If you're in real estate sales or mortgage lending, your success may lie in a hobby, second language or even your religion. Real estate agents and loan officers across the country have used such interests to build successful niches. Here are three examples of how people found their real estate specialties.
Reconnecting to the Faith
Shalom Home National Relocation Service in Colorado Springs specializes in helping Jewish families reconnect in a new community. It maintains a list of real estate agents who know where to find synagogues, kosher food stores and butchers, secular and religious day schools and preschools, senior activity centers and community centers.
Shalom Home doesn't make its money selling real estate. Instead, it collects a referral fee from real estate agents in its network who deliver services. If you're an agent who knows the local Jewish scene, you could sign up for referrals from Shalom Home or market yourself as an expert in local Jewish newspapers and temple newsletters.
Golf to Gulf
Realtor Maggie Sanders bills herself as "Your Naples Golfing and Waterfront Community Specialist," focusing on two hot areas for homebuyers on Florida's west coast.
Having sold real estate in four states, Sanders knew the value of finding a niche. In Arkansas, she sold large tracts of rural land to hunters and horse enthusiasts. In South Carolina, she again focused on the horse set when she sold antebellum homes. Working for Arvida Realty Services in Florida, Sanders saw that golf and beachfront properties were popular.
"I started thinking about where I do business and that a lot of people are either golf or beach people," she says. "I created a Web site that would give people helpful information about golfing communities and to let them know I'm not just a specialist in one community."
Surprisingly, Sanders doesn't really play golf (and she didn't ride horses, either). "I'm a wannabe golfer. I'm candid about that with my clients," she says. "You run into trouble if you go out there and pretend you know what you're doing when you don't."
What she does know is the number of holes, designers, membership prices and golf pros for many area courses. "When people narrow down to a few golf communities, I recommend they get on the courses and play them," Sanders says. "I make arrangements for them to ride the course with a pro."
Translating American Real Estate
Wendy Yi learned Korean as a child in Korea. After moving to the United States at age 23, she started a wholesale import business that connected her with Korean business owners in the Baltimore region. From there, she moved into selling real estate almost exclusively to Korean-speaking clients, a niche she's mined for the past six years.
She augments her business contacts with ads in the Korean Times and has also sent marketing materials to local apartment complexes, because many immigrants rent during their first years in the United States.
Her specialty at Long & Foster Real Estate, Ellicott City, Maryland, is helping Korean immigrants navigate the complex American real estate market. "The way you show property in America is totally different [from the way it's shown in Korea]," Yi says.
Cultural issues also arise, so Yi must educate her clients about the American way of negotiating for properties. "Some of my clients think I'm very Americanized and I don't talk gently enough," she confesses. "Later on, they think I do business the right way."
While these business models all involve niches, the two Realtors and Shalom Home don't only do niche business. For example, Sanders markets herself in local publications as a golf-to-Gulf expert. "When you're a golf-to-Gulf specialist, you incorporate two hot-ticket items," she says.
Creating a niche in real estate, whether a sport, hobby or language, takes patience and time. "You have to build your niche, and that could take three to five years," advises Sanders. "The most important thing is consistency with your program and marketing. If you're going to target that area, that's what your Web site and your mailings need to be about, and that's where you need to site your open houses."