Secrets of success in real estate sales
Meet Frank Polzler of RE/MAX
Frank Polzler, a native of Graz, Austria, obtained his real estate license just six years after coming to Canada. He built a real estate business and in 1980, along with partner Walter Schneider, established Re/Max Ontario-Atlantic Canada, laying the groundwork for Re/Max growth outside the United States. Re/Max International founder Dave Liniger has said that without the early work of Polzler and Schneider, the franchise may not have survived. Later Polzler and Schneider opened offices in New England and the U.S. Mid-West, and in 1994 they established Re/Max Europe, which now includes 36 countries.
In April, Polzler will celebrate his 80th birthday. Recently he published Journey of a Lifetime: A Memoir. The following is an exclusive excerpt.
By Frank Polzler with Jennifer Campbell
A few years ago, I bumped into one of my classmates from grade five or six. He became a professor of physics, obviously a very smart man. We reminisced about our childhood and our school. He said to me, “Frank, I remember you in school. I sat behind you. You didn’t excel academically, but you sure showed leadership.” It’s true; I wasn’t a No. 1 student. If I was interested in a subject, I was very good at it, but the ones I didn’t like and I figured I’d never need in my life, the heck with it!
My strength has always been that people looked to me for leadership. I don’t know why exactly, but that’s something in me. All along, even from when I was a kid, people gathered around me and I would inspire them to do certain things. And they’d do it and we’d all benefit. I was always good at things when I had to work by myself, too, when I had to make my own sales or something, but my forte was that I could delegate.
I learned long ago that everyone has something to offer and not everybody has everything, so I learned how to make a deal with them so we could help each other. For instance, when I was a kid and my aunt sent me a soccer ball – which at that time, believe me, was a prized possession – I’d say to my buddies, “I’ll let you play soccer with my ball if you help me out with my homework.” And it worked!
When I was crossing the ocean and met Alan Mentl, the fact that he could speak English was a huge advantage and I knew that. Besides the fact that I just liked him and we got along, I knew that he could be a safety net for me. When I didn’t understand something, he’d help me. And if we both didn’t understand it, we’d look it up in a dictionary. When you team up, it’s almost always better than going it alone.
You can’t force people to trust you; you have to earn and create trust!
A leader has to be visionary, a strategist. He has to be honest so people can trust him. You can’t force people to trust you; you have to earn and create trust. It’s very simple, really. I think I’ve done well because I’ve always had an open mind. I don’t just fixate on a certain way to do things and barrel my way through. If there are obstacles, I figure out a way around them – and there’s almost always a way. If it doesn’t work here, it will work there. Most people give up. The real key to leadership is to find a way around the obstacle or the challenge. If you can’t get over the mountain, then build a tunnel through it or a road around it. If that doesn’t work, then burrow under it. One way or another, you’ve got to get to the other side. I think people around me have come to trust that I am going to find a solution one way or another. One thing for certain; I’m not going to give up.
You’ve got to have faith in yourself if you expect other people to have faith in you. I think if you were to ask the people in Europe, they’d say they trust Walter and me implicitly, without question. We’ve never given them a reason not to.
Some people want the easy way out rather than doing the less pleasant things. For instance, to build a Re/Max franchise, you have to recruit people. I don’t know any way to recruit people other than talking to them and building a relationship.
Well, some people don’t like talking to other people. That’s okay, but that means they have to be realistic about their choices and chance of success.
Sometimes being a leader means doing the things that other people don’t want to do
Sometimes being a leader means doing the things that other people don’t want to do. For instance, I always sold houses in the summertime, when everyone was on vacation. All the other agents figured it was a slow time and no one would be interested in buying a house. Once, back in the ’60s, it was a Grey Cup Saturday or Sunday, and of course everyone was at home gathered around their TV sets to watch the game. I was there, too. But there was so much fog they had to stop the game. I watched the TV for a while, then thought, “Well, this is a waste of time. I’ll go up to my model house and open it for a while. Maybe somebody will drift in. At the very least I’ll get some paperwork done.”
By the time I got to the model home, you couldn’t see 50 metres in front of you. I sat listening to the radio – I was a bit of a football fan but not crazy about it – and a couple walked in. The man’s name was Basil and he was English – I don’t remember his second name. They looked around and I said, “What can I do for you?” He said, “We have to find a house.” And I sold them a house that day, when every other agent was at home watching the game.
The same positive, optimistic attitude will see you through recessions, too. You have to start each day like that, and things will happen positively for you. If I wake up with a bad cold and feel lousy, I think to myself, “Well, I’m going to make the best of this day.” That’s the way you get rid of the obstacles in your life. You are mentally well and you are physically well. That’s where it’s at.
I guess I’ve always had that positive attitude. I sure did when I packed my green suitcase and headed off for Canada. And I sure had it when I didn’t shy away from a crappy first job. I just did it, because I knew that once I knew enough English, I could get a better job.
Customer service is what makes or breaks a salesperson, or in fact any company or business. Today, real estate agents have to go to school to inform themselves about real estate laws and transactions and everything, but I don’t think they get a lot of training on customer service and sales techniques, which are really important.
Intelligence is not everything. There are a lot of PhDs around who are not doing well financially – not doing well in life, never mind money. You have to have a little bit of entrepreneurship in you. You have to have a good way with people.
Some people have a natural gift to be gregarious with people. It’s good to be outgoing and friendly so people relax and tell you about what they want and what they need. At the very basic level – and it’s unbelievable to me that some salespeople don’t do this – you have to smile.
My great-grandson, Jackson, has a smile that would floor anybody. If he keeps that smile, there will be no holding him back. There’s something about a person who smiles a lot. It breaks the ice right away. I think I’ve been that way all my life. Maybe I smiled like that when I was his age – I don’t know, because I don’t have any baby pictures of me and, even if I had any, I’d probably have a stern face because that’s what photographers made you do in those days.
At Re/Max, we teach our people to constantly prospect
At Re/Max, we teach our people to constantly prospect. We are building relationships with people out there, the people that we are selling for, the people that we represent as buyers. We help them negotiate a deal and take care of all the details for the customer. If the agent does a good job, the buyer or seller will probably go back to him/her. We teach our people, “Stay in touch.” It’s not a case of make the sale, grab the commission and run. Once you’re in business for a while, most of your activity is going to be referrals and repeat business. That’s the key. This is the type of agent that we are developing, and this is what we teach him/her. This was never around before.
I’ve always been adamant about a code of ethics for my people. At one point I served on the real estate board’s Ethics Committee. You have to establish trust.
When I started Re/Max in Canada, and it was even more so in Europe, a real estate agent was on the same level as a used-car salesman. We tried to change that. There are still some bad apples but you’re going to get that in any business. But we do a good job of weeding them out. We don’t want the hucksters, the guys that want to con somebody into a deal. You don’t have to be pushy or aggressive. My philosophy has always been, “If you like what you see, if you can afford what you see, then you make the decision. I’m just here to help you.”
You also have to have a positive attitude – all the time, day in and day out, no matter what happens. Some people are like toilet seats, up and down all the time. One day they feel horrible – they don’t feel like doing anything. The next day they’re jumping up and down. You have to be constant and you have to be able to handle the downs in the business, and there are lots of them.
Real estate is a very attractive career at any time. I’ve been in it for almost 55 years. But you have to be an innovator and a survivor, and you’ve got to have the stomach to hang in there. It’s not an easy business. When the market is good, it’s easy. But a lot of people fall by the wayside when the market toughens up. It’s a good business to be in if you want to work really hard and if you want to give good customer service. If you’re not hesitant to talk to people, you will always have business.
I took a lot of courses in the earlier years. My personal growth was always very important. There were two themes to these courses: sales and marketing skills, and keeping a positive attitude. Somewhere in these motivational training classes, somebody said, “Your security is between your ears.”
Real estate pays by commission. There’s no security, no paycheque there unless you do something. If you go through my whole story, you most probably could see that I have always thought that it’s me that has to make it happen. I’m lucky that maybe I was born with a positive attitude.
I’m not one of those guys who goes around with a crappy attitude all the time and takes days out of his life to feel sorry for himself. I’m not talking about people who truly have depression and need help; I mean the people who think they’re entitled to money and success just because they show up. When they get hit with something going wrong, they either moan that “it’s impossible” and give up or they blame someone else.
There are more No’s than Yes’s, so you just live with the No’s and exploit the Yes’s.
Sometimes you’re going to get too many No’s and you’re tempted to throw up your arms and give up. But don’t! Just keep going. It’s only a No. There are going to be lots of times that you have to deal with disappointment. You put in a lot of time with a customer and you think you have an honest and straightforward relationship; then you call them up one day and tell them you found a house for them, and they tell you they just bought one from somebody else. That’s why I get upset when some idiot reporter writes a newspaper article about how real estate agents rip you off. He should try just one year in real estate and he wouldn’t say that anymore. It’s not an easy business. People don’t try real estate; real estate tries people. It’s a tough one. But you have to keep at it. If someone says to me, “I got nothin’ goin’ on,” I say, “Make it happen.” Nobody’s going to do it for you. You have to get out there, talk to everyone you know, and business will come. That’s the way it happens.
A lot of the franchises we sold originally have failed, but it’s not because the system isn’t any good. In the U.S. and Europe, people bought into what the media was saying or what people on the street were saying. That’s when it got bad! They didn’t have the motivation anymore to carry on or implement this fabulous system.
How is the market?
When people say, “How is the market?” I say, “Well, it depends. Are you selling or are you buying?” Right now, things are slow. It’s really a great time to buy. But because people are like sheep, they buy when everybody else buys and prices are on the top end.
The market is also between your ears. It’s the way you think! When you listen to the news and the market is good, everyone goes, “Aha, ha-ha, let’s go and sell a lot of real estate.”
Easy. If the market crashes, which it has done in my career about five or six times, and you believe the headlines in the media about how bad it is out there, you might be expected to think, “What’s the sense of going to work? It’s bad, anyways.” That’s what we’re going through with our European business right now. A lot of not going to work.
However, I always did the opposite. I went out there and beat the bushes. I always got business.
When I’d interview prospective salespeople, they would say, “Well, I’m going to try real estate.” I’d say, “Excuse me. I don’t think you’re going to try real estate. Real estate needs a commitment, and I think real estate will try you. We’ll know in a few months if you’ve got the stomach to hang in there.”
Real estate is great when you’re closing deals. Go to any of our Re/Max offices and you’ll see Mercedes, Cadillacs, Jaguars and Audis, all the big cars. But when there’s a dry season, you don’t know how you’ll pay the bills.
I read a book once about the American Revolution. Apparently, George Washington had a terrible army. It was made up of farmers that were fighting this highly polished British army. The story goes that Washington told them, “Guys, just shoot, shoot, shoot until you learn to aim. Let’s make lots of noise, okay?” And we did the same thing. Just go for it!
Assertiveness and good impressions
In the old days, we used to canvas on the telephone. Now there’s a law against phoning people. This is stupid, because these people are trying to make a living. If you don’t want to be disturbed by a salesperson at dinner, then unplug the phone.
Why do you need a law? This is government intrusion into business. I would say that at least half the people I ever called were always very friendly to me, because I knew how to handle them. When I recruited salespeople, I was polite and considerate, which made them relax and listen to me. They would melt. You can’t just yak-yak-yak at people. You have to acknowledge them being there.
We’d also go around knocking on doors. We might knock on 50 doors in a day and maybe half of them wouldn’t answer the door or weren’t home. But with the people who did come to the door, I was always careful to leave them with a good impression.
That’s where your training kicks in. If someone said, “No, I’m not interested,” then I’d say, “I understand. However (and I’d always have a smile on my face), “if I can ever do anything in real estate for you or any of your friends, here’s my card. Thank you very much.” You don’t walk away with a long face because someone said no.
What makes a good salesman?
What makes a good salesman? You don’t give up. You just keep going! Do what you have to do. You know what to do. It’s not rocket science – it’s easy in that you know what you have to do. You don’t have to solve huge problems, like how to invent something to prevent a car from guzzling too much gas. That’s a science. Real estate is not a science. It’s a people business, a relationship business. It’s all about how you interact with people and what kind of impressions you make.
Adaptation and perseverance
This is not a business for everybody; lots of people abandon their real estate careers because they’re not good at sales, not good with people, or they can’t stand the downturns.
That’s fine for them. For me, I never once thought about leaving this business. I’m one of the survivors who have been in it for such a long time and it’s because I’ve moved with the times. I paid $5 for my real estate licence. I went from salesman to broker, sold new houses, sold resales, then the brokerage, back into resales, and expanded, expanded.
Building the Re/Max brand
In the ’70s, I started to realize that things were changing, and that’s when I began looking at franchises. I had a pretty good local name here in the region because of my offices in Mississauga and Etobicoke, in Milton and Brampton and Burlington. So I had that regional name but I did not have a national name.
There was tremendous competition from the trust companies and so on and I had to change, so I did. I looked for a brand to join. Re/Max didn’t have much of a brand name at the time, but Walter and I liked the system. The fact that it was unheard of up here didn’t stop us. We believed in it from the beginning.
It was a win–win situation when Walter and I started building the Re/Max brand. We sold the system. It attracted and held the best salespeople. They had all the advantages of being independent as well as having the support of the brand and the system. And if they chose not to join one of our teams and wanted to go out on their own, that was fine, too – we’d sell them a franchise! Now everybody’s copying us.
A key element of success is to just keep going. It sounds so simple and it is simple
A key element of success is to just keep going. It sounds so simple and it is simple. The same thing goes with selling franchises. Walter has a saying, “You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.” You just have to keep kissing, you know? You don’t give up after you’ve talked to five people and heard their sob stories. People will come to you with all kinds of rationalizing why it doesn’t work. Well, as a leader you have two choices. One is to agree with them, and one is to turn the thing around and show them how it can work. You have to be able to make people see the other side of it.
Rationalizing is the easiest way to avoid doing something. “Oh, it’s tough.” Sure it’s tough. So what?