Retention Series: Retrain Agents on the Essentials

Brokers can prep agents to thrive in a balanced market with a return to the basics.
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From 2020 to 2022, the real estate market was so frenzied, many agents didn’t have time to contemplate training—they were too busy keeping their heads above water. “All you had to do then was put a listing in the MLS and within hours, you’d have 15-20 offers,” recalls Lisa Hill, President of the Orlando Regional REALTOR® Association (ORRA) and Broker Associate and mentor at Keller Williams Realty at the Parks. “Agents got complacent because they knew they didn’t have to do much. It was easy.”

But now that the market has shifted, agents need to invest in boosting their skills, especially those who’ve been in the field for three years or less, she explains. “These newer agents only know a world with three percent interest rates,” adds Peter West, broker-owner of Bishop West Real Estate in Venice, Fla. He emphasizes the importance of continued learning and training, even if a traditional training or class isn’t the preferred option. Here’s advice from Hill and West on what you need to impart to your team.

Rebuild Social Skills

Some agents have forgotten the basics of interacting, says West, who urges picking up the phone. Even for customers who prefer texting, agents can always text and ask when they can call. “Don’t forget the human component,” he reminds. “What draws negative and mediocre online reviews is the lack of the personal touch.”

West also encourages his team to network, as he largely credits his success in real estate to getting involved with his local and state associations, and NAR. West schedules regular meetups with potential partners and resources, like the president and SVP of his local bank, which keeps him top of mind in his community and market. “The easiest way is an old-fashioned coffee or lunch,” he says.

Revitalize Customer Service

During the past few years, customer services wasn’t necessarily front and center because there was no time for it. Agents dealt with multiple offers as soon as a property hit the market. On the buyer and the seller side, deals were moving so quickly that much wasn’t needed to get a deal done, and agents were moving on to the next client in no time. For those who joined the industry in recent years, they might not have a strong background in customer service to fall back on.

“Some of today’s agents come in, slam a deal together, and expect to get paid,” shares West. “And that’s the problem because they’re not providing a high level of customer service.” To prevent this, Hill trains agents using detailed guidelines on how to work with buyers and sellers. For instance, agents need to listen and take copious notes during consultations, then only send properties from the MLS that meet buyers’ criteria. Hill also emphasizes to agents that they need to follow up a few days after closings to check in. Plus, they need to touch their contacts monthly, whether it’s by sending listings or even home care reminders like changing air conditioning filters or applying for homestead exemption.

Engage Thoughtfully With Technology

Every day new technology comes out, says Hill. Although she counsels agents that they need to know their CRM backward and forward and stay on top of current offerings, she also cautions them not to overinvest in tech. Be wary of all the emails pressuring you to buy new products, she warns, adding that each one will likely involve a contract and monthly fee.

When it comes to reaching millennials, West urges the importance of boning up on social media, including video. “We are coming into the largest buying pool of a generation, and this is a generation that grew up on video. Data from Oberlo a software development company specializing in marketing, shows that nine out of 10 of all millennials are on social media. So, if agents are not marketing with video and social media, they’re missing that group.” Since different people communicate in different ways, West instructs his agents to ask each customer how they prefer to correspond.

Invest Time in Continuing Education

A slower market is an opportunity for agents to reinvest in themselves by working toward designations and fulfilling continuing education hours, says Hill. They can take courses through the NAR, their brokerage and local and state real estate associations. Both Hill and West recommend GRI (Graduate, REALTOR Institute), RENE (Real Estate Negotiation Expert), ABR (Accredited Buyer’s Representative) and SRS (Seller Representation Specialist).

To help agents narrow down which courses to take, West suggests they consider their own interests and market trends. For instance, getting a waterfront specialist certification makes sense in a coastal area and so does an SRES (Seniors Real Estate Specialist) in a market with many retirees, like Florida or Alabama. For agents interested in global real estate, they could go for a Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) certification. To encourage her agents, Hill will sometimes run contests where incentives like gift cards are given to those who complete a certain number of continuing education hours per month.

Dial Down on Fair Housing and Ethics

A slower-moving market is also a good time to dive into important topics like industry ethics and fair housing specifics.

Both Hill and West ask their agents to take the NAR’s At Home with Diversity course and encourage them to stay on top of federal and state fair housing regulations. This way, they can help protect home buyers from discrimination and avoid liability issues, Hill explains. “Agents need to know when to tell customers that they cannot discuss certain things with them, like crime rates.”

Set Realistic Expectations

As part of training, educate your agents on how to survive in an off-market, counsels Hill. They can get really frustrated—for instance, after losing 15 offers in a row, which is what many agents dealt with during the pandemic. She helps her team understand what it takes to be a successful agent, including daily lead generation and hosting lots of open houses.

She also gives them a reality check during their annual one-on-one meetings, when she helps them craft business plans. For instance, she had to provide pointed counsel to one of her agents, who expected to sell 150 properties in one year. “In some ways, reeling in their expectations could be the most important training we do.”

Realistic expectations, coupled with a framework to help agents meet their goals, help them see what’s possible and plan accordingly.

Focus on Financing

“Back in the day, if you were a top agent, you knew financing like the back of your hand,” says West. Agents understood how to use a financial calculator, calculate buydowns and were informed about mortgage products. “Agents still need to know all of this, but have gotten historically lazy,” he adds.

It’s vital that agents are familiar with lenders and their products so they can steer their customers toward the right institutions, he explains. While there might not have been time for that in recent years, now agents need to build those relationships and have knowledge of the offerings in their market. For instance, he’d send a customer with stellar credit and enough cash for a 20% down payment to a bank offering an option with few or no closing costs. Likewise, he might send a customer with little cash to an FHA lender.

Along with helping customers, agents need some financial savvy to protect themselves and their futures, West stresses. “If agents are starving, they’ll quit,” he adds. As a resource, he directs them to the NAR’s The Center for REALTOR® Financial Wellness.

A Guide to Retaining Your Agents

We know that agent retention is top of mind for many brokers, especially in a changing market. This series explores the various approaches brokers take to keep agents content. 

Prepare for the Market You're In

Succeeding in the current market means preparing yourself and your agents for the next one.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Brokers say the key is to let agents with special skillsets and business models know you have what they need.

Create a Culture Your Agents Won't Want to Leave

Culture is where retention starts. Is your brokerage's culture one that makes everyone feel seen, motivated and ready for success?

Prep Agents for Opportunities in the Marketplace

Buying and selling are a small part of the complex real estate business. Now is the time to help agents capitalize on other opportunities in the business.

Doing the Math for Your Agents

If an agent is coming to you ready to leave because of splits, there’s likely a deeper issue at play.

Communication With Your Agents

The reality is, agents want a broker who communicates, makes themselves available and shows that they care. Retention often starts with being available.

Figure Out What Your Agents Want

Want to keep agents around? You have to know what they want in a brokerage and make plans to deliver.