The Top Five Personality Traits of a Successful Commercial Real Estate Agent!

Over the last 20 years or so one of the questions I hear most often in a commercial real estate course is what makes a good commercial real estate agent?” Now, that I have the luxury of being able to sit back and think about the question, I think I have an answer.

I think there are five key traits that all the great commercial real estate agents I have known, taught, or done business with have. It doesn’t matter what they did in a prior “life” or what their educational background is. I think they all share the same characteristics.

I have known guy’s right out of college that have done extremely well. I also have known people that were from fields so completely removed from commercial real estate that I couldn’t imagine them surviving let along excelling.

I knew one character that was in the garment business, left the garment industry behind and became a very successful commercial real estate broker. This guy literally did everything the wrong way, he specialized in buyer brokerage; he had a secretary print his emails so he could read them, and his desktop computer was essentially a giant paperweight. Yet, somehow he managed to earn a six figure income every year!

How did he do it despite violating just about every tenet of the real estate guru’s?

Trait Number One; Perseverance, he was absolutely persistent…not pushy, but persistent. He had his own way of keeping track of people and following up with them. And boy did he follow up, see he understood that a “no” today didn’t mean a no forever or even next week.

He would prioritize his leads into A, B, and C quality leads and then he would follow up. A’s got more attention than B’s and C’s because the A’s were the most likely to buy in the near term. B’s and C’s got contacted but less frequently and over a longer term.  He knew that buyer’s required cultivation and he would just keep “watering” them every now and again and when they were ready to buy he was there to help.

One of the other things he did that I thought was absolute genius was he never called a prospect without something new to offer them. He would always have a new bit of news or a recent transaction or anything that would add value to the conversation.

 Trait Number Two: Patience, one of the biggest mistakes I see new agents making is the mistake of trying to close something too fast. I know this is going to sound silly but allow me a war story!

Back when I was a young commercial real estate broker I was working a particular market and I turned up a seller who was contemplating selling his building. (I would rather be lucky than smart…sometimes!) Anyhow, the conversation basically went something like this:

Seller: Yeah, I would sell that building…but I wouldn’t take a dime less than $2,500,000 for it.

Me:      Okay, well why don’t we get together and see if I can make that happen.

Seller:  Just bring me an offer.

Me:      Trying frantically to overcome that objection.

Seller: Just bring me an offer and put in your fee.

Me:      Argh!

That is an oversimplification but that’s about how it went. The good news is that I had targeted that area because I had someone looking for that market. In fact the party that I was working for owned buildings in the area and wanted to add to his holdings.

I spoke to that owner and he indicated that he would definitely buy a building like the one I had found, and he would not pay any more than $2,500,000 for such a building.

Lights and sirens sounded in my head…I have a deal…Maybe!

What would happen if I went charging over to the buyer’s office with a $2,500,000 offer an hour after we spoke?

I suspect one of three things would have occurred. First, I almost guarantee the price would have gone up…why? If I was able to produce an offer that quickly and at full price the asking price must have been too low. Second, I must have had the buyer up my sleeve all the time, and therefore I should not be entitled to a full commission. Third, there is no one on this planet worth $150,000 an hour! ($2,500,000 X .06= $150,000)[1]

So, what did I do? I slowed the action down. I asked the buyer to put in an offer that was lower than the $2,500,000 that he would have paid. Why, because everyone in a real estate transaction wants to feel like they got a “deal”. The seller doesn’t want to leave money on the table and the buyer doesn’t want to overpay.

I went back and forth between the buyer and the seller three or four times and got them both to agree to a price of $2,250,000 with a full commission to the broker. Both felt that they had gotten their “pound of flesh” and had gotten the full benefit of the transaction.

Trait Number Three: Inquisitiveness, all of the most successful agents I know are naturally curious and are constantly looking into different ways to market, prospect, package, finance, sell or underwrite a transaction.

That is why you will see all those initials after their names like CCIM, SIOR, MBA, CPA or any number of others. The top professionals keep learning and investigating they know you can never know all there is to know about a topic.

I once read a report about a study of competence. In the study the subjects were interviewed and asked to rate their individual competence in a particular subject matter. The people conducting the study then provided and exhaustive test that specifically targeted the competency of the test subjects.

What they found was revealing, the people who rated themselves as competent and scored poorly tended to overrate their competency buy as much as 60%. The people who were competent in the subject matter routinely underestimated their competence by as much as 20%. The results astounded the scientist conducting the experiment. They wanted to know why the huge disparity in people’s opinions about their level of competence.

The answer was interesting, it seems that the people who were incompetent “didn’t know enough to know what they didn’t know” in the scientist words they lacked the metacognitive skills to recognize their incompetence.

The take away is stay curious and interested, learn all you can about your product and then…learn some more!

Trait Number Four: Discipline, the short answer is treating your career in commercial real estate like a real job…because it is! When you start your career you should be putting 40-60 hours a week minimum. There is just no way around it!

You have to research the product, find the owner, drive the market, photograph the properties, make calls, go on appointments, do proposals, and do listing presentations. There is just not enough time in the day to do all that.

You must develop the habit of “doing the most productive thing you can at every business moment” and compartmentalizing your time. You should be at your desk at the latest 9 am and you should work until at least 5 pm. You may even take your work home, I try to do work wherever I am and make it fun.

Sometimes I do proposals on the patio while enjoying a cigar, or I do research while watching a movie, I often take pictures on the weekends while listening to my favorite music. The point is you have a lot of work to do and a finite amount of time to do it so prioritize, organize, and maximize your efforts.

Lastly, don’t get bogged down in the “office” stay away from the coffee machine or the water cooler and for heaven sakes don’t pay any attention to what anyone else is doing unless they are incredibly successful!

Trait Number Five: Execution, you must have the ability to focus on the task at hand and see that task to completion. Too many people get caught up in doing what is urgent instead of what’s vital and they flip from project to project and never really get much accomplished.

They are busy, but they never seem to get anything done or completed, they just go from project to project and never seem to quite get it in the “can”. You know the ones I am talking about they move pile “A” to position “B” and then start all over again. I understand that there are projects, proposal, marketing plans that are multi-part and require an ongoing effort. Here is the point break the projects down into discrete units of activity, set a specific time to complete that portion of the project and then move on to the next project. Later in this book we will discuss what a typical day would look like in the life of a newly minted commercial agent.

Block off time to do your prospecting, proposals, first appointments, listing presentations and follow up and when you have met your specific target go home, go to the gym, read a book, make sure to schedule everything and see each item to completion. You can have a life and a career if you plan your business and execute that plan.

Again, stay away from the “water cooler” crowd they will be able to tell you with great authority what doesn’t work…because they are currently doing it. I had a guy in my office that refused to adapt to the new market realities. I explained to him that sitting and waiting for buyers to walk into the office was meaningless and he could count on having nothing happen.

I told him about the “secret weapon letters” and he completely rejected the idea as too silly to work. Finally after about two months he sent out about six total letters and waited for the phone to ring. After about another month he concluded that “secret weapon letters” didn’t work and after several years in the business he was moving on.

Get My Manual!

That story has two morals, one is that six letters hardly constitutes “execution” in fact it’s even hard to say the word “effort” in the same sentence. Secondly, let our friend serve as a cautionary tale, he got into the business during the last major run up in commercial real estate. At the time he started you could basically plant a yard sign or run an ad and have 5 offers before lunchtime each one higher than the one before. Consequently, he misunderstood the business and its nuances, basically the fact that the market was an anomaly and

that there is no substitute for hard work and dedication.

In short the top commercial brokers I have worked with over the nearly 30 years I have been in the business all have those five personality traits, they all have the qualities of perseverance, patience, inquisitiveness. They are all disciplined and spend time working on transaction they know have a strong probability of closing they don’t get sucked into the vortex of office politics and any other nonproductive activities. They also all have a strong desire to execute, close a transaction and move on to the next.

I hope that gives you some insight into the traits that make for a successful career in commercial real estate.

Tune in nest week for some more insights into the different property types that make up the commercial real estate arena…I’ll give you a hint there are more ways to make money than you can probably imagine.

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[1] Any discussions regarding commissions are purely hypothetical and for illustrative purposes only and not to be construed as traditional or