There are vast, wide-open, undiscovered gold mines available for real estate professionals that would like to work the attorney market: for real estate agents, for lenders, and most areas of commercial. In large part, the attorney market has been completely ignored by real estate professionals; it’s an unharnessed and vast gold mine. The calls come in to the attorney, and we are not there with our glove open to make the catch.
Picture this scenario as a real estate professional: you are working with a businessperson; he or she is referring you multiple deals per year; your competition is not competing for his or her attention; you like him or her; he or she likes you; and you are given autonomy to do what you know needs to be done as a professional. Sound completely unrealistic? Today, if I had the objective to send my brokerage business to the moon, I would focus on this area, the attorney market, almost to the exclusion of all others.
I was introduced to this market almost by accident.
I was doing a loan for an attorney and her husband. They were buying their first home, and the loan was a little tricky because they were young, didn’t have much a down payment, had lots of student loans, had a minimal income, etc. They had been trying for a couple of years to get a loan with no luck. I actually met them through a direct-mail piece that I was sending out to renters. They called me and we met. I didn’t want them to be disappointed again, so I asked them not to look for a house until we had formal loan approval subject only to property-specific conditions, such as appraisal, title report, and purchase contract. They agreed.
The loan took a bit of doing and wasn’t a great loan, frankly, but we got them a loan nonetheless. They started looking with a real estate agent and successfully bought a house. Great. They were thrilled to have purchased their first home, and they recognized how difficult the loan was in this case. So they were appreciative, which is always a good feeling. I said thank you (we’ll call them Fred and Elma) and congrats and really didn’t think much it, and then moved on to the next deal.
About a year later, I had made that switch to real estate sales (as a real estate agent) and got a call from Elma, my client and the attorney. She said that she was working on a family law matter and there was a property that needed to be sold. She didn’t much care that I had little to no experience at that point selling property. She was representing the husband and wondered if I would be interested in pursuing that matter. Naturally, I said yes.
Now, when you are working a divorce matter, you are working equally and 100 percent for the owners of the property, in this case, husband and wife (who weren’t real fond of each other at the moment). It’s very important to remember that. However, I came into the picture as a referral from the husband’s team, so naturally the wife and the wife’s attorney were a little leery of me. I walked into the door for the first time, and I could just feel that it was going to be tricky. The husband showed up too. I realized quickly that I needed to be sensitive to how difficult this was on each of them, but that I needed to be an independent and impartial voice in the room and mainly stick to the business at hand. We got through that first meeting okay, but it was too soon for them to make a commitment to a real estate agent, so we continued the process. Remember, it’s a process.
As I stayed in touch with both of them over the next couple of months, I realized that the wife was leaning on her attorney and the husband on his. At that point in their life, the attorneys were their trusted advisors, possibly the number one advisor for each of them at that second. The husband was ready to hire me; the wife, however, was not. I asked the wife one day if she would like me to reach out to her attorney to give her a summary of things. She said yes. In fact, she was thrilled with the idea. I called her attorney and had a good, quick chat. Then I started to realize that I almost had four customers; the husband, the wife, and their two attorneys. Four, that’s a big team.
After talking with the wife’s attorney, the wife called me shortly thereafter and was comfortable moving forward. Do you think the opinion of the wife’s attorney mattered? For sure, her attorney felt good about me, so she felt good about me. We got the property listed and sold. By the end of the transaction, I had a good professional relationship with the husband, the wife, the husband’s attorney, and the wife’s attorney. What they wanted more than anything else was equal and complete communication.
The climax of the story. Reminder, I came into the picture through the husband’s attorney, Elma. The wife’s attorney called me about a month later and said that she was pleased with how I handled things, and would I be willing to look at another matter that required a piece of real estate to be sold. Wow! That’s what I said. Wow! What would happen if I actually tried building those relationships instead of just dumb luck landing in my lap? Could I actually build a good, solid referral business from primarily attorneys?
And so it began, one after another after another.
Trusted members of the community. I know what you might be thinking; we are only talking about divorce cases. You would be wrong if you are thinking that. Attorneys are trusted members of the community; people come to their attorneys for all kinds of business and personal matters. I do; I almost never make a decision without involving my attorney team. And we are not only talking about family law, trust, and probate attorneys. I have had attorneys send me deals that were involved in patent law, corporate law, criminal defense, and more—things that have nothing to do with real estate.
Think about it: when someone needs help and has a trusted friend/advisor in the legal profession, that person is likely to reach out to him or her. That attorney might be an expert at coal technology litigation and the person might need help with a complicated commercial building, but he or she is likely to reach out anyway as a starting point. I had an attorney that was an expert at microchip piracy issues that called me one day out of the blue; she said that her colleague, another attorney, needed an agent referral for a bread-and-butter buyer client. Awesome, great, thank you—I’ll take care of that!
And yes, there are a lot of divorce and death cases. Recognize, however, that those cases will come from more than just family law, trust, and probate attorneys; they could come from every specialty of law under the sun, as a starting point. And finally, in those unfortunate situations of death or divorce, should there not be a good, solid, strong real estate professional involved in that process? You bet, for sure, even more so in those instances.
Good and bad deals. When you are working the attorney market, you need to be willing to get your hands dirty. Sometimes you might get to work on a home-run-smooth transaction, and other times it might be a nightmare. It’s a must to maintain a good attitude and perform well either way. You have to be willing to take the good with the bad and give it your best effort either way. In addition, there might be some that are $100,000 deals and some that are $2 million deals. Again, it doesn’t matter—people will be counting on you in both instances to get it done and get it done well.
Servicing. When you start building those strong relationships, your attorney clients will lean on you for lots of things. “Hey, Jim, can you run comps on a property, check that rate for me, can you look at this issue, or can you evaluate that?” There is a servicing aspect to working with attorneys in addition to “doing deals.” It’s not a problem; I’m giving you a heads up to be prepared for that and be willing to jump in when you are needed. And you do have to jump in and be responsive and helpful.
Who is working this market? Rest assured, practically no one is working this market. It’s safe to say that many folks don’t even recognize that this is a market to be worked. You will be all alone for the most part. “If that’s true, Jim, then who is handling these deals right now?” They are falling through the cracks, landing in the hands of your competitors, one by one on a fragmented basis.
Attorneys could be referring a large volume of business. All you have to do is be clear in your intention about it. You want to catch the person (the customer) at the point of contact, when the customer makes the call to the attorney. That’s the time to put out your glove and make the catch. Later, down the road, is too late.
One to four. If you are working a divorce case, really focus in and do a good job. Your customer list went from one to four. On a normal transaction, we have one customer and one possibility to generate more deals and referrals from the one customer. On a divorce case, we have four, and those numbers grow exponentially. Mr. Seller may want to buy a house; Mrs. Seller may want to buy a house; the attorneys may have more business for you. The possibilities are exponential. Use numbers to your advantage. Make numbers your friend. For that to happen, you have to do a good job.
A bad market. I’m convinced that people lean on their attorneys more when things go bad then when things are good. So the attorney market is a good market when the economy is good and it’s a good market when the economy is bad. People need their advisors in both instances.
My business real estate agent. I could have said my business lender or my business commercial contact. I have had attorney clients that send me two deals yearly just like clockwork. But when they listed their own personal residence, they hired someone else; I have had that happen more than once. Before you feel sorry for me, think about it. I was not their personal real estate agent in their mind; I branded myself as their “business” real estate contact. They associated me with their business, their place of employment, and the other real estate agent with their personal life. So over a six-year period I would do twelve deals with them and they did one deal with someone else. No problem.
I’m thinking about all the attorneys that I worked with; I’m guessing only two to three would hire me to help them buy a house or list their personal residence. But all of them would hire me to take care of a piece of business they were working on within their firm. See the difference? Once you understand the difference, you’ll understand the power of working the attorney market.
Five good attorneys. You don’t have to go crazy here; how about start by building strong business relationships with five active attorneys over the next few years? If they are successful and you are skillful about embracing that relationship, it’s realistic to produce two deals annually from each attorney, ten total. You can change the assumptions if you like, but based on my experience you will be able to do one to three deals yearly from each relationship. Two is a good number. In some markets, a real estate professional can base his or her entire existence on ten deals yearly.
Building relationships. I can’t give you step one, step two, and step three on this. I will give you some ideas, however. These are professional people. You have to be thoughtful. I have sent out letters over the years in an attempt to build my attorney client customer base, with absolutely zero response. And well-written letters, I must say; but even then, no response, not even a ripple. Personal touch is the key. Think about who you may know right now that is an attorney, and start there. And for young people brand new to real estate, think about parents and even grandparents of your friends that might be an attorney. Ask to have coffee or stop by their office for a minute. The messaging is simple, for now: you just want to be there as a real estate resource for them. Remember, this not an in-and-out deal. You are building a relationship. It’s not going to happen overnight. These are serious matters, in many cases; they are handling them within their law firm. It’s going to take awhile for them to trust you. Be patient and be available as a resource. And then, when you finally get a chance to do a deal with them, kick butt.
Go get ’em!
Chapter 40 - Gold Mine
Not what we have but what we enjoy constitutes our abundance.
A SUCCESS GUIDE
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