Selling Land in a Down Market

Selling rural land in a good market is fun. Lots of fun. Buyers are throwing money at you, sellers are happy with how quickly you sold their property, and you have some extra money in your pocket. You hope these days will never stop. But in the back of your mind you know that “all good things must come to an end.” Sales can be the best job in the world when it is good, and a very difficult career path when “no one is buying.”

I started my real estate career in January of 2008. Do you remember what was happening in real estate in 2008 and the years that followed? It was “the worst real estate market in 50 years.” I had the luxury of not knowing what a good market was. It was slow going for me to build a business from scratch, but I didn’t have to fight through the emotions of having a few great years, and then going into a deep slump.

Every year I was in business was my best year ever, up until 2016. In 2016, I made about 1/3 of what I earned in 2015. It was my first down year in my career. That year we welcomed a son into our family, and that involved a lot of time at home and kept me from being out in the field. I had some demands on my time because I served on several boards and was the president of the Alabama RLI chapter. And it didn’t help that we had one of the most contentious presidential elections in recent history that year. My personal circumstances and the local market climate all added up to a big bust for me that year. But I learned a lot, and this article contains some of the lessons that were impressed upon me by my circumstances.

Here are some practical lessons that helped me get through some tough times, and I hope they are helpful for newer agents in the industry.

  1. Trim Debt- I don’t mean to sound like Dave Ramsey here, but there is a lot of freedom that comes from not being under the huge burden of large monthly payments. This isn’t always possible, especially for the business owner, but trim the debts where you can.
  2. Spend Money on the Things that Generate the MOST ROI. When you are flush, you will throw marketing dollars at anything that moves. When times get tough, it makes sense to invest those dollars in the places that will make you the most money. Revisit your online advertising plans, magazine ads, infrastructure, and business systems to see where you can squeeze more out of what you’re putting in.
  3. Be Diligent- When you get discouraged it is easy to sluff off on work and go hunting or to the movies. Make the calls, send the emails, put in the face time that will generate the business you need. Down markets are not the time to take it easy.
  4. Be Active- The success of your business hinges, to a large degree, on how active you are. This principle is amplified when fewer people are buying. The activity also helps buoy your spirits, and makes you more productive and positive. Be proactive and do things that engage you spiritually, physically, socially, and mentally. I had to constantly fight the urge to withdraw and sit at home and mope. So much of the battle for making sales is fought between your ears. I am a fan of the concept of “What you think is what you become.” To a large degree, your thoughts shape your actions, and actions often shape outcomes.
  5. Be Generous- “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” is a famous quote from Jesus in the scriptures. Whether you are religious or not, this principle is true. Giving of your time, talents, or resources to others takes your mind off you and focuses on the needs of someone else. Trust me, it just works.
  6. Have Something Positive to Say- “How is the land business?” You will get asked this question 20 times a day. How you answer it will determine how much new business and what opportunities come your way. Don’t lie, and don’t manufacture stories to impress, but have something positive to say. Talk about a recent listing, showing, or offer if you don’t have recent sales to discuss. People want to do business with positive people.
  7. Always have 1 Property that is a DEAL. When someone asks you if have any deals, you need to have something to say. This is the chance to make a sale on something that is a really good buy or has some upside. Be ready to present a prospect with something that could make them some money.

I know this list is pretty elementary, but the lessons here helped me get through some difficult times. So much of selling is based on the vibes that people get from you. Find ways to be positive and better yourself. You need all the extra encouragement you can get to get it done. I have found Zig Ziglar to offer some helpful, time-tested perspective on sales topics like this.

There will be down markets ahead. No one knows exactly when, but markets are cyclical. I hope this article provides some ammunition to help you prepare and fight the war you’ll fight within.

Jonathan Goode, ALCJonathan Goode is an Accredited Land Consultant (ALC) and broker with Southeastern Land Group. He is licensed in Alabama and Mississippi and was the 2018 Alabama Land Realtor of the Year. You can hear him on his weekly radio show and podcast, The Land Show.

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