Ep. 149: Mike McCann – How Philly’s #1 Real Estate Agent Sold Over 10,000 Properties

Mike McCann has been the number one Philadelphia real estate agent for 32 years in a row. He runs the number one team in Pennsylvania (23rd in the nation), and has sold over 10,000 homes in his career.

On today’s episode of Stay Paid, Mike explains the strategies and practices that have helped him become one of the most successful real estate agents in the country, including how he follows up with his database to drive the bulk of his new business.

Key Points:

  • Focus on the parts of your business you enjoy, and don’t be afraid to delegate the rest.
  • The majority of your business will always come from repeat business and referrals in your database.
  • Use this time to invest in your business, organize your systems, and be willing to adapt.

Q: Tell us about yourself:  

It’s a miracle and I’m grateful every day. My name is “Mike McCann the real estate man.” I work in Center City, Philadelphia, and the surrounding communities, and I’ve been in real estate since June 1986, and I became a full-time agent in 1988—that was when I did my first 90 transactions as an independent agent with a small, no-name brokerage. I sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door for years during the recession of 1979–1981. There were no jobs in the country. You couldn’t get a job at McDonalds. I just never wanted to be poor. I didn’t mind working, and whatever I did, I did with energy and worked hard.

I started working when I was 11 in the restaurant industry, and I said to my mom, “I wish I could have a job where the harder I worked, the more money I could make.” I didn’t know anything about entrepreneurship. My dad was a college professor. So, when I found real estate, I was like, “Oh my God, the harder you work and the smarter you work, the more income you can make.” I took a course in 1989 at Temple Real Estate Institute, and there was an instructor there, Allan Domb. In 1987, Allan Domb was the number one agent in America. He was a specialist—the condo king. He’s now an incredible entrepreneur, a councilman in Philadelphia, and is one of the inspirational people in my life who I’ve watched. He said to me, “Mike, if you don’t have an assistant, you are an assistant.” So in 1989, I saved up three months’ worth of pay and hired one.

We automatically came up with checklists and systems, and, again, you didn’t have teams then. The internet wasn’t even around. Within three weeks I was like, “Wow, this is awesome.” I was no longer doing the things I didn’t like to do. That year I made an additional $40,000 from an assistant. The best thing was, I love people. I’m out on the street, I’m not the type of person who sits in the office and looks at numbers. In 1991, I hired a second assistant, and in 1995­–1996, Buyer Agency came out and that’s when I hired my buyer’s agent. My business became so big I couldn’t do it all myself. One of the key things I’ll say to you is that you have to try to stay ahead of the game in real estate. It’s a changing environment, but you need to keep your traditional values, too.

Q: Where do you think agents should be turning to produce leads right now? How do you achieve sustainability?

 It’s constantly evolving and changing. One of the things I did differently as a new agent was continue to educate myself. I took courses at Temple every semester, I went to conventions, and I networked with other professionals throughout the region. For example, in 1992 I got my first website. I worked for Prudential at the time, and they didn’t even have a website. In 1987-1998, I got the first REALTOR.com accounts, and that was really powerful. Things evolve and change over time, so there’s no one thing that works. Today, there’s a variety of things. I still do 9,000 mailings every other month. I still do some print advertising. Of course, in 2010 or 2011, I went on Facebook and have gotten a ton of business from there. A lot of millennials, which is a huge part of our market, are on Instagram. I’m not the biggest fan of Instagram because it’s too brief, but now I’m on there.

I’ve also always looked back at my past clients. I would say I only send about four postcards a year to my past clients who have sold with me. But then I have market mailings that go to the marketplaces I want to focus on. I made a switch after 27 years to Keller Williams because I believed that’s where the energy was going. I really admire Gary and what he’s done with that company. I had opportunities to go there before, but in the last 5­­–7 years, they’ve really changed. It’s an entrepreneurial company. What they have me doing now is a 33-touch system. I’m touching base with my clients, whether it’s video, gifts, emails—a variety.

What I’m learning is your database is your most important resource. With Zillow and REALTOR.com, you spend about 80% of your money going after 20% of your business. The majority of your business will always come from your past clients and your referrals. You should always ask for reviews. When we’re done a transaction, we always ask for reviews. That’s free advertising. My wife, before she spends a penny, she always looks for reviews.

Q: How do you track the referrals you get from past clients?  

To be candid, I am the worst. You have agents who do a lot of business but don’t make a lot of money. My business is very profitable, and if something looks good, I’m like, “Let’s give it a shot.” But I’ll be brutally honest, I’m not good at tracking. I’ve run my business by gut, emotion, and feeling. I really do not track it, and no one can believe I do between 700 and 800 transactions a year. I have systems for following up. When a lead comes in, it gets assigned to one of my agents, and there’s a tracking system on that, so we do know where our sales come from. But I’m out in the field. I don’t want to sit here and analyze this stuff because then I’m losing sales. I pay people to do that.

Q: You seem like you’re a relationship guy, and that’s the key to business:

 There’s two mindsets, there’s sales and details. In the beginning, I needed my wife to help me with the details and systems, but she has the brain of an engineer. I love people—I always have, and I want to help them. I learned early on that I wanted to have the best reputation in the marketplace, and I wanted to be the most knowledgeable. I knew I was already going to work the hardest. It’s a relationship business. If you talk to my competitors, they’ll say, “Oh, Mike’s a great guy. He helped me.” I help everybody. I want everyone to grow. The barrier to get into real estate is three months—you take a test and that’s it. Most agents don’t continue to grow. They think they should make a lot of money right away, but it’s a slow and steady business. Do one new thing a quarter, and implement it. Before you know it, your business will grow. With the coronavirus and being shut down for two plus months, we are using the time we didn’t have to invest in our systems and fine-tune our current systems.

Another tip is, one person who’s happy will tell five people. One unhappy person will tell 20 people. You do whatever it takes to keep people happy, and to be the solution. I don’t just show the real estate—I’m their counselor, their attorney, their accountant, their contractor, their motivation. You want to sell your property? I carry you through that process. That way, when your friend says, “I’m thinking about selling.” They’ll say, “I used this guy named Mike, you’ve got to call him!” You have advocates.

A lot of people do cold calling. I don’t solicit business. My business is a business of attraction. People hear about me and see my signs, see me on Facebook, see my ads, and having a unique marketing position that’s fun and unique sets you apart.

Q: What does post-quarantine look like for agents, and what should they be focused on?

This is my fifth downturn—it will probably be the third worst. The first worst was from 1990 to 1996. The country had a real estate depression, and prices dropped 30% to 50%. It took five to six years to come back, and 30% of the real estate population disappeared. People think of that as a long time ago, but that burnt in my brain. When I got in, in the 1980s, the market was going up. Then tax laws changed and the market collapsed. If a home sold in 1988 for $650k in Rittenhouse Square, by 1992 it was worth $340k. Everyone left and it was a horrible time.

I kept plugging away and educating myself, and when the market came back, I shot to the next level. In 1999 we had the dot-com bubble. That crashed for about nine months, people left, I kept plugging away. Then we had 9/11, that hurt the market for about a year. But every down market time, I gained footing. In good times, everyone is a real estate agent. In tough times, people leave. The 2008 downturn was the second worst I was involved in, and that really didn’t recover until about 2012. What did I do? I looked at my expenses, and cut away what wasn’t working, and added the things that would pick up. I said, “I have the money in the bank. Let’s plug away and increase our mailings.”

I think the industry was changing even before this, which is why I made the switch from Prudential. There was just a lot of attack on real estate. People thought they could do it in a smoother and better way. In good times, a portion will capture that market. But I believe artificial intelligence is the way of the future. Right now, artificial intelligence is a word and idea, but it’s nowhere near what it’s going to be. I remember when the internet was coming on, people had no idea.

The industry is changing dramatically, and with the quarantine, I believe you’ll see less face in residential real estate. I told my team, “People are going to be leaving the business. Times are more difficult. People are hurting and are stressed. We have to be the confidence builders. We have to change our business. And now, with Zoom, we have to become the experts on Zoom.” What we’re doing now when a lead comes in is asking, “Hey, do you have two minutes for a Zoom call?” We’re connecting. The Friday before the shutdown, I did my first Zoom listing appointment. And I’m a relationship guy—I’m a toucher and a hugger. But I did it. I spent an hour and fifteen minutes on Zoom with these two guys. They walked me through the house, sat down at their dining room table, and said, “Mike, send us the paperwork. We’re not even interviewing the other people we were going to interview.” All captured on Zoom. Become an expert on Zoom.

Q: Knowing what you know now, what would you go back and tell younger Mike?

I honestly have no regrets and no failures. I might have a bad hour or a bad two hours, but I hang that phone up and I move on to the next thing. I was not always Mike McCann the real estate man. I’m the number one agent in Philly since 1988. I didn’t get in the business to do that. I got in the business to provide financial well-being for my family. I didn’t come from that, and I didn’t want to live like that. I always said, “I don’t care what I have to do, I’m not going to have the bondages of poverty.” And my mom taught me to love people, so I’ve always loved people. You have to love this business, you have to love people, and you have to be a confidence person and a problem solver. What I did was look at the best people in the business and said, “If they can do it, I can do it. They’re not any smarter and won’t work any harder than me.” I was a C student, but I ended up doing better than my friends who were geniuses because I kept tunnel-focused. My life is real estate and family.

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