Reclaiming the Human Touch in Real Estate

By MNR News posted 02-21-2023 01:06 PM

In a world dominated by technology, building personal relationships with clients is more important than ever. As the real estate market shifts gears and slows, many Realtors® are rethinking strategies and tactics for building new business. Whether they’re pounding the pavement and knocking on doors, or cultivating community on social media, they have one thing in common: the human touch. The Minnesota Realtor® talked with two agents from different generations who share the common belief that nurturing personal relationships with clients is critical to success. Although their methods for achieving that differ, they have both built thriving businesses by adhering to this foundational principle.

Serving community serves your business
For LeRoy Bendickson, real estate is a face-to-face business built on long-term relationships and trust. During 30 years as a Realtor® with Edina Realty, Bendickson has seen a lot of ups and downs in the market. These experiences have shaped his personal and professional philosophy, helping him hone his toolkit down to a few vital essentials. Topping the list is personalized, professional service delivered with honesty, integrity, and a focus on maintaining long-term relationships with every client. 

Although Bendickson says it’s important to have a good website and a presence on social media, the most important way to grow a network of potential clients and referrals is becoming a part of your community: businesses, places of worship, school, friends, and charity organizations where you volunteer. Charity has been an especially rich source of business for Bendickson. Although he is quick to point out that none of these social venues should be approached as a place to mine and convert prospects to clients. 

“It takes time to build relationships. Sure, tell them what you do for a living when you first meet, but they need to know you and trust you enough to turn to you for advice on real estate. And that doesn’t happen overnight.” Bendickson said. He adds that the time invested can have exponential payoffs with repeat business and referrals in years to come. 

Riding for the cure
Ultimately, he stresses, business is the fringe benefit of these relationships—not the purpose. This is especially true of Bendickson’s charity work. In 1990, he began riding in the MS 10, an annual bicycling event that raises funds for the National Association of Multiple Sclerosis (NAMS), and its local Minnesota chapter. He became so passionate about the work that he started recruiting agents and staff from Edina Realty’s various offices to participate. Starting with just twelve cyclists in 1995, Bendickson’s Edina Realty Real Estate Riders team grew to 292 bikers at its peak in 2019 and raised $250,000 during the 150-mile ride from Duluth to Minneapolis. Along the way, Edina Realty became an official corporate sponsor and helped Bendickson transform the team into a 501(c)3 charitable organization. Since their humble beginnings, the Real Estate Riders have raised over $3 million for NAMS. 

Getting noticed with snail mail
Over the years, Bendickson has built a vast network of former clients that he carefully tends through regular communications. His monthly newsletter, which is filled with tips and insights about the housing market, is printed and mailed—not emailed. 

“People get too many emails these days,” Bendickson said. “So, they don’t see it or they delete it. If something arrives in their mailbox, on the other hand, they’re more likely to read it.” 

That’s why Bendickson makes sure the contact form on his website includes fields for residential addresses. When he receives questions, he often responds with a handwritten note. In an era of instant text messaging, these charming missives add a personal touch that cuts through the chatter of 21st-century life. More important, they get him noticed and keep him top of mind as potential clients think about moving forward with a sale or purchase. 

Technology is transforming the real estate business  
Although he swears by time-tested communication tactics, Bendickson acknowledges the importance of technology and its impact on the real estate business, especially since the pandemic. For example, open houses, which used to be a primary hunting ground for new clients, have diminished in importance. 

“When I was first doing open houses, I had a clipboard with a pen and a copy of the listing for visitors to look at and make notes on. Then as they were leaving, I’d ask them what they thought. Conversations started that way, and I got a lot of business, too,” Bendickson recalled. “Now, by the time most people get to an open house, they’ve looked at a hundred houses online and chosen a Realtor® they found on the Internet. You can still get some business at an open house, but it’s nothing like it used to be.” 

Delving into the psychology of a new generation
Luke Chase, a Realtor® with RE/MAX Results who entered the business just three years ago, concurs. Although he knows some Realtors® who still produce results with “old-school” tactics like open houses, cold calling, and door knocking, his favorite platform for cultivating new leads is social media. The challenge is making his messaging relevant, accessible, and wherever possible—personal. To achieve that, he took a deep dive into the psyches of home buyers and sellers. 

Leveraging his earlier career in marketing, Chase interviewed past clients to build a demographic profile of the community he serves. 

“I asked probing questions that went deep,” Chase said. “I wanted to learn what their pain points were before they moved; what they desired and what brought them to wanting a new place to live. It was about going to the ground level and understanding their baseline psychology and emotions before they made one of the biggest transitions in life— buying a new home.” 

After his research, Chase drew common denominators from the conversations, emerging with five distinct personas—or personality types—that represent the different wants and needs of his clientele. 

“It was extremely eye opening,” Chase said. “I’ve used what I learned to create a blueprint for what I talk about on social media, on the phone, and over coffee at sit-down meetings with clients. If I open with the right questions, the conversation just explodes; it allows clients to express what’s going on in their lives, and how that’s influencing their decision to buy or sell. Because I understand their needs on a deeper level, I can serve them better.”

Finding a home on social media 
Most of Chase’s clients are young—in their mid 20s and 30s. Many are couples who bought or rented first homes in the Twin Cities, started families and wanted more room in the suburbs. Almost all of them grew up online and are natives of social media platforms like Instagram, Tik-Tok, and to a more limited extent, Facebook. 

“It’s where they live their lives,” Chase observed. “When they open their phones, they’re on social media. That’s where they share with each other, get their news and entertainment, and where they shop.” For Chase, Instagram has been a particularly rich vein of business. He estimates that as much as 75% of his new clients come from leads acquired there. 

“Instagram is a powerful tool. I’ll do a showing of a really sweet home, take some pictures, shoot a quick video, and share my thoughts about the pros and cons. Nothing groundbreaking— but it’s fast and informative. I’ll post it on my Instagram Story and 200 to 300 people will view it. The tool lets me literally see who’s watching it, so I get a lot of insights from that.” 

Chase’s slickly produced Instagram videos run the gamut from home tours to educational pieces showcasing his knowledge on home-value appreciation, down-payment strategies, and the state of the real estate market. No matter how wonky the topic, Chase delivers info in short, accessible bursts. It’s real estate expertise served with a chill vibe that resonates with his audience. He also tackles more down-home subjects like how to enhance living spaces with plants; and blends in personal photos of himself enjoying a corndog at the Minnesota State Fair, an afternoon in the North Loop, or playing ice hockey with his friends. Overall, Chase’s brand evokes a kind of real-estate “bro in the know”; a tech savvy entrepreneur who is highly knowledgeable yet very approachable. It’s a style that’s winning him business. But he stresses that it’s not purely transactional. He wants his messages to be useful and informative, even for those who never connect with him or become clients. 

“When I show up every day on social media speaking about real estate, I’m doing it to be helpful instead of self-serving. People see that and it slowly builds trust,” Chase said. “Eventually, when they’re ready, they reach out. They feel comfortable doing that because they already know me.” 

Because he has reaped so much value from his marketing and communication methods, Chase is working on creating a branded course that shares his strategies, tactics, and methods. It will include case studies and a step-by-step approach that newer Realtors® can follow to help establish their businesses. 

Cultivating beginnerʼs mind
Acknowledging that those just starting out in real estate face many hurdles, he stresses they also have an advantage not readily available to more seasoned agents: a fresh outlook. 

“New Realtors® have a special perspective because they’re still outsiders and can more easily empathize with buyers and sellers,” Chase said. “They might have been in that position themselves not long ago, so they understand those experiences on a gut level. That lasts about six to 12 months before it’s worn away by living and breathing real estate every day. You speak the jargon, know all the code and buzz words, and gain a lot of knowledge and experience. But if you’re not careful, you’ll lose touch with those invaluable client feelings and perceptions. That’s why those client interviews are important. It keeps you connected to what they’re seeing and experiencing as consumers.” 

He adds that newcomers need to be patient with themselves as they build their businesses, especially today when market conditions are more challenging. 

“Becoming a successful Realtor® is difficult in the best of times, especially if you’re coming from a salaried job. You go from a reliable fixed income to starting at zero every month. It can be really scary. It’s a little like going to a personal trainer and saying you want to lose 50 pounds this year. The trainer says, ‘sure, that’s possible, but you have to commit to this intense training routine, completely change your diet, and never let up—not for a second.’ And then you realize, your whole life is going to change. There’s no other way to do it. But if you commit to it, you will almost certainly see the benefits. And that’s how it works in real estate, too.”