Broker Focus: Lona Murphy

Lona Murphy of Help-U-Sell Select Real Estate, Eugene, Oregon
Lona Murphy, owner of Help-U-Sell Select Real Estate in Eugene, Oregon

Lona Murphy, broker/owner of Help-U-Sell Select Real Estate in Eugene, Ore., has owned her franchise since April 2011. In that short amount of time, she took the office, previously known as Help-U-Sell By Owner, and made it into an even more successful business.

Murphy attributes the growth to a strategic approach that started with the name change. She wanted to ensure that potential clients knew that her office offered full representation, not just assistance to FSBOs. She improved the company image by moving the office from a retail location to a corner office downtown. New marketing materials, taking advantage of inexpensive online marketing tools, and focusing on being proactive and following up furthered the efforts to be seen as a great option for home sellers in Eugene.

The office also incorporated Murphy’s existing rental program into the revenue stream. Their 20 rental units have provided a consistent source of income and of buyers and sellers. She says their property management clients have made many referrals to her office.

One of the biggest challenges Select Real Estate has encountered has been from competitors claiming Help-U-Sell is a discount brokerage and that other agents won’t show its listings. Murphy and fellow broker Tiffany Guerin assertively overcome objections using facts and statistics. “We don’t use negative references to other Realtors,” she says. “[But] we don’t back down.” She has rarely lost a listing to a traditional brokerage.

Murphy has begun to turn down certain listings, however. “I don’t take overpriced listings anymore,” she says. Her slogan is “I don’t list properties to list them; I list properties to sell them.”

For new Help-U-Sell brokers, she advises not to take it personally when traditional agents and brokers say you’re inferior. “Persevere and be committed to what you do, and that’s to help people and save them money,” Murphy says.

Broker Focus: Tiffany Bullaj

Tiffany Bullaj of Help-U-Sell Hometown Realty
Tiffany Bullaj of Help-U-Sell Hometown Realty

Marketing relies on visibility, and Tiffany Bullaj of Help-U-Sell Hometown Realty in York, Penn., makes sure her office and its listings are not only seen but seen in the best light.

She recently upgraded the office’s camera and software to HDR quality to create great photos and virtual tours. “We find that it really puts us over the top from many of our competitors who still use property photos that look unprofessional,” Bullaj says.

As another nod to the future, the office has built up its online presence and does no print advertising. Google AdWords is a solid source of Hometown Realty’s leads, along with old-fashioned referrals, which still dominate.

While many agents have pulled the plug on open houses, Bullaj encourages her agents to hold as many as possible. She believes in the opportunities open houses afford agents to meet potential clients – sellers and buyers – and tell them how Help-U-Sell can save them money while getting full-service professional Realtors. Hometown Realty also uses directional signs to increase brand awareness.

Bullaj says her office actively markets to buyers, which helped it finish June with the most closed buyer sides of any franchise office. “It was apparent to us three to five years ago that our business needed to shift from being solely dependent on listing sales into a company that works the buyer side aggressively,” she says. “Since the name “Help-U-Sell” seemed to stigmatize us by creating the thought that we only help sellers, we worked hard to counteract that by going above board to make it known to the public that we work with buyers as well, and also save them money through our “Smart Buy” program.”

The “Smart Buy” program offers buyers $1,000 off the list fee when they buy an MLS-listed property through Hometown Realty’s listing agent. To qualify, the commission must be 3 percent and the closing must take place within 60 days of listing  closed. She says, “This seems to create a relationship that goes the distance. We will soon be promoting Smart Buy as a rebate option to all buyers in the area.”

How are you attracting and retaining your target markets?

Broker Focus: Marc Dosik

Marc Dosik of Help-U-Sell Federal City Realty
Marc Dosik of Help-U-Sell Federal City Realty

For buyers and sellers, real estate might be all about “location, location, location,” but for agents and brokers it’s “referrals, referrals, referrals.” Marc Dosik of Help-U-Sell Federal City Realty in Washington, D.C., actively pursues reviews and referrals as a major marketing tactic.

“I just closed a transaction with a guy in California who read my reviews on Yahoo!,” Dosik says. The buyer called based on the strength of those reviews and asked to speak to a couple of Dosik’s past clients for more feedback. Understanding the power of good testimonials, the new buyer just wrote Dosik a positive review.

As a Premier Agent on Zillow, Dosik solicits happy past customers to post their experiences on the site. He makes it easy for the customers by sending them links to his profile. He also collects reviews for Yelp and Angie’s List and puts them in Redfin.

“You can parlay these [as marketing tools],” Dosik says. He uses the reviews in listing presentations and sends prospective clients a link to his Zillow reviews. “They really help me get the listing,” he says.

Dosik encourages new and veteran brokers to ask for reviews and referrals. “Don’t stop keeping in touch,” he says. He focuses on his customers and always says “yes” to their requests. “Try not to say ‘we don’t do that’ at Help-U-Sell. Go above and beyond. You’re going to get referrals by doing that,” he advises.

Past customers’ reviews and referrals have helped Federal City Realty have a successful spring, and so has Mother Nature. “In February, we had a big increase in transactions,” Dosik says. “Normally, spring starts in March but we had a warm winter, so buyers were out there.” A lack of sellers created pent-up demand. “Since then, it’s been very busy.”

The D.C. Metro area has been steadier than most other markets during the past few years, but the housing market is stronger in some locations within the greater D.C. area than in others. The more affluent cities that are closer to Washington, D.C., such as Chevy Chase, Md., and Arlington, Va., have experienced appreciating home values, while cities that are farther away and that have a lot of new inventory, like Chantilly, Va., and Germantown, Md., are not faring as well. Dosik adds that reurbanization efforts in D.C. combined with a low unemployment rate have young professionals and investors snapping up properties in transitional neighborhoods.

With the overall strength of the D.C. Metro market, Dosik is on his way to reaching his goal of transitioning from being a one-man show to focusing more on marketing-oriented activities. He plans to add another assistant to his staff, as well as hire buyers’ agents.

What are your tips for getting the most out of testimonials?

Broker Focus: Matt Kellam

Matt Kellam, broker/owner of Help-U-Sell Keystone Realty
Matt Kellam, broker/owner of Help-U-Sell Keystone Realty in Chambersburg, Penn.

Matt Kellam, broker/owner of Help-U-Sell Keystone Realty in Chambersburg, Penn., takes a two-pronged approach to serving his clients and marketing their homes: tried-and-true basics and modern technology.

He opened his office in May 2005 and has learned a lot in the years since. “The basic Help-U-Sell system works,” he says. “Don’t try to fix something that’s not broken.”

One exception: He prefers to host open houses himself in order to capture buyer leads.

Personal contact is important to Kellam. He makes a point of keeping in touch with clients, past, present and future and encourages new Help-U-Sell brokers to do the same. “Be sure to be accessible to buyers and sellers,” he says. One of the benefits of running small office is that people can reach him directly on any given day. He’s also planning to put more energy into staying connected to previous clients and centers of influence this year.

For Kellam, the personal touch leads the way in client relations, but the Internet rules when it comes to property marketing. When he started out, he followed everyone else into print advertising, soon realizing that online was where his office needed to focus. Now, he’s creating video tours to help his sellers attract buyers. Having spent 20 years in radio, he says, “multimedia doesn’t faze me.”

Kellam films each house with a Sony Cyber-shot camera and uses Windows Movie Maker to edit the video. He records the audio separately using a headset and then adds the audio track to the video. He uploads the videos on YouTube and links to them on his site under the Virtual Tours tab on the property pages. One of his recent property videos shows both the exterior and interior and gives information about recent remodeling, last year’s property taxes and room dimensions.

He’s planning to phase out static virtual tours in the near future.

How do you use video in your marketing mix?

Broker Focus: Cynthia Stevens

Cynthia Stevens of Help-U-Sell Central Properties
Cynthia Stevens of Help-U-Sell Central Properties in Chandler, Ariz.

Cynthia Stevens has weathered her local market’s ups and downs and secured fourth place in seller-side closings in the Winter Warm-Up Contest. Her office, Help-U-Sell Central Properties in Chandler, Ariz., is growing, partially due to the market for distressed properties.

“I was fortunate enough to get hired by Fannie Mae as a listing broker for their REO properties,” says Stevens. “Overall, we are seeing fewer REOs but more short sales and also more new home sales. I think this year will be very interesting!”

Stevens says she enjoys helping people with their real estate transactions. In fact, the largest factor in her decision to purchase a Help-U-Sell office was the concept of consumer choice. “By allowing consumers to have a say in how they sell their home, they are more connected to the process,” she says.

Central Properties’ goals for 2012 are to continue to work with Fannie Mae and also to try to obtain more short sale listings. Stevens would like to increase the office’s sales by 25 percent over 2011, when the office closed 42 sides.

She advises new brokers to connect with other brokers, agents, loan officers and any other people who can provide insight into the local market. A broker should also really know his product and be able to discuss it with anyone he meets. Lastly, she advocates consistent marketing: “Let everyone know you are here!”