Some might call Conway, Arkansas a bedroom community of state’s capital, Little Rock, but local RE/MAX Elite agent, Laura Davis says that the city of roughly 67,000 is so much more. As RealTrend’s number two independent agent in Arkansas by transaction sides in 2021, Davis knows what she is talking about.
“It’s a standalone city,” the Arkansas native said. “It has been a great city to work in because it is incredibly safe and there is a steady stream of people that want to live here because the surrounding communities have great schools and some good colleges and there is a decent amount of job growth.”
Davis began her real estate career 11 years ago right in Conway. In 2020, she closed 123 transaction sides with a total volume of $22,011,998.00, according to RealTrend’s rankings of America’s best real estate agents.
RealTrends recently caught up with Davis to discuss her career in real estate, the housing market in Conway and major industry issues. The contents of this interview have been edited for clarity and length.
Brooklee Han: Can you tell me how you first got into real estate?
Laura Davis: Well, I kind of a funny story. I used to clean houses and one of the houses I cleaned belonged to a real estate agent. And I thought, ‘Wow she’s doing very well in real estate. I think this is something that I could do.’ She worked from home a lot too. I was pretty naïve and thought that I could totally do this job. At the time I wanted to get out of cleaning as it is very physical, so I decided I would start in real estate. I just went in cold turkey. I wasn’t on a team or anything, I just decided that this was what I was going to do. It was a couple of years before I really started to make any money in the business. It was a much different career than what I thought I was getting into and much harder than I expected.
BH: With all of the unexpected challenges, what made you decide to stick with real estate?
Davis: There is so much potential in real estate. I am a hard worker and when I started I didn’t really have lofty goals. I just wanted to make enough to get by. I mean I would have been thrilled with $50,000 a year, but I soon realized that there is unlimited potential in real estate. The harder you work, the more money you make. So that was the incentive for me because I don’t mind working hard. Plus, at least at first, it had some flexibility. I thought I could just make my own hours and work part-time and still be there with my kids who were teenagers already. But over time I found that the busier you get your time is not your own anymore in this business it is other people’s time.
BH: You have alluded to dealing with some challenges during your first few years in the business. What were some of these major challenges and how did you overcome them?
Davis: Just getting your name out there is very hard — getting leads, getting listings, getting buyers. That is really the hardest part. Plus, the learning curve in real estate is pretty steep. There is a lot to know and people ask you a lot of questions and you don’t always know the answer off the top of your head. So, when I first started everything was ‘let me check on that,’ but now I can just rattle off pretty much everything that someone asks me. I used to be pretty intimidated, but now it’s second nature. I have done it for so long and done so much volume and you learn something on every deal, and eventually you just start running into the same problems and then you know how to handle them. Having experience definitely makes the job easier.
BH: Did you work with a mentor or your broker at all when you started out?
Davis: The office I stared out at and was at for my first 15 months had an executive broker who stayed in the office all day. So, I could just go to her with my questions or a contract for her to go over to make sure I did it properly. She was so helpful and guided me through the whole process of starting out. She was essential to my success. I also shared an office with another girl who was new to real estate, so we also helped each other out with things as we learned together.
BH: You mentioned that building your business was the biggest challenge you faced starting out. How did you improve your brand recognition and lead generation?
Davis: I used to buy leads from Zillow and Realtor.com because they were a bit more affordable for new agents back when I started. That really helped and it was how I picked up all my new clients, but after about five or six years I started to get more repeat clients and referrals and I stopped buying leads. Buying leads is quite expensive now, especially for brand new agents, but it was a huge help to me. Now nearly all of my business is from returning clients and referrals.
BH: You’ve now been in the business for 11 years. How have you structured your business to suit your strengths as an agent to help you reach your goals?
Davis: I go to the office every single day. I do not try to work from home because there are too many distractions for me to be productive. And communication is key. You need to stay in front of the process and make sure your client is informed with what is going on. I feel like I probably get too involved with other aspects of the transaction, like with the title company and the lender, but I just like to stay a step ahead and try to control any potential issues that might pop up and slow things down. And I rely a lot on my work ethic because it is probably my best feature.
BH: What are some big market trends in Conway right now?
Davis: The prices of houses here are steadily increasing and it is very hard for first-time homebuyers. The inventory of starter homes is almost non-existent. In the past we used to have a lot of open houses and realtor open houses, but with inventory so low we don’t really need to do those. There are also a lot of investors purchasing homes at the lower price point, so a lot of buyers at the lower price points are losing out to investors. Another big trend is that buyers have to come to the table with a lot more money than they used to and we are seeing a lot of bidding wars. Nearly every listing has multiple offers and of course inventory is low.
BH: How has the real estate industry changed since you started 11 years ago?
Davis: It used to be a buyer’s market for sure. You could have a client call you on Wednesday, find 10 homes to look at and then go look at homes on Saturday and have all 10 of them still there to look at, but it’s not like that anymore. Now everything has to happen ASAP. Then there is all the new technology in real estate. I use a lot of the apps that the buyers uses, like Zillow or Realtor.Com and I set automatic notifications for myself so I know immediately when things come on the market. Of course, electronic signature is a huge feature that at this point I don’t think I could live without. Remote online notarization is not really happening here yet, but it is coming.
BH: With the rise of technology, all the various platforms and of course the iBuyers, there has been talk that the role of the real estate agent is diminishing or disappearing. What are your thoughts on this?
Davis: In our market, the iBuyers are not really a big thing, so I don’t have to worry about those just yet. We do see a lot of homes that are “for sale by owner” down here and when inventory is tight that can be a bit of a struggle for agents to contend with. But I don’t think the role of the real estate agent is going to go away just because there’s so much expertise that we have that we can give people. I don’t think people realize quite what all is involved with selling your house and I don’t think a buyer realizes what all an agent does for them because we do so much behind the scenes. And we know the towns and have experience in the markets and are able to use that to have them money and save them from potential liability. To me it is a win-win situation when you use an agent, but it is a little bit terrifying to think that it could go away. But I don’t see it going away anytime soon.
BH: What is something you like best about being in the real estate industry?
Davis: I am my own boss. I answer of course to my broker, but I don’t work directly under someone and no one works directly for me. I just like the fact that I am my own person. If I want to work 80 hours this week, then I can. What you can do in real estate is really unlimited and that is what I like.
BH: Is there anything about real estate that you wish you could change?
Davis: I wish I could magically have more houses appear so we could have something to sell people (laughs). I just wish I could improve the inventory or I wish the inventory was better. It’s just so hard for people right now to find a home. The first-time homebuyers are the ones who are really struggling. But I see the inventory situation continuing for at least another year. I have heard a lot from other agents that are worried that interest rates will put a little bit of a squash on demand, but people will always need a house. Here, right now, it is still better to buy than rent because rental prices here are crazy compared to what you would be paying for a monthly mortgage.
BH: The numbers say you are one of the best at what you do, but is there anything you are currently struggling with or wish you could improve with your business?
Davis: Social media is definitely not a strength and I know I need to build that out, but just client connections, staying in touch with past clients — that’s a weakness because I get so caught up in what I’ve currently going on and trying to get new business that keeping in touch with past clients is where I need to improve on that. Past clients get a Christmas card from me every year and then I also send out mailers once or twice a year just to keep my name in front on them. Some of them I am friends with on Facebook, so I’ll like and comment on their posts occasionally too.
BH: Why do you think real estate is a good career option?
Davis: Well, it was great for me because of the unlimited potential. So, for someone who is ready to work hard, it is a great job. I mean I don’t think everyone understands how hard the job is, as a far as the time commitment involved — you work weekends, on your off day, you just have to be prepared to do that. The time management aspect is probably the hardest thing for new agents.
BH: How have you learned to manage your time over the years?
Davis: I mean it my work-life balance is one of the things that I need to improve upon. It’s usually work and no life for me (laughs).
BH: What is your best piece of advice for new agents starting out in the business?
Davis: Don’t do things the way I did them (laughs). I would suggest getting on a team and working with people that have been in the business before so that you can learn and start making money right away. It is very hard to make ends meet when you start if you don’t have another job. My husband was our primary breadwinner for my first two year. But even when I wasn’t making any money, I was still going to the office every day, working nine-to-five. So, for new agents, go in every day, even if you aren’t making money and try to learn, be a part of a team or find a mentor that can guide you along. If you figure out how to make it work for you there is such great potential to grow in this business.