Ep. 145: How Will Penney and His Team Sold 251 Homes Last Year From Referrals and Reviews

Will Penney is the president of Penney Real Estate Co., and he has been a licensed REALTOR® since 1988. During his career, he has sold over $250,000,000 worth of local real estate. Will is among the top 5% of REALTORS® to be a Certified Residential Specialist, and he is the highest-rated REALTOR® in Northeast Ohio on Zillow. He attributes over 90% of his business to referral marketing through past clients.

On today’s episode of Stay Paid, Penney explains how he generates leads and drives new business exclusively through staying in contact with past clients.

Key Points:

  • Keep a database of your clients, and make sure you reach out to them occasionally with intention.
  • Utilize Google to post reviews and drive new leads for your business.
  • Be in front of your sphere as much as possible to generate brand awareness.

Q: Tell us about yourself:

 I became a REALTOR® in April of 1988. I graduated from high school in 1987, I’m 51 now, and I started at Kent State University. I was working at an auto parts store and this guy came in looking for spark plugs, and he started talking about real estate. He knew a guy who knew a guy who owned a Century 21 office in Akron. He said I could be their Portage County man, so I said, “Great, I’m in!” I went over there, took my classes, got my license there—they called me flash in the pan Penney, because I set my goals too high. We actually had a guy in that office sell 384 homes without an assistant. He was number two in sales volume in the entire system for Century 21. I walked around with him for a while and carried his briefcase and drove his Cadillac, and that’s how I got my foot in the door. I ended up selling 17 houses my first year. But then I made the Century 21 Centurion Award, which back then was 60 units, and I did that at 24.

Then my wife and I started Penney Real Estate—she’s the broker. She was a trainer with Century 21 at the time. I recruited an agent from Coldwell Banker to be my showing agent, and I paid her 10% of everything I did, to show houses and help me do listings and things like that, but she only lasted a year. I bounced around through a few people, had a buddy of mine work with me for a long time, but in 2013 I hired my first key player. She’s my listing manager and also sells houses. So my team is made up of three people. Last year we sold 251 houses, just about $47 million in sales volume, and that translated to about $1.7 million in revenue.

In 2018, a close friend of mine who’s an independent broker, got licensed in 2007, right before the crash. He and two other people were doing about 100 to 120 transactions a year, and I was bugging him for years. At the end of 2018, he broke loose from his uncle’s brokerage and started a second office for me. So our company is two teams. There’s only six heartbeats, but we’ve got really solid people.

Q: What are the systems you have in place to help you generate leads?

Here’s the boring part. In 1994, I went to a Joe Stumpf main event in Cincinnati, Ohio, and he was talking about buyer referral only. I left that thing and thought, “This is it.” From that point on, I started keeping in touch with my past clients 15 to 20 times a year. When you talk about leads, one thing I do that maybe some agents don’t do or don’t find important is, I have a database. Right now, during this pandemic, I’m keeping in touch with my database twice a week.

I’ve been doing a market update, talking about the number of transactions. In Ohio, we can still show homes. We have a very restrictive stay at home order, but our essential workers, however the Governor thought of it, he didn’t stop us from showing houses. So we’re abiding by social distancing rules, but real estate agents are allowed to work. So, in May, we sold 30 houses. In April we sold 27. We hear so much bad news, but I decided in the middle to end of March to do weekly updates. I’m between Akron and Cleveland, in the Northeast part of the state. Two weeks ago there were 219 pending sales in Summit and Portage counties. In the same period of time last year, there were 143. The median time on the market for those was 15 days.

We’re putting those numbers out on Instagram and Facebook. On Facebook, I boosted that to a 15 mile radius, every week I spend $50 a boost it, and get about 3,000 to 4,000 views, and about 7,000 playthroughs. And I’m very sensitive when I do these updates because I don’t want people to think that I’m just some capitalist pig. I want to make sure we’re acknowledging the fact that lots of people have been affected and are out of work. But Northeast Ohio, 50% of the workers are in healthcare, government work, or education. So we haven’t had one transaction fall through because someone was furloughed or lost their job. I’m trying to promote that information to the public as much as I possibly can, so they don’t think it’s all doom and gloom. One thing we are having trouble with is getting listings right now, because people don’t want to have other people coming through their house when they’re with their kids. So I’m putting videos out there every Tuesday, and Friday I’m doing some other kind of update.

And here’s a good thing for new agents. I go into the MLS, pull up a year worth of sales, start at the beginning, click on the relist or tax number and pull it up on my phone. I send them a text that says, “Hey, just thinking about you. Hope you guys are hanging in there during this crazy time. Keep in touch. Will.” I’ll do 100 of them in a day. Last week, I wiped out from 2010 to now, I sent everyone I’ve worked with that text. It’s free and takes no time at all.

Q: How much of your business comes from referrals?

 As a whole, probably 70%. I’ve got two Zillow zip codes, and spend almost $4,000 a month on Zillow. We’ve got more reviews than anyone in the entire state. I have 522 on Zillow. At the risk of sounding arrogant, you don’t have anyone who has 522 reviews on Zillow. I have a bunch on Google, a bunch on Angie’s List, 25 on Facebook. We’ve got like 700 reviews out there. I’m getting more and more business from that. I just listed a house for an 89-year-old lady who found me on Google. Every time I list a house it will post a link on Google, and then what I do is I post some there organically so I’ll show up on a local real estate search. Honestly, if someone calls me and says, “I’m calling you because Josh listed his house with you and he says I shouldn’t call anyone else,” that’s obviously the best kind of call you can get. The second best call you can get is from someone who values reviews. If someone is looking online for reviews and reviews mean something to them, that social proof is every bit as good as having a recommendation.

Q: What tips do you have for collecting reviews?

In 2009 I joined Zillow and started paying them a few bucks, but I’m pretty competitive and my rep Elizabeth said, “In order to have your money be worthwhile, you need to get reviewed.” So I looked in my marketplace on the agent finder, and saw this guy had 58 reviews. I called him up and said, “How did you get all those reviews?” He just said, “Well, I just asked my clients.” I was already doing a really great job of keeping in touch with my people. I was able to go out and ask past clients for reviews because I already had an ongoing relationship with them, following up, doing my newsletter. I was able to get up to 100 reviews my first year. But, little did I know, I was ahead of the curve because it’s very hard, unless someone is selling 300 to 400 houses a year and doubling down, they can’t catch up with me now.

If I were a new agent, I would get a Google profile, pay Homesnap $495 to optimize it for you and post all your listings. Start putting photos of yourself on there, personal stuff—pictures of your clients. And start digging deep to get as many reviews as you can. Google is a home run.

I’ve also been texting quarterly for years. I used to send out Christmas cards, but I gave up on that. When everyone else is hammered on New Year’s Eve, I am productively hammered. I’ll look at my closest sphere, and text them Happy New Year every year at 12:04. They aren’t expecting that from their REALTOR®. It’s free, none of this costs any money, you just have to think about it and be deliberate.

Q: What made you decide to structure your team this way?

When I first started Penney Real Estate, I knew I needed someone. I had my wife, but she didn’t sell houses, and we had really young kids. We opened up an office about six months in around the corner from where we lived, and I brought this woman over. She lasted a year, but made $52,000 off the 10% she was getting off me. She got to the end of the year and asked for a pay raise, so I let her go the same day. I figured, if you’re going to ask me for a pay raise working part time—basically I was her REALTOR®. All she had to do was photograph houses. I did that on and off. Where a lot of real estate agents make mistakes is they try to cheap out on their people. In 2009 or 2010, Rebecca, who is with me now, had her real estate license and showed houses for me at night and on the weekends. I paid her $20 to $30 an hour with a W-2. My biggest goal with my team was that they would remember me and no one else. A lot of times, the problem with teams is they have John Smith the team leader and he has 20 agents. At the end of the day, those agents are selling 7 to 12 homes a year, but they don’t have the skills to create an ongoing referral-based business. The minute the leads turn off the team implodes. I wanted to have my team be, they each have their own roles, but I’m the center of the wheel.

Q: What are the routines that have driven success for you?

The crazy part is none of my friends think I work. My dad thinks I’m a bum. Because I’ve been doing this so long, most people who have been in the business 30 years are in their eighties, but I’m 51 and it’s my 33rdyear. Last year I went to Florida for a month. This year I was in Marco Island, Florida, for two months. I’ve created a situation where I think, knock on wood, my employees don’t want to leave. They know they can’t duplicate their job in the marketplace, and I say that respectfully.

Routine wise, I don’t get up early. All the other pros you have on here get up at like 4:45—I don’t. Tuesdays and Thursdays I run with a buddy of mine at 8:30 so I get up at 7:40, and I run early on the weekends, so I get up at about 7. But Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I get up around 8:30. I run 40 to 50, sometimes 60, miles per week. Under normal circumstances, I’m part of two running groups I have gotten a ton of business from. In my Saturday morning running group, we have a dermatologist, the head of infectious disease for the Cleveland Clinic, three attorneys, and I’ve sold houses for most of them.

Connect with Will:

Action Items:

  • Do a market update video with positive information, but be mindful of what people are going through.

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