It’s a fact of modern American life that cities are sexy. TV shows are set (and filmed) there; sports are played there; the big concerts tour there; the airports are located there. The statistics bear out that an increasing number of young Americans find city life attractive. As a result, an ongoing “bright flight” of the most talented members of the Millennial generation is plaguing rural America.
But it’s hardly everyone. There remain thousands of thriving regional cultures in America, centered on the smaller towns and suburbs that continue to be the backbone of the American economy. Farmers, teachers, manufacturers, members of the military… and yes, Realtors (those folks have to live somewhere!).
For agents in small towns, the business is different even if the concept and paperwork are not. Making a name for yourself in, let’s say, Ottumwa, Iowa, would at least SEEM to be easier than in San Francisco. Perhaps you trade some commission for sanity, but at least you’re not dealing with one of the most insane real estate markets in the world.
Here are some pros and cons to working in real estate in a small town, and perhaps some keys to success:
CON: Entrenched competition
In small towns there are fewer players, but the ones that are there are in power. With lower supply comes the ability to dominate the market, in time. Whoever this is in your small town, get to know him or her. And when we say “know” we mean KNOW. If it’s a small enough town, there is possibly a single agent or group that nabs most of the listings. This individual is probably older, possibly works with a spouse, and is likely civically engaged (if you’re anywhere west of the Mississippi it’s also likely he wears a cowboy hat). Get to know this person, even if you haven’t started your business. Heck, if you’re just starting out you may even ask for a job. Why make an enemy when you could make a mentor?
That being said, don’t be afraid to be the new guy in town, especially if it’s a growing place with an influx of newcomers and construction (and if that’s not the case, we suggest you reassess your location). Just remember the political angles involved in small towns, or you could be frozen out before you even begin. Play your cards right, and one day you could be the fella on the billboard in a cowboy hat. Also: Mayor.
PRO: Limited barriers to entry
If you have your license, you’re ready to sell in a small town. Most places are single-family units or wide swaths of land without few or no structures at all. You’ll likely miss out on the additional hassles that come with condos or apartments. Slipping into the social fabric is quicker, particularly if the small town in question is your hometown. Join the local Rotary Club or Jaycees and you should be set, socially. Find yourself on the right opinion-maker’s Facebook wall (or better yet, with your sign in his or her yard) and you’ll be set.
PRO: Cost of living and doing business
Sure, the homes you’ll be selling will cost a fraction of what homes in cities go for, but you’ll also be spending far less on your own home, groceries and entertainment. A dollar in Missoula goes farther than the same dollar in Monterrey, and that’s a fact, Jack. The same applies to your advertising. Rent and advertising costs will be lower – check the rate for a small town newspaper if you don’t believe us.
CON: Growth is an obstacle
While it is possible to achieve smashing success in rural real estate, it’s not going to come from a single massive deal (a few huge land sales aside). It will more likely come from establishing your own name and then hiring agents, or even expanding into neighboring towns. At this point, it’s quite possible that you become more of a business owner than a practicing agent (if you’re successful enough to hire someone to take care of that while you go to the lake, all the better). Actually, that doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Our point is: You’re not going to make your career with one grand slam. It’s gonna take years and years of singles and doubles to make it to the Hall of Fame.
Realtor.com gives their opinion on 10 small towns where you’d actually want to live (and, presumably, sell). The upper Midwest seems to be popular:
The Lot Network offers a helpful article about how to sell lots and land, and how it differs from homes. Must-read stuff for anyone getting into the rural game.
According to Landthink.com, not all agents are competent at land deals. Let’s prove them wrong!