“I Love What I Do”

Beverly Sonnier, Broker/Owner of Help-U-Sell Southeast Rita Ranch Realty, has been serving the Tucson, Arizona area with her brokerage office since 2003. She and her husband, Jimmie, received their real estate licenses in the early 90s. What makes Beverly a standout from other Help-U-Sell broker/owners is that she is part of an elite club of people in real estate who have only ever worked within the Help-U-Sell system.

Beverly got her start as a mortgage banker. She met one of our long-term pillars of the Help-U-Sell community, John Powell, back when he was running his own office. It was through John that she became interested in real estate. “I was running a little Cajun restaurant at the time, because I like to try different things. I was already intrigued by the prospect of real estate, but John talked me into it. I decided to close the restaurant and learn something different,” Beverly said. After working with John’s office for a number of years, Beverly wanted to open her own office. Jimmie was a government retiree from both the military and the United States Postal Service. He wanted to stay active, so it was an easy post-retirement transition for him to make.

Beverly’s office appeared on a recent edition of our Top Producers list, noting that she has a goal of 25 to 30 closings for this year. The median price for a home in her market is about $190,000. She shared, “Right now we are experiencing a shortage of inventory. There are roughly 5,000 homes in my market area and as of this minute there are just 26 listings on the MLS. Homes don’t stay on the market very long – about 24 days. I have an advantage over my competitors when the consumer is educated. My goal is to give sellers knowledge of the savings conveyed by selling your home with us.”

When it comes to getting the word out, Beverly has learned diversification is key. “We are lucky to be in a very active market, but I’m always looking for ways to beef up advertising. We’ve tried many methods to find the most effective outcome, and we’ve been taking more risks to find that surprise result that will grab the right attention. My most recent endeavor is handing out the cloth reusable grocery bags, because people now must pay for the plastic bags from the grocery store. We’ve been getting a lot of positive traction off those bags, and of course we add some extra goodies in there to make it interesting for people,” Beverly explained. “I tried advertising on the sanitation station at the grocery store. We advertise in our local newspaper; which has a circulation of about 12,000. I’ve been running ads there for about a year-and-a-half.”

She continued, “We do the ‘Arounds’ postcards once a month. One of the things I learned early on, is that I don’t like postcards with a lot of verbiage on them. White space is valuable, because people don’t have the time to read a lot of fine print. If you can’t get your message across quickly and efficiently, the cumbersome language is a turn-off for them.” Her advertising message centers on: “Stop paying 6% to sell your home. Pay $3,950 instead.”

She added, “Everything has a learning curve in terms of discovering what will or won’t work. We try a little bit of everything and see what takes off. The reusable grocery bags did really well for us, and we got a listing and leads off that. However, the corresponding sanitation station hasn’t done as well for a variety of reasons, primarily poor location and visibility. Our concerns are being addressed and we expect to get the contract extended since it was a substantial investment. It’s all a part of the learning process.”

Being personal gets a lot of mileage for lasting impressions as well. Beverly sends out handwritten cards, but also enjoys cooking and baking. She is known for making candy, especially around the holidays, and makes a habit of handing it out to old and new clients which is always well received.

Jim and Beverly’s strategy for working together starts with collaborating in the morning to get the details of the day in order. “I do all the listing, selling and administrative duties. I send Jim out with buyers because he has a special touch with them. He puts up all of our signage and goes out on inspections. He’s great at filling in the gaps where is necessary,” she said appreciatively.

Beverly is still learning and has no plans on stopping. “I have many friends in this industry, my relationships with them help keep me apprised of how the market is fluctuating. I work to stay on top of our market so that I can provide expertise to our clients. I’m not a person who is driven by money, real estate is my passion. I’ve been doing this for so long now I don’t know anything else. That’s why at 75, I’m still working. I love what I do.”

Real Estate is About Helping Families

Partners at Help-U-Sell Options Unlimited, located in Terre Haute, Indiana, Bob and Brenda Fischer are next in our series of Broker/Owners who are also husband and wife.

Brenda has now been in real estate for 20 years, after a career in coordinating continuing medical education for physicians. Bob joined her six years ago, after 32 years in the digital audio industry.

There was a logical attraction for Brenda to sell houses, as she and Bob had developed a brisk business of flipping houses. “After a short period of time, you realize that you’re doing all this physical work, and then paying somebody else to make a profit off your houses. We then transitioned from flipping houses into managing rental properties, and we both liked that a lot. Selling houses ourselves was a natural progression,” Brenda said.

After Brenda got her real estate license, she learned the industry with another flat-fee brokerage in Terre Haute. She explained, “They closed down after three years, and I went to a traditional brokerage. What you quickly find out is that you pay for everything there. You pay for copies, popcorn, the phone, and, of course, you still had monthly fees. The other realtors were part-time, and that’s no way to grow and establish a business. The Assist-2-Sell franchise where I once worked had been tried and failed on three different occasions, all by different people, so that was not an option.”

When they made their decision, they chose Help-U-Sell Real Estate. “If you look at how Help-U-Sell is structured, it really is different. With other companies, you’re out there on your own. There is no coaching. No one to rely on or ask questions. A stricter structure meant fighting that much harder for business. With Help-U-Sell, I started attending the coaching groups and began working on recruiting with John Powell. If he doesn’t know the answer to a question, he always finds out. That’s not common,” Brenda added.

Expanding further on the coaching group, she said, “John Powell’s group is excellent. It’s not just teaching ‘dos and don’ts’. He won’t let you shy away from the hard tasks of how to make your business more efficient, like planning an advertising budget or generating appropriate goals for your office. He wants to help you stretch, versus just helping you make goals that you know that you will easily meet.”

When it comes to making a name for themselves, signage is first. “We had to drill down to figure out where to put our marketing dollars. Signs are our number one thing. We get more comments on our signage than anything else,” Bob said. “We advertise as a company, not as agents. You will see names and telephone numbers, but anyone in our office is qualified to take a call. Whoever can run with it, we’re good with it. Right now, we’re working on a new postcard. We called the home office and gave them the idea of what we wanted. It’s a lot simpler than doing it yourself.”

The couple advertises in their local weekly newspaper that has a readership of about 100,000. “Newspapers here are still incredibly important. People want to see their home for sale in the Valley Homes paper. We have tracked how business has been affected by advertising there by cutting down to every other week, as opposed to weekly. We lost 31 listings as a result and quickly changed back,” Brenda shared. “We reach out to our Center of Influence contacts four times a year with a postcard,  written notes, or phone calls. We also put up door hangers, even in awful weather. We communicate regularly with clients who bought or sold a property. We often share articles online.”

They also embrace fun methods of gaining exposure. “We always participate in the Labor Day parade and we bring all of our buyers and sellers with us. Everybody’s has matching t-shirts. Anywhere between 20 to 65 people show up, it’s a blast.
We also do the ‘Shop with a Cop’ holiday program for children in need every year,” she said.

Bob and Brenda did well for themselves in 2018, closing 55 transactions. They have established a goal of 94 transactions for 2019. Bob shared, “It’s going to be tough to pull off, because we are experiencing a shortage of houses in our area. Right now there are 441 houses in our MLS, normally it’s around 1,300 in a five-county area. The median price of homes was $92,000 just a few years ago; Because of the lack of inventory, they are now over $100,000. During the recession, hundreds of houses had to be torn down after falling into extreme disrepair. Builders are now putting up houses that are between $200,000 to $300,000, in a market where the spending range is $100,000. These more expensive homes aren’t selling, and we’re desperate for more entry-level homes. Our area realtors and lenders convened about this issue and have conveyed the need for starter homes to the builders. We’re not just here as business owners. Real estate is ultimately about helping families.”

When planning for the year ahead, they embrace the positive and the negative. Bob explained, “In real estate you expect and accept that it is always going to be a roller coaster. We’re busy now, but next month, things will slow down dramatically. We’ve learned to account for those shifts. It takes a special relationship to work with your spouse, but we’re a team. I may be out getting a listing, while Brenda is out showing a home. We’re not sitting here all day long. When we are here together, we’re usually at opposite ends of the building because there’s always something to do. Our goal is to always help each other out because this is an old-fashioned family business, and we depend on each other to create success.”  

Reinforcing an Excellent Reputation

Patrick Wood, Broker/Owner of Help-U-Sell Prestige Properties in Chino Hills, California, is invariably one of our top three Top Producers. A friend from Fullerton is credited with bringing Patrick into real estate in 1977.

The friend bought a traditional real estate franchise, and the numbers were enticing. Finding real estate clicked with him, Patrick ran with it, and has been on the go ever since.

Eventually Patrick opened his own Help-U-Sell Real Estate office. “There was an excellent reputation built around the brand name and being able to do 40% volume was a big attraction. In the beginning, I had some seller participation, but I only wanted to offer full-service. I was also working with my agents on a commission structure. Now, everybody who works for me is hourly or salary, plus a monthly bonus. They are paid for everything that they do, which means everyone is invested. I have found it is better for my clients that my office is as service-oriented as possible, and with my dedicated team, there is always someone available to show a house, attend an inspection, meet an appraiser, or just be here to manage something in the office and pick up the phone,” Patrick said. Including his indispensable office manager, Val, there are eight realtors on Patrick’s team.

He continued, “When I first opened, there was some pushback to overcome from the real estate community, and objections from consumers. Yet in my first year, we had 110 sides to show for our efforts. Consumers like keeping equity. We’re in a market where homes are regularly $900,000, and the house across the street sells in just 10 days. Consumers are looking for reason. When we present the facts, they gladly list with us.”

Naturally, we wanted to know about some of the secrets to Patrick’s success.

“We have streamlined ourselves continually over time. The name recognition of Help-U-Sell, combined with our branding efforts, gives us great visibility. We advertise in local media and social media. We keep up with our sign exposure: our regular signs, as well as open house signs – both do a great job of taking advantage of free exposure. Our general presence in the community is also strong because we all live here, work here, and serve our clients here. Our office is situated in a main thoroughfare of a retail center. After 15 years we still get walk-ins! We are involved in our community with children’s charities and sports teams where we get to put our name and number on t-shirts. It’s a foundation we are always adding to and reinforcing,” he said.

To aid in that reinforcement, the team is sending out ‘sold and saved’ postcards every time there is a closing. “In addition, we actively pursue Yelp reviews. Any ad spend always emphasizes full-service and savings. Every listing includes professional photos of the property, including aerial drone photos. We’re providing a seasoned agent to guide clients through this process. One of the bigger compliments we get is a constant stream of listings from other real estate industry professionals, like the appraisers who help us. The consistent effort keeps everything running on track. I see competitors looking at other ways to do business, but we find the old-fashioned efforts get the best results,” Patrick said.  

In addition to streamlining efforts, Patrick attributes much of his success to a highly-motivated team, all of whom share certain qualities. He explained, “My team members are extremely confident, detail-oriented, efficient, and personable. Everyone is a rational problem solver. It takes a certain strength to be in front of people presenting information and handling their objections. It’s a great position to be in where you can assign people to places where they’re most needed. We treat people like we’re talking with neighbors rather than strangers, because we do share this community.”

One hallmark for success is the ability to adapt during times of instability. Patrick said, “During the recession years, people had their equity position severely compromised. I made it a point to develop excellent relationships with the banks and became good at handling foreclosures. When the foreclosure market dried up, I evolved into short sales. Most homeowners have equity now, and since they remember all too well what it was like to not have equity, our service and fee structure makes sense to them.”

Patrick’s favorite time-saver is an app called ShowingTime. “It has had a huge impact on how I do business presently. It is simply an extension of my team, and only adds about five or six dollars more in overall listing fees. It easily saves me and my staff 3 to 4 hours every day, because we’re not calling back buyer’s agents who are trying to show the property,” he shared.

With so many years dedicated exclusively to one industry and one region, Patrick offers a lot of insight on the current conditions of his market.

“There are a lot of Californians leaving, and my fellow Help-U-Sell Broker/Owners in Arizona and Texas are seeing the influx of business from those leaving this state. I am seeing a huge inflow of buyers of residential and commercial properties from mainland China. We tried advertising in the local Chinese daily news but learned that buyers from abroad were finding us the same way as local buyers do: online. I’ve seen another trend of international buyers investing in properties without putting eyes on it. It’s a tight market here. Right now there are only 215 homes for sale city-wide, and when you consider the million-dollar or luxury homes, it shuts a lot of people out. It’s a healthy seller’s market with homes selling in an average of just 26 days. Sellers recognize our branding and value.”

The culmination of these efforts speak for themselves when the results come in. In 2018 Patrick and his team closed 119 transactions. For 2019, he has set a goal of 125 to 150. “Our track record of sales, in combination with the savings we offer is pretty compelling when we present to potential clients. The best thing my team does is fast follow up. I often hear from clients that my team members are as trustworthy as I am. That’s as big of a compliment as is possible to give. Being on top means you’re always in the grind, but this is a great place to be.”

The Right Choice for Julian Team

Before Gary Julian decided to get his real estate license in 1990, he spent a number of years in service-related industries such as banking and retail management. His wife, Wendy, got her license in 1998. “What you learn from public-facing work experiences like mine is how to play well with others. It also prepared me for having my own business in areas like payroll and supervision. I flourished in those jobs, but I’ve always loved the idea of being self-employed; It means I have 100% accountability,” Gary said.

Gary spent the first portion of his real estate career with a traditional brokerage. “I can tell you from first-hand experience, it’s a completely different mindset. There is no support. You are 100% on your own. In 2002, I moved from the traditional brokerage to a flat fee brokerage. Like many others during that time, that business went belly-up in 2007. I became an independent broker and offered a flat fee to my clients. After three years, I started researching possible franchise business options and decided to open my own Help-U-Sell Real Estate office,” he shared.

When asked why he chose Help-U-Sell over other franchises, Gary said, “Starting a business from scratch is no easy task. It helps tremendously going into one by having a brand name with a great, nationwide reputation. As an independent, the incoming calls coming were a bit tepid. When I ran ads as an independent, I wouldn’t get much traction. Suddenly, I add the Help-U-Sell logo, with language like ‘low set-fee’ and ‘save thousands’ and the visibility goes way up and the phone rings more.”

He added, “When you’re independent it’s hard to get noticed by anyone. I’ve gone door-to-door to bring attention to our business. With a national franchise, we have offices from coast to coast, an especially strong local presence, and an exceptionally large presence in the state of California as a whole. People started listing with us. We’ve got full service at a reasonable fee structure, and we don’t overcharge. People respond well to brand names; It gives them a degree of comfort. After opening our shop, we immediately had two sales come in from folks familiar with the name. We knew immediately we made the right decision.”

Most folks in real estate remember the traditional means of advertising was once primarily newspapers, but of course much has changed when it comes to marketing. “We found newspaper ads were not faring as well in our market as they once had, when compared to our internet marketing efforts. Figuring out your advertising spend takes time and nuance. The trick is getting people to know that we’re here. With the brand name, the logo, and a lot of signage, we’re finding there are a lot of ways to help people find us.”

Some of the Help-U-Sell in-house technology for marketing is also in use. “We do greeting cards three times a year: New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, and 4th of July. We use the ‘sold and saved’ postcards, too. Next, we’re planning on making videos for social media. As we upgrade our technology presence, we upgrade our community visibility in general. One of my recent Facebook advertisements highlights a seller savings of $45,850 in commissions. We find those get a lot of positive attention. Oftentimes, we have a tendency to overthink a lot of things and really it just comes down to figuring out who wants your service,” Gary explained.

Having spent nearly 30 years in the industry, Gary has learned to weather the tumultuous tides of the changing housing market with ease. “I never looked at this venture as just a paycheck. I ignore the commissions, because I know they’re going to kick in. We get referrals from people who trust us, because we did right by them. That’s a return on advertising you can’t buy, only earn. I recently closed two sales that were entirely internet-related. Someone else found us from the national Help-U-Sell website and zeroed in on our office. I get affirmation that I made the right choice constantly,” Gary added.

Goals for 2019 will have Gary and Wendy doubling the number of sides they closed last year. Situated in a rare lower market for Southern California, the median range of homes is $290,000, which attracts a greater volume of buyers. Gary added, “The inventory has exploded, increasing 33% more than what it was at this time last year. Pending sales are down 5%. Overall, the population has exploded for California, so it’s an exciting time for us.”

Reflecting on their time together, Gary says, “Between the two of us, we have over 50 years of experience! We are doing well as a family business. We celebrate robust times, and in tougher times, we just put our heads together and move forward. There’s always going to be people with this need and you just need let them know you’re there.”

Building Her Brand and Great Reputation

Meena Gujral

After completing her college studies in India, Meena Gujral met and married her husband, a resident of the United States, and emigrated with him to begin the next phase of her life. She worked in hotel sales, but felt a pull towards real estate in 1986.

“I got my real estate license the same year my son was born. It was clear early on that I wanted a career that would enable me to spend more time with him. Of course, what I did not realize at the time, is that real estate can be a 24-hour business. You work on weekends and in the evenings, but you can create your schedule around the needs of a family. Aside from the flexibility, one of the things that attracted me to real estate was the concept of home ownership. Helping people move into new homes and sharing in their excited feelings when they achieve that is very satisfying. You get to share in their happiness,” Meena said.

Meena’s Office, Help-U-Sell Achievers Realty in Pleasanton, California, cropped up in our year-end list of Top Producers for 2018, which highlights brokers that have the strongest sales numbers. Meena attributes her strong end-of-year close in part to being very social, with a strong push towards marketing herself. “I participate in a lot of networking groups around my city. There are a lot of social groups in my neighborhood, and I’ve built a good reputation doing short sale transactions. I also regularly publicize the amount of money I save clients on home transactions,” she added. Meena’s husband, Jasbir, is also a broker and involved with the business, primarily functioning as a mortgage broker.

Plans for 2019 have Meena doubling what she did in 2018. “I’m really looking forward to what we achieve this year. I started January with three listings out of the gate, and I am working actively with two buyers. I’ve got a great focus on my goals,” she said.

Pleasanton, California is in the Bay Area, just outside of San Francisco. “The market here is always high, with the median price of houses around $800,000. The downside of that means home sales can move a little slower because there is a smaller margin of people able to buy in that price range. It’s always interesting to watch how a house is received by potential buyers. One of my recent listings was priced similarly to a neighboring house that had a lot of expensive renovations. I had concerns my listing wouldn’t be as well received, but buyers raved about it and it ended up selling quickly,” Meena explained. “The Bay Area has always experienced a tight inventory in the housing market.”

When it comes to branding and reputation, Meena finds just the name Help-U-Sell is a benefit. She shared, “People call the office because they know someone who used Help-U-Sell and were extremely happy with the results. Other people call because they are curious to find out what we’re about. Once we explain, they generally want to list with us. With the market always being so high here, people love the fact that we save them money. When I point out some other differences between myself versus the offerings of a traditional brokerage, I let them know they’re getting the best marketing and same exposure on the MLS. I tell them exactly what is going to happen, and they are impressed.”

Social media has shifted a lot of the home buying and selling experience, and Meena has adjusted her practices accordingly. Meena shared, “Some things change and others stay consistent. I do a lot of marketing on social media, with a heavy emphasis on Facebook, as well as generous use of Instagram, Pinterest, Google My Business, and LinkedIn. My shift in strategy has resulted in my listings on social media getting 150% more views over my competition. That’s positive and different. What stays the same is people see they are saving money. They are gaining the expertise of a person with longevity in the business. They see your marketing plan and understand they are not going to be missing out anything.”

The in-house marketing that is a hallmark of the Help-U-Sell Real Estate system is something that Meena finds useful in creating awareness for her company. She said, “The marketing system that is a part of the single sign-on platform is very easy to use. I create many of my postcards in there, and it’s easy to customize. Social media, in combination with the more traditional methods of marketing like signage, have been keeping me at the right level of exposure. When people call us, I hear ‘we see your signs all over the place’. This goes for outside my typical market, too. When I meet new people, I often hear they have already heard my name. I know I’m doing well as I continue to build my reputation.”

Moving into the new year, Meena is pleased. “Working with my husband is a huge asset. With his expertise in mortgage lending, he is able to quickly share information to make buyers feel comfortable with the lending process. With the two of us working together, it makes it feel like a one-stop shop. I really love the situation I’ve created,” Meena said. Which is a fantastic goal to achieve in anyone’s book.