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By Stephanie Andre and Kayla O'Brien

RISMEDIA, Feb. 28, 2007-From Atlanta to Houston to L.A., diverse markets are growing coast to coast, and so are their real estate needs. RISMedia recently interviewed three brokers from across the country who are seeing great success serving their diverse markets and who offer insight into what it takes to win this emerging business.

Shared Success

Rita & Mel Berdelis
Prudential 24-Hour Real Estate
Los Angeles, California

Years in real estate: 26
Areas served: Southeast Los Angeles County, California
Number of agents: 80
Dynamic duo: Rita and her husband, Mel, are a real estate team, having been real estate investors turned real estate buyers, builders and brokers. Role play: Rita is primarily the trainer; responsible for training agents and running the marketing department. Rita not only develops slogans and logos for the agents, but also her very own training platform-SmartStart.
On the side: Rita and Mel are also in the restaurant business, owning two fast-food restaurants for over 30 years.
Words to live by: "Treat everyone the way you would want to be treated-that is how we operate."

How does your office meet the needs of your community, being such an ethnically diverse area? Seventy to 75% of our agents and staff are bilingual- Spanish speaking. We currently do our marketing in both Spanish and English to accommodate agents and clients, something we have to think about all the time. To be more specific, 75-80% of our transactions are Hispanic surnames and because of the diverse community-our office mirrors the community.

What does it take to be successful in a diverse market? Same thing as any marketplace-perseverance, drive, intuitiveness, commitment.

Describe your training methods and the development of SmartStart. I wrote and developed SmartStart for agents who are brand-new or agents with less than two-to-three years of experience, who may not have done well in other companies. The overall goals are to help agents hit the ground running, look professional and have the necessary tools. I developed it because when I came into the industry there wasn't really anything like it. I felt so lost and swore that I'd help agents get started.

What tools wouldn't you have been able to succeed without? My husband. Being a team, we do things together; he brings all of the computer components together, and I bring the marketing tools. Long before anyone else, we had the tools to do market analyses because he's a graduate of CalTech. Our office is very high-tech-providing everything an agent can need. For marketing and listing presentations, my agents have PowerPoint presentations, and we've just started to translate them into Spanish.

How do you set your company apart from others? We provide real estate classes right here. We are a full-blown school with licensing on the premises, real estate practice classes, legal aspects, continuing education, Notary Public, with all classes right here. We are a satellite school, part of Downey Unified Adult School with every possible class plus SmartStart. We have lenders, bilingual too, and so many programs that the lenders can bring to the table. In addition, being bilingual, we have programs for teachers and government workers. We have both a bilingual escrow on-site and a loan company providing one-stop shopping for agents and customers.

A Need for Education

Kenneth Li
CENTURY 21 Southwest
Houston, Texas

In real estate since: 1985
How did you get started in real estate? "I started with Coldwell Banker and after about two years, I started my own company. We joined the CENTURY 21 System about 10 years ago."
Number of offices: 1
Number of agents: 35
Average home price in your market: $160,000
Average listing time: 60-75 days
What inspires you? "The successful stories of the people who excel in their careers by working hard."
If you weren't in real estate: "I'd love to be a banker-regular hours sound great." Something people don't know about you: "I am a quiet person, so I keep a lot to myself."

Please describe your involvement with the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA) and how you helped in its formation? I formed a Chinese real estate association in Houston about 10 years ago and it transformed into the Asian Real Estate Association of Houston. By chance, I was invited by NAR to participate on the national level. I met with people from across the U.S. who were all very successful Asian brokers and managers. We realized there was a need to form a national group-not just as a networking platform, but also an association whose mission is to increase Asian-American homeownership. There is this stereotype of the Asian-American homebuyer, that they are all wealthy. This is not necessarily true in all cases. Many Asian-Americans in our area are working-class newcomers to this country. They need help, and some don't have the resources. We felt there was an obligation for such an organization to help and educate these people.

Most of your agents possess multilingual capabilities. Can you talk about why this is so important to you and your company? The Houston area is a very diversified market. Most of our agents are not originally from the U.S. Multiple languages and backgrounds is important because you have an understanding of their culture and an understanding of where people come from.

Year to date, your company has increased its closed sides by some 82%, despite a shifting market-to what do you attribute this? It's about adjustment and readjustment of company goals. The timing of the market and education and training of agents are also both very important. We increased our totals by reorganizing the company. I put the emphasis on the production of agents, rather than the number of agents.

Growing so much in 12 months, what do you believe are the factors that differentiate your company from your competitors? Experience, knowledge and service. My mind is always open to accept new ideas, and that's probably part of it. If you don't improve yourself, you will get lost in the shuffle. No matter the market, people are always making money out there. People shouldn't blame the market.

Crossing Language Barriers

Will Colley
ERA Buckhead Realty
Atlanta, Georgia

Years in real estate: 15
2006 sales volume: $350 million
Number of offices: 7
Average home price: $270,000
Recruiting standards: "We look for those committed to our principle of trust; they must fit our philosophy. We basically look for sales associates who are customer-service oriented and represent clients' best interests, providing world class service."
Words to live by: "ERA Buckhead Realty works with one simple philosophy: trust. True trust must come from the heart of the company, the brokers and management, and we instill this passion in our associates."

Georgia is known to have the fastest-growing Hispanic population. How do you accommodate that in the Atlanta market? It is a tremendous opportunity for growth because 73% of people that move to Atlanta are non-white, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission. Last April, ERA Buckhead Realty opened ERA Bienvenido, which means "welcome" in Spanish. We recruited completely in Spanish-speaking, marketing materials, an additional Web site, loan officers, closing attorney-this way, we can accommodate the customer throughout the entire transaction process while providing a comfortable working environment for them.

What does it take to be a pace-setting broker in the Hispanic community? It's about trust and developing a flawless reputation while taking care of customers, so they know we have their best interests at heart. We recruit Hispanic agents and work with Hispanic businesses to become a part of the community, through community outreach, contributions, and involvement with civic organizations, such as helping with legislation, or in other ways we can assist them.

What types of special training do you offer that differs from the traditional office? The ERA Bienvenido office conducts training for both clients and associates. We hold home buying seminars in churches or at events that are at non-threatening environments so consumers new to the home-buying process don't feel they're getting sold something. We take on a consulting role by explaining how the real estate process works and what to expect, for example. Training is different for associates, too, because they need to learn to be consultants rather than sales people.

What is the biggest challenge Bienvenido faces in such a targeted market? We have several, but the biggest is cultural differences. Americans want things done yesterday, however, the Hispanic community is much more laid back and time is not of the essence. It's mixing a culture with an industry that is very different. Telling your marketing department that we have to back off the speed has been the biggest challenge.