From creative sales ideas to dealing with difficult team members, Connecticut real estate leader shares success strategies
RISMEDIA, Jan. 3, 2007-Marketing is the most exciting part of the job for Julie Vanderblue, president of the Higgins Group (Christies Great Estates) and senior partner of the Vanderblue Team in Fairfield, Connecticut. Recently she partnered with a local consignment shop to host an antique viewing and wine tasting at an open house. The result? A $3 million sale of the estate. Here are some other unique team leadership insights from one of Connecticut's Gold Coast real estate leaders.
RE: What is the most creative thing you've ever done to sell a home?
Julie Vanderblue: One of my favorite events was called "A Taste of Fairfield County." We worked with 12 different area restaurants and at each open house there was a raffle and a different restaurant catered the food. We said, "Come enjoy dinner on us." So we networked with the restaurants and a lot of the restaurants consider us their Realtor. For another event I worked with a consignment shop and sold an estate for about $3 million. I went to an antique gallery and a consignment shop and did a lot of advertising encouraging people to come see the antiques and the art work, and people here in Fairfield would have never gone to see this estate but they went to see antiques and art and have a little wine tasting and they loved it and we also sold the house. I have a marketing background and that's the part of real estate I love best-the marketing.
RE: How do you run your team?
JV: We have 17 agents and three personal assistants and we meet every Monday and we keep each other accountable; we follow through and come up with ideas and the ideas actually come to life. Everybody always talks about what they are going to do but we actually do it. I started the Vanderblue Team three years ago and today we are No. 1 in Fairfield and Westport, Connecticut. And [erhaps most importantly, it is never all about me. It is not a company within a company. We are "we"-a true team democratic entity.
RE: How do you deal with difficult team members?
JV: I have let a couple of people go. The only time there's not a fit is when an agent puts the money ahead of the client. I made a vow to myself that I would never go down that road. In real estate we are all independent contractors and there are a lot of very strong personalities and they have to be available and share and be able to pull together. I have had to have sit down and have talks with people. I am good at putting myself in their shoes. So I make it a conversation not a reprimand-I don't want them to be defensive. I want to be their partner and to respect them. It is, after all, a partnership. One of the reasons that I joined the Higgins Group is that I could run a team this way. We share everything. So it's unique in the industry. We are a partnership rather than a company within a company.
RE: How do you reward team members?
JV: Their commission rate goes up as they bring in more business, and I give bonuses at the end of the year. Profit sharing is also a big motivator.
RE: How do you market the benefits of working with an agent team to clients?
JV: Each buyer is assigned two agents so they are getting two agents for the price of one. Also on the listing side, every single agent has to see the listing before it comes onto the market. They have to know the inventory and we meet every Monday because it's important that the team knows what each one of us has. This way we do a lot of cross selling. We sell more of our own listings than perhaps anyone in the county. Also we are very proactive so rather than having one agent you have 17 when you hire the Vanderblue Team.
RE: How do you continue to improve on developing your leadership skills?
JV: I go to Tony Robbins events and a Yoga retreat. The truth is this business sucks you dry. So at the Yoga Retreats, I sit down and read and refresh and I do a lot of listening to tapes-I believe in spiritual growth. I also go to Brian Buffini events.
RE: Do you rely on outside coaching/training?
JV: Not at this time.
RE: What role does your broker play, if any, in supporting you and the team?
JV: Rich Higgins is my partner-what is special about him is that it is truly about the people and he supports me in whatever I want to do. I have never seen a broker whose goal is family comes first. I was supposed to go to a big Christie's event because I am also the President of the Higgins Group and I should have been there but my daughter was playing the guitar in a music event. I went to Rich and said, "What should I do?" and he said, "You go see your daughter play the guitar. That's the most important thing." Rich Higgins has only two rules: Family first and the Golden Rule-"Treat others as you would want to be treated."
RE: What is the single best advantage of having an agent team?
JV: The support-knowing that other people are going to be there. I feel my clients' pain and I want to be there for my clients all the time. But of course I am only one person. But by having a team I always have someone to pick up the ball. In real estate it's so emotional. Someone can be having an emotional crisis and a lot of times a client needs to just talk. So with our team we are always picking each other up when we're down and cheering with us when we are up.
RE: How do you differentiate yourself in this very competitive market?
JV: We have a top ten list we give to prospective buyers-the top ten things the homeowner will miss about living at this address. We try to make the list as personal as it can be. Like I will miss sitting in the spa bathroom watching the snow fall. The point is to make someone else picture themselves living in that home.