Welcome to the Agents Who Crush It In Real Estate podcast where you’ll hear the good, the bad and the ugly of how real estate agents overcame challenges and grew their business. Check out the Episode Notes at CrushItinRE.com/podcast. Here’s your host, Lindsay Favazza.
Lindsay: Are you looking to not only be a kick-ass realtor but also start and grow a team of kick-ass realtors? Well, then you came to the right episode. I have, with me today, Mark Balestracci. He is the team leader of the Balestracci Group with Lamacchia Realty. Welcome, Mark, to the podcast.
Mark: Thanks for having me.
Lindsay: I’m super excited to have you. You’ve been in business now for 19 years?
Mark: Almost 22.
Lindsay: 22? Wow, my numbers were way off. That’s amazing. You definitely are an agent who crushes it in real estate, but, like you said, you’re a team leader who also has crushed it in real estate. You made the successful transfer into team. I want to go back though to when you first started in real estate and why you started in real estate, what were you doing before, and how did that transition happen for you.
Mark: I went to school to be a teacher, and I was working in education, and I bought my first home when I was 26. At the time, it was a family member who was our real estate agent, and after the closing, he encouraged me, he said, “Hey, you should really get your real estate license. I think you’d be great at this.” Honestly, I was really hesitant. A 100% commissioned job. Tough thing to do, but I was young enough and I didn’t have kids at that point. My wife and I were engaged and if there was a time to make a move like that, it was then.
That was back in 2002-ish. Well, I bought my house in ’01. It was ’01, ’02 when I got licensed. It was because of a family member who was a real estate agent.
Lindsay: You probably are thanking that family member for giving you that little push.
Mark: The push was huge. When I started out, I think one of the things that helped me because I didn’t have– I was a transplant to Worcester County. I grew up in a different area so my sphere of influence was not here. My wife’s family was here, but my personal sphere was not here. The great thing was this person who introduced me to real estate also brought me in and mentored me in a way. He didn’t like working with buyers. He only liked working with listings.
When I started out, he would bring me on listing appointments, I would work with them on the buy, he would help them on the sell. It really helped me grow my business. It gave me someone to teach me what I needed to learn, but also to help me grow when I was starting out. I think that’s important for new agents. We all get caught up in the commission, and if you’ve got to give up a piece to get business, you’ve got to be okay with that because that’s how you grow.
Lindsay: Absolutely. It’s, a lot of the times, what we say here about, the leads, it’s at-bats. It’s at-bats that you wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s like you might as well get some at-bats, get some experience, so same with a team. You’re working with someone that’s going to give you those at-bats and give you that chance to grow your business. I’ve heard a lot of people on this podcast say, when they first started, they went to their sphere and they didn’t want to use them because they didn’t have experience. It’s like you expect that your sphere is just going to come through for you, but they really want to make sure that you’ve proven yourself first.
Mark: 100%. When you talk about the at-bats, an at-bat leads to more at-bats. If we only look at the deal that we’re working, we’re thinking really small, but if we think of the people that those people know and growing our database that way, then it’s unlimited how much potential there is. You have to get the narrow focus out of working that one deal, “Oh my god, it’s only $100,000 buyer.” Well, that $100,000 buyer has parents, sisters and brothers, friends, and that’s how your business grows. You’re going to look good.
Lindsay: We’re going to come back to this because I know that this is a big way that you have grown your business over time, but I want to first get into why did you start a team? What was the trigger in your mind to say, you know what, you were on a team then you probably were individual for a little while, and then from there you started your own team.
Mark: I was never really a formal team. When I started and that person was mentoring me, I was still on my own and he was doing his own. In the mid-2000s though, after about four or five years in the business, I did start a team when I was at RE/MAX. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t successful. Teams were just starting and there was no guidance and just no blueprint to help me grow the team.
Then the market crashed and the first thing I had to do was get rid of being a team, I had to go back to being an individual. I started a team, it didn’t work out. I went back to being a solo agent till about 2016, and this sticks out in my head because it was– my wife works in the school so we can only take vacations during school vacation weeks. It’s not ideal, as a real estate agent, to take a vacation in April, but that’s what we had to do.
We were going to Mexico. At that time, I was a solo agent, I had 15 pending transactions when we left. By the time I landed in Mexico, we had 21 deals. Again, doing this by myself, I realized this wasn’t going to be much of a vacation. We upgraded my room so that we had a balcony with a view of the water so that I could work and at least look at the water. Having a lot of conversations with my wife during that trip, I realized that it was time to think differently. How can I make this work?
You get to a point where your business can– you can only do so much independently and you need to figure out a way that– the hardest thing I’ve learned is to maintain. You either go forward or you go backwards. If you plan on, “I want to just do the same thing every year,” it will never work out that way. I had to create a way that I could leverage myself and that was really that trip, the stress of that trip, not having a vacation, not being able to spend time with family was the tip of the iceberg where I was like, “It’s time to do something.” Lamacchia wasn’t around at that time.
Lindsay: I know. [chuckles] You would’ve had some help, I’m sure. It’s so true that anytime an agent– Anthony always tells people that, “If you want to grow your business, take a vacation.” If you want business to kick in then take a vacation because it’s like, all of a sudden, your phone just starts going off the hook. That’s so funny but also really wise of you to take that experience and say, “You know what? I got to do things different,” because a lot of people would just be like, ‘No, this is my life. This is what I have to deal with. I have to go on vacation and be miserable.”
You said, “No, I need to make a change to make this better for myself.” Tell me a little bit about, when you did finally get that team, after that trip and you started to go down that path. Was it hard to find people? Was it easy to find people? Was it easy to keep people? What were some of the challenges of starting the team?
Mark: The challenges of starting the team was finding the right administrative help. I think, most importantly, there’s a lot of agents out there and we can try to find agents that would fit our team best, but, without support, the agents won’t stay. You have to create a way that the team feels it’s bigger than just them, and it starts with support. Having a great administrative person is really a big part of that.
There were a couple times, along the way, where I failed at that. Either I didn’t, I struggled with wanting to pay somebody. Being responsible for someone else’s income is really a tough thing. That was the hardest part was finding the right help. Once you found that support, finding the team members is also a challenge because, if it’s another person that’s looking to do 100 deals a year, then they may not be the right fit for the team.
It has to be somebody that understands it’s about bigger than just the individual. I have a great group right now we all bounce off each other. We all balance each other out. They’re not all Mark Balestraccis, they’re not all Matt Jets, they’re not all Alyssa Comos. We all have our own personalities and our own strengths and weak weaknesses and we’re able to use those to help each other grow.
I think that’s most important. I didn’t want another Mark Balestracci. I know my weaknesses. I needed somebody who had the strengths to balance them out. I think that’s what’s important in the team is finding the right agents that balance you out.
Lindsey: Your team is awesome. I finally got a chance to meet Matt and he is like just the sweetest human being. Obviously, I had already met and hung out with Alyssa and felt that way about her. You have a great group and obviously, it took you probably time and a couple other people that you probably went through to get to this great group but you definitely have a great group so it’s awesome.
Mark: Thank you.
Lindsay: Tell me about what the difference is in a day-to-day from individual realtor to a team leader. What is the difference in your day-to-day activities that you have to balance?
Mark: I think one of the biggest challenges for people who start a team, and I see this, a lot of newer agents get to the point where they’ve got 10 deals going and they’re like, “Oh my God, I need a team.” Unless you’re consistently doing 10 deals all the time, you’re not ready for a team. The important thing is, not only do you have to feed yourself, but you have to be able to feed the lead wheels so that those are going out to your team members. That’s the hardest part, ismaking sure you have enough business to keep the machine in motion to keep the agents happy.
It’s still a challenge that we deal with every day. Right now, we’re active, we’re doing a lot of things that are work, but it’s not all money-producing. It’s finding the ways to keep the team so that they understand the value of having it, why they’re part of it, but also just keeping it in motion, and we struggle with it to this day.
Lindsay:One of the biggest things that you guys do really, really well, and I had this stat, but maybe this is off too, so you’ll have to correct me if I’m wrong, but 85% of you and the team’s business come from referrals. Is that about accurate?
Mark: Yes. I’d say somewhere between 75% and 85%, given every year could be slightly different. A large portion of our business is repeat and referral. That’s all lumped into the same number. We’re fortunate that we have a dedicated group of people who have worked with us for many years and continue to help us.
Lindsay: You’re fortunate, but you’re also skilled at making them want to work with you and want to refer you. What are some of the things that you guys do that you would never take out of your business plan that keeps people coming back to you as far as referring you or them using you again and again? There’s a lot of realtors out there. I think that there’s some stat. I’m not even going to bother quoting it because I’ll misquote it. There’s a pretty hefty stat that says that the majority of people don’t go back to their original realtor.
Having 70% to 85% of people coming back to you is huge. Tell me, what are the things that you guys will not take out of your schedules that help you to get that to stay?
Mark: About 12 years ago, I was in a training by a national trainer named Rick DeLuca. He was talking about client appreciation parties. I had always, in my mind, wanted to do something, but I could never put my head around how to put it together, how to plan it.
One of the things we really work on and try to be more consistent at– With COVID, it really threw a wrinkle in things because we couldn’t actively get out there and have a big event. On an annual basis, we try to do an event with our clients that is in person. Some years, we rented a bowling alley in an arcade and we had it catered and we had the whole place to ourselves.
A couple times we’ve done pumpkin-picking events where we have a professional photographer there. We have all these rides in events for kids that go on there. We try to dictate them around events that are family-friendly and kid-friendly. Even if you don’t have a child, you have a niece and a nephew, or you have a friend’s child or a grandchild that you can bring to an event.
I found that, when we do events that are adult-centric, it’s hard for them to get babysitters. There’s a lot less things that can take place. This upcoming event that we’re working on right, we have on February 4th, it’s at the Worcester Railers game. Right now, we have about 180 tickets reserved, RSVP’d. We’re hoping to get over 200. That’s our goal. Ideally, it’s just to let the clients know that we care about them.
This event will never mention anything about referrals. It’s not about that. It’s about them. In turn, what happens is you create a community, and within that community, the common denominator is the agents on the team that have worked with them. What’s great is when you get people who haven’t seen each other for a long time and they come to this event and they’re friends. They don’t know that, “Oh, Mark helped you buy a home, or Alyssa helped you buy a home.” Now there’s, again, another common thread that it just keeps it together.
We use these client events to let them know how great it is to work with them. Also, throughout the year, Lamacchia offers great programs with the mailers and the other touches that we do along the way, just so we’re not– We don’t want to constantly be bombarding people with, “Hey, if you think of it, can you give us a referral?” Honestly, we don’t ask. I think it’s just if you create a culture and environment where the people feel comfortable and confident with your services, they’re going to have no problem giving your name out. The client parties have been a big, big part of our success with retention.
Lindsay: I love it, and I love the fact I didn’t even think of that. People showing up and being like, “Hey, you’ve worked with Mark too.” That’s so cool. Then I would assume that if, over the years, they’ve gotten used to doing these events and stuff with you guys, that you more than likely also have caused them to have friendships in general. Even people that see each other and get to know each other at your events, probably become friends after the fact. Like you said, you’re building this community around your business, which is huge. To have 200 people potentially, it’s incredible.
Mark: That’s a lot of cost associated with it. At the beginning, there was some hesitation because of the financial expense of it. If you think of what we’re able to do as real estate agents and different ways we can give back, I think it’s really a drop in the bucket. I tell new agents all the time, “I don’t care if you have 10 clients or 15 clients, rent a room at a restaurant, put them together.” Again, the common denominator in the room is you. It’s worth every penny. It’s, I think, every agent–
Lindsay: Make it a free meal out of it. They’ll be happy to show up. [laughs]
Lindsay: That’s great. Tell me a little bit more about what other things that you do. You do the client appreciation, you had mentioned mailers and things like that. What other things do you and the team do to keep referrals or keep leads, in general, coming to you?
Mark: Let me backtrack to the client events. A lot of lead up to that is connections that we have to make. I’ve been on the phone for the last three weeks, having conversations. Again, it’s not about getting a referral from them. It’s about inviting them to an event. There’s a phone call, there’s a text message, there’s an email, there’s a follow-up. At the end of the year, we give all the clients who purchase that year a new custom ornament for their house.
This fall, we did a custom coffee cake delivery. Everyone does pies. We wanted to do something a little different. We had custom cakes made. We hand-delivered those to the houses of people who have referred us business this year.
Lindsay: You’re seeing them face-to-face again.
Mark: Right. Alyssa did something this fall where she brought moms, to all her clients, pot pies. A combination of phone touches, texts, emails, pot pies but again, creating an environment, just letting them know that we care. Occasionally, it’s just a follow-up phone call. Hey, how’s the house? How’s the family? If you do those little things, you stay top of mind. I think that those are important. It involves around multiple touches with our database throughout the year.
I’ll be honest though, some years were better than others. It depends on what’s going on that year. It got easy, as Anthony says, the last couple years that we got so caught up in everything that was going on that we got away from some of the things that made us successful. We had to really focus on getting back to that, in the last six months.
Lindsay: I love it. Do you guys have monthly call plans that you are looking at and you pull together lists or is it really just like you’re going back to the people that you want to actually check in with? Is it more just a natural connection or is it something that you guys have rigidly planned?
Mark: No. I wish I could say we’re that organized, and we’re not. It’s just more of we’re-
Lindsay: It’s more organic.
Mark: -having a meeting, what do we need to do in the next couple weeks, and we have a conversation about it. It’s making sure we follow up. We do not have this laid out over the course of the year.
Lindsay: Sometimes people say, “Oh, we should be more organized, we should do it like that.” Then the bottom line is, too, I think your leads will start to realize, or your sphere members will be like, “He calls me every three months. I’m on a list.” You know what I mean? It doesn’t feel as organic and natural. It should be more of like a natural progression, not something that’s forced.
Mark: I agree. I think, if I see someone and it’s going to be a sales call– The point of it, we don’t want it to be a sales call. It’s about them. It’s about how they’re doing, about how the house is. If you have those conversations, the business will come from it.
Lindsay: Absolutely. Tell me a little bit about what kind of advice you would give to an agent, especially in today’s climate. You have been in the business now for a while and you’ve been in the business through 2008 and the crash, the big crash that everyone keeps mentioning. We’re facing definitely a changed market, not a crashed market, but a changed market. Tell me, what would be some advice that you would give to agents at this time with the changes coming?
Mark: I think one of the most important thing for me and for us as a team, and part of why we came to Lamacchia is we love the fact that there’s always training. May seem simple. When I started in real estate, I had no training, nothing. I remember my broker, love him, fantastic guy, but he gave me Floyd Wickman videos, and he said, “Watch these.” That was it. That was the training. A lot of it, it took a long time to really develop the skills. What Lamacchia or what some of the other companies have now where you can go out and you can have atraining on a weekly basis about business things that are– whether it’s writing a contract, which is important to know, and lead paint, and all those things. Then you can go to another training and it’s about growing your database or working on REEL.
Doing things, through social media, that are going to help you. I think, most importantly, is be present in your business, be active in it, go to trainings, be at the office. For me, I could work from home if I chose to, but I get a lot more from being in the office, being around agents. I call it water cooler talk. I learned about septic systems listening to people who were photocopying a title five.
I didn’t know what a septic system was. I grew up in a city. Learning those things and being president in the office, I think is huge. I think, successfully, includes follow the people who are doing the most business in your company or the business the way you want to do it, and try to see if you can attend open houses with them or shadow them a little bit. I think finding a mentor for a new agent or a struggling agent is probably the best thing you can do. It’s okay to give up a piece of your commission, 50% of something is better than 100% percent of nothing.
Really find the people who are being successful in your company and follow them, or at least see what they’re doing every day and try to model some of that. We have a lot of great agents. One of the things that’s awesome about the company is there’s a lot of people who are willing to help. My door is open. If you attend trainings and you are active, you can come in my office at any time.
I think there’s a lot of agents like that in our company who are willing to help. Reach out. I think one of the other things that is very important and helped me probably 12 years ago, so in 2010, when the market was really down, I had someone who told me, “Mark, you’ve got to put two names a day in your database.” It was a struggle. I had a database already and, all right, two names a day doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re doing it week after week, it is a struggle.
Find a way to build your database, and then utilize the tools that Lamacchia has with the mailing systems where that database can be touched in some way. One of the struggles is being– I hear people say, “You don’t want to be the agent that no one knows about.” What’s the term that Anthony uses?
Lindsay: Secret agent. Don’t be a secret agent.
Mark: Don’t be a secret agent. A way to not always talk about real estate, but for people to know you do real estate is to make connections within your town, but also hit them with mailers. I think that’s a huge thing. Do some local advertising. when I started, I sponsored a little league team. My sign was in the outfield. If you went to a basketball team, I was coaching, my name was on the jersey. You do all these little things and now you are the real estate agent without being the person who’s always talking about it.
You are the go-to person because they see your name everywhere within the town. If you can do little inexpensive marketing and you can put a couple names a day in your database and find a way to connect with them, then your business will grow. If you have children and they’re in elementary school or middle school, be part of the school community. I think those little things locally help you expand your business in a bigger way.
Lindsay: I love it. Well, definitely listen to that advice. Write some notes down if you haven’t already. Listen back and write some notes down. This was packed with good information. You’re right, you are one of those people that people really look up to. How many homes did you guys sell in 2022?
Mark: I was just over a hundred.
Lindsay: It’s incredible. You’ve continued to grow your business, which is awesome. Like you said, holding steady is really difficult. You can either slide back, which a lot of people have in the past year or so, and even in the past few months, but you guys have continued to grow and get better. I am so grateful to have you, not only in the company, because that makes me very happy, but also to just have you on here today and be willing to open your door literally for other agents and help to train them and be a mentor to them. I think that that’s awesome.
We also have a national audience, so don’t be surprised if you hear someone from New York State that’s like, “Hey, Mark, can I ask you a few questions?” Because that happens to some of these podcast guests too. We will link any social media or anything like that for Mark so that you guys can get into contact with him for sure. Mark, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. We will see you guys on the next episode of the agents who crush it in real estate. Have a great day, everybody.
Mark: Thank you, Lindsay.
Thanks for joining us on the Agents Who Crush It In Real Estate podcast. We hope you’ve learned some valuable takeaways. Be sure to take action and grow your business. You can check out the Episode Notes and more content from the show at CrushitinRE.com/podcast. And if you’d like this episode, and you’d like to hear more stories, please share with others, post on social media or leave a rating or review. To catch all the latest from Anthony you can follow him on Instagram at Crush It In Real Estate on Facebook and YouTube. Thanks again and we’ll see you next time.