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How to Get Started in the Divorce Niche

By Elizabeth Stormberg in Interviews on Oct 6, 2020

Frank and Laurel Starks of the Ilumni Institue discuss the steps it takes to go from traditionally selling real estate to becoming an agent that specializes in divorces. 

 

[Full Transcript]

0:00 Introduction

1:08 What is the #1 mistake agents make when getting started in the divorce niche?

7:09 Where can you look for referrals?

12:37 How Laurel teaches the court system and how to handle a divorce listing

13:29 What is a CDRE?

17:09 How do you build relationships with family law offices and attorneys?

19:46 The difference between Business to Client relationships and Business to Business relationships

20:20 Laurel's certification program at www.getdivorcecertified.com

21:35 How you can be paid to be a court ordered expert in trial

23:05 How many divorce deals does Laurel do a year?

23:41 What is Laurel spending to get that business?

25:15 What does it take to be successful at transitioning into the divorce niche?

27:48 Closing

 

Frank Klesitz:

Hey everyone. It's Frank Klesitz, Vyral Marketing. Laurel, I think divorces are up 35% you told me.

Laurel Starks:

Yes. Yes.

Frank Klesitz: 

Divorces are about up 35%, which is no surprise after being maybe locked in with your spouse for six months. I can see the stress. I want to share with you today because we have a really, really solid expert. I want to interview. Laurel Starks, who specializes in the divorce niche and the nuances you need to know when you have a couple going through a divorce and there's a home involved, maybe how you can help those individuals out and work them for a listing ethically and appropriately without seeming like a predator. It was interesting because last night, one of the questions I asked Laurel was how do I go to County records and get a list of people newly in divorce and reach out to them and let them know I can get your home sold. You were like, “Frank, that is a terrible idea.” I think it's probably a good place to start this. Why don't you share why that's a bad idea. That's not, that's not how you go about getting started in the divorce niche.

Laurel Starks: 

Yeah. So the number one mistake agents make is they approach this niche like they do the rest of their business. So I mean, you get like a Vulcan dialer and you get lists of expireds and you just pound the phones, right? Like that's just how we, Realtors, build businesses off of lists. You get farming lists, you just pound the phones and put them on 10 days of pain, eight by eight, whatever. In the divorce niche, understanding it's a different, whole different beast. So I get that question all the time. How do I go and what's the script? How do I approach divorcing homeowners? What's the best way to do that? So the reason why we don't call through there, there are two reasons why. You don’t want to get court records, download all the recent filings and start hounding them because a number one, understanding that, that the house is under the jurisdiction of the court.

Laurel Starks: 

So I'm going to get a little geeky here on you, but it's going to help you understand. So the house is under the jurisdiction of the court. If you think about like, realtors understand bankruptcy, right? When somebody files bankruptcy, it puts a stay on the assets. You can't sell a house in bankruptcy, right? So in divorce, it's the same thing. When somebody is going through a divorce, there is in most states, there is something called automatic, temporary restraining orders. And so you can't, they cannot sell any assets. Thy can't take the kids out of the country. They can't close bank accounts. There's just a lot of things that you can't do when you're in this legal process of a divorce. And so selling the house is one of them. You can sell the house under one of two things.

Laurel Starks: 

Number one is there's a mutual agreement to sell the property. And number two is if there isn't a mutual agreement, then the court has made the order. And most of the time the court does not order the property sold. That is not something that is done until the time of trial. So, in the span of a case, it starts here and trial’s the end. So calling public records is usually not going to, you know, they're not there, they're not at time of trial, it's just begun. And there's got to be mutual agreement. Most of the time, they don't know yet if they want to sell the house. Usually somebody wants to keep it, maybe buy out the other house, keep the kids until the kids get to keep the house until the kids are out of school. All that still being figured out.

Laurel Starks: 

So contacting homeowners for that reason, when they file is not fruitful, it's going to be a waste of time. The second thing is that when you are understanding divorce, there is a lot, especially in this COVID situation, but just even regardless. There is real domestic violence. There are real safety concerns. So let's just say a mom, a battered wife, she has finally worked up the courage to divorce her husband. And she's maybe worked with her attorney on a plan on how she's going to get out of this abusive marriage. And she files. The first thing she has to do. She has to file, but then before the husband gets served, the wife and the kids are gonna get safe because they know the minute that process server serves him.

Laurel Starks: 

I mean, who knows what can happen? Hell can break loose. So if a Realtor is trolling public records and they're calling people who have filed, we don't know if they've been served or not. And it can literally put a family in danger. You know, you call the wrong spouse, bad idea. Also when you are working, when you're trying to maybe coax or talk to the spouse, so you'd get the motivated spouse on the phone. And you've kind of been working with them a little bit. By the time they get the other spouse on board to sell the house, you're so deep into a relationship with that one spouse that like nothing has, is that the trust isn't there. You slit your own throat. I take a lot of listings and matter of fact, I shouldn't even tell you this. I should advocate that Realtors troll public records because I take a lot of listings from Realtors who have, who have conflicted themselves out because they have worked really hard with one spouse to try to get to be the one that they pick. And then the other spouse refuses to go along with the Realtor that they've been sort of in cahoots with, if you will. And then they bring a neutral person in. So that's the long-winded answer.

Frank Klesitz: 

Those are incredibly interesting insights. Like your truly an expert on this. Thank you. Yeah, really good. So I'm guessing a lot of the business comes from attorney referral then, is that the case?

Laurel Starks: 

Yeah, I mean, so what we recommend is there are a couple of ways to go about building a business. The first step to building a business really needs to be educating yourself on how to work in these listings. So these listings are extremely unique. They're very, very different. You take a traditional listing and you just turn it on its head. You've got traditional listings, have people who want to sell the house who are equally motivated, and you've got divorce listings, somebody who doesn't want to sell the house, somebody who's sabotaging everything, somebody whose life is crumbling. So these are very, very different listings. So the first thing that really needs to be done is education. You need to educate yourself on the divorce process on how you handle these listings, get a process down. Then I say, go and market your database first and foremost, market your database, go after people who already know you, who already trust you the law of averages, you know, 1.2 million divorces happen every year.

Laurel Starks: 

So probably somebody in your database is either getting divorced or know somebody who's getting divorced. So if you, if you skilled up, you've learned something and then you can go back and prove yourself in your own database, as the person who's trusted to handle these divorce listings, you're going to be the person that they call instead of calling the Realtor that they bought the house with, or instead of calling maybe their friend's cousin or something, you will be the person that they go after. So that's number one, good experience. Then see about getting into the attorney world, getting into the attorney world is a whole different beast. Frank, you and I go to a lot of events, right? We've gone to a lot of events. Real estate events are, you know, are probably exactly the opposite of going to the attorney world and the real estate world holders.

Laurel Starks:

Absolutely the opposite. And what I don't see on stage at these big events. What I don't see are Realtors who have built a business, serving the divorce niche on stage. You see people who have built businesses in many other aspects of how you build a business online leads, Zillow, they're  rocking BoomTown. They're the farming expert, whatever it is, they're doing all these other things. But when it comes to building a business in the divorce niche, there is a very specific, very purposeful approach and way to do it. And Realtors screw it up. And that's the reason why we don't see stages peppered with Realtors who do this at a high level. It's not about how do I get to the gatekeeper? It's not about how do I get the script to get in?

Laurel Starks: 

What do I say to a lawyer? You've got to just turn this thing inside, out and under and know their world, know their pain, know where they need, where the holes are in family law and where the holes are in courts, as it pertains to real estate. And then you fill that hole. That's how you do it. I mean, you know, my husband, if you're friends with me on Facebook, my husband's getting a hip replaced on Friday and that doctor, he didn't just hang a shingle and like get a winning script or put like a Facebook ad that said, “I will replace, you know, are you 52 years old with an old bike injury, call me if you are an all replaced your hip.” And then we call him and he's like, well, he'll figure out how to replace the hip.

Laurel Starks:

Once he is my husband's like under anesthesia, right? That is not what happened. The doctor learned his skill, learned his trade and went through residency before he ever hung a shingle and held him at himself out to be an orthopedic surgeon. And you understand lawyers have put seven years and well into the six figures into their education and into their training. And that's the bar literally, that we're at. So educate, understand what you're doing, get really familiar with their world, their culture, their holes, and know how you can solve it. Before you ever walk into an attorney's office.

Frank Klesitz: 

There's a couple of things you brought up from previous discussions. I want to touch on for you guys, that I think are important. Then maybe you can elaborate. Laurel has a training program. That's fantastic. She actually takes you to court. It actually has in-person sessions. Now, I don't know. Maybe you can Zoom in now, but, she actually takes you to court and teaches the whole process of understanding. Okay, you're getting divorced now watch because hopefully many of you had not been through the process of how this all goes down. Is that correct? Laurel?

Laurel Starks:

That's correct. Yeah. We start with our bootcamp and so our boot camp really teaches you how to really handle a divorce listing. Step one. I mean, how you handle that first phone call, what your script is, what information you need to get all the way through to close of escrow. We teach that and then we give you your first 90 days of marketing material to your database. That is really sort of your undergrad, right? If you will. So learning how to do it and then spend time in your residency, go and put your skills to use in your own database. And we give you the deliverables and the marketing pieces to do that. Then once you've done that, then consider our certification program to become a CDRE. CDRE is different, it's not just a Realtor who gets divorced leads, a CDRE serves the family law community in three ways.

Laurel Starks: 

The first thing that a CDRE does to the family law community is we are their relied upon expert to educate them on real estate matters in real time. So we know what lawyers are facing right now. We know all the problems with COVID. We know all of the issues that are going on in real estate and how that impacts family law right now. And we are educating lawyers constantly on how they can be better lawyers, how they can advise their clients properly. We educate judges and courts, how they can make rulings that are effective. So, number one, a CDRE does that number two, a CDRE is also a forensic resource. So we provide fair market valuations. We provide historic fair market valuations. We do title.

Frank Klesitz: 

Probably one of the most valuable things for an attorney is like, I don't know what this house is worth, and there's no money to pay for a 700 dollar appraisal.

Laurel Starks: 

Well, we charge for that. I mean, a CDRE does not work for free. A CDRE gets paid for their evaluations. But yes, every case needs to value assets and the house is one of them. And so we provide those values for them. I was just on the phone with an attorney this morning. And she said that the husband bought the house before they got married. The wife thought she got deeded on, but she wasn't sure if it got recorded, she signed it notarized the inner spousal. And so she needed me to check and verify whether or not she was on title. You know, those are just little things, but we testify as experts, this has nothing to do, even with a listing yet.

Laurel Starks: 

This is just as an expert in the real estate space. The third thing we do is that we are their expert to be appointed, to handle the listing and the sale of the house. And we take the, the real estate piece of the case off the attorney's plate. Attorneys should never be brought in for a bunch of stuff like negotiating repairs or dealing with getting personal property out of the house, that kind of stuff we take care of all of that. We take that off the attorney's plate as the neutral third party experts. So a CDRE is actually a different, you know, it's another level of being a Realtor, working in divorce cases. Then that's what we certify in that case.

Frank Klesitz:

Got it. Good stuff, Laurel. Where would someone go to find out, okay, I got the training. I'm gonna let everyone in my database know that this is what I do. And if you're facing all these issues, we'll probably have a confidential discussion about it. You know, I can advise you in some way, right, out to your list. You were telling me that like just statistically speaking, there's somebody getting divorced in your database, you know? Then it's about kind of reaching out and building relationships with family law offices right throughout the area. I would assume one of the ways to get those lists is just go online and build it and go look on Yelp. It's not that hard. You can probably find them all that way. Just any tips? I would assume it's probably more attorney events, right? But any tips to slowly start building some relationships with these attorneys?

Laurel Starks

It's about first getting educated, being, knowing what you're knowing, what your unique, how are you unique than any other Realtor? How are you any different than all of the other 200 Realtors who watched some infomercial from some smart agent guy that said, “get divorce listings,” right? How are you any different than every other Realtor who's had this bright idea to go after divorce attorneys? What makes you different? I mean, start there. How are you any different? It's not just about being a great agent. It's about being an expert in their world. How are you any different? And so once you've answered that once you've done that, then absolutely there is a way you build your network in their community. Old fashioned networking, good old fashioned. How to title reps, how do they build businesses in our world? How to lenders build businesses in our world? It is time over task over time. And it's relationship building. This isn't silver bullet stuff. It takes a lot of time and that's how you do it.

Frank Klesitz: 

Sounds very profitable because you're getting paid the fees, leading up to the sell of the house. And you're also the court appointed attorney at your market based rates where they're required by law to use you as the agent on the listing. It sounds like just by working your database and networking withattorneys, there's not much marketing expense here. You're not spending much on online lead generation direct mail or anything else. I think this really appeals to people that are just really sick of a  B to C relationship. Laurel, selling real estate. It's a very B to C game numbers, calls, leads, process. Right. But it's very different jumping from B to C to B to B.. And that's one of the biggest things, the kind of the temperament takeaways they'll take, they'll have when they come to your class. Like some people are more cut out for more of a B2B type of relationship, as opposed to the more of the transaction based B to C relationship. Y

Laurel Starks: 

That's be perfectly said, absolutely. The minute you stop doing open houses, if that's how you get your business, then that's when your business stops, right. The minute you stop that Zillow spend or that Google ad spend, that's when your business stops. The minute you stop calling expireds, that's when your business dries up. So when you have a relationship business, then that tends to be more evergreen and you just keep nurturing it. And so that's absolutely how you do it. Nikki put in the, in the chat, getdivorcedcertified.com is how. That's our certification program. That is how you can get more information on that. Another thing that we were passionate about is educating the real estate community, we do consistent webinars with divorce experts. I'll email you divorce tips and different just resources that I can continue to send out and, you know, plug into our system and, and learn it, get your feet wet.

Frank Klesitz:

I've met with the most interesting jobs are all, they are our court appointment experts where they go, they go to trial and they're getting paid huge sums of money to be an expert. Why don't you share with the audience? You can make money doing that. And that's like a thing where you're getting called in, you're paid just to provide neutral third party testimony during a trial and maybe share with what are the ranges of some of those rates.

Laurel Starks: 

It's interesting because we have a lot of knowledge and we don't tend to think of it like that, you know, as Realtors, right. We have a lot of knowledge that can benefit people and that knowledge is very valuable. Going rates for experts, I charge $350 an hour.  I have minimums. So my rate for a half day is a $1000 minimum. For a full day, it goes up from there. I charge for transportation. I'm retained in a case and it's not uncommon for me to make anywhere from $3,500 to $10,000, just depending on the extent of the research. So you don't just get paid for sitting on the stand, you get paid for all of your research for all the time, you put into it for your communications. That's a whole other, I mean, and as a CDRE, that's like a separate, that is part of what we train and that is a separate revenue stream.

Frank Klesitz: 

Yeah. I love it. Yeah. It's really true. Like a lot of people don't look at your expertise and get paid for your time and coming in as an expert to be appointed as a huge benefit where you're getting paid that, leading up to hopefully, you're the Realtor that gets the home sold at full commission. That's court appointed. Totally great. How many deals a year do you do in divorce, Laurel?

Laurel Starks: 

You know, I get appointed and I work in about about 120 cases a year. I'm not always the listing agent. My scope is very broad.

Frank Klesitz: 

These are all homes in Southern California, right? Wow. And your expense necessarily to acquire those leads that come in over here is effectively nil. I mean, what are you really spending to get that business?

Laurel Starks:

Yeah, I mean, so now my marketing budget is less than $20,000 a year. It's never exceeded that. The bulk of that about 70% of that is based on two attorney events that I do a year, um, COVID has happened. So those got offloaded from my book. So yeah, I run at about a 70% profit margin.

Frank Klesitz: 

Great. Without any cold calling, huh? Right. Usually, in order to get a 70% profit margin, you're pounding phones. Otherwise you're buying money on marketing, but you have a 70% profit margin without cold calling. It sounds like that should be the headline for the entire course, like why someone should join it. Last question, I'm curious, the type of people that are successful, you know, making the transition to the divorce niche where you kind of like share like the makeup and the characteristics of those individuals? Llike what's, what's the pain point of your ideal customer that decides, you know, I've been selling traditional listings and then they make this crazy, at the time, It's crazy idea that I'm going to go in like specialize the divorce. That's a big shift. And that tends to attract a certain type of individual. Describe the individual for the audience.

Laurel Starks: 

So there's a difference between who is attracted and who does well. Right. So, what we've found is that our average agent, if you will, who performs well in this niche and through our program, they have been in the business for no less than 10 years. They have mastered real estate. And they typically are not the leader of a huge team. They are somebody who's got leverage, they've got maybe two assistants, maybe a buyer's agent. And they are just simply burned out with the grind. They're just burned out with the grind and they know that they've got real estate expertise and they want to apply it and make good use of those skills to make an impact. That's typically who really succeeds well in this niche.

Frank Klesitz: 

Cool. And where do people go again, learn how all this works and maybe go into the courthouse and actually hear divorce proceedings.

Laurel Starks: 

Yeah. So now we're online for this year. 

Frank Klesitz: 

Did anyone around the country zoom into that then?

Laurel Starks: 

Yeah, absolutely. It's much easier. However, we're going to go back to live next year. So we do trainings twice a year and we do them Apriland October. 

Frank Klesitz: 

I don't mean for your trainings. Excuse me. So your trainings are online. I'm talking to the court system, you have to drive down to the courthouse and watch the proceedings. Can I actually watch the proceedings on Zoom now?

Laurel Starks

That is all jurisdiction by jurisdiction. So our courts are not set up to do that. Our family courts are not set up to do that. You have to go in, so we do take people when we have our live course, we take people. We do a field trip to family court. We have lunch with the judges and it's a really meaningful day.We will be doing that in April. Our program is now online again for October due to COVID. So all of our October attendees are invited to come in April and come to court with us. But, it's impactful.

Frank Klesitz: 

It really is. Thanks for doing this. I had a lot of customers at Vyral that have been asking, you know, Frank, is there some type of letter we can send out? I don't know, get business from this, uh, niche, you know, cause everyone sees divorce rates are up and coven and whatnot. And um, you know, the, the typical way of, of, of approaching that is how do I get a list? And then what's the magical email list, the magical letter I can send that, get that listing. Right. You know, but yeah, you really just kind of, that's why I asked you last night before this meeting, it was just like, he just completely blew that out of the way. I'm like, that's not how it works. I mean, it takes months, if not years of the process before the home is even sold. And there's a lot of relationship building between the attorneys and the everyone involved for you to become that coined, supported, quaint, appointed, rather a listing agent for the property. Thanks for sharing all this. You're helpful.

Laurel Starks: 

Thanks for having me. I always enjoy having talks with you, Frank. You're awesome.

Frank Klesitz: 

Well, I promised you 30 minutes. That was 30 minutes today. Thank you everyone for attending. One last time. Where do people go to learn more about you.

Laurel Starks:

Getdivorcedcertified.com

Frank Klesitz: 

As a marketer. That's a great URL. Thank you. Thank you so much for your time. Thanks everybody. Take care. Bye.

Topics: Interviews

Elizabeth Stormberg

Written by Elizabeth Stormberg

Elizabeth is the Chief Marketing Officer at Vyral Marketing.

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