a seller’s market, or vice versa, you will be well prepared.

Learn new market segments

What is the next wave in the industry as REO phases out? Single family residential investment properties. Did you know that over 1,000,000 investment properties changed ownership last year just for mom and pop investors—not including institutional investing? Consider becoming an expert in this market so you can capitalize on these sales. Chances are, some of your past clients are considering real estate property as an investment. Know someone whose child is headed to college? Show them the math on investing in a home in their college town vs. paying dorm, apartment, or shared housing expenses and what their portfolio will look like after 4 years.
Mid-career clients? Educate them on investing in a self-directed IRA using real estate as a vehicle for income that contributes to their retirement fund. It is possible to purchase properties that are already rented and cash flowing with property management and solid renter history in place to provide immediate income.

Continue to network

I’m always surprised by old friends. People I know from high school on Facebook or an alumnus from my former college will ask me things out of the blue about real estate after having seen a post on LinkedIn or other social media. Folks will ask, “How’s the market?” That’s your cue to listen to what they are really asking, which might be anything from “It looks like we might be getting a divorce and I need to sell,” to “Stocks went way up/down this week.” Since you’ve studied the market, you’ll know exactly how to answer that.

Be at the right brokerage

Your brokerage can be a great help to you as you grow, but sometimes they can be neutral or even negative to your business’ growth. Be sure what they offer is what you need. There are a wide variety of real estate offices with unique strengths and weaknesses. Some may be stuck in the “old way” but they have the largest market share that will help you. And, of course we all want the best split. Most shops reward production with a better split as your GCI goes up. You should negotiate as best you can not only based on past performance, but on future opportunities. If you bring me a new line of business from which the entire office benefits, then I would be more than happy to compensate you for that. Most agents don’t understand brokerage back office, or really care, quite candidly. But a healthy brokerage is a combination of leadership and support by the organization and the expertise of the agent. To be an outstanding agent, you need help. You may be independent and have a staff to do this for you, in which case I say “great job!” Most agents need a bit more help, especially as the industry changes.

The savvy professional recognizes the need to stay sharp and focused on how to grow their business. Keeping these things in mind will help you through any market changes.