Sarah is a real estate professional with Mott & Chace Sotheby’s International Realty. She is the local market expert and community leader for Barrington Rhode Island.
Sarah is also one of the authors in the new real estate business book, Becoming a Local LeaderⓇ, that features 22 top producing agents who are sharing their story and their strategies on how to grow one’s business through relationships and referrals.
What’s really cool about the book is you get a glimpse of the mindset behind a local leader and a person who wants and who is and becomes a go-to local RealtorⓇ, someone who people go to for things. What’s the mindset of those people?
The one thing I find ties all of these agents’ stories together is that they all give back to their community. They give value to the people who live and work in their community before they talk about business, before they ask a person if and when they’re selling. That really is a big principle that I see a lot of top agents have is that they give value first. They focus on being the leader of their community and the business kind of takes care of itself.
That’s what we’re going to talk about with our guest, Sarah Huard.
On a high level, let’s just talk to the agents and summarize the main message that you hope when people read your chapter they get and that they can apply to their business and their life.
For me, the main message in how I approach real estate has always been my clients first. It’s a rigorous profession. It’s challenging. I think if you keep your client’s best interests always first and foremost, then you’re going to maintain and sustain a love of the job.
It’s not easy and it’s stressful, but at the end of the day you’re doing it for your clients. And for me, that’s the be all and end all. Providing value to them in every way possible always has you looking to grow and get better and fortify those relationships. For me, my whole business rests on the pillars of my strong relationships with my clients.
There are two things that you said that I agree with. Clients first and maintaining the love for the job, which shows it’s not just something that just happens. It is something that requires attention and effort. So, let’s talk about the clients first thing because I think a lot of agents would say that, but then we have seen a huge failure rate in the industry. It’s probably because they don’t do the right things. So, when you think about things that you do and that agents do that demonstrate that their clients are first, and things that you’ve noticed other agents do or don’t do that show that their client isn’t first and that has a negative effect in their business. Talk more about that principle.
I think it’s always going above and beyond what is expected. And if you hold the bar very high as far as what you want to achieve with each client and work daily at connecting with your clients, seeing what they need, how can you be of help?
I have clients who I text, I write notes to, I tag in a post, I direct messages. It’s whatever means by which they communicate, you need to keep up with it regularly. I’m a big fan of direct mail. I send letters to my sphere four times a year. I’ve done it since I started. They love it. I send custom emails out every month that I take hours to create.
Offering valuable information on the macro level, what’s happening in our markets as well as the national level. That has to be consistent because you have to stay top of mind with your clients. Once they know, they like, and then they trust you, and how do they trust you? They trust you when you’re sharing your expertise with them on a consistent basis. Once they trust you, they’re going to seek you out, they’re going to refer you out. But that takes daily diligence. Every day I’m reaching out to as many of my clients as I can, as well as keeping up with every transaction.
Right now, I have about eight different transactions going. So, how does one maintain that level of communication? It’s being super organized, having spreadsheets with who’s where and what’s ahead for them. How can you prepare them for the appraisal? It’s constantly providing information so that each transaction is smooth, but also, so that you continue to tap into those you’ve already served by providing them helpful information, such as sending them a CMA. In case you want to know, here’s what the value of your home is. In case you need trusted suppliers, here’s my updated list. Anything you can do to provide value, for me, is what makes me love my job. Yes, it’s about a house. But it’s always about my people, and my people are my clients.
That was amazing. The one thing I find with so many agents’ systems, so you have systems and organizations so that you can be frequent, so you can be consistent, so you have these daily routines and habits. I think agents really need to look at their systems to see if that’s helping them be clients first. And the second thing that you really touched on is this mindset of, “I’m going to be proactive. I’m going to wake up every day and think to myself, how do I connect with my client? How can I give value to my client? What can I share with my client, with my database?” That is awesome advice.
Now, the second thing you talked about was maintaining the love for the job. So, I would love it if we talk about some moments when you fell out of love for the job, and what are some of the things that you do to maintain the love for the job? Because it’s not something that people can just expect to happen. I think it’s something that people have to work at.
Right. Yeah. I think keeping your eye on the long term. I think where agents fail is they’re looking for the quick fix. They’re looking for, “I’m just going to buy leads.” “I’m just going to throw an ad out there, and then I’m going to get business.” And then, perhaps you do get business but it’s confined to that one period of time where you need to constantly feed your pipeline through nurturing leads so that you don’t hit the dry spells.
The hardest times for me have been perhaps when I’ve tried something and it hasn’t worked. I think I’ve attempted one ad. And then, everything else for me has always been referral-based. But maintaining the love of the profession is hard when things kind of irrelevant to the clients tend to take precedence.
It could be you’re dealing with a difficult co-broke. That happens. How do you handle that so that you don’t get weighed down by it and you keep your clients interest top of mind? That’s what you focus on. And that’s what I’ve found to be the most challenging. It’s unfortunate but it happens often. Just different personalities. Luckily, I find I’m easy to work with. Other agents have said that. Because I’m a true believer in getting to yes. So, for me, if someone wants to be alpha, that’s fine. I never back down as far as my clients are concerned, but I can be very flexible, easy to negotiate with.
I think you have to keep that in mind because it’s a tough business. You need a thick skin. In the beginning I did not have thick skin. I took everything to heart. You’re going to get a client who says, “Please stop sending me your mailings.” Or maybe you get a negative comment on social media. If you get a lot of that, it can break you down a bit. Luckily, I haven’t. But those first few, it’s there. And so, it’s, “Okay. This is a business. I’m going to get that. Not everyone’s going to like you, which is fine. But let’s focus on those people that I am attracting and how can I serve them better?”
I think that that keeps an even keel because it’s such an up and down industry that if you’re not level headed and just keep your eye on slow and steady wins the race type of approach, it can lead to failure, it can lead to burnout. I want to do this for as long as I can. And so, I approach each day kind of with that mindset.
Some of the things that you said that just remind me of some of the things I’ve been taught in my business was when you’re dealing with people, matching and mirroring is one way to build rapport, but also, pacing and leading, which is, whatever you give off, is likely going to be received by the other party, and they’re going to start mirroring you. So, if you want to have good dealings with other people, you need to lead and be that calm, confident, easygoing, down to earth, positive, friendly person.
If you lead that way, you’ll end up having more conversations because we all know real estate has some big personalities. That can be a good thing but how do you deal with them in the business? The other thing that I’m reminded of is, when people lack action or lack motivation to do the work, I find there might be something to do with the vision. You talk about long term goals. Like, where am I going? Not what I’m going through. Where am I going? Why am I doing this? Remind yourself of that vision, of that long term, can allow you to kind of get through some of the tougher days.
Well, we haven’t even really given people a background of who you are. So, why don’t we kind of step back for a sec? Help everyone get to know who Sarah is and how did you get into real estate and why do you love it?
Sure. I was born and raised in Rhode Island. I went all the way to Brown University, so I didn’t go far. I did leave Rhode Island. Many don’t. I did. I went to Boston. I got my masters in Cambridge. I was a teacher for a while in Brookline Mass. I’ve always been drawn to helping people. Even when I was a little kid, I had elderly neighbors and I used to go there after school and do puzzles and check in with them. I’ve always loved helping. Year after Brown, I did a year of community service where I just worked for a year in Providence, trying to support communities that deserved it. And that led to my teaching career. It’s that love of helping people. I had some, you know, serious health issues along the way starting when I was at Brown. And so, that kind of curtailed my teaching career. Brought me back home to Rhode Island because doctors in Boston thought I would need long term help. So, I volunteered while I was dealing with medical issues. I dove in big with Save A Lab Rescue. And then, I still battle chronic health issues but I was able to slide it to the backburner.
I’ve always loved people. I love Rhode Island. I love real estate. So, a good friend stopped me one day on the road and she said, “You need to be a RealtorⓇ.” And I thought, “Oh, I don’t know. It can be so negative.” And she said, “That’s why you need to enter real estate.” And so, I took that as a challenge. I said, okay. So, I dove all in. I absolutely love it. I work all over Rhode Island. I do a lot in the East Bay Area of Rhode Island but because of my Brown connection, I do a lot in Providence. And then, because I’ve lived in all the beach areas, I do a lot in the coastal communities. For me, it’s like being a conduit of helping. I feel with real estate, you’re a daily conduit towards helping people. I know I’ll never not love it because I’m helping. I’ve made it through a bunch of very challenging health issues and I feel like the reason why I’ve made it through is so that I’m still here to help people.
I just love Parkbench and real estate. Between those two, it fuels the fire daily. How can I help more people today? My favorite hashtag is from City Year’s #MakeBetterHappen. I try to do that daily. A lot of that innate gratitude comes from where I’ve been health wise. I’m just grateful to still be here.
For those of you reading, you know those stories that make you realize that you’re sweating some small stuff and you need to get over it and be motivated and inspired by what other people have been able to do. That’s Sarah Huard’s story. You guys have to pick up her chapter to read more about what she’s gone through in her life and how she’s been able to maintain (1) such a positive demeanor, and (2) have success because of that positive, grateful appreciative demeanor. And we all have to as people tap into that because that’s what attracts people. People love to work with people who are positive and grateful and appreciative because it makes us more of that in our lives. I can guess why people like working with you.
One thing that you talked on that I kind of want to tap into is your focus in your business. What are your recommendations to agents when they’re trying to think about, “Okay, I’m in real estate. Who’s my target clientele? Where should I focus? Should I work in my backyard or should I not?” And you talked about because of these connections that you’ve had, you’ve tapped into that for your career. Everyone’s different. I think every agent’s potential is that, “Hey, you were a teacher. You went to Brown. You’re from here.” Another agent got a totally different backstory. That doesn’t mean they should try to take business from you or try to go after the same stuff you’re going for. They should go after what works for them, what aligns with them. What advice do you have for agents who are trying to figure out their focus and their specialty and who they should go after?
I think niching is very important. And for some, they’re hyperlocal. That works for them. I truly go back to what is your authentic self? Who do you want to best serve? Usually, your spheres will come somewhat naturally. I automatically get leads or get people who reach out to me from my past networks, my past living scenarios. That comes naturally. The teacher in me loves to work where I can be of the best value to my clients. I’m not going to dip my toe in the water of an area that I don’t feel like I know frontwards, backwards, sideways.
I’m lucky because in Rhode Island we are so small. I’ve lived all over the state that I do know most areas. But if someone says to me, “Hey, can you list my house at 123 Main Street in this zip code?” I’ll say I’m the first to refer it out and say I’m not your gal but here she is. I do that frequently. With that being said, I think some people go after a price point. I’ve never been that type of agent. I’ve created my business according to who I am and kind of branded myself as I feel most natural and that comes most naturally to me. I’ve been lucky that people are attracted to it. And alongside that I’m fortunate that I can tap into various regions in Rhode Island.
To answer your question, I say go for what resonates most for you. Every agent is different. Some agents won’t leave a certain zip code. They’re rock stars. I never want to be defined by one area because I feel like I can serve people in so many different areas. It comes down to how are you going to best serve the client? Are you qualified for that area? If so, go for it.
What have you tried in growing your business that’s not worked for you? Why do you think it didn’t?
I’ve tried ads a few times. They never worked for me. I wasn’t consistent with them. I tried Facebook ads a couple times. I tried Zillow in the beginning when I was a new agent, I think for like a month. That didn’t work for me because it didn’t feel natural to me. I’m not a cold caller. I never tried cold calling. I’m not a door knocker. But I’d say, I’m lucky. I started out with an approach that felt good to me. This chapter too is what I like to call it of my life. I’m lucky to have it. How do I want to have real estate play out? I wasn’t going to do it any other way that I truly loved because I knew it was such a difficult industry. I didn’t know in the beginning if my approach would work, but I knew I’d be happy trying it and I was going to shoot for the stars to make it happen.
My approach has always been building relationships. Direct mail is how I started. I would hand write and hand stuff all those envelopes. I was dedicated to doing it and consistent. So, for me, it’s always been relationship-based, I get a lot of referrals. Other folks rocket on Zillow and Premier Agent. So, it’s kind of whatever feels best for you, I’d say go for it and try. Don’t quit. You have to be in front of someone’s face, at least seven to 12 times before they even think of reaching out to you. I think it’s the one hit wonders where one week you’re going to pay someone to help you on Instagram, the next week, you’re going to try YouTube, you’re going to be a master of YouTube. It’s kind of that scatterbrain approach. It’s just too difficult. Find your channel. Find your systems, and then just filter, tweak, and be consistent about them.
One of the things that happened for people who are thinking about doing Parkbench in the area or who get started, they go, “Oh my goodness. I have to reach out to these people in the community. And they had these bad experiences of cold calling” because you’re like, I don’t like cold calling, yet you have no problem reaching out to people in your community to connect with them and do this neighborhood platform and community marketing.” What would you say to that person who sees it as cold calling? What’s your experience?
It doesn’t have to be cold calling. Again, I’m so relationship-based that immediately when I aligned with Parkbench I thought, “Okay. Which small businesses do I already have a relationship with? Which small businesses would I like to form a relationship with? And then, how can I have them trust me so that they’re willing to give this a shot?”
Many of them knew me so that helped, but I’ve had some that I’ve approached. I’ve gone into the business place now that COVID restrictions are down. I’ll walk in because it happens to be a place that I frequent already. And as soon as they hear about Parkbench and that I’m here to support them, there’s no charge to them. They’re kind of incredulous. Like, “Wait. What?” And then I’ll explain it and I’ll say, “Check it out.” And as soon as they see it, I haven’t had anyone say no yet. I’ve had only pandemic issues related to people being short staffed. It’s a struggle to find time even for 20 minutes which is fine. I just tell them, “When you have time, reach out to me.”
I connect with some people on Instagram messenger, Facebook Messenger. Some will text. Some it’s old-fashioned email. Some prefer I call them. It doesn’t have to be cold calling. And truthfully, again, I would go to those spots that you have a connection with or whom you feel you can really give a leg up to. There’s a business in town. He’s got no social media presence whatsoever. And he was the first one on my list. It’s, “Okay. I’m going to give this guy a leg up.” And I can’t wait to interview him because he doesn’t have a website. He’s working on one. He’s got a phenomenal little restaurant that people will text me about and say, “Hey, what do you know about this spot?” Because once people see you as a local expert or someone who loves helping the community, they’re going to reach out to you. And now I have several businesses reaching out to me saying, “I love seeing your videos. How can I get interviewed?” The local Chamber of Commerce loves it because you’re supporting businesses that make our communities better. And who doesn’t want to live in a community that’s more engaged. It’s led to some great things. Our town is now going to do some first Thursdays, which we’ve never done before. But you know, by going around interviewing businesses, the wheel starts spinning. Okay, what else can our community do? This is kind of the ripple effect. It starts to create a very positive momentum. I love being a part of it. But I would say for sure, seek out the businesses that (a) you feel like you could really help or (b) you already frequent, you already know.
That’s great advice. The one thing you wrote in your chapter, which kind of speaks to people who have roadblocks around taking the action that will help them build relationships and do this community building. There are so many new agents out there who are just trying to get started in the business and are like, “Oh, my God. I have so much to learn.” And in your book, you wrote, “If I had to start my business over, I would change a few things to be sure. I wouldn’t worry so much about knowing everything and everything about real estate. I wouldn’t overanalyze my preparation. I would, as a famous brand of runner states, just do it.” What did you mean by that if you were speaking to some new agents out there?
I remember as soon as I got my license it was like I was preparing for a final exam. I’m old fashioned in that I had the good old college rule. I was writing down notes. I had a whole notebook filled with how I was going to approach real estate. Truthfully, it is a little bit of throwing spaghetti to the wall. Yes, you have to be prepared as far as knowing the numbers, knowing your market stats inside, outside, backwards, so that if someone stops you in the supermarket and says, “What’s the local listing price?” or whatever they asked, you know it. When someone invites you into their house, you already have a basis of pricing range because you’ve studied the market so hard.
But when you first begin, you kind of just have to get out there and do it. You’re going to make mistakes. I would say, definitely find someone in your office you can ask questions to. I have an amazing manager. He’s a broker manager. And from day one, if I have a question, I know I can text him or call him. I’ve never been embarrassed. I’m like, this question is so bad. He’s always there to answer. I would say, prepare enough so that you feel comfortable and confident. But then, try not to sweat it. You’re not going to know everything. Just go out there and be your best self. Have someone you can turn to. Having a mentor, perhaps there’s an agent, a seasoned agent who’s willing to take you on, go with him or her to an open house. Go to a listing presentation because those are daunting in the beginning. Learn from them. And then, you’ll formulate your own way of doing things. But at least you’re opening your eyes to how it’s done through some different lenses. But yeah, it’s hard in the beginning. And yeah, my mistake was I spent way too much time feeling like I had to know everything about everything in real estate. And truthfully, you just need to go out there and get your first sale. And then, lean on people hard for support. With each one it gets easier and easier.
Well, one thing that you mentioned is many RealtorsⓇ have seemingly lost the art of connection. I feel like this book is going to help people get back to that because it seems to me like that’s a key to success in real estate. If we were to summarize, if you were to say, “Hey, why should an agent read this book and read the stories of all these agents becoming a local leader, connecting with their community, and building a business on relationships and referrals?” Why do you think agents should give it a read?
I think agents should read it because we all learn from each other. I’m in a bunch of different networking groups. One is a ninja group monthly with Sotheby’s agents from all over. I’m on a gazillion Facebook groups. I’m active in those groups. Why am I active? Because none of us have time, but I’m learning. When I hear about someone going through an inspection that went horribly wrong and how she resolved the issues, I’m gaining that information. So, you know, God forbid, I have a similar situation. I at least have a foundation of knowledge to kind of learn from. We learn from each other. I feel like 99% of the time, your agents are going to want to learn from you just as they’re going to want to share information with you.
We’re all professionals. No one is error free. It’s a very helpful group. When someone sees you as not a threat but is someone who genuinely cares about them and is looking to them for their input, because you respect them. All the time, I’ll communicate with agents of other brokerages and ask them about things and vice versa. The agents will call me if they’re struggling with pricing a house. They’re not from my firm but they know that I’m eager to share what I know with them. So, in this book, it comes down to learning from different agents. You’re going to pick up pieces from one agent that you love, and then perhaps incorporate that into your own business. That’s why I listen to podcasts every day. You pick up little pieces that you then thread into your own kind of fabric of how you want to practice real estate.
I love the idea of the book because I thought if I can help people be better, then sign me up. Because we all need each other. It’s a very, very challenging profession. But there’s so many good people who want to share their expertise with you. That’s what keeps you inspired and motivated and prevents burnout. So, definitely pick up the book and read about how everyone approaches the same industry through different lenses.
We are interviewing all the authors. And so, you’ll learn a lot. This is not even in the book. It’s from these interviews. And with Sarah’s chapter, yes, you’re going to get some strategies of things that you can do that she’s been doing that you can do in your market. But something that I really felt came out of your chapter was the mindset of a RealtorⓇ who builds a business on relationships and referrals, the mindset of a person who is a leader of their community.
Business, just like sports, is more mental and spiritual than it is strategies and tactics. You need both but how you approach business and life is so important for your success. You’re definitely going to learn that with Sarah’s story. How can agents get in contact with you? If they want to get to know you more, they want to learn from you, they want to refer to your business, how can they reach out?