Isabel Affinito, one of Austin’s top-performing real estate agents, shares the secret to her success in this industry.
Isabel likes to call herself “an amateur psychologist specializing in real estate sales.” She not only loves helping people buy or sell homes, but also likes to study the human behaviour of her clients and prospects on a daily basis. She understands their needs and wants, and this is one of the reasons why she is a successful agent in the city of Austin. Check out Isabel’s exclusive interview with PropertySpark below!
When did you start your career in real estate?
My career in real estate started right out of college, but not in the residential side of things. I graduated from Villanova with majors in History and Theology, not exactly fields of study that led themselves to a clear career path out of undergrad. Luckily, Villanova has a very strong commercial real estate alumni network, and those alumni were instrumental in helping me get an entry-level position at a commercial real estate brokerage firm in New Jersey.
Please also in 2 short lines brag about yourself, if you really had to impress someone about what you do, what would you say?
Friends, family and complete strangers trust me to guide them through large financial transactions. I’m honored by their level of trust with their biggest assets. And I’m proud to say I’m skilled at what I do. If I were them, I would trust me, too.
What inspired you to start in real estate and how did you motivate yourself to keep going?
My real estate career has been a series of happy accidents. I can’t say that I was particularly inspired to sell residential real estate. But a series of life events moved me out of commercial real estate and into residential real estate. At that time, I believed the shift to be temporary. But the longer I stayed in residential real estate, the more I came to love the freedom and the flexibility that it offers. In my experience, commercial real estate is much more corporate. There are certain expectations about how often you’ll be in the office (every day), and how ‘junior’ people conduct themselves versus ‘senior’ people. That corporate environment, for better or for worse, doesn’t exist in the residential world.
At a certain point, I recognized that my time in the residential world, enjoying freedom from a cubicle, freedom from a boss, freedom from a set vacation schedule, had made me unemployable. The idea of working for someone else was basically unimaginable, so I really had no choice but to keep going. Quitting and getting a traditional job just wasn’t an option.
Comparing your business from back then to now, what has been the main thing that allowed you to expand your business?
I’m flattered that you would ask, because I would not define myself at the moment as having big time success. I feel, instead, like I’m at the beginning of an exciting career, and like I have a lot of growth ahead of me.
And growth has been the key to any success I can claim. Through the years as a real estate agent, I’ve learned to see challenges as opportunities to learn instead of as failures. There are so many “failures” in this business that if I had interpreted each one to mean that I’m a failure, I would have worn myself out a long time ago. So instead, I worked on taking each challenge as a chance to grow, and asking “What can I learn from this, and what can I do better next time?”
What’s the most profitable aspect of your business, why do you think this is and how can others apply this to what they are doing?
Going to the gym. I’ve done more business with members of my gym than any other single source of business I can point to. And as an added bonus, attending the gym regularly gets me out of bed, keeps me healthy, and gives me energy for the day. It’s a win-win.
So my suggestion for other agents is, don’t ignore people you already know. When I first started in residential real estate, I focused on strangers. My peers were too young to transact real estate, and I was living in a new city where I didn’t know many people anyway. So I hit the phones and focused on turning strangers into clients. It was a few years before I looked up and realized how much easier it is to do business with people who already know you and trust you. So don’t neglect your network, like I did for too long.
And a last piece of advice. Get involved. But make sure you’re getting involved in something you actually like. If you join a group or a charity or a gym just for the networking, people will sense that lack of authenticity and it won’t work for you. Do more of the things you’re really passionate about, and you’ll find an amazing community to do business with. Whatever your thing, no matter how weird or niche, go do that. Be you. Be your weird self. People trust authenticity.
How do you work? (Do you wake up early, work late, communicate, what jobs do you do yourself, who do you talk to, etc.)
A few years into the business I started to feel pretty scattered as a I got busier and busier. It felt like there were so many things I wanted and needed to do in any given day that I often found myself running like crazy, then reflecting back on the day and asking “What did I actually get done again?” Alarmingly often, the answer was “nothing important.”
So I started developing some structures for myself to cut down on indecision and wasted time. I put a rhythm into my weeks to establish high-volume prospecting days, marketing and creativity days, days off, and a regular schedule to check in with my active clients. I also love having a morning routine that involves exercise, journaling and a bit of time with my family. I find that starting the day in the right frame of mind makes all the difference.
When did you realize you were successful/made it and how did you feel/celebrate?
Success is a weird thing. I think when I first started in residential real estate, if I were looking at someone in my position, I would consider them successful. But now that I’m here, while I appreciate the successes I’ve had, I definitely don’t think I’ve ‘made it.’ I doubt I’ll ever ‘make it’ in that sense.
My husband and I decided early on to celebrate small successes along the way. We both have a sense that the time to be happy and celebrate life is right now. So we’ve been very generous with ourselves with vacations and dinners out. Sometimes we even celebrate failures from which we’ve learned something.
So when we got the news about Realtor Magazine 30 Under 30, and particularly about the fact that I was invited to be on the cover, we were definitely excited. There were several days there, maybe even weeks, when I was basking in the glow and soaking it up. But we celebrated it exactly like we’ve celebrated every little thing that landed us here. We talked about it, we reflected on it, we laughed about it and we went out to dinner and had champagne. And then we planned a trip to Mexico.
Looking back, what could you of done sooner to of got to that point quicker?
I don’t regret a moment of it, because I love exactly where I am so much. But if I were to advise another agent of what they might do differently than me, it would be the following.
Don’t neglect the people you know. Get involved in things you like, go to happy hours, hang out with friends, be with people. That might feel like “fun” and “not work” but it is work, and that’s what’s so awesome about what we do. If you’re skipping a social thing to work late, and that working late does not directly involve talking to a human who is going to buy or sell something with you, you’re doing it wrong. Skip happy hour for a listing appointment, great! But if you’re skipping happy hour to revamp your website, then rethink your priorities.
Find a good sales coach and mentor, and soak up as much as you can as fast as you can from them. It took me too long to do this. Commit to proactive, outgoing communication with potential clients as a regular habit, several times a week. Lead generation and lead conversion are the most important aspects of the business, and the easiest to neglect.
What should other real estate entrepreneurs reading this be focusing on to expand their own business?
Talking to people is the most central, most important, most integral part of the business and it’s most often neglected. The reason to build a team is because you have so many solid, qualified leads that you’re leaving easy money on the table by letting leads fall through the cracks. Because you’re so busy closing deals that you don’t have time to call back everyone who says “I want to talk to you about selling my house.” If that’s not you, I strongly advise against building a team. You don’t have the leads to support a team. I made the mistake of team-building too early and it cost an incredible amount of time, money and energy and distracted me from what I should have been doing: lead generation.
What I do advise any agent to do is to hire an assistant and transaction coordinator. You can start by finding a transaction coordinator who works with multiple agents, and is willing to work with you for a flat fee on a single transaction. If you work well together, then bring them on for every transaction you do. The more you can take admin tasks off your plate, the more time you have to do your job, which is talking to people who might want to move.
What do you consider the main differences between those people who have been successful in your industry and those who have failed?
Willingness to lead generate. You can call this prospecting, lead generation, list building… there’s a million names for it, but it is, at it’s core, talking to people who might do business with you.
I’ve noticed a trend in my industry. The most successful agents aren’t the nicest or the smartest or the prettiest or the most professional or the most responsive. They are the ones who commit to lead generation. Because if you are willing to lead generate, you can build a team around you, for relatively cheap, to take care of the rest. Lead generation is highest-value skill in our industry, and the one most agents aren’t willing to do.
And I get it. Lead generation can be scary, because it opens us up to rejection. That’s something I had to work through, myself, before I could make myself lead-generate regularly, and actually enjoy it.
How has social media and online marketing affected your real estate business? How much more success have you had now after implementing social media and online marketing efforts.
I see online marketing and social media as just one more way to get in front of people. I don’t believe that the internet as a prospecting tool is radically different than any other. It’s another tool, and a good one.
Let’s think about an open house, for example, a much more traditional marketing avenue in real estate. When someone walks into an open house, my goal is to offer them something that sounds compelling enough that they want to give me their real contact information. Then, it’s my job to follow up with them until I get them on the phone. Once on the phone, I’m interested in setting a meeting, and in the meeting, deciding if we want to do business together.
The internet is no different. I offer people something of value for their contact information, and from there the lead flow is exactly the same whether they came in from Zillow or Facebook or a sign call or an open house lead. I’m trying to get them on the phone, and from the phone, into a meeting, and from the meeting, to the closing table.
The internet is a wonderful tool to reach a lot of people. Running an online ad requires less time investment than an open house, for example, and can be effectively outsourced. But after a prospect opts in, which is basically saying “I’m interested in real estate and you have my permission to contact me,” from there it’s the agent’s job to convert that lead into a client.
We hope you’ve learnt a great deal about becoming a successful real estate agent. Make sure to reach out to Isabel Affinito for a phenomenal and a one of a kind experience in buying or selling real estate in Austin!