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The Secret to Becoming a Top Listing Agent



Only the mediocre 

Here are some factual statements:

Most people who enter the real estate business are gone in just a few years.  Most real estate agents, who stay in the business, are not very successful.  To be in the top 1% of all agents in the U.S. would require about 50 – 60 sales a year.  Most agents, who are successful, (50 – 60 sales per year) do not really know why they are successful.  They think they know but they are usually wrong.

Only about 25% – 30% of the top 1% of all agents actually know why they are successful and most of those don’t know it very well.  So success can seem mysterious or elusive.  It needn’t be.  If one were to apply the same exactness to the subject of real estate sales that any well trained engineer would apply to his discipline it wouldn’t seem mysterious at all.

But applying that exactness would mean – really – looking, not listening.  Look at what people do.  Look at how they do it.  Exactly.  Look at what results they get from doing it.  It makes little to no difference what they think is causing their stats to rise.  What is causing their stats to rise?  Anyone who says he (or she) knows why they are successful would be able to teach it – and teach it in such a simple manner that the other person could apply what was being taught and get a similar result.  There would be no special cases, no exceptions.  Not if a scientific approach was being used.  Anyone who knew why they were successful would be able to increase their level of success.  If they could not do that one thing then what they are thinking is the "reason" isn’t the real reason for the success they have had.  That last one is so obvious it is usually missed.  Is there really any "highly successful" person who left real estate sales so they could teach it?  Even one?

There are few subjects on earth (possible exceptions are mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc. – and the other so-called "exact sciences" – that don’t just reek with false data.  The subjects of sales and marketing (those are two different subjects, by the way) have so much asinine, stupid and unworkable gibberish being pawned off as "the way to do things" that it is a minor miracle anyone who actually studies either of those subjects ever succeeds at all.  Just as an example, about 20 years ago it was validated that, in some fields, women who were trained by male sales managers did not do nearly as well as women salespeople who had no sales training of any kind.  Amazing.  The "sales training" had an actual negative value.  This is just one example.  So the thing to do is: LOOK, DON’T LISTEN.  I don’t care what someone says they are doing to bring about sales results (and highly successful real estate sales people will sometimes actually invent things to tell others because it "sounds better" than what they are actually doing).

There was a scale developed many years ago (originator is uncertain) that has been altered (for the worse, in my opinion) from what I learned in 1971.

From the bottom up, the original scale went:

1.  Unconsciously incompetent.  Doesn’t know and doesn’t know he doesn’t know.

2.  Consciously incompetent.  Knows he doesn’t know.  (note that NOT knowing is a step UP!)

3.  Unconsciously competent.  Knows how to do it, but doesn’t really know why it works.

4.  Consciously Competent.  Knows how to do it and knows why it works, so can increase it and validly teach it.

cat in mirror

The secret to becoming a top listing agent?  First become a really crappy listing agent.  Become a really crappy one, then a bit less crappy, and so on.  That is the actual path.  There is no substitute for "stage time".  None.  Fail.  Fail more and go right on doing it.  Having the right attitude is probably more important than any other factor.  A complete willingness to do whatever is necessary and to have the viewpoint that you are going to persist until you have arrived.  Sort of like it mattered.

Russell has been an Associate Broker with John Hall & Associates since 1978 and ranks in the top 1% of all agents in the U.S. Most recently The Wall Street Journal recognized the Top 200 Agents in America, awarding Russell # 25 for number of units sold. Russell has been featured in many books such as, "The Billion Dollar Agent" by Steve Kantor and "The Millionaire Real Estate Agent" by Gary Keller and has often been a featured speaker for national conventions and routinely speaks at various state and local association conventions. Visit him also at and

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  1. James Malanowski

    May 27, 2009 at 1:22 am

    Damn. 6 years and I’m only on step #2.

  2. Adam

    May 27, 2009 at 3:56 am

    Loved it, short and sweet! Not to mention incredibly blunt!

  3. Ken Brand

    May 27, 2009 at 6:42 am

    Ka-Boom! Exactly. As you’ve shared, so many wander and wonder. Watch, observe, ponder and practice is the E-ticket. Thanks.

  4. Tara Jacobsen

    May 27, 2009 at 7:07 am

    You can so get around the time of bring incompetent by studying your profession, getting a mentor and tracking your business!

  5. Joe Loomer

    May 27, 2009 at 8:02 am

    “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”

    Reminds me of the old Sid Ceasar joke:

    Patient: “Doc, it hurts when I go like this”
    Doctor: “Don’t go like that.”

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  6. Teri Lussier

    May 27, 2009 at 10:11 am

    >The secret to becoming a top listing agent? First become a really crappy listing agent. Become a really crappy one, then a bit less crappy, and so on. That is the actual path.

    Classic Russell Shaw 😀

  7. Paul Heim

    May 27, 2009 at 11:36 am

    I have only been a Realtor for just over four years. I have however been making a living on pure commision based sales for 22 years. The same principles apply in any type of sales field, the product is just symantics. Your finale was right on target, try, fail, try again, imporve.

    I thought I would add just a few vital lessons I picked up along the way that made me better;

    1) Untill you realize that you are your own corporation, all you will ever do is make other people money (origional thought by Bryan Tracy and added to by self)

    2) When instilling confidence with a client, it isn’t what you dont know that hurts you, but how uncomfortable you are with what you don’t know. Be confident and if you don’t know, say so and be comfortable with that too.

    3) Work harder on yourself as a person than you do on your job (Jim Rohn)

    4) Never take the last dollar off the table in an negotiation or the last piece of chicken from the bucket at a picnic. Makes you look bad.

    5) Make a simple life goal that when you die, there will be nobody happy about it.

    6) Get up everyday and say, ‘what can I do today to promote my business?’ Then do at least one thing.

    7) Enjoy life, family & friends, stay balanced and rooted, and remember ‘Money only makes you more of what you already are’ (Jim Rohn) So try to be a better person every day.

  8. BawldGuy

    May 27, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Every time we talk or I read one of your posts, it’s like Dad didn’t leave us last year. You’re WAY funnier though. 🙂

  9. Benn Rosales

    May 27, 2009 at 12:11 pm


  10. Christine Rich

    May 27, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Then there is hope for me after all!

  11. Ginny Cain McMurtrie

    May 27, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    Nothing like time in duty to make someone better. Great post Russell!

  12. Paula Henry

    May 27, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    Russell – I love the mirror image – pictures speak volumes! Keep pressing on until the result is more than what you expected, then continue to improve.

  13. Gordon Baker

    July 16, 2009 at 1:19 am

    I listened to a podcast of yours a year ago and was thoroughly impressed. Since then I’ve enjoyed any material of yours that I find. You make it so simple and uncomplicated.

  14. Atlanta Real Estate

    September 30, 2009 at 10:04 pm


    I know I’m way late here but this is a great post. Lots of truth in there.


  15. Jacci

    January 6, 2010 at 12:40 am

    Great post, the part about watching what others do and not listening to them hits right to the most important point.

  16. Trent Timmons

    September 6, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    I’m combining my residential land developmenting skills in the ultra customs estates to becoming a broker associate. This post is the key to success!! go where the least competition lives “Failure” everyone that faces it normally don’t come back! my type of place to be thrive. I’m going to become the next top lising broker “The Future in Real Estate”.

  17. Agent for Movoto

    January 18, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Great article – particularly the idea that lots of people will invent methodologies on the spot in order to sound like they REALLY know what they’re doing, when in fact success is its own method.

  18. Biznesssavvy

    September 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    You ended your statement pefectly ” money only makes us more of what we really are”. Being honest with ourselves so that we can truly try to be a better peron. Well  Done, Paul.

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Disputing a property’s value in a short sale: turn a no into a go

During a short sale, there may be various obstacles, with misaligned property values ranking near the top, but it doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker!



magic eight ball

magic eight ball

It’s about getting your way

Were you on the debate team in high school? Were you really effective at convincing your parent or guardian to let you do things that you shouldn’t have been doing? How are your objection-handling skills? Can you flip a no into a go?

When working on short sales, there is one aspect of the process that may require those excellent negotiation or debate skills: disputing the property value. In a short sale, the short sale lender sends an appraiser or broker to the property and this individual conducts a Broker Price Opinion or an appraisal, using special forms provided by the short sale lender.

After this individual completes the Broker Price Opinion or the appraisal, he or she will return it to the short sale lender. Shortly thereafter, the short sale lender will be ready to talk about the purchase price. Will the lender accept the offer on the table or is the lender looking for more? If the lender is seeking an offer for a lot more than the one on the table, mentally prepare for the fact that you will need to conduct a value dispute.

Value Dispute Process

While each of the different short sale lenders (including Fannie Mae) has their own policies and procedures for value dispute, all these procedures have some things in common. Follow the steps below in order to conduct an effective value dispute.

  1. Inquire about forms. Ask your short sale lender if there are specific forms that you need to complete in order to conduct a value dispute. Obtain those forms if necessary.
  2. Gather information. Your goal is to convince the lender to accept the buyer’s offer, so you need to demonstrate that your offer is in line with the value of the property. Collect data that proves this point, such as reports from the MLS, Trulia, Zillow, or your local title company.
  3. Take photos. If there are parts of the property that are substandard and possibly were not revealed to the lender by the individual conducting the BPO, take photos of those items. Perhaps the kitchen has no flooring, or there is a 40-year old roof. Take photos to demonstrate these defects.
  4. Obtain bids. For any defects on the property, obtain a minimum of two bids from licensed contractors. For example, obtain two bids from roofers or structural engineers if necessary
  5. Write a report. Think back to high school English class if necessary. Write a short essay that references your information, photos, and bids, and explains how these items support your buyer’s value. This is not something that you whip up in five minutes. Spend time preparing a compelling appeal.

It is entirely possible that some lenders will not be particularly open-minded when it comes to valuation dispute. However, more times than not, an effective value dispute leads to short sale approval.

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Short sale standoffs: how to avoid getting hit

The short sale process can feel a lot like a wild west standoff, but there are ways to come out victorious, so let’s talk about those methods:



short sales standoff

short sales standoff

What is a short sale standoff?

If you are a short sale listing agent, a short sale processor, or a short sale negotiator then you probably already know about the short sale standoff. That’s when you are processing a short sale with more than one lien holder and neither will agree to the terms offered by the other. Or… better yet, each one will not move any further in the short sale process until they see the short sale approval letter from the other lien holder.

Scenario #1 – You are processing a short sale with two different mortgage-servicing companies. Bank 1 employees tell you that they will proceed with the short sale, and they will offer Bank 2 a certain amount to release their lien. You call Bank 2 and tell them the good news. Unfortunately, the folks at Bank 2 want more money. If Bank 1 and Bank 2 do not agree, then you are in a standoff.

Scenario #2 – You are processing a short sale with two different mortgage-servicing companies. Bank 1 employees tell you that they cannot generate your approval letter until you present them with the approval letter from Bank 2. Bank 2 employees tell you the exact same thing. Clearly, in this situation, you are in a standoff.

How to Avoid the Standoff

If you are in the middle of a standoff, then you are likely very frustrated. You’ve gotten pretty far in the short sale process and you are likely receiving lots of pressure from all of the parties to the transaction. And, the lenders are not helping much by creating the standoff.

Here are some ideas for how to get out of the situation:

  • Go back to the first lien holder and ask them if they are willing to give the second lien holder more money.
  • Go to the second lien holder and tell them that the first lien holder has insisted on a maximum amount and see if they will budge.
  • If no one will budge, find out why. Is this a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan? If so, they have a maximum that they allow the second. And, if you alert the second of that information, they may become more compliant.
  • Worst case: someone will have to pay the difference. Depending on the laws in your state, it could be the buyer, the seller, or the agents (yuck). No matter what, make sure that this contribution is disclosed to all parties and appears on the short sale settlement statement at closing.
  • In Scenario #2, someone’s got to give in. Try explaining to both sides where you are and see if one will agree to generate their approval letter. If not, follow the tips provided in this Agent Genius article and take your complaint to the streets.

One thing about short sales is that the problems that arise can be difficult to resolve merely because of the number of parties involved—and all from remote locations. Imagine how much easier this would be if all parties sat at the same table and broke bread? If we all sat at the same table, then we wouldn’t need armor in order to avoid the flying bullets from the short sale standoff.

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Short sale approval letters don’t arrive in the blink of an eye

Short sale approval letters may look like they’ve been obtained simply by experts, but it takes time and doesn’t just happen with luck.



short sales

short sale approval

Short sale approval: getting prepared, making it happen

People always ask me how it is that I obtain short sale approval letters with such ease. The truth is, that while I have more short sale processing and negotiating experience than most agents and brokers, I don’t just blink my eyes like Jeannie and make those short sale approval letters appear. I often sweat it, just like everyone else.

Despite the fact that I do not have magical powers, I do have something else on my side—education. One of the most important things than can lead to short sale success for any and all agents is education.

Experience dictates that agents that learn about the short sale process
have increased short sale closings.

Short sale education opportunities abound

There are many ways to become educated about the short sale process and make getting short sale approval letters look easy to obtain. These include:

  • Classes at your local board of Realtors®
  • Free short sale webinars and workshops
  • The short sale or foreclosure specialist designations

As the distressed property arena grows and changes, it is important to always stay abreast of policy changes that may impact how you do your job and how you process any short sale that lands on your plate.

The most important thing to do is to read, read, read. Follow short sale specialists and those who blog about short sales on AGBeat, Google+, facebook, and twitter. Set up a Google Alert for the term ‘short sale’ and you will receive Google’s top short sale picks daily in your email inbox. Visit mortgagor websites to read up on their specific policies and procedures.

Don’t take on too much

And, when you get a call from a prospective short sale seller, make sure that you don’t bit off more than you can chew. Agents in most of America right now are clamoring for listings since we are in the midst of a listing shortage. But, if you are going to take on a short sale, be sure that it is a deal that you can close. And, if you have your doubts, why not partner up with a local agent that can mentor your and assist you in getting the job done? After all, half a commission check is better than none!

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