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.”

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.”  

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.”

Real Estate the Wright Way

At one time, Ed Wright had his eye on the sky as an air traffic controller but had his sights set on real estate. He became a real estate agent in 1980 and opened his own office as broker/owner of Help-U-Sell Wright Realtors in 1982. Interested in all things housing-related, he learned about mortgages, escrow, and appraisals, giving Ed a well-rounded understanding of the real estate industry, and putting him in the position to dispense expert advice on many home-related topics.

Julie Wright began as a bank teller, and transitioned to work for a title company. Over 19 years, she witnessed the success of several Help-U-Sell brokers, and noted they were doing more business than many of the long-time traditional brokers. Help-U-Sell had an easy-to-follow system, and owning her own business was attractive, so Julie pursued her real estate license in 1999. She had plans to open her own franchise when she met Ed while traveling to Biloxi, Mississippi for a Help-U-Sell Real Estate convention. Eventually Julie and Ed married, and Julie joined his business. “Real estate was an entirely different animal with a new language. There was a lot to learn. I was attracted to it because I am a people person, but I wanted to create a business. I also wanted to be active in my community, and have money in addition to freedom,” Julie said.

An uptick in 2018 sales placed the Wrights on a recent monthly Top Producers list, which highlights Help-U-Sell Broker/Owners who have had the most sales. Part of the increase is due to Julie’s new efforts of tracking referrals very carefully through coaching. “One of my most successful efforts was a ‘reverse pop-by’. Just before Thanksgiving, we hosted an open house and invited a certain level of clients and referrals. We served cider, wine, and hot appetizers. At the end of the evening, everyone took home a pie. Some of our clients made referrals for their business, and of course we received several new referrals ourselves,” Julie added. These efforts have been paying off, as Ed and Julie closed 35 transactions for 2018. For 2019, their goal is 50, and plan to achieve it by initiating a campaign of “low-hanging fruit” with expired and probate listings.

Homes in their area have a median price range of $750,000. Ed explained, “The concept of value from Help-U-Sell automatically attracts sellers. Home sellers everywhere, but especially here in California, love saving money off the traditional 6% Commission. On a $750,000 home, 6% is $45,000. That’s a substantial amount of equity people don’t want to give away, giving us a huge advantage over traditional real estate agents. When I make a listing presentation, I win that client 90% of the time.”

When it comes to brand awareness, Ed shared, “Marketing has changed dramatically for us. Several years ago in Orange County, there was a co-op for group marketing with the other California-based Help-U-Sell offices. Marketing is very different today and far more fragmented, especially with internet-based competition. With print media being somewhat passé, we’ve had to focus on creating opportunities that are more directed towards a smaller audience. Instead of going broad, it’s become more targeted and precise.” Julie has also been increasing her presence in a local chamber of commerce. “We’ve noticed that the ‘sold and saved’ brag cards stick with people and make a big impression,” she said.

Together, Julie and Ed have collectively sold thousands of properties over the years. “There’s nothing like the freedom of running your own business. You make your own schedule. The rewards, aside from the obvious monetary ones, are helping people to achieve their goals. When you put a buyer in a new home, that’s a great feeling,” Ed explained.  “We’ve really enjoyed the experience of Help-U-Sell ownership over the past three decades. The company is always growing and changing, it makes for an exciting future, and we’re proud of what we’ve built together.”

Help-U-Sell Options Unlimited in Terre Haute, IN Celebrates 10 Year Anniversary with Contest for Free Home Listing

Terre Haute, IN (May 10, 2017) – Ms. Brenda Fischer, Managing Broker of Help-U-Sell Options Unlimited in Terre Haute, IN recently announced plans for the ten-year anniversary milestone of her office with an all-day event featuring a unique contest for home sellers in Vigo county.  The celebration will take place from 9 AM to 6 PM on June 1, 2017 at Kenbell Plaza, Suite 5 in Terre Haute. The winner of the contest, which will be drawn during a live radio broadcast on HI-99 | 99.9 FM between 4 PM and 6 PM, will be able to sell their home for free on the listing side, which boasts a minimum value of $2950.

Robert Stevens, Chief Operating Officer of Help-U-Sell® Real Estate, headquartered in Sarasota, FL, said, “We have loved having Brenda Fischer and her team at Help-U-Sell Options Realty as a mainstay of this organization these last ten years. Their drive for excellence mixed with their desire to help people in their community save money are part of what has given them longevity. We congratulate them on their well-earned success.”

When asked what contributed to the milestone, Ms. Fischer added, “We have a great team in place, for starters.  Second, when you take the Help-U-Sell concept, with the flat-fee structure and fantastic customer service, you have a winning combination.  We offer a set fee for full service as the premier provider of professional licensed real estate services, empowering consumers with access to information and choice. We love helping people buy and sell homes, and we can do it with a level of service that other realtors don’t offer.”

Help-U-Sell Options Unlimited has partnered with Ruoff Home Mortgage for this special event, and representatives will be there on June 1 offering onsite pre-approvals.

Other rules apply. Entry form is available here.  For questions, contact Brenda Fischer, 812-299-7355.

About Help-U-Sell Real Estate

Help-U-Sell® Real Estate, based in Sarasota, FL, is now in its 41st year in business. Its business model was the pioneer for providing an alternative to the dated commission structure. The franchisor has offices operating in 20 states and the District of Columbia and recently was named a top franchise by Franchise Business Review.