The Secrets of Home Sales All-Stars

3 National Sales & Marketing Awards Gold Winners share their “secrets” on how to sell successfully in good times and bad.
By Felicia Oliver, Senior Editor | September 30, 2008
Back to the Basics for Home Sales Staff

New home sales is not for the faint of heart these days. To get a step ahead, many sales professionals are looking for something new to up their game by tapping into the latest book or piece of advice from their favorite sales guru. But there's a lot to be said for going back to basics – doing what you know, but with passion and a willingness to go the extra mile.

That's the story we got from three new home sales experts: National Sales & Marketing Awards Gold Winners who shared their “secrets” of how to sell successfully year after year.

Find your motivation

What's the secret? The drive to succeed and be the best is key, says Charlie Hatter. Photos: David Holloway/Getty Images.

Why did you get into home sales? What drives you?

“The biggest thing that a sales achiever needs is a passion for this business,” says Rich Rudnicki, division sales manager at Winchester Homes, Bethesda, Md. “[You need] a passion for helping people, a passion for solving a customer's problems, a passion to learn.”

You need to love what you do and want to give it your all.

“A lot of sales people are complacent,” says Charlie Hatter, a sales manager with Pulte's Washington, D.C., division based in Fairfax, Va. “They are happy if they only sell one [home] a month. … You've got to have the drive to always succeed and be the best at what you're doing.”

If you lead a sales team, think about ways to motivate them. Angela Ferrara, director and vice president of sales for the Marketing Directors' New York office, makes a point to visit all of her sites once a week.

“It's meaningful when you have face to face meetings,” says Ferrara, a Nationals 2006 gold winner for Sales Manager of the Year. “It's helpful to have a buffer to bounce ideas to and from and also an ear to listen, because it can be a frustrating time.”

Believe the words coming out of your mouth

Rudnicki, Nationals 2007 gold winner for Sales Manager of the Year, says there are only three things a buyer wants to know about their salesperson: Can I trust you? Are you and your company committed to excellence? And will you take care of me? What these three questions address is the authenticity of the salesperson with whom a buyer is dealing.

“You have to know that you are working for the best company in that particular market area,” says Rudnicki. “You've got to believe in the product and in yourself without developing arrogance or a cockiness about it.”

Can I trust you? Are you and your company committed to excellence? Will you take care of me? Winchester Homes' Sales Director Rich Rudnicki says these are the only three things potential buyers want to know about their salesperson.
And be on guard against the nay-saying of the mainstream media with regard to home sales. Ferrara says it's important to deal with that psychological mindset and reverse it.

“We're teaching our team to believe that this is truly the time to buy,” says Ferrara. “If the confidence is there from the salesperson's perspective, it translates to the buyers walking in the door, and if it's not there, the opposite happens.”

Engage your prospect from the beginning

Be willing to engage your customers from the moment they walk in the door.

“It sounds so simple, but it's hard to do in [this] market,” Rudnicki says. “That excitement and energy will set your apart from all those other sales people out there.”

It's true. A recent marketing firm study revealed that even now many potential buyers are being allowed to walk out of sales offices without being greeted by a salesperson and without any salesperson's attempt made to follow up with them.

“When those people come in the door, you've got to be up and on stage,” says Rudnicki.

Once you're talking with them, ask your prospect detailed, open-ended questions about what they are looking for and then — this is important — listen to what they have to say.

“You have two ears and one mouth,” says Ferrara. “There's a reason for that. Listening is one of the most critical things. When we do sales training, we find that people sometimes are so caught up in the sales process that they don't listen well.”

Know your price is right

Rudnicki says that next to rejection, the biggest fear many home sales professionals have today is price.

“If you don't believe in the pricing today with the market situation, you can't sell,” says Rudnicki. “You have to ... believe deep down, as I have seen for the last 30 years, that every 10 years market value doubles. It doesn't matter what market you are in.”

The secret here, he says, is lifestyle selling. Listen and find out what your prospect needs and wants and how your product addresses those things. Understand the unique selling proposition of your community compared to the competition.

“When you figure in amenities or size of the home site or that particular location it becomes a very unique, one-of-a-kind product,” says Rudnicki.

Keep on top of what the competition is doing

The better you know your competition, the better prepared you are to outsell them. Competitive mystery shopping in person or by phone remains a great way to get the scoop. But sometimes the best way to know

Wooing brokers: Angela Ferrara offers brokers the chance to experience communities first-hand.

how your competition is doing is to simply ask them.

“We ask our sales teams to contact the competition on Sunday evening, trade information and form a relationship,” says Rudnicki. “'I'll give you an idea of what my traffic has been and my sales for the week if you share that information with me.'”

“I've tried to befriend all my competitors,” says Hatter, Nationals 2008 gold winner for Sales Person of the Year. “The more friends you have, the more information you get. … Some competitors, you kind of fight back and forth and you never get the information you need. But we're all in this together to an extent. We might be working with different companies, but in today's market its good to have a shoulder to lean on.”

And get out there and take a look yourself.

“We drive through an area,” says Rudnicki. “We count the number of starts, we count the number of sold signs and how they change from week to week. They say they settled three houses, but two of those houses look like they were never moved into. What's happening?”

Excel at broker outreach

One of Hatter's strengths is his ability to befriend real-estate agents and get them to send their prospects his way.

“Once you gain a Realtor's trust, they will bring every client to you,” Hatter says. “Even if it's not quite their price point, they will at least call me and ask if there's something I can do or anywhere else I can recommend.”

Hatter says he's done the typical presentation at a brokers' office, but what really works for him is sponsoring a breakfast at his community every three weeks.

“You're getting everybody's [business] card,” says Hatter. “Once there, you walk them through all your models. You have a home-of-the-week board where you zone in on one particular home. When I have 35, 40 realtors eating breakfast, getting gift cards and looking at this one home, I get a lot of follow up from it. It's a very easy way to try to sell a home.”

Marketing Directors' “Live at …” program gives brokers an opportunity to stay at one of their communities. “This shows a tremendous amount of confidence in our community,” says Ferrara.

Be fervent in follow-up

Hatter says too many sales people follow up once, leave a message and never hear back, or they get someone

Follow up: "I send e-mails, text messages and handwritten cards," says Pulte's Hatter.
who says they are still looking and they never follow up again.

“I follow up numerous times with phone calls,” says Hatter, “I send e-mails, text messages and handwritten cards. I try to get an e-mail dialogue started. ... Throughout the day when you're emailing back and forth, you can put in writing exactly what you can do.”

Some sales professionals worry that an unsolicited follow-up call will not be welcome. Rudnicki has a simple solution.

“When you first meet someone, ask for permission to contact them,” he says. “'May I follow up with you, and if so, what is a good phone number to call you back on?'

“Five-star follow-up includes a minimum of three phone calls. Today we all have call waiting and voicemail, and if you don't have permission, you're going to be leaving message after message and it's not going to go anywhere.”

You can do it!

All three Nationals sales all-stars show that a positive attitude will take you far.

“Just because you don't have any customers that you're currently working with and don't have any leads,” says Hatter.

“There's always that person that walks in the door that's ready to purchase. It's difficult in today's market, but I think people with the better attitude are the ones that succeed.”


Back to the Basics for Home Sales Staff

Culled from the advice of our sales all stars, this is what you need to do:

  • Have a positive attitude.
  • Know your numbers: how much traffic, how many appointments you need to get to one closing.
  • Listen to your prospect.
  • Sell based on value, not price.
  • Know your unique selling proposition.
  • Follow up, follow up, follow up!
  • Do competitive research, and be prepared to overcome objections.
  • Ask for the close. And be prepared to ask more than once (Rich Rudnicki says you need to ask five times in today's environment!).
  • At the end of the process, make sure the client is happy. Then ask for referrals — even if you didn't sell them a home. Presumably they were pleased with the sales experience and wouldn't mind referring you to their friends for whom you may be able to find the right home.
  • Get up the next morning and repeat the process.