Losing Sleep Over Discounters? Here’s How One Real Estate Leader Keeps Commissions Honest (and High)

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After closing 87 transactions his very first year as an agent, Alex Lopez wasn’t ready to settle for being the headliner in someone else’s show.

With a young family and just one year of experience in real estate, the 30-year-old Pennsylvania native set out to build a team his way. And with an average of 20 monthly transactions and 3.45% buyer-side commission, he definitely has what it takes.

Here’s the step-by-step story of how Alex and his team built and grew Homeway Real Estate from the ground up.

Table of contents

  1. The backstory: From buyer agent to owner after just 1 year
  2. How to use your CRM to make pros out of brand new agents
  3. Tracking agent activity the easy way
  4. Coaching next-gen agents
  5. How to get an average commission of 3.45% by focusing on buyers, not listings

The backstory: From buyer agent to owner after just 1 year

For Alex Lopez, sales was always a part of life.

Other kids delivered newspapers for extra cash, Alex sold them door-to-door.

Decades later, the natural-born salesman had sold everything from cell-phone subscriptions to hearing aids. He wanted a place to land.

So when one of the leading local real estate teams was looking for a Sales Manager, Alex jumped at the chance to try something new—despite having zero real estate experience.

And the rest as they say, is history.

His first year in the game, Alex closed 87 transactions.

(Yes, really.)

“It was just about taking advantage of the opportunity in front of me. No one else was going extremely hard at it and I worked seven days a week,” Alex recalls.

At the time, Alex’s wife was pregnant and on bed rest in the hospital. Alex would wake up, drop off his daughter at his mom’s house by 8am, work until 7pm, pick up his daughter, visit his wife in the hospital and then do another three hours at night after his daughter went to bed.

It was definitely a grind.

“I was learning the process, getting as much feedback as I could from anyone else, and it just kind of took off. I became good at it because I practiced it so much to the point that I felt comfortable enough after one year to go after it on my own,” Alex explains.

Start with a system you can build on

“I knew I didn’t want to join a RE/MAX or a Keller Williams or anything like that because when you work for a franchise, the business you build is never really yours,” says Alex.

He decided it was time for a new challenge—something that would be completely his. But he knew he needed a business structure that would fit his unique way of working.

“I started looking at CRMs even before I left my last company. In October 2017, it was like ‘OK. I’m really gonna do this,'” Alex recalls. His previous team had a proprietary solution but eventually ended up shutting that down to try another CRM…and then another…and another.

The first one was too laggy.

The second was “horrendous”.

The third was just…’meh’.

“I didn’t like any of the CRMs we had tried and I knew Follow Up Boss integrated well with Curaytor, which I knew I wanted to use. I did some research online and decided to go for it. I started filtering all my own leads into Follow Up Boss and it worked so well that the entire team ended up switching their whole system to Follow Up Boss, too. So from day 1 at Homeway, we’ve all used Follow Up Boss.”

After trying a bunch of different CRMs, Alex decided he was done with cumbersome code, confusing layouts and clunky user experience. “When I saw Follow Up Boss and everything was on one page for that one client in one system, it just made sense. I was hooked,” Alex explains.

Armed with a rock-solid lead management system, Alex and a handful of other agents banded together to create Homeway Real Estate in January 2018.

At Homeway, Alex runs the entire company, including a team of 18 agents, of which only three have real estate experience. Everyone else is brand new.

Source: Homeway Real Estate

How to use your CRM to make pros out of brand new agents

“Initially, the biggest issue was recruiting experienced agents. A lot of them are stuck in their ways because they come from traditional franchise models,” says Alex.

So Alex did what any self-starting rainmaker would do, he started recruiting people he knew were good at sales and training them on the ins and outs of real estate.

At 30 years old, Alex is one of the “oldest” members of his team (his youngest agent is barely old enough to drink).

“We’re a younger team so our agents have that tech-mentality built-in. They understand the technology and they know how to leverage it to make their jobs easier while helping the entire team work better together, as opposed to your traditional models where everyone has to figure it out for themselves,” says Alex.

Alex and his team close roughly 20 transactions per month. And he still does some of his own sales (including seven closings in April alone).

With a new team of agents from all types of sales backgrounds, not everyone has experience working with a CRM. “It’s an easier transition to train someone new on a CRM that’s simple,” Alex explains. “With the stages, it’s easy to help them understand where a client should be at every step in the buying process.”

Alex has Smart Lists set up according to buying timelines:

  • Hot Prospect – leads buying within 0-3 months
  • Engaged Prospect – leads buying within 3-6 months
  • Leads with a buying timeline of more than 6 months go into a nurture campaign

If you’re a Follow Up Boss user, you can easily implement a Best Practice Smart List to keep your team laser-focused on the leads most likely to convert.

And if a buyer or seller has signed an agreement, they go into a Buyer/Seller stage list.

“It makes it easy to explain to agents how their workflow should look and it allows us to be very direct when giving feedback. We can say, ‘Hey, this client shouldn’t be in that stage because this is where you’re at in the process,'” says Alex.

Simple follow up + hyper-local marketing = rockstar results

Alex generates leads from a variety of sources, most of them digital.

Those with the quickest turnaround are usually from portals like Zillow and Realtor.com. Facebook leads can take a little longer to convert and PPC leads are about 90-120 days out.

Since Alex and another three of his agents all speak Spanish, the team recently started experimenting with local Spanish radio advertising. And in that same test-and-find-out spirit, the team is also working on setting up hyper-niche websites strictly for search.

“Where we’re positioned is very unique. We’re an hour and a half from NYC, 20 minutes from the Jersey border and an hour from Philadelphia. We get a ton of people who want to move to this area,” explains Alex.

As the team grows, Alex plans to market these sites exclusively to leads looking to relocate to the area. They use Sierra Interactive to create the niche sites and get those leads flowing straight into Follow Up Boss. “Last month was our fourth month and we got about 50 leads from PPC and two people under agreement,” Alex says.

Striking a balance between automation and personalization with video follow ups

Whatever the lead source, Alex and his team aim to build a genuine connection with new prospects.

And with a killer combo of BombBomb and Follow Up Boss, they’ve automated relevant, personalized touchpoints for every single lead.

The team recorded videos for each agent depending on their role and the unique steps they take when walking leads through the buying journey. “Instead of just dropping your standard automated emails, we send videos emails through the Follow Up Boss Action Plans,” says Alex.

For example, new leads get an automated text, plus a video greeting on day 1. Even for leads on a timeline of six months or more, Alex’s agents will include a video email in the nurturing sequence so they can actually see their face. For the Homeway team, it’s all about balance. If a lead is in a 15-part email sequence, roughly four of those emails will have video.

In certain cases, the system is set up so that Alex automatically claims a new lead. When that happens, the lead instantly gets a video from him saying hello and letting them know an agent will be in touch in a matter of minutes. When the agent calls, the lead is already warm.

“The campaigns became easier after starting with the Action Plans. With my previous CRM, I couldn’t really track them. I mean, I knew what sequences were going out, but because it wasn’t user-friendly, it wasn’t something I even wanted to keep track of. It was more daunting to go in and check it out than to just ignore it,” Alex recalls.

Tracking agent activity the easy way

But for Alex and the Homeway team, an awesome lead management system isn’t just about the front-end.

“Our agents don’t do paperwork,” states Alex.

At Homeway, the transaction coordinator writes up all the offers and everything else is completely automated.

“Our process is very streamlined and it all starts with Follow Up Boss. When a lead comes in, they go into the stage-based Smart List and then we have it integrated with BombBomb and Dotloop, then Loft47 and Xero for accounting. Everything can be done digitally leveraging our technology. We hardly ever need to print anything,” Alex explains.

From Xero, the info goes straight into Gusto where Homeway runs their payroll. “From the moment a lead comes into Follow Up Boss, it streamlines directly from one technology to the other. The API also helps because we’re able to take data out of the system and use it however we need to for our reporting,” says Alex.

“This system allows us to easily keep track of the calls being made.” The Homeway team uses Dialpad VoIP system for their phone calls. “If we see that you made 80 calls with Dialpad and then we look at Follow Up Boss and you only made three appointments, we can ask what’s going on. Now that we can see the black-and-white numbers coming from each individual agent, we can focus our training more effectively,” says Alex.

At Homeway, there’s a 50/50 split with agents, but by providing his team with quality technology and systems, it’s a complete win-win. “To us, it’s a very generous split because if you go to a franchise, even if you have a 99 to 1 split, you’re going to have to put out a ton of money to get the amount of leads you need and a great system for working those leads. To us, it’s a no-brainer.”

And of course, it doesn’t hurt that the team regularly hits buyer-side commissions of up to 5%.

Coaching next-gen agents

Alex and his team are firmly focused on delivering a superior experience for buyers.

In fact, they only have one listing agent on the team.

“Everyone else is clawing all over themselves to get a listing. We let our listing agent do his thing and we stay very focused on the buyer side,” he explains.

And that’s a massive motivator for his agents. “Learning the customer service skills that help you earn a 5% commission, no split—that’s worth much more than any incentive. My first year alone I earned $120,000 in extra commission just by going the extra mile for my buyers.”

(More on that in a minute.)

The team has a weekly training and monthly meeting in order to keep everyone on the same page. But on any given day, it’s all about learning and growing.

“I do a lot of one-on-one trainings, shadowing agents out in the field or joining them in client meetings. I teach them the sales aspect, I teach them to go over contracts, I teach them the stuff you really don’t learn when you’re going to school to get your license. But so much of it is just learning on-the-job, because every situation is different. You have to figure it out as you go sometimes,” says Alex.

“We don’t have a monthly incentive system where people can get cash or percentage bonuses or anything like that. With the amount of value and support we give, that should be incentive enough. If you need a $2,000 bonus to get motivated then you’re probably not the right person for us,” explains Alex.

How to get an average commission of 3.45% by focusing on buyers, not listings

Alex’s average commission on the buyer side is an impressive 3.45%.

“We’ve made more money on the buyer side than most agents do on the listing side. You could have 50 listings but if none of them close, what’s the point? But if I get a buyer, that’s a transaction,” he reasons.

“A lot of teams will say there’s a flat 5 or 6% or whatever but actually, commission is negotiable. And with us, everything is negotiated upfront in full transparency. As soon as we meet with a client we let them know that in the state of Pennsylvania there are no attorneys required, we do everything for you and we typically charge 5% for that service. If we can collect 3% from the seller side, the rest of the 2% will fall on you,” says Alex of the team’s super-transparent process.

The conversation begins with a really dialed-in and engaging presentation where the team asks their prospects all about what they do and don’t like in a potential home and tackle the financing head-on.

“One thing that makes us really different is we know the financing part of it. Most agents just send their leads off to a lender and if they don’t qualify, they don’t qualify. But who controls your transaction? If your lender doesn’t get the money, you don’t have a sale,” Alex explains.

Alex and his team not only know the details of the lending side, they partner with a select handful of trusted lenders. Based on the questions they ask in their presentation, they can recommend the right lender based on a lead’s unique buying profile and situation.

They also walk their prospects through a complete market analysis, covering everything from the school district to the nitty-gritty of why prices are what they are. Homeway customers leave the presentation knowing exactly what to expect throughout the entire home buying process based on their unique situation and loan program.

“We also explain that we work off their schedule, seven days a week. If somebody wants to put in an offer at 9pm on a Sunday night, we put the offer in—Game of Thrones or no Game of Thrones,” says Alex, only half-joking.

It’s a level of service most part-time or even full-time agents just don’t provide.

“A lot of agents are afraid to charge the way we do but with the experience, support and transparency we provide, that’s what makes it satisfying for customers. It’s the same with taking a vacation. You might pay two or three grand to go on an awesome trip but in the end, it’s not about the money. You just want that memorable experience,” says Alex.

From home search to financing, the team’s unique approach is completely client-centric. And it involves a level of trust and integrity that’s not often found in the wild world of real estate.

For Alex, it’s a simple matter of always being there for your clients. “Five or ten years ago we weren’t hooked on smartphones. Now, whether you’re 15 or 55 years-old, you want an instant response. Follow Up Boss gives you the ability to be instantaneous with clients. It enables you to touch them directly and quickly so that you’re not dropping the ball. Today, if you don’t call somebody back in five minutes, you’re losing thousands of dollars.”

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