The Art of Niche

Ok, so you say you do have a niche — please explain. What is your niche? Is it a neighborhood? Or a type of home? Or a style? Or a prince range? Or maybe it is a technique like 1031 exchanges or short sales?

Or, do you sound like far too many agents who say they specialize in first-time home buyers, AND condos, AND land, AND historic properties, AND new construction in Richmond, AND Chesterfield, AND Henrico, AND Powhatan, AND New Kent. Oh, they also do appraisals and are licensed in the Outer Banks …

In other words — no niche whatsoever.

So What is a Niche?

For most of us, we really don’t have a niche, no matter how much we think we do. While we all have tendencies to work certain geographies or price points — having tendencies is not the same as having a niche.

“Having tendencies is not the same as having a niche …

Having a niche means that you are recognized outside of your immediate circle as having specific expertise in a certain arena. It also means that you actively and specifically undertake activities designed to cultivate and strengthen your position in the eyes and minds of your specific market.

Can you name some businesses recognized for their niche?

Do you think Elwood Thompson’s Natural Market owns their niche? You bet.

How about La Difference in the furniture business? Heck yes!

Or even Ed Trask and the building mural? Again, no question.

How can you tell if you have a niche as an agent? Either total strangers call you to help them with a specific need, or your peers refer business to you for the same reason.

If you cannot tell me the last time either of those happened, then you do not have a niche — and you cannot convince me otherwise.

How Do You Define a Niche?

The best way I have ever heard the concept of niche expressed, was from a marketing professor in college. He defined a niche (or at least a worthwhile niche) as ‘definable, reachable and profitable.’ And, I would like to add the word ‘attainable’ to that list, too.

“A true niche is definable, reachable, profitable AND attainable …


  • A niche consisting of homeowners in pre-foreclosure might be definable, and even reachable, but it is probably not a profitable niche for an agent to pursue.
  • A niche of newly minted doctors moving to the area for their residency might be extremely profitable, but reaching them would be a challenge without intel that simply isn’t readily available.
  • A niche of ‘boating enthusiasts in need of a river house’ is definable and obviously profitable, but reaching them will probably prove difficult as you don’t really know who they are until they have already begun their search.
  • A niche of high rise downtown office buildings meets all of the requirements, other than without years of experience and probably an M.B.A., it would be hard for most agents to crack.

So, when you decide that becoming a specialist in a certain spectrum of the market, make sure to spend some time thinking about the niche you are pursuing and that it meet all of the aforementioned conditions.

So What To Do?

If you really want to establish yourself in any niche, you have to do the following:

  • Become a true expert in your niche in every sense of the word — not a self-proclaimed one with only a catchy name and logo.
  • Market yourself in a specific way to your specific niche that demonstrates your expertise.
  • Make sure that you have the necessary credentials to underpin your efforts.
  • Be willing to turn away business that is not a part of your niche, regardless of its source.

While the first three seem logical, the last one seems troublesome — turning away business is sacrilege to an agent. If you were a true expert in high rise condominium developments and your mother wanted to buy land in the country, would you have the resolve to refer her to a true expert in the rural market? Those who work exclusively in their established niches would do so in a heartbeat.

Are You an Expert or a Commodity?

The opposite of a specialist is a generalist and the opposite of differentiation is commoditization.

“No agent wants to live a commodity’s existence …

The definition of a commodity is a product that is undifferentiated and can only compete on price. When you, as an agent, have no features that separate you from your competition, you are a commodity. Trust me, no agent wants to live a commodity’s existence.

By carefully selecting a niche that you can reach and exploit (‘exploit’ defined in economic terms — meaning ‘the act of employing to the greatest possible advantage’), you can live a long and healthy existence as an agent and protect yourself against the next ‘disruptive’ service or financial downturn.

Spend some time now and decide what you can to do reach your niche. It won’t happen overnight, but with a consistent effort and a smart plan, in time it will come. When you can demonstrate expertise in a valuable niche, your income will skyrocket, opportunity will abound and your superlative position in your marketplace will discourage others from even trying to unseat you.

That sounds like a far better plan to me.