Not quite a year ago, Jeff Hedberg of Help-U-Sell Real Estate Masters opened his office in Port Huron, Michigan, but he did so with decades of real estate experience before opting for the set-fee business model Help-U-Sell created. Jeff chose real estate early, he was only 21 years old. “I won a sales contest in college, in a class that was taught by a broker, and the door to real estate opened for me,” Jeff remembered.
In 2013, it was time for reinvention. “I had the largest office in St. Clair County, and at one point I had 40 full-time agents. I loved working in this area, but I wanted to live in Florida. So my family moved and got settled, while I planned on setting up a real estate office there. The call of family brought us back to Michigan sooner than anticipated. I sold my previous business to a competitor, and had to wait out a non-compete clause,” he said.
This time around, Jeff wanted to do real estate in a different way. He continued, “I think the industry has been broken for a while and brokers have gotten away with overcharging people for a long time. I started checking into Help-U-Sell, partially because I wanted the brand recognition and I liked the model, and didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. Once situated, we just started with word of mouth publicity.”
An important element of success for Jeff is having associates with the same commitment to serving clients. He added, “They share that sense of loyalty and drive to do right by our clients. Whenever I meet with a potential new agent, I ask, ‘Do you believe you are worth 6%? Do you believe the industry is going to change?’ I have three agents with me, two of whom are experienced, and one is just starting out. I don’t do co-listings; I currently have 21 listings myself, with many more in the pipeline. At a minimum, I’m anticipating 50 units for the year, and I will achieve that. I am currently number two in closed units in my county and number five in overall sales and listing volume.”
While pricing and inventory are common obstacles in many markets, Port Huron is more nuanced. Jeff explained, “The challenge for us is that Port Huron is a 180-degree market. There is a river here that separates the United States from Canada. The median house price is $175,000 but it can commonly be as modest as $118,000, when compared to prices in Venice, Florida, where I just moved back from; Houses there average about $280,000. We see a lot of first-time buyers. I’ve already saved people over $128,000 in commissions in my first seven months. I am confident we can capture 30% market share in three to five years.”
Building a business takes time, but Jeff is confident sellers will catch on quickly. “I’m not short-term focused. I have not yet captured the volume I know I’m capable of achieving. When my business was here originally, I had 33% of the market share and closed $110 million in volume. After the economy crashed, the business model changed and there was a definite shift in expectations from the consumer standpoint. Home sellers wanted full service brokers at a reasonable rate. Consumers are putting pressure on the 5-6% model, and this is a fair way to do it. It’s hard to argue with that,” he stated.
“What I like right now is knowing I am ahead of the curve, and that I will be competitive in advance of other brokers in this area. They are fighting the change. I’m here now and the race will be won in two or three years. Not offering a low set-fee is greedy and short-sighted. We can easily give people what they want once we have their attention.”
To get that consumer attention, Jeff has changed his old marketing practices also. He continued, “There was a time when I was paying for five full pages of newspaper advertising every week, but now I’m taking a different approach. I often use the ‘just listed’ and ‘just sold’ postcards from Excel printing. I made a heavy investment in signage, and it’s worth it because people tell me they see my signs everywhere. Client testimonials drive traffic back to my website and create a lot of viewings. I am also fond of the ‘good, better, best’ brochure. Nothing quite illustrates our offering as succinctly as that.”
Part of great marketing is having the presentation down. “I have perfected my elevator pitch, and have developed several tailored versions which shows the traditional fees, and people saving two or three times the amount using our services versus a competitor. When I am in front of a client, I don’t lose the listing. Sometimes home sellers will get guilted into using a friend or family member who dabbles in real estate part-time. The question I always ask those folks is ‘If this person is a friend, why are they not charging you a friendly fee?’ The savvy seller wants to save money,” he said.
Subject to many influences, real estate can sometimes be a precarious industry, which Jeff anticipates. He said, “There are always highs and lows. When times are tough, I do what I’ve always done and more. I pray, and make it a point to give more than I take. To the victor goes the spoils.”