If the last year has taught us anything, it’s taught us this: Expect the unexpected.That’s why as the new year started, we sent out our Close 2021 Agent Survey. We wanted to know what’s working for agents as they navigate this uniquely challenging time.Agents told us the top ways they got clients in 2020 and how they plan to do so moving forward. We also received valuable insights about how agents’ clients and markets have shifted in light of the pandemic.Some of the results surprised us. Much like life has in the last 10 months, this survey provided unexpected twists.Let’s dive into the survey responses and unpack their takeaways.Business Growth: What Worked for AgentsIn 2020, the most popular way agents grew their business was referrals. 83% of our 290 respondents got a new client thanks to their sphere of influence. It’s no surprise that relationships are at the core of a real estate agent’s success. Providing value to your community and staying in touch with previous clients can only help you in the end.We’ve shared tips to generate more referrals in the past and will continue to do so. Just because something is working for you (e.g., referrals) doesn’t mean it can run on auto-pilot. Optimizing what is already working is a fantastic way to develop more leads.With that said, focusing on an area that you know needs improvement can be advantageous as well. Developing new skills and channels for your business is imperative as marketing continues to evolve at a rapid rate.More Ways Agents Got Clients in 2020Posting on social media was the second-most popular way agents got new clients in 2020. Perhaps it was because in-person meetings were more challenging to maneuver in light of the pandemic. COVID-19 seems to have accelerated business trends that were already taking off (think online shopping and remote work).With social media’s ability to show (instead of merely tell), agents can communicate visually and personally. That might be why social media is the most popular area of focus for agents in 2021.Agents are quite literally doubling down on this channel. While 44% got a new client thanks to social media in 2020, 82% of agents plan to improve their social presence to grow their business in 2021.If you feel overwhelmed with approaching social media this year, we have tips from agents and 30 days’ worth of content ideas.Where Agents Will Focus in 2021Customer relationship management (CRM) and email campaigns ranked as the second-most popular way agents plan to grow their businesses. If you don’t already have a CRM that you love, we have an updated CRM Buyer’s Guide for 2021.Of course, your CRM is only as good as the time and energy you put into it. Updating your contacts, creating systems, and developing helpful market information for your contacts can take time and energy. However, we can’t recommend enough spending time fine-tuning your email marketing.If you are unsure as to what area of focus is the best for you in 2021, we recommend that you do a free SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.” This analysis lets you unpack the areas of your business that could hinder or help your growth.And as we discussed in a recent Close Pro Coaching Call, you can figure out success by the numbers. Working backward from your goals in 2021 helps you understand what you need to accomplish to hit the number of deals you want this year. Then, you can decide on the areas of focus that will help you get you there.Housing Market Predictions in 202165% of agents predict that the corporate shift to more flexible work from home options will positively impact the housing market in 2021.However, 58% of agents predict a negative impact should an increase in interest rates occur.Interestingly, only 46% of agents predict that a COVID-19 vaccine will positively impact the market. 30% predict that a vaccine will have no impact at all; 23% say it will have a negative impact. With agents split on how the vaccine will alter the housing market, it remains a space worth watching as social distancing mandates evolve and alter behavior and preferences.How the Pandemic Shifted Buyer & Seller Sentiment67% of agents who worked in both 2020 and 2019 said that buyers felt more desperate in 2020 when looking for a home than buyers in 2019.In contrast, 61.5% of agents who worked in both 2020 and 2019 said that sellers were more confident in 2020 than in 2019.Some agents expressed that real estate professionals needed to expand upon their skills in light of the current housing market. One agent responded to our survey by saying that:“The reality is that sellers aren’t selling at the rate that buyers want to buy. It feels like a stalemate. The business is there, but the competition is also very present. Agents need to expand their skill sets (virtual tours, virtual showings, open houses, campaigns, social media advertising, website optimization, and so on).”Staying competitive is wise in any market, but for agents who want to stand out with seller leads in a competitive market, building upon your skill set can only help achieve that end.Agents also weighed in on what features homebuyers would be most likely to sacrifice in this seller’s market that we currently find ourselves in, along with how the pandemic has shifted their preferences more generally.What Features Are Homebuyers Most Likely to Sacrifice?Home repairs made it to the top of the list, with other considerations receiving just a fraction of responses.Interestingly, 65% of agents predicted that buyers will crave proximity to nature in 2021. And the same percentage (65%) also felt that the corporate shift to working from home will improve the housing market.It’s evident that agents foresee an evolution in buyers’ preferences in light of our “new normal”; proximity to major cities might not be as important as they once were.What Home Features Will Be Important to Buyers in 2021 Due to the Pandemic?Common Misconceptions About Being an Agent TodayAnd lastly, 96 agents provided answers to our optional last question: “What is the most common misconception about being an agent during the pandemic?”One-third of respondents provided the same sentiment: People think that the market (and therefore, an agent’s business) has slowed down. Some even said people believe they aren’t working at all.Other themes around the value agents provide, how hard agents work, and safety issues around COVID-19 itself also emerged. And since markets are highly unique, many responses fell into the “other” bucket.Key TakeawaysThe general public still does not understand or fully appreciate the vital role real estate agents play in the economy or their communities. Associations, brokerages, and individual agents need to continue to educate the public on their value.While referrals remain the top way agents got new clients in 2020, 82% will focus on social media to drive growth. Brokerages and real estate coaches need to double down on training agents to thrive on social mediaAgents predict that shifts in the housing market, such as work-from-home policies, will positively affect some suburban markets and alter buyer preferences. With buyers feeling more desperate in 2020 than in 2019 and sellers more confident, there is more competition for sellers. It’s clear that agents should be focused on sharpening their skills and expanding their sphere of influence. There is more competition for sellers, so agents NEED to sharpen their skills.The Close is committed to agents achieving these goals. Expect many articles and free resources throughout the year around marketing, lead generation, and more. Our weekly Coaching Calls, available with The Close Pro, are also a great way to stay focused and motivated throughout the year.Methodology290 real estate professionals responded to this survey in January 2021 through an online survey. There is a 5% margin error at a 90% confidence level.