Ep: 133: James Festini – How the King of Door-Knocking Is Pivoting During the Quarantine

James Festini has been a California-based real estate agent since 1993, and has continuously risen to the top of his market. He is the author of Dynamic Door Knocking, a book to help agents master this art of traditional communication in the modern world.

On today’s episode of Stay Paid, James talks about his success in shifting gears from door knocking to calling prospects on the phone, and how agents can continue to grow leads during this crisis.

Key Points:

  • If you don’t have listings, continue to generate leads through prospective phone calls.
  • Virtual tours can allow you to help sellers keep their homes on the market.
  • Keep communication to the point—you only have six seconds to get someone’s attention.

Q: How are you adjusting and adapting your business right now?

I’ve always been big on lead generation, whether it’s door knocking or telephone prospecting. I hate to say it’s not much different, because I’m doing the same thing I’ve always been doing—just not door knocking. I stopped door knocking right around St. Patrick’s Day, that’s when it stopped feeling socially acceptable. I was starting to see signs people were looking at me funny. And reputation is important in a local market. You don’t want to be that guy putting an open house sign up during this or knocking on doors.

As far as telephone prospecting, the phones are still ringing. I watch pick up rates on the telephone. And last November, it was an average of about 6 percent, meaning if you dialed 100 numbers, six would be actual contacts. That 6 percent right now is 12 to 18 percent. I’m getting like triple the pickup rates. So it’s a gift to me for lead generation. So I’m not door knocking. I wrote a book on door knocking that was published about a month before this all went down. But I’m contemplating going into the editing software and everywhere it says “door” I put “phone” and everywhere it says “knock” I put “call.” And it’s the same thing. The interaction is identical. The script hasn’t even changed. The answers of the individuals have changed. There will be people who say no and people who say maybe. When you call someone to ask if they’re selling their house, you might get some who say, “No, not right now, I’m not interested” and some who say, “Are you kidding me? During this pandemic? Are you crazy, the market is going down.” These are the same people who a year ago said, “What are you crazy, I’m waiting for the price to go up, not until the election, not until spring.” So the words they use to tell me no are somewhat different.

I made 1,200 contacts this week. I’m cranking the phones, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., hard. I had maybe one of two people even reference this situation. It’s interesting for us as real estate agents or content creators, many of us are glued to our phones. Our perception is based on what we’re consuming. The more we have this in our face, the more we’re seeing it and the more it will affect us. I was super mad at myself, on the 16th of March I saw a post in a group and someone asked if anyone was door knocking right now. Someone commented, “What are you crazy?” They ripped into it, which I immediately responded with, “The people who are saying he** no, are the people who were saying he** no a year ago.” So they just now have a platform to be right. But it got into me and changed me and made me so mad because I’m the guy who’s like, “Scr** you, I’m knocking.” But I didn’t want to knock anymore for now, but it’s just strange. We are what we consume. Just like a diet of food we eat, it’s a diet of content we’re consuming.

For me, I barely vote. I don’t pay attention to politics or any of that. But there was a five day period where I was on my computer daily watching the president talk. Every time, at the end of the speech, I found myself with no more information than I had at the beginning. It was like five days in a row, and I was like, “OK, I’m getting the same story.” They could have looped it and changed the color of his tie and I wouldn’t have noticed. So I vowed to stay off of it and log off. If I was the president, I would have banned social media. I would have shut down Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and said, “No.” That’s just my opinion, but it hurt our mentality about what we’re doing.

Q: What are some of the solutions agents can adopt?

The first thing you want to do is go into your marketplace, go into the MLS, and look at how many homes have sold in the last fourteen days. You put the timeline and say, “How many new listings and how many escrows have opened from the last week of March to the first week of April?” Know that number, and then do the same thing with last year. That is a huge eye-opener, because as agents, we’re all thinking the market is over. It’s shut down. We’re done. But when I looked at my market, it was only about 15 percent less, meaning 15 percent less contracts. Not 90 percent less, not 50 percent less. Would 15 percent less homes be enough to stop me? No. That would just mean there are less listings and we have to work harder. There are still contracts being taken. I’m waiting right now for someone to pull up for a listing presentation. I’ve got a mask up like I’m a bandit. It’s bizarre. But it’s just the behavior that’s slightly modified. If you look at your numbers, if it’s not 50 percent, 80 percent. That was the first awakening I had that this is not what I thought it was.

It’s almost as if real estate agents are running this underground real estate railroad, where we’re just, “Hey man, I don’t want to call to set this appointment, but are your people OK?” “Yeah, my people are OK.” “OK, yeah my people are OK, too.” So it’s the weirdest thing. We’re pushing through, taking precautions as is recommended. But the thing is, it might not be, for real estate agents, what they think it is, unless you’re hiding, scrolling through the feed thinking it’s over. I, as a rhinoceros, charging forward, can’t let a little thorn in my hoof stop me.

This is going to be a weird arrow where we’re going to have two sides: like the North and South. We’re going to have the people who say, “How dare you?” and the other side is going to be like, “How could you not?” There’s going to be a rebellion of people, the “Covid Justice Warriors” and there will be people who are like, “I have to eat. I have to work. I can’t stop.”

Q: What technology are you using to get people to be able to show homes and move the process forward?

I’ve had a Samsung Gear 360 camera for a very long time. I got a call from Zillow at like 8:15 this morning asking me how I’m doing. I’m like, “Dude, put me on your do-not-call list. I generate my own leads, I don’t pay for you. No way, I’m not buying your inquiries.” Don’t get me started. Zillow has an app called 3D Home that many people don’t know about and it’s free. If you have a listing on the market and you don’t have 3D Home, your eyes have been closed. So what it does is, you stand at the front of the house and open up Premier Agent. Zillow has three apps, Premier Agent, their consumer one, and 3D Home. Zillow 3D Home is a panorama snapshot. You walk in, you stand in a room, it will ask where you are, and it’s the same process as taking a panorama photo on your phone. Every listing right now should have that. That, to me, blows my mind. I ask people all the time, are you using 3D Home by Zillow? And they’re like, “Oh, yeah I have that” and I’m like, “No, you don’t understand.” They talk out of the side of their mouth. You need to know what you’re talking about. Every real estate agent who has a listing, call up your seller and say, “Hey guys, there’s a new technology that Zillow just implemented, can you leave the door open and the lights on so I can take photos?” Go out there, spin out this thing, and Zillow will put it on their feed. Virtual open houses, I don’t understand them, and I’m as high-tech as they get. I don’t understand how a virtual open house is any different than the internet, and photography, and 3D tours. If you have a listing, you don’t want to lose them. If they are motivated enough and want to still be there, you want to create moments where they don’t wonder, “What’s my agent doing?”

Solutions for the agents who don’t have anything: prospect. I know a lot of the gurus are going around right now saying, “Call your past clients.” If you weren’t doing it before now it’s going to be weird. But there’s nothing wrong with prospecting.

Q: Back to your book, what led you to write it and what are you hoping people will take away from it?

I wrote a book for a very small crowd. Getting your real estate license and wanting to be a real estate agent is like seeing someone want to play a guitar and then buying a guitar. Anyone can walk into a guitar center and buy a guitar, but will you play it? I wrote a book for people you want to play the game. I wrote it for the individuals who want to take action and go out and generate leads. It still remains the same situation as when we first met. The average consumer has the average attention span of, fill in the blank. There was a study to try and find out how technology is affecting our attention. So when they started in 2000, the average attention span was twelve seconds. Time magazine got together with Microsoft in 2014 to publish this study and the average attention span became six seconds. So from 2000 to 2014, it went down that much. And that was in 2014. We process information a lot faster. Not that we’re dumb, but we only have time for the headline. So when we’re prospecting in this era, we only have six seconds to get their attention and figure out, “Do I have a lead?” If not, they’re out the door. There’s only room for this question, “Hi, I’m an agent with this company. I’m calling to see if you had any interest in selling your house?” You have to look at it from the perspective of the consumer. I would rather have ten maybe’s than 100 Zillow inquiries. WE are a human pop-up ad, it’s just the difference between me and other agents is I don’t make my “x” so small that you accidentally click the ad. I’m not doing that. I’m saying, “Here’s a big red ‘x.’ Are you out? Yes, OK goodbye.” But if I pick up on something in their voice that they’re a maybe, I’ll go back one more time and ask if it would be alright to keep in touch and give them my email.

Connect with James:

Action Items:

  • Get on the phone and continue to make calls to your clients and prospects.

Subscribe today to get the most actionable sales and marketing tips.