Regardless of how your market is performing, you'll succeed in real estate if you can master these essential skills.

The real estate profession changes every day, but the qualities you find in top-performing practitioners do not. The details may shift as technology rolls forward, yet the underlying skills are always the same. If you can master these, you'll be successful in any market.

Skill 1: Meeting New People

The simple fact is that if you never meet anyone new, you will never have anyone new to sell to. Whether you encounter them for the first time in person, online, or over the phone doesn't matter. Get one-on-one with them in a conversation about their needs, and you've at least started down the path to success. 

Skill 2: Making Personal Connections

You don't have to be the best at everything to succeed in this business. You just have to be competent and likable. People buy from people they like. Develop the ability to connect with your clients and make them trust you, and 90% of your sales process is done. Want a quick way to engender trust? Tell the client something that it's not in your best interest to tell them. Show them that honesty is more important than anything to you.

Now, this doesn't mean to tell them that you got sued last week — that will make people nervous. But it could mean mentioning that the houses in another neighborhood have the same amount of space and are less expensive. They know that you get paid more if you sell them a higher-priced house. Showing them something in their best interest instead of yours makes you trustworthy.

Skill 3: Following Up on Every Lead

Follow-up is a big area where agents fail. If you aren't going to take every lead you get and work it to death, then you'll never be a top performer. Working every lead until it either closes or is clearly not a lead anymore is critical to building the solid pipeline that's required to keep your business continually producing. This means that you need a system to make sure nothing gets dropped or forgotten. Throw away your Post-it notes; they should never be used as a place to write down a lead. All leads need to be kept in one place, and all of them need a minimum amount of information. That includes:

  • The person's name
  • Contact information
  • What property they contacted you about (or where they came from if it wasn't from a property)
  • Their timeframe is for moving
  • If they're buying, selling, or both
  • If they're buying, what they're looking for and in what area
  • Their emotional hot buttons (what they get excited or angry about)

If you don't have all of the information you need, don't be afraid to contact them again for more information. And once you have the information you need, continue to contact them on a regular basis to make sure they stay on track. Don't worry that you'll be bothering them—instead, worry that they would otherwise forget who you are or feel ignored by you.

Skill 4: Asking for What You Want

This is typically a big problem with real estate rookies, but you'd be surprised how many veterans forget this piece of the puzzle, too. It's not always easy, but you have to ask for things to get them. Ask for the sale. Ask for the appointment. Ask for the phone number of the person your client wants to refer.

Don't wait for people to call you, for the clients to say they're ready, or for the buyers to tell you that this is the house they want. Be direct. Ask them, "Is this the house you want to buy?" "I'll get your house on the market tomorrow if you'll sign right here." "Which is better for you: Monday at 6 p.m. or Wednesday at 3 p.m.?" "Why don't you give me your friend's number, and then you don't have to think about it anymore?" All of these are great closing questions used by some of the top practitioners in the industry.

Skill 5: Setting Appropriate Expectations

Once you have the contracts signed and your clients are committed to the process, then it's all about meeting expectations. And make no mistake, there will be expectations—whether you set them or your clients do. This is why it's important to set those expectations yourself; you don't want to get blindsided by something the clients decided to expect without consulting you.

The best real estate professionals are masters at setting expectations. They know what reasonable timeframes are, and they don't make promises they can't keep. They let clients know immediately if things need to change, and they set the new expectations quickly and decisively, leaving no room for the clients to wonder (and worry) what happens next. 

Skill 6: Taking Care of Details

You must treat your business like a business. This means having a system in place to make sure deadlines get met, appraisals are ordered, home inspection responses come in on time, appointments aren't forgotten, and problems are solved. You should even have systems to make sure that your clients—and, if you're really smart, the other side's clients—have handled all of the details they need to attend to. Hold on to every deal and work it until it closes, letting nothing go. In saving multiple deals from certain death each year, top performers improve their closing ratios and increase their per-hour earnings. 

Skill 7: Paying Close Attention to Money

Lots of agents tell me that it's not about the money for them; it's about the people. And that's great. I love helping people, too. But if you don't focus on making money, you're not going to make any. Real estate is your business, your livelihood, and you deserve to be compensated for the skills and services you provide. If you stop paying attention to the money, you'll do things like:

  • Negotiate away your commission.
  • Not take a referral fee "to be nice."
  • Work on listings that will never pay you anything close to reasonable compensation for the amount of work you do because you "feel bad for the person."
  • Take overpriced listings so that the sellers will like you.
  • Not make buyers sign contracts.
  • Stay with a broker who pays you a below-market split.

All of these things result in you working too hard and not making what you deserve. It's not your job to right the wrongs of the world. It's your job to make a living for yourself, preferably a really good one. It's not about the number of deals you do; it's about how much money you get to keep when the deals are done. 

You have to focus on the money if you hope to be successful. If you're not making a profit, you're running a charity, not a business, and you don't get grants like charities do to make ends meet.

You have to keep up with changes in technology, industry regulations, buyer and seller priorities, and economic conditions. But the skills that I've listed above will take you further than any new flashy marketing plan or social media technique. No matter what's going on in real estate, these skills will be the difference between a good agent and a great one.