What does it take to be a top producer in Miami real estate?

by Joe Ward

To real estate agents, “top producer” can mean a certain level of success, a yearly award added to the trophy shelf or validation for years of hard work. To some consumers, the phrase can indicate the level of experience and expertise of an agent, while some consider it a confusing marketing ploy. There is no standard definition of a top producer, and in Miami, a city with 40,000 agents, there is no shortage of agents who qualify as such.

But one thing is sure — being labeled a top producer can mean great things for one’s business, as it can build confidence and perhaps open new doors. Being unprepared for the challenge, however, can be just as bad as failing to reach that level in the first place.

Top producer awards are usually handed out by individual brokerages, and their standard for a top producer can vary. It can be awarded for sales volume or number of units sold. But for most, being labeled a top producer is a validation of hard work.

“It’s someone who’s constantly working,” said Maria Cuadra, broker-owner of the Cuadra Group, which she opened with her husband a year ago. “To constantly be producing, turning in contracts. You have to feed off the success but be humble enough to keep producing in the same way.”

How to get started

While “top producer” hints at a certain level of success and status, everyone’s path to becoming a top producer is different. For most, it takes a few years before making it to the top level of the field. Before becoming a top producer, Mitzi Mitchell Burns, sales director for Cervera Real Estate in Coconut Grove, got her start in pre-construction sales. She worked on developing a client base and turned that hard work into a successful career in the industry. Mitchell has been a member of Cervera’s top producers’ circle every year since its inception.

“I would contribute it to hard work and persistence,” she said. “Starting every day at zero. No matter how big a sale or how little, I get up and start at zero. I think, ‘I have no money in the bank and nothing in the pipeline,’ and that’s how I go about every day. I think anyone can be a top producer if they’re willing to work hard.”

There are, of course, overnight successes. Then there’s those — like Perla Machaen — who, on their second try in real estate, become something of an overnight success.

Machaen’s first attempt in the business didn’t go as planned, so she scrapped it and went into TV production, where one of her shows got picked up by E! Entertainment’s Latin channel. In one of the episodes of the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”-type show, Machaen showcased expensive homes. After that, she began getting calls asking if she was selling the properties shown on the TV show — so she decided to give real estate a second chance.

That was six years ago. “Year after year for five years, I’ve been a top producer,” Machaen said. “I said, ‘If I’m a Realtor, I going to be No. 1.’”

Cuadra began her career in real estate working part time as she raised two kids. Once she decided to go full time, Cuadra got her master’s degree in international real estate and reached top producer status “almost immediately afterwards.” But that was eight years after she first started as a part-time agent, full-time young mother.

“How I got here is by a lot of work, a lot of nights without sleeping,” she said. “I went through a lot of bumps in the road. Being driven is everything. If you’re not driven, you’re not producing.”

What changes?

New clients, confidence and career opportunities can come with being labeled a top producer.

For one, it can afford a level of independence. Cuadra opened her own brokerage last year after years of cultivating an all-referral business. “I didn’t need a big name to bring in clients,” she said of the goal she’d been working toward for years. “(Being a top producer) means you’re setting goals. You’re going to be a Realtor, but are you going to be a CEO Realtor?”

Being labeled a top producer can also bring a newfound confidence and swagger, which can easily translate to more sales and success. “You do feel some pride from having the results,” Cuadra said. “I believe that helps you. It gives you momentum. It’s easier to talk to executives. You’re not intimidated. Being insecure in this business, it will set you up for failure.”

For Mitchell, being a top producer has more easily opened the door to clients who are looking at expensive homes and want a top-notch agent. “It has boosted my confidence level,” she said of being a top producer. “Confidence translates to your clients. When you’re dealing with someone in the luxury level, they want to work with someone who knows what they’re doing and is confident about it.”

That confidence not only comes from the success, but from the knowledge and experience of handling a high volume of deals. “A top producer tells clients that you’ve done contracts, you’ve overcome obstacles before,” Cuadra said. “It comes with more credibility.”

Success can impact people differently. If that hunger that fueled an agent’s first years in the business is gone after reaching a certain point, then that agent may end up back at square one, Mitchell said. “There is a tendency in agents,” she said. “You can sell a $5 million home and then it’s not uncommon for Realtors to take a break or rest on their laurels.”

Being a top producer might mean getting a chance to represent more exclusive clients, but that experience will only go well if an agent is prepared for it. The job isn’t easier as a top producer, but it is different — and it likely means proving yourself in front of a new circle. “You have to work harder, but you have that incentive to maintain it,” Cuadra said. “As you approach more top executives, those elites, now you have to be a top producer all over again in a different market.”

Traits of a top producer

Being a top producer hints at a certain level of expertise, but that expertise has to be gained through experience. There is a way, however, to fast-track that expertise, and that’s to have an area of concentration, which could mean specializing in a certain area or a certain client or home type. Focusing on one area can help quickly build knowledge and experience, especially if the alternative is to cast the widest net.

“If you can specialize in something specific, that helps,” Mitchell said. “It will help you to gain traction. Once you build traction, then you can spread out. Of course you can move out of that zone if people refer you.”

Machaen was named Cervera’s 2011 rookie of the year by finding her concentration early on. After her exposure on the TV show, Machaen decided to emigrate from Mexico to Miami and focus on selling to Mexicans looking to buy in the states. “I was the first one to work in Mexico,” she said. “It brings me more clients because I’m known for that.”

Machaen said she also makes sure to smartly market herself to the demographics she serves and is sure to include her status as a top producer and expert in international real estate in her marketing materials. And though she relishes her top producer status, Machaen said customer service is still a priority of hers. “I don’t focus on my commissions — I focus on my clients and their needs,” she said.

Cuadra agreed that client care is the best way to have success in the business. She also said agents should seek to learn as much as possible and not be afraid to ask questions. Then, you have to set goals.

“To set goals and meet those goals, that’s how you become a top producer,” Cuadra said. “You have to learn to do everything at once, marketing, contracts, doing leases, doing purchases.

“If you can do a little bit of everything, you’re almost there.”

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