Marketing by word-of-mouth is seen as a nice-to-have in most industries. But in luxury real estate, it’s a must-have. The vast majority of agents have a referral network that they value, nurture, and rely on to provide a significant portion of their business.

Marketing by word-of-mouth is seen as a nice-to-have in most industries. But in luxury real estate, it’s a must-have. The vast majority of agents have a referral network that they value, nurture, and rely on to provide a significant portion of their business.

For Stephanie Lowe, Affiliate Broker at Zeitlin Sotheby’s International Realty, the referrals that come from her network bring in around half of all sales. For Amber Anderson, Luxury Broker with Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty in San Diego, that number is over 80 percent. “Referrals are the lifeblood of my business,” she says.

Cindy Shea, Senior Global Real Estate Advisor at Sotheby’s International Realty – Bridgehampton Brokerage, goes so far as to say that nearly all of her business is generated by some form of referral. “Agents, clients, family members, friends, and community acquaintances—referrals are essential to my being one of the top brokers in the Hamptons.”

As Shea’s comment implies, referral networks aren’t limited to fellow agents—they include anyone who champions you. Here are three different ways these agents have cultivated and deployed their networks, as well as some advice for achieving your own referral successes.

Seize the opportunities presented by established brands

Sotheby’s International Realty – Bridgehampton Brokerage

Stephanie Lowe

Lowe points out that as a part of a global brand like Sotheby’s International Realty, she has a built-in network of agents throughout the world, and recommends reaching out to peers in different markets. By working under the same banner with other agents, you have an established starting point for referral conversations, as well as a shared stake in driving the business. But even better than contacting them out of the blue, Lowe engages with colleagues at events and conferences, whether in person or online.

“An agent in California that I met at a Sotheby’s International Realty networking event sent me a referral for a client of hers who was moving to Nashville,” she recalls. “I connected with the client and showed houses to her and her husband. They put a contract in on new construction and closed this past June.”

By laying the foundations of her referral network with her fellow affiliates, Lowe continues to build it through her satisfied clients. “The couple love Nashville—and have now referred me to a friend of theirs who also wants to move to Tennessee.”

Get together a group of results-driven agents

Cindy Shea

Along with connecting with affiliates from the same larger brand, Shea pursues a more direct and personalized approach to building and maintaining a professional network. “A number of agents from around the country, including myself, have formed an independent networking group. We partake in monthly Zoom calls, and when travel is possible, we meet periodically in different states to talk and strategize.”

So when an agent on the West Coast took to Facebook to find a Hamptons-based agent for her client, multiple members of Shea’s group contacted the agent to endorse her. “Based on those calls, the agent referred her buyer to me and I was able to make the sale,” she says.

“I got the referral because of my participation in the independent networking group, my willingness to meet agents in person when possible, and then my ongoing efforts to stay connected by Zoom, text, and telephone.”

Show your network how much they mean to you

Zeitlin Sotheby’s International Realty

Amber Anderson

While it’s critical for real estate agents to expand their referral networks, it’s also essential to engage and reward those already in your corner. “We have a ‘wow’ coordinator on my team whose one role is to love-bomb our referrals,” says Anderson. “When we receive referrals from an agent, a business alliance, or raving fans, we instantly send them a branded referral thank-you box. If you can get it there the same day, the greater the impact.”

To Anderson, the referral network is vital because she knows it’s a value-add for clients. “Sellers want to know that your sphere will help with the sale of their home,” she says. “I’ve had my professional network forward my newsletter with our listing inventory, and then their clients have connected with us to purchase homes on the list.”

Build a referral network that never lets you down

Here are three bonus tips that Shea, Anderson, and Lowe recommend agents consider as they grow their contact lists:

  1. As you reach out and form your own networking group, Shea suggests giving it a name, as it helps to create a closer, more meaningful bond. “Make a commitment to speak as a group by phone or Zoom, and also speak with these agents one-on-one,” she says. “And when the situation allows, travel and meet other agents in person.” This repeat contact builds trust—and from that, referrals follow.
  2. “Set up a CRM immediately; it’s critical to identify your network so you can focus your time, money, and energy on the people who will refer you business,” advises Anderson. Her team categorizes their referral network differently in their database, based on the relationship they have with them. “VIP clients” are their biggest fans—and their top priority.
    Shea and Lowe agree that attending networking events offered by your company is key, but you can take it a step further.
  3. “Participate and be authentic,” says Shea. “The biggest thing is to start building your network in an organized fashion as soon as possible,” says Anderson. Once social media handles or business cards have been exchanged, her next step is always to invite them to the mailing list for her monthly newsletter, with the goal of making them a referral partner.

Cultivate your network properly, and it will continue to branch out and grow. In fact, Lowe followed up on her initial comments with some good news. “After we spoke the other day, I received a referral from a colleague in my networking group from Philadelphia—so maybe just thinking about referrals helped me get a new one!” she jokes. But when you’ve put in the work like she has, serendipity happens naturally.


About Sotheby’s International Realty

Sotheby’s International Realty was founded in 1976 as a real estate service for discerning clients of Sotheby’s auction house. Today, the company’s global footprint spans 1,000 offices located in 72 countries and territories worldwide, including 43 company-owned brokerage offices in key metropolitan and resort markets. In February 2004, Realogy entered into a long-term strategic alliance with Sotheby’s, the operator of the auction house. The agreement provided for the licensing of the Sotheby’s International Realty name and the development of a franchise system. The franchise system is comprised of an affiliate network, where each office is independently owned and operated. Sotheby’s International Realty supports its affiliates and agents with a host of operational, marketing, recruiting, educational and business development resources. Affiliates and agents also benefit from an association with the venerable Sotheby’s auction house, established in 1744. For more information, visit www.sothebysrealty.com.

The affiliate network is operated by Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC, and the company owned brokerages are operated by Sotheby’s International Realty, Inc. Both entities are subsidiaries of Realogy Holdings Corp. (NYSE: RLGY) a global leader in real estate franchising and provider of real estate brokerage, relocation and settlement services. Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC and Sotheby’s International Realty Inc., both fully support the principles of the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Opportunity Act.

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