Secrets to Success

February 2020 Insight: Secrets of Success Resources Header

February 2020 Insight coverBY LEE NELSON

The good, bad and ugly happen throughout a REALTORS®’ time on the job. You learn about yourself, your clients and the real estate industry itself.

The stories here reveal the careers of four successful NC REALTORS®. They off er their best advice to others who might be starting or struggling in such a fast-paced business. They share some of their adventures, mishaps and triumphs along with secrets for sustaining success.



February 2020 Insight: Secrets of Success Renee Smith

Focus on Learning First

When Renee Smith entered into real estate in 2006, things looked bright to a young and newly licensed agent. “I was ready to go and sell, sell, sell.”

Then the learning began. “There is so much learning to do and experiences to go through to have the true confidence to say I made it, and I am succeeding.”

Don’t Forget Your Sphere of Influence

According to Smith, marketing can be professional, flashy and next-level awesome, but above all, it needs to be consistent.

“I learned this as one of my friends in my abundant sphere of influence told me, ‘Oh, I forgot you were an agent, and I just bought a new home with the onsite agent. I would have loved your help.’“

She realized she needed to stay connected on a variety of levels with her friends, family and acquaintances. Building and strengthening relationships should be a priority.

“We are so lucky to work in an industry that encourages and works best when we live a high social life. Take time to get involved in the PTA, church groups, your HOA, the Rotary club or your neighborhood. Maybe start up a Girls Night Out and watch your business build,” she adds.

Get Involved in your Association

Getting involved at Raleigh Regional Association of REALTORS® has helped Smith achieve her goal of growing her business. She’s just coming off her year as president of the local association.

“I now encourage others to get involved and have a bigger stake in the real estate game and go beyond the transaction.”

Smith is a graduate of both the Raleigh Regional and NC REALTORS® Leadership Academies.

“There is so much to learn. [The Association] helps you establish goals beyond the work of real estate. It truly can make you a better person in society. Plus, you get to meet and network with peers all over the area, state and even nationally.”

Find a Firm that Fits You

Smith encourages agents to think about the professional service they offer. Don’t get caught up in the next highest split offering or the constant recruitment calls. The money will take care of itself. Find the real estate office home that inspires you, motivates you, helps you excel and pushes your business forward.

“You are a REALTOR®. Stay hungry every day and work like you mean it,” she says. “This is not a hobby industry. We sell houses. It’s a very big deal.”

February 2020 Insight: Secrets of Success Kirk West

Practice What You Preach

Balancing his life with his job keeps Kirk West on solid ground.

“My first broker, who was just a little older than I was but had lots of real estate experience, always remained levelheaded. He put things into perspective and advised me to invest in real estate—to practice what I preach,” West says.

Listen Closely

West learned that it’s important to listen to your clients. For instance, one of his first clients wanted an older house close to downtown.

“I walked her through the whole process and explored additional options outside of older homes. She ended up buying a brand new townhome—the opposite of what she said she wanted.”

Love What You Do

“I love what I do. That’s my secret to success. I love helping people find the right properties,” West says. “When you do the right thing for your clients, the money comes. You have to respond to people quickly and be there for them.”

Maintain Good Relationships with Other REALTORS®

Competition remains tight in the Triangle area of North Carolina, with more than 12,000 real estate agents.

“We’re shooting for the same goal—to take care of our clients. It shouldn’t be us versus them. We can make it work for everybody. Getting along with other REALTORS® is a crucial part of this process.” he says.

Be Patient— It Takes Time

West’s best advice for young or new REALTORS® is to be patient.

“It will take a little time to really get into the business. Be consistent and get your systems in place. Don’t let the business take you over all the time. It can consume you. If you let it, it will. You still have to make time for yourself, your family and friends.”

Set Your Priorities Up Front

West takes time each day to exercise and to start his day spending time with his three children and getting them off to school. He also coaches their soccer teams and he never misses their sporting or school events.

“You must have your priorities set,” West states.

He’s also figured out a way to squeeze in time to check emails and texts while waiting at the doctor’s office or on the soccer field. Responding to messages from clients is also a priority. “I respond quickly and try to respond the same day.”

February 2020 Insight: Secrets of Success Louise Norton

Admit When You’re Wrong

When Louise Norton started in the real estate world, someone told her not to be afraid to admit what you don’t know.

“When a client asks you, ‘Do you know that neighborhood?’ You get more respect if you say you don’t know something, but you’ll research and get back to them,” she says. “I apply that to so many aspects of what I do. You can’t know everything.”

Form Relationships with Vendors

Her background as a lettings manager in England and a property manager in Charlotte gave Norton the insight to understand that building great relationships with other vendors can truly help you build your business. Getting to know and trust mortgage lenders, inspectors, attorneys and others allows you to provide valuable resources to clients. “Pick those that do a good job and have a similar ethical approach to what they do as you do,” she adds.

Be Humble and Patient

When you start out in this business, remember to have a lot of understanding, be ready for the hard work and also stay humble.

“I had to survive because I had a terrible alimony arrangement when I got divorced. I was very driven to be successful. Real estate has been very, very good to me. I have wonderful clients and met some wonderful human beings. I’ve never had a wasted meeting. You learn something in everything you do.”

After working as an agent for other real estate companies for five years, she opened her own brokerage in January 2016. “That has been my biggest highlight. I do 22 deals a year, and I’ve impressed myself for that. It’s a small agency, but I’ve done it myself.”

Maintain Work-Life Balance

Norton also goes to the gym every day except when a client needs to see her during her gym time. “The exercise is what I do for myself. Plus, working at home is a huge positive for me. I can’t give that up.”

Her two grown sons root for her every day. “My kids have been my inspiration. They are my biggest cheerleaders.”

February 2020 Insight: Secrets of Success Susan Duncan

Think Beyond The Sale

The first REALTOR® Susan Duncan used to buy a house won her over with his attitude and personality.

“He didn’t try to sell me a house. He sat back. He wasn’t trying to take us through the homes. He answered the questions and observed us. It’s not about sales but about information and education,” Duncan says.

Take a Leap of Faith

“I had always been told real estate was a back-biting market and very cutthroat. I always hesitated to get into it.”

But in 2006, right before the housing crisis, Duncan thought she’d try her hand as an agent. Three years later, she bought the EXIT franchise in Asheville.

“I just went for it and jumped with a leap of faith,” she says. The business grew to over 100 agents, and now Duncan manages those agents. She quit selling homes two years ago to focus on helping her agents be the best they can be.

When she began the firm, she had every intention to hire someone to run it. But she didn’t have the money to hire anyone, and this was her reputation. She knew she had to do it herself in the beginning.

“I was also pushed into training the agents, but it has been the most rewarding. To see their confidence level grow is amazing. They come to me right out of real estate school with no confidence. Two years later, they are doing so great and can quit the other job they hate.”

Build and Maintain Your Database

Duncan does wish she built up a better database of clients when she started in the business. Staying in touch with your database should be a priority to sustain your career. A lot of the agents don’t have the discipline to work in the business world. But time blocking is critical for real estate, Duncan adds. Block your time to work on income-producing and not just busywork like designing your next business card.

Put the Mobile Device Down

Duncan’s biggest hurdle has been working with millennials who only want to text. “You cannot earn a strong business or trust if you do not talk to clients and other agents face-to-face or over the phone at first,” she says. “Once you earn their trust, then it’s OK to text a little.”

Duncan won’t do business with someone that she can’t talk to on the phone or in person. “Running your life by texting is not smart.”

Take Vacations

Duncan encourages her agents to take a weekend to set up their goals and block out vacations. Vacations won’t just happen on their own, and everyone needs a break in this business.

“There’s never a free time for a vacation because your calendar will fill up and be controlled by others. That’s why you need to schedule it yourself.”

Go with Your Gut

A closing attorney once told Duncan to “go with your gut. If you have an inclination that what you are doing is wrong, or you have to think twice about doing it, don’t do it.”


Lee Nelson is a freelance journalist from the Chicago area. She has written for Yahoo! Homes, TravelNursing. org, and REALTOR® Magazine. She also writes a bi-monthly blog on

Filed Under: