By H. E. James, MBA
Rural businesses occupy a unique place in their communities. If you own one, you know that you have a corner on your market while possibly having a market on the corner. This is especially the case for niche businesses like real estate agents.
In small towns, there is unlikely to be more than one real estate office, let alone more than one agent. However, having a corner on the rural real estate market doesn’t mean you can sit back and let business just come to you. In today’s real estate game, even rural agents have to work to keep their businesses fresh and appealing.
Real estate buyers, from the commercial to the residential, have much better access to the wide world of property than ever before. This is especially true for rural residents. They have less access to metropolitan areas and service providers. Internet use is key to how they research, shop, even live.
The real estate industry is changing rapidly in many ways, and the most significant is the use of mobile internet. This allows users to conduct their own research and price comparisons before even selecting an agent. If your rural real estate office wants to be that agent, you have to make your listings digital.
You don’t have to create your own mobile interface, but if you don’t have a website, there’s no time like the present. If your office is small and a bespoke website isn’t in the budget, post your listings on a national site like Land and Farm or United Country.
These sites allow both independent agents and larger offices to share their listings around the country and the world. It also allows potential clients nearby to get a glimpse of you as an agent and your community before investing in either.
Large real estate firms typically churn buyers and sellers. They have multiple agents who have multiple clients. For a small rural office like yours, one of the best ways to stand out from the bigger firms, especially when listing online, is to offer personal service.
When possible, focus on one buyer or seller at a time, avoiding conflicts of interest. During the house-buying process, I was often frustrated at the time it took my agent to get back to me, and I ended up being the one who found my house’s listing, via the Internet. The same has happened to my parents, who moved from one small town to another. They went through multiple rural agents before finding one who could cater to their needs, both residential and commercial.
Personal services are a great differentiator because you are often working with customers who only have a few pieces of a puzzle. Offer education on things like capital gains and tax deductions. These can often be news to a first-time seller and can cost her a great deal of money if she isn’t prepared for them.
This may seem counterintuitive to offering personal service, but wearing more than one hat as a rural real estate agent can help you offer that assistance and education. If you focus on rural commercial real estate, such as what my parents own, it behooves you to be a master of codes like state taxes and local commercial building requirements.
I spent a number of years working in planning, zoning, and building for my city, and I regularly encountered experienced real estate agents who know nothing about taxes, building codes, and permitting in their markets. This recurrent theme cost customers a lot of money in fees, which ultimately led to the agent losing business.
Small businesses such as rural real estate offices cannot afford to lose customers because of these kinds of oversights. Broaden your horizons into real estate taxes or renovation services in order to stay competitive in the digital world.
Your office may have a corner on the rural real estate market, but that doesn’t mean you’ll always have it. Stand out from the crowd by offering digital listings, a high level of customer personalization, and an abundance of services.
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Hattie is a writer and researcher from Boise, Idaho, with a varied background, including education and sports journalism. She is a former electronic content manager and analyst for a government agency, holds an MBA, enjoys local ciders, and tweeting via @hejames1008.