“People Appreciate What We Do”

Kurt Steffian, Broker/Owner of Help-U-Sell Coast and Valley in Santa Ana, California, spent several years of his career in corporate finance for a Fortune 500 Company before making a change to real estate.  

“I provided lease financing to corporate America, supporting their IT departments’ equipment financing requirements, assisting mostly CFOs and CIOs. I always realized that ‘Corporate America’ doesn’t care about you.  As I grew older, I became open-minded to other possibilities of making money, but with a focus on life balance and being happy. I realized I could do something else and wanted to choose the next chapter wisely,” Kurt said.

He added, “I was initially attracted to real estate because I love working with people; that is enjoyable to me. I started out at a big brokerage with over 1000 agents. There were immediately noticeable drawbacks to being in a larger, faceless company and little help available for a person learning the real estate industry. Of course, I took classes. I once asked my manager questions, and he replied, ‘Why did I hire you?’ and walked away. I stayed there for two years, but it wasn’t an ideal experience.”

Having developed a love of real estate despite the “big broker” experience and wanting to be on his own, Kurt researched alternatives with the intention of purchasing a franchise. “Believing in the service you are providing is the most important tool to the sales representative. All of the real estate franchises offered the same model. I was searching for a customer experience I truly believed in and wanted to offer to the consumer. As if by fate, I ran into the Help-U-Sell Real Estate booth at a National Association of Realtors convention. I immediately understood the vision and value proposition. Help-U-Sell made sense to me!” Kurt exclaimed.

He continued, “For starters, I like that you can run this business lean. Since I previously worked for large brokers, I know how scattered and impersonal it can be firsthand. With every client, I always know where they are in the process because I handle the process from start to finish.”

“Secondly, we are unique compared to traditional brokerages. This business model makes sense to clients. When people call to inquire, they usually decide to move forward with Help-U-Sell over the phone. That’s due to the fact that we are ‘the best value in real estate’, and I offer an unconditional satisfaction guarantee. If they can find anyone who would do a better job, they are free to cancel the listing contract at any time prior to us selling their home. We are a full service brokerage, the same as any other Realtor. Our clients quickly learn our services are not standard, because we offer more for less. Every listing gets a custom URL and web site, additionally we use Matterport technology for state-of-the-art photos and videos. We host open houses and broker previews, and are always open to suggestions for additional marketing. We offer a total commitment to the client in support of our unconditional satisfaction guarantee,” he said.

“Finally, Help-U-Sell reduces the time I spend on my marketing efforts for expired and FSBO listings. The programs within our platform are easy to set-up and implement. The marketing is superior and there is a lot of brand recognition, especially here in California where our office representation is very high,” Kurt added.

To keep the business top-of-mind in his community, Kurt has strong relationships with professionals in other industries with a mutual interest. He elaborated, “I actively cultivate relationships with probate attorneys and divorce attorneys, and get a steady stream of referrals. They refer to us because everyone likes saving money, and we make them look good by offering their clients the best value and superior service during what is likely a trying time. Saving your clients money is never a bad thing, especially in California where much of the state is in a higher-priced market and they would stand to lose a lot of money from a 6% commission traditional sale.” 

Considering the Southern California market, he further clarified, “You commonly see properties sell from $400,000 to $700,000, which is a huge range. Inventory is a little tight right now, and you will see a two bedroom condo list for $700,000. Consumers are getting wise to a smart choice: pay an arbitrary percentage for commission, versus paying for services that are actually being rendered. We listen to the client and tailor ourselves to the consumer need. Our competitive advantage is obvious and the value proposition is clear to home sellers. People appreciate what we do. Meanwhile, we’re getting the job done and still making a profit. Help-U-Sell is the future of real estate.”

Michelle and Kurt Steffian

Kurt is hoping to close 50 transactions this year. “My goal is to complete a deal every week. However, I also have other priorities and being happy is one of them. I have a great family life and spend as much time as I can with my wife and children.”

Going Above & Beyond in Edmond/OKC

Lana Erwin is on a roll this month. As the broker/owner of Help-U-Sell Edmond/OKC in Oklahoma City, she had five houses listed, and was on the cusp of listing three more at the time of this interview. She’s been cultivating her Help-U-Sell business for 16 years now, but Lana’s background was quite varied before her career in real estate.

In the late 70s and 80s, Lana worked for several companies in various computer and accounting jobs. Oil was the primary industry in Oklahoma, and the oil bust during the 80s forced many of the top employers and banks to close. Many people left Oklahoma to seek new employment. At 29 years old, Lana sold everything except what would fit in a one bedroom apartment, and moved to Largo, Florida. She briefly sold used IBM equipment, but soon discovered a market for used CAD equipment and started a company. Relocating back to Oklahoma in 1993, she continued the company until the onset of IBM Pentium products made mainframe systems obsolete and it was time to reinvent the future once again.

“I always had an interest in real estate. After flipping a few houses, I decided to get my license and become a Realtor. A friend of mine was working for Help-U-Sell, and I worked as a buyer’s agent for 2 years. When the office was put up for sale, I got my broker’s license and bought it,” she said.

Not only has she persevered, but Lana’s presence has grown over the years. The volume of incoming calls for listings has been steadily on the rise, and her ability to close the sale has landed her on a recent edition of our Top Producers list. “Some of the people whom I served well keep coming back to me. Someone I helped years ago kept my number and just called me. One new listing was a random call. Another client I sold a home to a few years ago called because he needs to get his mom’s house on the market. Some of my business comes from people who have moved here from somewhere else, and they used Help-U-Sell in their previous city and liked the experience. My referrals keep me busy. When I bought the office there were two other offices in Edmond, one in Oklahoma City, one in Norman, one in Stillwater and one in Tulsa, but I am proud that my office still stands. I believe the longevity, brand recognition, savings, and service account for a lot of that,” Lana explained.

To push name recognition beyond referrals, Lana uses social media advertising. “I focus the most on Facebook. I regularly do a lot of paid boosts featuring houses that have recently undergone a price reduction or to advertise my open houses. That is where I get the most traction,” she shared, “When the market gets tight, there is certainly an advantage for consumers to seek us out. This is aided by the Help-U-Sell website. It is one of the things corporate does really well and it has worked great for me.”

Situated in a mid-level market, the median price range for a house is around $250,000. Last year, Lana closed 40 transactions and knows she will do at least that same this year. She added, “There are a lot of players in the real estate industry here. There’s a company billing themselves as flat fee. There’s another business that will do ‘listings only’ on the MLS. There are a few realtors who would negotiate commissions if consumers knew that they could do that. People don’t want to pay the 6% and that fact keeps me competitive in this market.”

Difficult times often spurn people towards ingenuity and streamlining their processes to become more efficient. “During slower times, I’ve been a combination of dedicated enough and lucky enough that I always made it. During the recession specifically, I did my own thing and kept the doors open. What I learned during that time is, once I started doing everything myself, I wound up preferring it that way. Initially, I followed a lot of what I was shown by the previous owner, and that has worked well for me. However, when I was passing tasks off to others, I felt like I was wasting time waiting for answers. I discovered I like knowing everything going on about a deal. If a client has a question, I like that I don’t have to call someone else to find out the answer or status of something. Since I’m handling everything, I know everything. I’m on top of everything. That streamlining became a lot easier for me when I moved my office into my house. It allows me to be home more, even though I work longer hours. I don’t mind doing it, of course, but if I’m going to, I definitely want to be comfortable,” Lana said laughing, “Besides, my dogs appreciate it, too.”

Ultimately, Lana has learned to take busy times and slow times in stride. She explained, “I call on my old clients. I keep well apprised of the market and trends. What I’ve come to realize is when people move, the market moves. That’s how you know the economy is doing what it’s supposed to do. I have clients tell me I am really thorough and go above and beyond; Then they tell other people and my business does well.”