Agent-to-Agent Partnerships: Keep Referrals Flowing
Listings are hard to come by. In addition to working your sphere of influence, it’s time to ramp up your relationships with other agents to build a referral pipeline. Here’s how.
When Denise Bibeau, a Realtor® with RE/MAX Allstars Realty in Ocala, picked up the phone to call a Realtor in Georgia she found in the Women’s Council of Realtors (WCR) directory, she didn’t anticipate just how lucrative that phone call would become.
“My buyer in Ocala didn’t have an agent to sell her home in Georgia, so I referred this agent after we got to know each other over the phone,” says Bibeau. “A few years later, that client moved back to Georgia, so I referred her to the same agent again. We’ve done several other deals together and were able to meet in person at a National Association of Realtors® meeting in Washington, D.C., a few years ago.”
Referrals between real estate professionals can provide a lucrative stream of income, particularly when agents can develop a long-term relationship. But developing a mutually beneficial referral partnership takes more than a quick internet search for the name of an agent in a specific market. Real estate professionals who have a strong inter-agent referral network typically work hard to identify potential referral partners, get to know them and nurture the relationship with good communication.
Qualities to search for in a referral partner
Agents should develop their referral partnerships well before they need to make a referral, says Martha Pomares, managing broker for Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Coral Gables.
“I also think it’s smart to have a good relationship with more than one agent in each area so the client can pick the one they want based on their needs and personality,” says Pomares.
Here are some qualities to assess:
• Communication skills. Agents should look for other agents who share the same level of professionalism and responsiveness to clients, Pomares says.
“You want someone who is punctual, respectful, and returns phone calls and texts promptly,” she says.
• Set expectations. To establish a mutually beneficial referral partnership, it’s wise to ask an agent upfront about their plan for the client and how often to expect reports from agent to agent and from the agent to the client. “You want an agent who will be client-centric and touch base with you to let you know they’re delivering exceptional customer service just as you would,” Pomares says.
• Designations. Check to see which designations an agent has earned, says Bibeau, especially Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES) if you refer a senior client. Designations offer an insight into the agent’s education and commitment to their career.
• Production. Production levels and awards are marks of experience, but it’s also important to match an agent and client. Agents who sell $10 million a year won’t necessarily be the best fit for a first-time buyer.
• Personality. Good chemistry between agents and between clients and their agents is an important part of a strong relationship. Meeting a potential referral partner in person is best, but if that’s not possible, a phone call is essential to get to know the person, Pomares says.
• Language. Bilingual and multilingual agents can be helpful referral partners.
• Team status. Check out the reputation of a team and make sure you know if you refer an agent on a team whether that agent will take care of your client directly.
• Market knowledge and specialization. Ask for market specific insight and whether an agent focuses on a niche that may or may not fit the client.
Connect With potential referral partners in Florida
Charmaine Hickey, a Realtor with Lang Realty in Port St. Lucie and Florida president of WCR, consistently develops relationships with others around the state through the WCR networks.
“Every time I meet someone new, I introduce myself as ‘Charmaine from Port St. Lucie,’ so people will remember my location if they need to make a referral,” Hickey says. “When I need to make a referral, I start with the WCR database, but I don’t just pick any name. I look for someone who will be a good fit for my client.” The same can be said for any referral network, from CRS and WCR, or your national brokerage, to private networks like REALM, a global referral membership platform, and ReferralExchange, a nationwide referral network.
Hickey reads each agent’s bio, reviews their production stats, looks at their social media and their designations, then calls them if she hasn’t met them in person.
Other options to find in-state referral partners include:
- Attend Florida Realtors® association events.
- Attend seminars, conferences and classes in locations outside your market.
- Network through your brokerage or referral networks through certifications and designations.
Developing a national referral partner network
Hickey and other agents expand their network nationally through conferences, such as NAR and WCR, as well as globally on trade missions. Diane Tharp, an agent with Pinnacle Realty Advisors in Destin, supplements these interactions with a company called Platform Marketing, a full-service advertising agency that specialize in real estate.
“They have one agent per area and an annual mastermind conference, so I’ve personally met almost all the agents in the network,” Tharp says. “I always talk to a Platform agent first to make a referral, but if they can’t do it then I ask for a personal reference from that agent to another.”
In addition, Tharp recommends:
- If you work with military service people, cultivate Realtors® near military bases in other areas for referrals.
- Research real estate professionals in feeder markets—where buyers in your market come from—to develop a referral network.
- Take training courses and attend conferences around the country. Tharp has a stream of referral business from Arizona and Michigan because of encounters with agents in those states at national meetings.
Say 'yes' to commercial and residential partnerships
When residential real estate professionals are asked if they also do commercial real estate, they often just say no, says Jennifer Forbes, a broker with Commercial TeamMates in Coral Gables and 2023 Commercial president of the Miami Association of Realtors®. The better answer, she suggests, is to make a referral to a commercial agent. Not only would they receive a fee, typically 20% to 25% of the commission, but they could develop a referral partnership for an ongoing stream of business.
- Be active and visible in local and state Realtor associations for networking and education.
- Join referral networks through state and local associations.
- Attend seminars. “Something like a class on zoning attracts both residential and commercial agents,” Forbes says. “That offers opportunities for building a referral relationship.”
- Look for experienced agents at local, state and national Realtor association events and networks, such as the Commercial Real Estate Women Network (CREW).
Providing value in a referral partnership
Like many agents, Forbes has multiple long-term referral partnerships.
“They’ve been successful because we made sure to stay in touch and maintain our connections,” Forbes says. “I handwrite notes or make phone calls, but most important to me is in-person connections if possible.”
In addition to providing good service for each other’s clients, referral partners can be good sources of information and business advice.
“Since we’re not competing, we can talk about trends we’re seeing or good tools we’ve found,” Tharp says.
Referral partners offer more than an occasional fee. Tharp says 15% to 20% of her income comes from her agent referral network, along with business advice and friendships.
Like anything, developing referral partners takes time and effort. Your primary goal should be to provide value to your clients and to your referral partners. It isn’t a one-way street. Do that, and you’ll build a new income stream. #
Michelle Lerner is a Washington, D.C.,-based freelance writer.