Adalberto (Tito) Gonzalez is casting his net wider this fall. Already the broker/owner of Help-U-Sell South Santa Clara County in Morgan Hill, Calif., he has a second office opening soon in San Jose.
“Now that buyers are off the fence and buying homes, a second office in the San Jose area makes sense to capitalize on future sales,” Gonzalez says.
Business is booming in his Morgan Hill office. “Homes are trending five to 10 days on the market before going pending,” he says. Any home under $500,000 attracts multiple offers, and many houses under $350,000 receive all-cash offers.
His San Jose office, to be named Help-U-Sell Fine Homes and Estates, will focus on properties in the $500,000 to $2 million range.
Gonzalez sees great opportunity with the new office as a means of broadening the brand’s exposure and getting more leads. His biggest challenges will be setting up the new office and splitting his time between Morgan Hill and San Jose.
For franchisees opening their first offices, Gonzalez offers his wisdom earned from years as a Help-U-Sell broker/owner. “Make sure your clients understand your true value as their broker that goes beyond knowledge and service,” he says. “I like to tell my clients that once all the agents have been interviewed for a listing, take a look at the numbers and see which brokerage is actually giving them true value in the form of cash savings in their pocket.”
He encourages Help-U-Sell brokers and agents to communicate with clients consistently, but not to talk too much. Visibility is also paramount for growing the business. He advertises locally, participates in downtown events and solicits testimonials for online use.
How are you going to expand your office’s reach in the near future?
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?
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.”
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.”