Winning in Real Estate Without ‘Selling’ – An Interview with Ron Howard

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The next level is right around the corner, but before you get there, there are a million doubts you’ll have to reckon with first.

Is this what I really want? Who will I have to become to get it? What will I have to give up?

And of course, the killer: What if I fail?

Despite the prevailing narrative that you need to be a “shark”, “tiger” or some other kind of “total beast” in order to get ahead in the cutthroat world of real estate, the truth is:

You can actually just be yourself.

And know what else? If you manage to do that, the sales will flow right in.

To prove it, we sat down with Ron Howard, owner of Baltimore’s leading real estate team to find out how he closed over 533 transactions in 2016 and 470 in 2017, without following the conventional “sales” advice.

How to hit 470+ transactions without ‘selling’

“It sounds cliche, but our focus is really on service,” says Ron after telling us about the time he closed the transaction from hell as a favor to a friend.

Ron Howard & Associates aren’t a foreclosure team. They have no contracts with big developers. Most of their 470+ transactions last year were families buying or selling a home.

“If you focus on service like we do, the volume’s gonna come.”

Ron’s been very careful about managing the growth of his business. “Everybody’s got a slightly different model. I know guys that want to be the biggest. They want to be the #1 agent in their market, and service suffers. We always said we’ll never be number one in volume but we’ll always be number one in service.”

But Ron’s team has been number one in volume since 2015.

Ron says he expects to lose that title, though he doesn’t seem at all fazed by that. “It’s not going to stay that way. There’s just other people that want to do that high volume. For us, our volume is simply a side effect of our service.”

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Build a team that’s obsessed with customer service

It’s one thing for a team leader to be client-focused, but getting each individual on your team to care is a whole other ball game. We asked Ron how he inspires his team to live a people-first philosophy.

“I have very defined core values and the agents on the team align with those values,” he explained.

Ron’s values are focused on things like: trust, integrity, community, perpetual learning, maintaining a performance mindset and of course, relationships over sales. “We have this whole process called ‘friends not funnels’ and that’s big. You have to really care about your client, beyond just making that commission check.”

Ron currently has 16 team members and 4 paid staff. The first thing he does when he sits down to interview a potential new member of the team is show them his core values. He asks them to, “Take a look at them and before we get too far into anything, let’s make sure that our core values align. If you’re not really feeling it, there’s no real reason to move forward.”

Fair enough.

But Ron’s core values aren’t merely a hiring tool, they set the the tone for the entire modus operandi at Ron Howard & Associates, a place that Ron describes as being “very different than a typical sales environment.” In Ron’s office, there is just one simple sales mantra: Focus on the relationship and the sale will follow.

“A lot of teams don’t have business plans, core values or vision statements — but you really have to have that at the core level of your business,” explains Ron. And his values are very well-thought out — they represent the exact way he likes working with clients. And it seems to be a pretty effective approach.

60% of Ron’s sales comes from repeat or referral business. “We’ve done an amazing job at building a huge community,” explains Ron. And he isn’t kidding. But more on that in a minute.

Before we dive into Ron’s community marketing strategy, we should point out that there are a couple other crucial players on this team.

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Choose the right real estate coach

Ron recently started working with Verl Workman and Sara Guldi at Workman Success Systems. Because let’s be real, we all need a little kick in the mindset pants from time to time.  “I’m like a little kid. I need someone who’s tough to keep me accountable and focused on the right things,” admits Ron.

And he couldn’t be happier with his choice of real estate coach. Ron’s a high ‘I’ and Sarah’s a high ‘C’ — for anyone who’s not fluent in DiSC, that basically means that when Ron gets too carried away influencing others through his tendency for openness and collaboration, Sarah brings him back down to earth with her conscientious approach to hard logic and accuracy.

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“The only thing I regret in business is that I didn’t hire a coach sooner,” says Ron.

When we asked why the hesitation, he said, “I knew they were going to force me into doing something I didn’t want to do. I had more of an entrepreneurial spirit, I didn’t want anyone forcing me to do anything…Well, I did want it, but then I didn’t want it.”

Ron finally realized he needed someone there to push him to actually do the things he wanted to do. “We’re focused on listings, leverage and leads. We have a great system in place, but it’s that last 15% to 20% you need to build out a team.”

According to Ron, that’s where a coach proves invaluable.

Empower your team with the right tools

Any honest broker will tell you, one of the hardest parts of running a successful real estate business is leading a team.

And for ambitious agents looking to build or grow their teams, this is usually where the imposter syndrome kicks in. But it’s completely possible to inspire your team to push hard, without asking them to memorize the lines from Glengarry Glen Ross.

But you need to be able to give them the right tools.

“When a lead comes in, they get an auto text message and auto email. And everyone on the team knows that person should be called within the first five minutes. There’s also a task that appears in Follow Up Boss and agents should make at least three attempts for a phone call. But the leads are also going to get a couple emails, too. For us, the auto-texting is really awesome because we get a lot of leads from people who are just responding to that initial text message from the agent.”

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But let’s face it, time management is an issue for everyone in this business and technology can become a costly distraction…if you let it.

Here’s how Ron keeps his agents focused and accountable.

Track your team with a rock-solid success system

When agents on Ron’s team get replies from leads asking to book an appointment, they’re expected to drop everything and make that happen.

But that doesn’t mean they work reactively.

“Everyone on my team time blocks. We have what we call the ‘Best Week’ calendar in Google Calendar. So each agent has two calendars, one with all their appointments, etc. and the other with their ‘Best Week’ activities which will include things like reaching out to clients, working on contracts or whatever else they need to do.”

Agents on Ron’s team are never bored or unsure of what to do next. If for any reason they’re not out on an appointment or doing a planned activity, they simply defer to their ‘Best Week Calendar’ and get back on the ball.

And because Google Calendar makes it easy to share your weekly schedule, Ron can see at a glance whether an agent’s activities are aligned with their actual or ‘Best Week’ priorities.

But Ron also uses the Daily Success Tracker (both a hard copy and online version) given to him by Verl and Sara at Workman Success Systems to track his agents’ habits.

The core principle behind this system aligns perfect with the lessons from the book, The Compound Effect, which Ron describes as sort of a 7 Habits 2.0, and a true staple in the business canon. “It helps you achieve what The Compound Effect teaches: good daily decisions turn into good daily habits and across time the compounding effect is huge!” explains Ron.

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“If you’re checklisting so that you do everything completely and correctly every single time, across time that is going to make a huge change in your life.”

The Daily Success Tracker has a point-based scoring system. The goal is to get to 61 points.

Here’s a sample of what kind of activities agents can do to earn points.

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“You’ll never know where you’re going unless you track stuff. So we track on a daily basis,” explains Ron.

Ron also does a morning huddle every Monday and a team meeting every Thursday. “I know that if they’re scoring close to 61 points every day, they’re also going to have a lot of transactions.”

But what happens if a member of the team is nowhere near 61 points?

“We’re gonna sit down and talk about it. A lot of teams operate like a brokerage where the team leader just doles out leads. My team is moving more towards a team model. In the past, we might have said ‘As long as we see some decent business we’ll keep you.’ Now if we see that an agent is not going to do 30 deals per year, they’ll probably be asked to leave.”

That’s something that Ron’s still working on. “Our team was built with that sort of mindset but as we grew, that got watered down a bit and agents have joined us that don’t have that mindset. In the past year we’ve been purposely shrinking to get back to the core performance mindset that brought us that success.”

A champagne trouble no doubt, but one that’s hard to solve.

Be the leader you want to be

Ron’s solution for a flailing performance mindset is unconventional, but effective. “I try to persuade most of my agents to take a flight lesson,” he explains.

Believe it or not, Ron’s also a pilot. “When I got started in real estate, I knew a ton of people but mostly just from socializing, drinking and being out late. I wasn’t sure that people would think of me as really sharp and trust me as someone who could handle their real estate transaction.”

But what started as a personal branding exercise quickly became a passion for him. Ron went from terrified of flying to becoming a bona fide pilot who not only learned a performance mindset while flying a plane, but also wrote an entire book about it.

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In Create Demand and Stop Chasing Business: Secrets of a Top Real Estate Producer, Ron shares the full story of how he decided to literally “go for broke” on building a real estate business, losing his money, car and girlfriend in the process — but gaining a $155 million real estate business in return.

“For a pilot, it’s just normal to treat everything you do every day as if your life depends on it.”

When Ron started out, he asked himself the brutal question, “If you were in the market for a Realtor, would you hire yourself?”

His unfortunate answer was hell no.

So he set out to change his reputation and make people want to come to him, not the other way around. He laid out 4 guiding principles for his personal brand as a Realtor:

  1. Sharp like a pilot (performance mindset)
  2. Involved in the community
  3. Friendships over sales
  4. Become the hardest-working Realtor in the business

And to this day, Ron is in the office every morning by 6am.

But if he and his team aren’t spending that time chasing down leads, what are they doing?

Build relationships through community events

Ron Howard & Associates host some killer parties.

“There’s customer service and then there’s building a relationship,” says Ron. And most of Ron’s business comes from their community events. For example, they’ve recently invited 1,400 people to come by on November 20th to hang out, have some apple cider and pick up a free pie at the team’s annual Thanksgiving Pie Giveaway.

“We host great events that people anticipate and they become rituals. We put a lot of focus on those types of events.” The events happen all throughout the year. In December, they’ll have a Toys for Tots event just in time for the holidays. “Serving the community and throwing great social events creates an amazing amount of people that want to reciprocate by working with you.”

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Ron and his team hang out at a First Thursdays concert.

All of Ron’s agents have to be involved in at least one non-profit. Ron himself has been on the board of 5. Rather than passing out business cards, the agents on Ron’s team build their spheres through charity and service.

“You’re meeting people in your community who want to do good.” Ron and his team are then bringing those people into their collective community, strengthening the bond of social connection. “It’s not really service to transaction, it’s service to relationship. We want to build a network that people actually want to be a part of,” he explains.

In Ron’s view, you shouldn’t have to chase your SOI, you just have to build great relationships. “I didn’t realize how strong reciprocity was and I didn’t realize I had a passion for helping people.”

A proven system for reaching 700+ Zillow reviews

Ron Howard & Associates have over 700 reviews on Zillow.

Yes, you read that right.

“We get multiple calls a day from our Zillow reviews. It creates the authority and the social proof to help people make decisions before they really get to know you,” says Ron.

Ron explained that social proof by way of reviews started as a great subconscious mental trigger, but now it’s a conscious trigger. Today, many buyers and sellers make their purchasing decisions based on reviews.

Once you have that many reviews, you automatically rank number one when people are searching for agents in your market. “People are wired to make shortcuts with decision-making. Most of us are going to go to Amazon to buy something and we’re going to take a look at the reviews, but I don’t actually read the reviews. I just find the ones with the best reviews so I can narrow it down to the top products.”

That’s not to say that people don’t drill into the reviews. More analytical prospects might actually take the time to read them all. But most are just looking for that decision-making shortcut. “People competing in our market have around 200 reviews so to have 700 it’s just like…boom.”

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Ron and his team started collecting Zillow reviews early on. “We just always thought it was important to have the social proof and authority.”

One of Ron’s favorite books is Influence by Robert Cialdini. He understands the crucial role authority plays in helping alleviate people of the burden of all the research they think have to do as part of the decision-making process. But the reviews also help Ron deliver on the promise of becoming a better friend. Instead of chasing people down, the reviews make people want to connect with him.

The question is really where to collect your reviews. Ron and his team were doing LinkedIn reviews for a while, but people weren’t using them like they were on Zillow. “It was a good bet that Zillow was going to be the place to collect reviews. Zillow has twice as much traffic as the next competitor, Trulia, which they own,” he says with a chuckle.

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Ron Howard & Associates also have some reviews on Facebook and Google, and it helps them maintain a decent ranking, but at the end of the day, it’s all about going where the majority of their prospects are going.

In the day-to-day, Ron’s team focuses on bringing in those Zillow reviews. “A few times a year we’ll reach out and ask for reviews on Facebook or Google but there’s only so much time in the day and you can only bug somebody so much, so we focus our efforts on Zillow.”

And their process for collecting those reviews is surprisingly simple.

  • One of Ron’s assistants sends a reminder out once a month.
  • On the backend of Zillow, there’s a simple ‘Request Review’ button. You enter the client’s info and send the request.
  • The client gets sent a link to submit their review.

The whole process is beautifully automated.

At settlement, Ron lets the customer know, “My assistant’s going to send you a request for a review. You think you can give us a good one?” And of course, they’re happy to do it. Before he even gets back to the office, Ron calls his assistant and asks her to send out the reviews right away while it’s still fresh in the customer’s mind.

Of all the things they do, it’s one of the more “passive” tasks. “You do a good job and people will give you good reviews.” They ask, the system automates it, and the service is there to back it up.

What’s Next? Turning agents into influencers.

Did you know that 80% of Gen Z would hire someone who is a social influencer?

Neither did we. But these are exactly the kind of trends leaders like Ron are great at keeping an eye on.

In fact, Ron’s starting a small media company within his real estate business. With Ron Howard & Associates and the agents within it as their clients, the aim is to turn the younger agents into social influencers.

When Ron came into the business from a tech background, he noticed that all the top producers were just in the right place at the right time. “They did 100 deals and then the technology wave came in with guys like me and a couple others who understood websites and stuff, and a couple years later those top producers were on 10 deals a year. You can’t ignore these changes.”

Videos are great for getting in listings, but according to Ron, the real action is in riding the social influencer wave. Which, if done right, should fit well with Ron’s ‘friends not funnels’ philosophy. Because if Ron Howard knows anything for sure, it’s that genuine influence comes from genuine service.

Who are We?

GrowthHouse is where ambitious agents and teams come to learn strategies and tactics to grow their real estate businesses.

The team behind GrowthHouse also runs Follow Up Boss, a sales driven CRM dedicated to helping agents and teams focus and follow up for more appointments and sales. Click here to learn more about how Follow Up Boss can help you accelerate your growth.