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All the Right Moves

illustration by James Shepherd
Mistakes? We’ve all made a few. But, we’d rather hear about your successes! We talked to Florida Realtors® to find out their smartest business moves.

What if you could look inside the minds of some of the state’s top real estate sales associates and pick their brains for the best business moves they’ve made? If it sounds too good to be true, you’re in luck because we’ve done it for you.We gathered a group of them to discuss which technology. sales and marketing, and business management strategies have panned out the best for them during their careers. Here’s what they had to say.

We Invested in 16 Domain Names
In 1997, Charlene Stancil and Mike Thomas invested in 16 domain names ranging from oceanfront.com to luxuryhomes.com. It was the thing to do at the time, but the fad [of registering domains] quickly faded along with the dot-com boom. Who knew that 10 years later this pair of sales associates with Internet Realty Brokers in Palm Beach Gardens would see that purchase as their best real estate move ever?

“Buying those names grew into the very basis of our current business,” says Stancil. That’s because [when making those purchases] she was looking to break out of the typical “yournamehere.com” mold and instead buy geographically oriented and neighborhood names like PosterityHarbor.com. Targeting baby boomers looking for second homes in their area, the pair says that about 78 percent of annual sales are generated through the Internet. 

And while Stancil and Thomas used to work all those leads themselves, today they distribute them among their sales associates, each of whom has a farm area to work. “Whereas most companies let [sales associates] go out to work their farms on their own, we supplement those efforts with the Web sites, which we sort of ‘loan out,’” says Stancil. “It’s a tool for them to use to become known as experts in their respective areas.”

I Use Pay-per-Click Advertising Online
Everyone knows that pay-per-click (PPC) advertising can get costly, but Matt Zimmerman has found a way to make it work. A sales associate with Watson Realty’s South Beach office in Jacksonville, Zimmerman generates about 75 percent of his business through the Internet and says pay-per-click helps to make that happen.

Set up through Advanced Access, a Web development company, the site is submitted on a routine basis to all major search engines. By bidding on certain keywords or phrases (like “Jacksonville Real Estate”) with Adwords and Yahoo! Search Marketing, Zimmerman can make his site show up when a prospect keys those words into the search engine. When that cybersurfer “clicks through” to his site, he’s charged for the pay-per-click service.
 
To make sure that his pay-per-click investment doesn’t spiral out of control, Zimmerman budgets a total of about $1,000 a month for the service. “I’ll adjust that if I have a slow month, or if I’m trying to cut my marketing budget back,” says Zimmerman. During the hot real estate market, he says, he was generating about 100 leads a month on that investment, and estimates that about 5 percent of those leads resulted in signed contracts.

I Put Up a User-Friendly Web Site
When Jassamine Redington set up her own real estate Web site last year, she was less concerned about packing it with information and more focused on creating a site that prospects could navigate seamlessly without being bogged down by broken links and excessive graphics.

“I wanted customers to be able to get around quickly, and to stay on the main Web site without having to click the ‘go back’ arrows all the time,” says Redington, a sales associate with Condos and Castles Real Estate Inc. in Fort Lauderdale.

To get the job done, she turned to her tech-savvy husband, Jim, for help. Jim read a few books, purchased Web site design software and “within three weeks, the site was on the front page of Google, Yahoo! and Dogpile,” says Redington. “I started getting hits like crazy.”

The site includes Redington’s own listings and an MLS search utility. She posts information about Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach and Deerfield Beach, and invests in pay-per-click advertising to keep her site near the top of the search engines’ rankings. In real estate for six years, Redington says she has sold four homes and rented out another three as a result of her Web site. “I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner.” 

It may seem like common sense, but for Judy Aarnes the simple act of sending out just-listed and just-sold cards to the 550-home neighborhood where she resides has positioned her as the go-to expert when it’s time to buy or sell in that area.

A sales associate with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Bradenton, Aarnes started using the strategy when she got into real estate two and a half years ago, and credits the effort with growing her sales from $27 million in 2004 to $32.5 million in 2006.

“It’s very effective,” says Aarnes, who combines pictures of homes with her own photo to create the cards, which she sends to her neighborhood mailing list. The undertaking can be costly: just last month she listed eight homes in the Parrish neighborhood, and shelled out about $220 for each mailing. “It definitely adds up,” she says.

But the “Judy sells another one” and “Judy just listed this beautiful home” messages also pay off. “Some 43 [sales associates] live in my neighborhood, and I’m the dominant one,” says Aarnes, who sees the postcards as a very effective way to get her name out. “I get a lot of calls from recipients saying, ‘Judy, we got your card, and we have a friend who might be interested in this house.’”
 
I Started Being Selective with Clients
In a hot seller’s market it’s easy enough to take overpriced listings and sit back while buyers scoop them up. The same strategy doesn’t work in a stabilizing market, as Gid Pool found out recently. A sales associate with RE/MAX Properties in Northport, Pool recently changed his customer-selection strategy to reflect the changing market and ensure that his time and marketing dollars were being well spent.
 
In real estate for about 10 years, Pool carefully assesses all listings before taking them on, looking especially closely at exactly how much it will cost him to sell the property. He then compares that cost with the home’s selling potential and the sales price, factoring in market conditions as well as the home’s condition and location. “Times have changed, and the market is slow,” says Pool. “It doesn’t pay to be the lister of the month anymore, particularly if you know those listings aren’t going to sell.”

Now, rather than having listings languishing on the MLS for six or eight months, Pool is taking on only those that he knows have the best potential of selling. His total listings are down this year, but he’s also not spending hundreds of dollars per month trying to “make magic happen.” As a result, Pool says sales are down, but profits are up. “It has also given me more free time to have a real life,” he adds.

Jesse Acevedo knows that the average consumer doesn’t immediately recognize the meaning of designations like “ABR” and “CRB,” but that hasn’t kept him from investing time and money in continuing education that goes far beyond the Florida Department of Real Estate’s requirements.

Acevedo launched his strategy by getting his broker’s license six years ago, then earned his ABR (Accredited Buyer Representative), SRES (Seniors Real Estate Specialist) and e-Pro (working with real estate online) designations. Acevedo, broker and office manager at ERA Ace Realty and Investments Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, is now working on his CRB (certified real estate broker manager) and planning to add even more designations after his name in the coming months.

“This education allows me to specialize and deliver a higher level of professionalism to my clients,” says Acevedo, who sees the coursework’s back-to-the-basics approach as especially valuable for sales associates who are in the trenches every day. He applies the knowledge in the field when working both with clients and with other sales associates.

“It helps me to keep learning,” says Acevedo. “Even though it can seem like I already know everything I need to know about the business [there’s always something new to discover].”

I Picked the Right Broker
Selecting the right broker to work for sounds like a simple enough exercise, but in reality it can take sales associates three to four tries to locate the one broker and office that they gel with the best. Not Jason Cork. A sales associate at Watson Realty Inc.’s Kissimmee office, Cork says that when he got into real estate in 2004, he was lucky enough to hit the target on the first try.

Ushered into the business by a mentor who was already working for that particular office, Cork says he “listened to everything my manager told me to do” and didn’t reinvent the wheel. “My manager told me that if I wore my name tag all the time, I would get business from it,” says Cork. “I followed the advice, and have always gotten business from approaching and talking to people.”

Cork also learned the value of taking one day off per week for himself and his family. “I take off every Saturday, and I’ve never crossed that line,” says Cork, who recently became a full-time manager and is now sharing his knowledge with the firm’s new sales associates. Taking that day off allows Cork to “come out of it reenergized and ready to work.”

Laura Harris didn’t intend to start a family real estate business, but it worked out that way.  In real estate for 19 years, this sales associate with Keller Williams Realty of Brandon watched as her three children graduated from Florida State University and set out on their career searches. After looking around, each decided that where they really wanted to be was right where their mom was: in real estate.

“It started with my son, Leighton, back in the 1990s, and everyone thought I was nuts for bringing him in because he was just a punk right out of school with an English degree,” says Harris, laughing. “He took to it and did great.”

Armed with an education degree, daughter Joanna was next, followed by Sarah, who was fresh out of school with a degree in finance. “Sarah was going through SunTrust’s management training program when she saw how much fun we were all having and decided to join us,” says Harris.

Today, the group—which closed $15 million in property last year—is known as the Harris and Hyde Team. Each family member fulfills a specific role: Harris and Leighton handle the sales, Joanna deals with customer care, and Sarah is the transaction coordinator. It’s a setup that works well for Harris and her team. “As each new team member was added, and as they took over their current positions, my sales went up accordingly,” she says. “I was not only energized, but also freed up to sell more.”
 
Sales associates’ busy schedules and personal lives leave little time for volunteerism, but Cynthia Logan sees such involvements as the key to her 31 years of success in real estate.

A sales associate with Coldwell Banker Sunstar Realty Inc. in Port Charlotte, Logan has been involved with Realtor groups at both the local and state level for years, and says holding positions with the Florida Association of Realtors has “broadened my horizons and helped me see what I really need to do to succeed in the industry.”

“I learn about the key trends, and find myself moving forward with my business every time I come back from a state or national meeting,” says Logan, who sees technology as one area where Board involvement helped her push through the limits. “I didn’t want to be a 60-something sales associate who didn’t know how to use technology, so I attended technology classes and learned everything that I could about it.”

Logan served as FAR’s auction marketing chairperson twice, and has also been a local Realtors’ Political Action Committee (RPAC) chair. She is a past Association and MLS president for her local Board, and served as a FAR director for several years.

And she doesn’t just take the titles and sit back while others give their time to the cause. “I go to all of the meetings and events,” says Logan. “As a result, I’ve been around the best of the best in the industry, and gained an inside track on what’s going on at the local, state and national level. It’s been invaluable.”

Whether you’re investing in technology, increasing your real estate industry knowledge with education or getting involved in your local Realtor Association, one smart move can set your career path on the right track.

Bridget McCrea is a Clearwater-based freelance writer.