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!”

Broker Focus: Debra Schmidt

Help-U-Sell Heritage Real Estate's Debra Schmidt
Help-U-Sell Heritage Real Estate's Debra Schmidt

One of the leaders of the Winter Warm-Up Contest, Debra Schmidt of Help-U-Sell Heritage Real Estate lives and works in Owatonna, Minn., a town of just over 25,000 residents.

Being smaller has its advantages, such as the ability to offer the personal touch. Schmidt maintains a database of past clients and sends them an item of value each month. This usually consists of timely information about home-care topics such as winterizing your house. Her office takes this one step further and occasionally goes door-to-door with gifts. Recently, Schmidt handed out pizza cutters emblazoned with the phrase “great service any way you slice it” and the Help-U-Sell logo. In the past, she has delivered Christmas cookies, Valentine’s candy and pumpkin bread.

Her eventual goal is to get 90 percent of her business from referrals. For now, half of her business remains foreclosures and short sales. Schmidt said the market is picking up in Owatonna. Her goal for 2012 is to increase the number of listings and sales by 50 percent over 2011.

Schmidt attributes her office’s success to and pins her future growth on the following simple-but-effective tactics: “Do what you say you’re going to do. Keep in touch with buyers and sellers. Know what’s going on in your market.”

For new brokers, she advises, “You need to be in real estate for more than just the money.”

If you have advice for new brokers or agents, please share it with us in the comments section.

Broker Focus: Richard Cricchio

Richard Cricchio of Help-U-Sell Honolulu Properties
Richard Cricchio of Help-U-Sell Honolulu Properties

A Help-U-Sell Real Estate broker/owner since 1999, Richard Cricchio practically pioneered the set-fee concept in his home state of Hawaii.

When he first opened his office, Help-U-Sell Honolulu Properties, he had to educate the public on the set-fee concept. “People never wanted to pay a percentage but when offered an alternative, they thought something was wrong,” he said.

That’s something Cricchio can relate to. He visited several Help-U-Sell offices during a four-year period before deciding to purchase an office of his own. “I couldn’t believe it could work,” he said. “It’s a different mindset to understand how you could profit by not collecting a percentage.” After looking at the offices’ different business models, Cricchio said a light bulb went off.

His office’s business model capitalizes on Help-U-Sell’s set-fee concept. Because of the copycat brokerages that have popped up on the island of Oahu in recent years, Honolulu Properties doesn’t charge extra for anything. “Our fee is our fee. That has helped us stay competitive,” Cricchio said.

They have also worked to keep their name top of mind on the island, which Cricchio describes as “one big neighborhood.” He runs TV ads, does strategic print advertising and distributes mailouts, but it’s probably his weekly radio show that gets the most attention. Cricchio began doing the talk show in 2002 at the suggestion of the station’s morning show host, whom he met after sponsoring an event the station held. The show has proven so popular that listeners rallied to get it back on the air when Clear Channel ceased local programming. Cricchio said the show covers real estate trends and news and answers listeners’ questions. He keeps the attitude light and doesn’t always pitch Help-U-Sell during the show.

Cricchio’s goal for 2012 is to complete 300 transactions. “I think the market’s ready now,” he said. His office closed 91 transactions in 2011, as of Dec. 29.

He plans to drum up more business by increasing his appearances at home shows and hosting more buyer and seller seminars.For new brokers, Cricchio encourages optimism and a strategy. “You have to believe in the system,” he said. “You can’t get caught up in the day-to-day stuff. Make a plan and really stick to it. It’s still the best business you can be in.”

Broker Focus: Tammy Whitehead

Tammy Whitehead of Help-U-Sell Riverside Realty
Tammy Whitehead of Help-U-Sell Riverside Realty

Tammy Whitehead of Help-U-Sell Riverside Realty in California believes you can go home again.

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.”

Broker Focus: Kimberly Zelena and Leigh Anne Losh

Kimberly Zelena, Help-U-Sell Direct Savings Real Estate
Kimberly Zelena, Help-U-Sell Direct Savings Real Estate

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.”

Leigh Anne Losh, Help-U-Sell Direct Savings Real Estate
Leigh Anne Losh, Help-U-Sell Direct Savings Real Estate

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?