19 productivity hacks from top agents

The pros share their secrets for organizing, keeping things moving and getting it all done

When response times can make or break client relationships and time is money, every second counts.

It’s no coincidence that the highest producing and most successful agents at any brokerage are often the most organized, too.

A simple concept, yes, but staying organized is often easier said than done. I asked top agents at my brokerage and beyond who have honed their systems into perfection to find out their productivity secrets. Here are our top 19 hacks.

Organize

1. Make saving and labeling clients’ and contacts’ phone numbers a habit

Michelle Bassaly

A large chunk of a real estate agent’s job is coordinating access with current tenants so you can show their apartments to your clients (and keeping track of the clients that you show these apartments to). Top producing agents develop fool-proof methods of managing these contacts.

“I find it helpful to include the client’s first/last name, budget and the number of bedrooms they are looking for,” said Michelle Bassaly, a leading agent at REAL New York’s Lower East Side office who specializes in the rental market in downtown Manhattan.

“That way you can always remember who you are meeting with and what they are looking for. Once they close on an apartment, I change their information to the address they closed on for future reference.”

Gina Castrorao, REAL New York’s rental manager, strongly encourages agents to adopt such practices during her new agent training and onboarding sessions.

“When meeting new clients and/or tenants, it should be an automatic response to save their contact information in your phone,” she said. “Have their email, phone and address input. You can also utilize the note section to add more specifics about their relationship with you.”

2. Create standardized terms in your notes to make searches quicker and easier 

Noemi Bitterman

“The most crucial and important part of staying organized in the real estate profession is to have a system of how to notate your showings, walkthroughs (I spell it ‘walk-thru’ in my notes,) closings, client home anniversaries, e-blast schedules in your calendar and in your email subject lines,” said Noemi Bitterman of Warburg Realty.

What does this mean? It means that when you schedule a showing or another event, the address should always be written in the same form. This will allow you to search it and get an accurate count of all the showings, closings and so on.

For example, “15 CPW” should always be written this way, and not sometimes “15 Central PW” or “15 Central Park West”; walk-thru should always be written this way and not walk thru or walkthrough …. you get the idea.

“It’s a super simple system, and it makes a huge difference when you need to gather data. Our phones are our mobile offices, and we must be able to search and quickly get the information we need,” Bitterman said. 

3. Create email folders for everything

Cara Ameer

Have a folder for “Listings” and one for “Sales” and a separate folder for each specific transaction filed under the listing or sale category, depending on what it is, said Cara Ameer of Coldwell Banker.

File all emails pertaining to that transaction religiously so you’ll always have a searchable database of communications and attachments.

Archive the transactions by year so you’ll be able to refer back when a customer says, “Do you, by chance, have my survey from five years ago?” And you’ll be able to find it and send to them in a matter of minutes.

4. Update customer databases regularly 

Ameer also recommends that you spend the end of each week, or every two weeks, updating your customer database or CRM with new contacts you’ve added during those times in the course of your business so all is fresh in your mind, and you won’t have to search where you wrote that customer’s information down.

On that same point, be sure to sync your contacts across your phone and computer regularly so all is up to date.

5. Unsubscribe, delete and throw away regularly

“The amount of emails we receive is overwhelming. Our email addresses are everywhere and often shared with so many ancillary businesses that everyday it seems like we’re receiving a new set of emails that we never signed up for,” Ameer said.

She recommends you unsubscribe and/or block unwanted emails regularly. Try to delete all unwanted emails several times a day or at least every few days.

Consider creating a secondary email account for all non-business emails so that you can sift through those separately and help reduce the number of emails coming into your inbox.

6. Keep your desk immaculate

“Clean your desk at the end of each day, and put everything back where it belongs” Bassaly suggests.

“This way when you walk in the next day, you’ll be starting fresh and clean” adds Castrorao. “It also demonstrates courtesy to your desk mates, especially since many real estate firms are ‘bullpen’ style.”

7. Bring your office with you

Michael Bello

Some people make fun of me for it, but I personally carry my bag everywhere. That way, no matter where I am in the city, I have everything I need to work as efficiently as possible.

Buy a quality messenger bag or backpack so you can carry your keys, your laptop, any paperwork you may need, a phone charger, measuring tape and some Advil.

8. Label your keys

Gina Castrorao

If you’re in the real estate or rental business, you’re going to accumulate a lot of keys. And if you don’t know which doors they open, all of them become completely useless.

Label your keys — as soon as you get them. And develop a system to keep track of them.

“I like to have different key rings for neighborhoods (i.e. Soho, Lower East Side, Gramercy) so it doesn’t take too much time to find the key you’re looking for,” Bassaly said.

“You may also create a color-coordinated system to accomplish that,” suggests Castrorao.

Additionally, it makes sense to weed out the keys to apartments that are no longer available at least once a week to minimize the number of keys you’re carrying.

9. Invest in the latest technology

“Using the latest technology to help organize yourself is paramount to conducting a successful business,” Castrorao said. “Google products such as Drive, Docs, Sheets and so on are built-in organization tools. Also, documents created can be easily shared with clients, management or colleagues.”

Charles Narwold

Charles Narwold, the top producing agent in REAL New York’s Brooklyn office, also stresses the importance of keeping up with evolving tech.

“Google Calendar keeps me organized, Adobe Lightroom helps me edit my listing photos, Revel (a scooter sharing service) helps me quickly get from one listing to another in Brooklyn, and I’m in the process of having a digital business card designed so that I can airdrop/text it to all my clients,” he said.

10. Screenshot the important stuff

This simple tip can take your organization game to the next level. Throughout the course of the day, I receive hundreds of emails, texts, phone calls, notifications and updates.

I’ve found that the easiest way to keep track of everything is to screenshot the important stuff. It takes half a second and the click of a button, and you’re finished.

At the end of the day, I go to the “Photos” app on my phone, and all of the screenshots are right there — new listings, price updates, calls I need to return, important emails I’ve received, etc. I then delete each screenshot as soon as each task is completed.

Plan

11. Refer to your business plan every month

“This will remind you of the items you have not started or completed,” said Bitterman.

Add new goals or accomplishments that you didn’t include on the initial plan, she recommends. It keeps you on track and organized and moves your momentum forward.

“Real estate is a business that requires organization and self-motivation and checking in with yourself and your plan for the year is key to a successful business,” she said.

12. Delegate

If it is administrative in nature, Ameer recommends you delegate it to an assistant. Ditto with running to install lockboxes or signs, delivering marketing materials or other errands. The time you save on those trips can be better spent with customers face-to-face.

Schedule

13. Get off to a thoughtful start

Martin Eiden

“Have what’s called a Miracle Morning — this is the name of a pretty famous book,” said Martin Eiden of Compass.

“The way you start your morning is going to be a reflection of your whole day. Get up 15 minutes to an hour earlier than you normally do. Take time to think about what you’re thankful about the previous day. Meditate on what your day is about. Think about your day, and do some journaling.”

By meditating, you can get yourself centered, and you express gratitude for the things you already have, which Eiden says is the key to being calm.

“Personally, I get up every day at 5.30 a.m. My family gets up at 6.30 a.m. That gives me a whole hour to think about my day and plan my day. The last thing you want to do is answer your emails, you should get yourself centered and organized first.”

Similarly to his first point, he argues that you need to ideally do some physical exercise five days a week. It could be weight training for three days and yoga for two. With all the craziness going on, you need to release that anxiety through exercise.

14. Focus on dollar-productive hours

Start focusing on dollar-productive hours, Eiden said. Unless you’re actually making money doing something, it’s not dollar-productive.

For example, going on listing presentations, taking buyers to see properties, showing your listings to buyers, negotiating — all these things are dollar-productive, meaning that they translate directly into profits.

Everything else is not dollar-productive; talking about how bad or good the market is with fellow brokers is a waste of time.

The maximum number of hours you can spend each day being dollar-productive is normally four to five.

15. Time-chunk

Another of Eiden’s productivity tips is time-chunking. Start blocking and chunking your time.

For example, spend one to two hours a day calling past clients and your sphere of influence, and block it off in your calendar from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

However, be flexible enough to move those times around in case something urgent needs to be taken care of. Be able to move those two hours of calling past clients to 2 p.m. instead.

But when you’re working on a scheduled time-chunked task — focus on only that task.

“On this note, I personally only check my emails four times a day, and I set aside certain times throughout the day to do so,” Eiden said.

16. Schedule in extra time

“When taking out a client to see multiple properties, I try to schedule the appointments 30 minutes apart and not the standard 20 minutes apart,” Bitterman said.

She finds that those 10 minutes allow for a little extra time to check the details and give clients time to process between showings.

17. Stick to a firm schedule for everything

“If you don’t control your schedule, it will control you,” Ameer said. “The single most important thing is to protect and manage your time as best as you can.”

Always suggest days and times for appointments, meetings, etc., that allow you to maximize your efficiency and work best for you, she said.

There will be times when this isn’t possible, of course, but if you don’t take control, you will be at the beck and call of other people’s schedules, and you’ll run ragged.

She also says you should set boundaries with “hard stop” times. Some customers might think you have endless hours to spend with them.

Although we want everyone to feel important and like we do value them as customers, it’s important that we are able to move from A to B without feeling trapped in appointment A with no end in sight.

Ever been on a listing appointment whereby you thought perhaps you’d spend one to two hours at the most for a meeting, and the seller held you hostage for much longer with no escape?

Ameer says, always state upfront, “I have time between x and y to meet (or show you homes), but I have a hard stop at x time due to my next meeting.” This will allow you to focus on the task at hand with the customer and be more productive with the time you have set aside.

Respond to texts immediately, or schedule them to be sent the next morning.  The same goes for emails.

This tactic gets the next day off to a productive start when you’ve communicated with everyone you’ve needed to ahead of the next day and are able to get responses back to move your business and transactions forward early in the day.

18. Calendar everything   

It should go without saying, but if you don’t put an appointment, event or meeting on whatever calendaring system you use, you might not remember it.

Even if it is a reminder to do something, put it on the schedule, Ameer said.

“We run so fast that it can be easy to forget. I live by my Outlook calendar and also Deja Office syncs with with my Android phone,” she said.

I also calendar home purchase and sale anniversaries with reminders starting about two weeks in advance as a reminder to check in with those customers to follow up and see how they are doing.

19. Take advantage of ‘down time’ 

There really isn’t such a thing, but if you have a few days or a week where you don’t have a lot of running around to do, spend that time making to-do lists and tackling those things that you just can’t seem to get to during the busy periods, Ameer suggests.

Do things, when you can, ahead of time, and you’ll be less stressed.

Don’t know what to do while waiting between appointments? Use that time to send a couple of texts to clients, and let them know you’re thinking of them.

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