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Succeeding as the Market Recovers: An Interview with Top 5 Members Michael Bjorkman and Nate Martinez

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By Lesley Geary

Regardless of where you’re located, the market has likely changed in the past several years. Luckily, it seems as though housing is now on the rebound. In the following interview, Michael Bjorkman of Keller Williams VIP Properties and Nate Martinez of RE/MAX Professionals talk about success strategies in a recovering market, and the importance of connecting with consumers.

Michael Bjorkman
Keller Williams VIP Properties
Santa Clarita, Calif.
Years in real estate: Since 1991
Region Served: Southern California

Nate Martinez
RE/MAX Professionals
Years in real estate: 26
Region Served: Phoenix, Ariz., metropolitan area

Lesley Geary: How has the market changed in your area?

Nate Martinez: As an REO agent, I closed 650 homes two years ago and, last year, I closed 450 homes. Our market has been short sale- and foreclosure-ridden for the last four or five years. I am the broker/owner, so I have guided us through this period by going back to the basics. We are not a big company, but we put up big numbers. Right now, we are trying to get in front of the market by putting together new marketing plans. For the first time in my 11 years as an owner, we feel we can grow our neighborhoods. My primary focus is just that: farming neighborhoods to dominate them. It is a strange market and today there are no front agents who run the various neighborhoods. With all of the short sales and REOs, the banks were pretty much calling the shots. But now is the perfect opportunity for agents to take back neighborhoods. The big question for us is, “How do you get back in a huge way?” That’s our mission now that the market is correcting itself.

LG: What are your primary strategies for ensuring success as the market recovers?

Michael Bjorkman: During this period of market downturn, my major strategy has been to manage as much residential property as possible. Since at least 2006, there have been a million different reasons people have not wanted to sell. So, we have seen a 3 – 5-year hold. Property management helps “market-proof” my business. It is also an excellent way to create leads. The benefits of property management for REALTORS® are numerous, not the least of which is freedom for the agent. Our agents can afford to weather the market. Managing rentals gives agents continuous monthly cash flow and, therefore, makes for a less stressful working environment. So property management has been the silver bullet in our real estate business. I would advise everyone to add management to the sales mix.

NM: We are going back to the basics. Our motto going forward in this market is, “face time, not Facebook.” That’s the cornerstone of our new marketing plans with a big, new ad coming out inviting people to meet face to face. While the market has shifted to a place where everything can be done online, we are taking an old-school approach and trying to go back into people’s homes and neighborhoods. Six months from now, we should know if it is working.

LG: So are you using social media at all then to connect with consumers?

NM: Yes, that said, we are also on Facebook. We are blogging and we do a lot of social media. It should be noted, however, that I am not able to generate a lot of volume on Facebook. I may get a couple of deals out of it. I am fearful that sometimes we teach some of this because it’s easy and it’s hyped. Meeting face to face is not as easy. In our market, the people who survived the last five years were the ones who adjusted and went out and got the bank-owned and REO accounts.

MB: We absolutely use social media. Fifty percent or more of my business comes from Facebook. I also connect with consumers through Linked-In and Twitter. And right now, there is a powerful video revolution going on, so I spend about an hour a day video blogging.

LG: How does technology factor into your strategy?

MB: I am using the best of the best websites and I use all of the virtual technology. If it is high tech, we use it. I also utilize Top Producer and I train agents how to do what I do with my site, agentmechanics.com. I also blog.

LG: What other ways do you connect with consumers?

MB: I do a fair amount of community outreach, charity, golf tournaments and auctions. I also travel a great deal in order to meet with asset managers to get REO business.

LG: How have you adjusted your business plan to succeed as the market turns in a positive direction?

NM: We are getting back to looking at sourcing, looking at data, geographic-farm areas and determining what the turnover rates are. We are analyzing every subdivision to find the ones with the sweet spots. We are also trying to visualize where that market is going to be and looking at our chances of return. Our goal is to create a marketing plan to take over marketshare.

LG: Which areas are you focusing on in the “new normal” of real estate?

MB: As the market recovers, I intend to keep property management very much in the mix. As much as 25 percent of my business going forward will be in the area of property management. Twenty-five percent will still be in short sales, 25 percent referrals and past clients, and the final 25 percent will be prospecting using social media and technology.

LG: What is the biggest challenge you encounter growing your business in this market?

MB: Finding buyers agents and listing agents who are committed to doing the work. Also, finding good inventory for our buyers.

NM: Uncertainty. We have a very large group of people who have lost their homes through short sales and foreclosures in this market and it is very hard to determine when it will turn completely.

LG: What would you point to as your biggest advantage in the market right now?

NM: No matter what market you’re in, you need to find where the business is and then go get it. When the crisis first hit, there were a few agents who refused to take “no” for an answer. So they got into short sales. Those who were able to understand the concept and started doing short sales did well. It is just a matter of adjusting to the market.

MB: Property management. I just can’t stress that enough. In 2007, everybody got into REOs and short sales. I got into property management. That meant I had a tremendous advantage. It also gave me an excellent means of diversifying.

LG: Why did you become a Member of Top 5?

NM: At first, I joined to be part of an elite group. Top 5 is now re-emerging with new leadership and involvement. Top agents are continuing to survive and get better and they are anxious to learn and to have the ability to leverage marketing pieces. Top 5 has a great deal of information and tools to help build an agent’s business.

MB: I joined Top 5 to be surrounded by the top agents in the country. Networking is crucial for REALTORS® and Top 5 provides an excellent means of networking. I also joined to learn about and develop new marketing ideas.

LG: In your opinion, what is the key to a successful life in real estate?

MB: Having freedom to do the things you want to do and need to do, having continuous cash flow and continuous leads, always being one step ahead and not being afraid to re-invest in my business.

NM: I delegate. I also take weekends off. Real estate should not be your life. It should fund your life.

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