She and her husband, Charlie, owned a Help-U-Sell Real Estate franchise from 2000 until 2007, when they sold it to pursue a building business. The state of the economy forced them to close the business in 2010. Looking for a new opportunity, Whitehead decided to return to her roots. “I ran into [Franchise Opportunities Director] Ron McCoy, and he asked me if I would be interested in coming home to Help-U-Sell,” she said.
Whitehead has had her new Help-U-Sell office since the fall of 2010. While she holds hope for the future of the market, she also holds a practical view of its current state.
“I still see a lot of upheaval in the real estate market,” Whitehead said. “People are not settled yet.”
More optimistically, she added: “I think next year may be a long year, but we will pull through. We must be positive to everyone we meet and give them hope. I think there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
One way she helps her current and potential clients is simply by being responsive. Like Kimberly Zelena, last month’s Broker Focus subject, Whitehead makes a point of answering the phone, day and night. “That always impresses people,” she said.
Her top achievement this year is hiring an assistant. “She helps so much,” Whitehead said. “I can now take a minute, think clearer and spend more time with my agents training.” Her goal for 2012 is for her office to do 50 transactions outside of her REO account.
She encourages new brokers to hang in there, put their heads down and pull through it.
“We all need a really good dose of the holiday season, I think this year much more than before,” she concluded. “We need love and hope from each other and for everyone to work together.”
Kimberly Zelena’s key piece of advice for all agents and brokers is “answer your phone.” She says this simple tactic has secured her office, Direct Savings Real Estate, four clients from other agencies in the past two weeks. “We have our phones 24/7. We don’t use an answering service or a machine,” she says.
Zelena’s tip may be basic, but her franchise office isn’t. Based in Waynesboro, Va., Direct Savings Real Estate doesn’t have the traditional broker/owner setup. Owner Zelena handles the marketing and the bookkeeping, along with Cathy Fields. Zelena’s husband, Mike, is the listing agent, and Leigh Anne Losh is the buyer’s agent. “Our office works as a team, I would not have it any other way,” Zelena says.
The franchise has existed since 2005; Zelena joined the office in 2007 with no real estate background. Back then, people suggested to the office that it close its doors because Help-U-Sell would never survive. Thanks to all the unlimited free training, the support of Help-U-Sell Corporate and their dedicated staff, Zelena says, “We are strong and moving forward.”
She values the training offered by Help-U-Sell, including her coaching calls with fellow franchisee Jack Bailey and the other franchisees. “Coaching calls are very important,” Zelena says. “I learn something new each week.”
Losh agrees. “Without all the free education and weekly trainings offered by Help-U-Sell corporate’s office, I would have never made my goal of being the office’s principal broker in just three years!,” she says.
Zelena and Losh plan to take advantage of ProCoach-U, Help-U-Sell’s online university, when it’s completed early next year. “In my opinion, all agents need to go through university before they open their offices,” she says.
Losh’s goal is to buy the office one day. With her background in title work, she had the foresight that the REO market would be big in the area that the office serves. “She got into BPOs and REO companies,” says Zelena.“That saved us.”
She says prices have stabilized but REOs still represent the best opportunities. One of the office’s goals is to increase the number of REO companies they work with. Direct Savings also wants to increase business by 25 percent and increase sales of equity homes in 2012. The office has closed 30 sides so far this year. The biggest challenges are financing and decent offers. They also want to work on educating sellers to realistically price their homes to get ahead of the market.
While these goals are vital to her business’ success for next year, Zelena’s sights are set on a closer goal of raising enough money to pay for 4,000 meals for the hungry. Combining a hobby, favorite charities and her Help-U-Sell office, her Candles 4 Canned Goods fundraiser will benefit a local food bank and an animal charity. “I was trying to find something that the office can do to donate money back to the community,” says Zelena. “My mother received a set of candles as a gift, and I thought ‘Candles 4 Canned Goods’ is a great way for our office to give back.”
She and her mother make the beeswax candles and sell them for $6 a pair. One-hundred percent of the purchase price goes toward purchasing canned goods for humans and pets. The $6 price of a pair of candles will purchase 24 meals. She needs to sell about 167 pairs of candles to buy 4,000 meals, and she is more than halfway there. Zelena is spreading the word of the fundraiser through local events and is sending out candles to her clients with a letter of explanation about the project.
Through their prompt communication and charitable work, Direct Savings Real Estate truly serves the community. How does your office give back?
Dan Desmond, owner of Help-U-Sell Bay Beach Realty in Forked River, N.J., has a key piece of advice for new brokers: “Never stop learning.” And he practices what he preaches.
“This market changes day to day and will for several more years. I [just] turned 64 and I am in the last of three parts of Graduate of the Real Estate Institute,” says Desmond, who has been in the real-estate industry for nearly a quarter of a century (and with Help-U-Sell Real Estate for five years).
He’s also keeping himself relevant in today’s market by specializing.
“I added four certifications this year,” Desmond says. “One [certification] was the Certified Investor Agent Specialist, and I am adding more and more cash investors to my database, plus encouraging some people to use their IRAs, etc. to get into good cash flow rentals.”
Another way he has adjusted to today’s climate is through his listings themselves. “I am having a much better year than last because I adapted to it. I list smarter and push for a reduction more,” he says.
His favorite part of the business is helping people buy or sell, and “especially helping people in a bind to get on with their lives.” To help him help sellers facing foreclosure, he is also a Certified Distressed Property Expert.
Despite the current challenges, Desmond is confident that the market will come back long-term and believes in the meantime that “Help-U-Sell equity sellers need us now more than ever.”
To new Help-U-Sell brokers, he advises, “Believe in Help-U-Sell – the Internet will help us tell our story more in the next few years than it did in the past 35.”
An advocate of technology and social media, Meena Gujral connects with current and potential clients by blogging, responding to questions on real estate forums and posting links to articles on Facebook. She has worked in real estate for 25 years, with Coldwell Banker for 18 of those years, and for the past seven years she has owned Help-U-Sell Achievers Realty in Fremont, Calif.
She explains how technology has changed how she works, for the better.
“I remember the days when we used to find listings from a big thick book that was so difficult to carry around, the days when we had to map out every house, write down directions before taking the buyers in the car,” Gujral says. “The Internet and the GPS (technology) have made things much easier, saving time and energy so we can spend more time doing things we are good at, like building client relations and paying more attention to their needs. My goal has always been to help my buyers achieve their real estate goals.”
One way she uses technology to build client relations is through Trulia. She markets her listings and advertises open houses on the site, but what she uses Trulia the most for is to answer questions from buyers, sellers and agents.
“It is a platform where I get the most visibility. I get at least two to three leads every week from clients who have read my post and consider me the expert in that field or neighborhood,” Gujral says. “I have listed a few properties as a direct result from my Trulia answers. It is very easy to create a profile and get started to show up as the expert in your neighborhood.”
She suggests that Zillow.com is another site where you can set up a profile and start answering questions and advertise your listings and open houses.
Gujral also is active on other social media sites, including LinkedIn and Facebook. She explains that even though she has a separate Facebook page for her Help-U-Sell Real Estate office, she shares a lot of real estate articles and open house information on her personal Facebook page.
“I want all my friends to know me as an agent also, not just a friend,” she says. “I have actually had three friends contact me from my Facebook page and I am currently working on showing two of them homes, and the third one is a seller whose property I recently listed as a short sale.”
In addition to responding to questions on Trulia and posting to Facebook, Gujral also blogs. “I have five different blogging sites,” she says. “I used to blog twice a week, but I have to admit, I don’t do it as much now. I have had many clients tell me they saw my blog on a certain topic and that is why they called me. I just wish I had more time to blog since I do consider it good exposure.”
Another effective outreach technique for Gujral is drip email campaigns, which she has created for buyers and sellers. A drip email campaign sends pre-written messages to leads over a predetermined period of time. Clients have called her a year later after receiving her drip emails. “I am very excited that the Help-U-Sell Real Estate website will also have the drip email feature soon. It really works.”
[Note: Help-U-Sell Real Estate’s email campaign functionality will be live by early 2012.]
Gujral’s commitment to being considered a local expert extends to the new website her son is designing for her. The site offers community-level detail, where she can demonstrate and impart her hyperlocal knowledge, and the site also targets keywords that people searching for real estate in her immediate area would likely use, such as “Fremont Realtor” and “Pleasanton homes.”
“The bottom line is to make a site that both Google loves and customers love,” Gujral says. “We did this by targeting our content specific city-level keywords that we know buyers/sellers are looking for online.”
For new Help-U-Sell Real Estate brokers, she offers the following tips.
I would advise all new agents to get out there with technology, social media and get your name across to as many people as you can. You are fortunate to be in real estate in this technology boom time where you can get so much more exposure without spending too much money at all.
Make sure you ask for referrals from your past clients if you have been in real estate before coming to Help-U-Sell Real Estate.
Get your clients to see you as the expert in the real estate field.
How are you using social media to get the word out about your brokerage?
Anyone who has driven through Chino Hills, Calif., probably recognizes Patrick Wood’s name. He’s known for his ubiquitous signage.
“The technique that brought me huge success in my core market was to start branding my name with the Help-U-Sell Office,” says Wood, who has owned Help-U-Sell Prestige Properties since 2003.
All of his staff members have magnets on their cars that have his name and the Help-U-Sell Real Estate name, and his main work vehicle has a wrap that stands out. “The real estate signs and open house signs [also] have resulted in huge recognition, and the community has responded amazingly well,” he adds. “I constantly hear how people see my signs everywhere.”
Of course, there is more to his success than signage. Wood, whose office has closed 54 sides so far this year, emphasizes the importance of offering full service and commission savings in attracting clients. “I found this to be necessary as other agents were trying to compete with my office by suggesting the clients would have to do all the work,” he says. “The full service leaves the client satisfied, which results in referrals, so it has been beneficial.”
For new Help-U-Sell Brokers, he recommends continuing the full-service concept through to the office setup. “[In our office] a team concept has been put in place, and it provides clients with access to licensed assistants seven days a week,” he says. “Service is big, constant contact is big, working together is huge. This is a crazy, intense field and having the support of a team makes it much easier and productive.”