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By Lesley Geary

TOP 5 POWER REPORT, December 2008-Julie Vanderblue
The Higgins Group
Christie’s Great Estates
Years in real estate:
Region Served: Fairfield County, CT
Average sales price in your market: $900,000.00
Average number of days a home spends on the market: 130 days

julie-vanderblue1007.jpgCareer Path: I graduated with a marketing degree and started a business in Colorado, Julie’s Java, before Starbucks. I did very well with Julie’s Java and made a huge profit, but ended up blowing out my knee skiing and moved to California. There, I continued to work in marketing and then I moved back home to Connecticut and got married. My husband is a builder and I got my license so I could sell his homes.

How are you working with sellers whose listings aren’t moving as quickly as you’d like them to? We get very creative about getting people in to see the listings. We do a lot of charity events at the homes we are selling. We spend money to get the people there. It’s a good cause so the money we spend is well-spent. It’s not just a huge open house.

We are also very proactive finding buyers. We find everyone is afraid that they can’t afford a certain property. We work very closely with lenders and we do a lot of swapping. Say I have a property on the market that is listed for $1.1 million and the sellers are looking to downsize and buy a $600,000 house. We call every seller who has a home in that range and ask if they are looking to upgrade. We find someone who wants to upgrade and is selling a $600,000.00 house. By coordinating buyers with sellers, we have been able to put deals together. This also opens doors to relationships with other agents. We are all in this together and we have to work hard to improve market conditions.

How do you help them determine the best price?
I am definitely an optimist. My glass is overflowing. So when I first get a listing, I do a CMA and I look at the comps and come up with a range of value. I first tell the sellers that we think they should price their house closer to the low-end because people want value in this market. Then I get my entire team of 10 agents to walk through the property. They each weigh in on the house’s merits and its debits and then we sit down with the homeowner again and, thinking of the industry and the competition, we come up with a very realistic price for the market. We want the price to excite the market when it first comes out. We don’t want to test out a price in this market. We really do a lot of fine tuning.

How do you adjust your marketing strategy to move listings?
I do a great deal of online marketing. I also believe very strongly in personal touch. I use my networking skills to reach out to buyers through after-hours events. Everyone knows people who would be buyers. This is the best opportunity, best time to buy. So if you are upgrading, it’s an ideal time to buy. You just have to be in front of people. I also go to a lot of seminars and bring back new ideas to my market.

Another thing we do with sellers is work with Luxury Mortgage. We print out a formalized sheet for each of our properties. Say I have a $650,000 listing. I get my sellers to buy down the rate, so I can show buyers that over the 15 years of the mortgage, they will pay less if the mortgage rate is lower than if they had paid $600,000 for the house. So they pay $650,000, but actually they are paying less than if they got it for $600,000.00. So my sellers pay perhaps $12,000 to buy down the mortgage rate, but they still are making more than $600,000.00. It’s just a great situation all the way around. Better for the buyer, better for the seller, better for the neighborhood because it’s not as if prices are going for a steal and lowering everyone’s property value.

How do you encourage buyers to act instead of waiting?
Renters are easy. You explain that it’s a great market. You are never going to know when we have hit the bottom and once the market turns, interest rates will go up. I ask buyers how far they think it’s going to go down if they say they don’t want to buy till the very bottom of the market. When they say perhaps another 5%, I suggest they just offer 5% less. I am also doing a lot of educating, hand holding and making them feel comfortable. People are afraid and we just need to educate them about everything. They need to feel that they are being heard. Also the sellers are more negotiable in this market than they will be when the market starts to go back up. So I say, “Don’t you want to make an offer before the market changes back to a seller’s market and the seller takes his or her cards back?”

The most creative advertising you are using:
One of our most creative is the Neighborhood Network. It’s like a Welcome Wagon. When someone closes they get a gift from us that is made up of gifts from our favorite local restaurants and vendors and service providers: A dozen bagels from the bagel shop, a cord of wood etc. People want the personal touch right now. People can get information online. Really anything they need. But with The Neighborhood Network you can get a free haircut from our favorite salon. We are all about the community and it’s very creative. Also, it doesn’t cost us anything.

Best idea for turning this market to your advantage:
This market will allow the hard working members of the industry to shine and make a difference. I want to be seen as an entrepreneurial business woman. We are all cooperating to increase the integrity of this industry. The not so great in the industry will be weeded out in this market. In this market, we need educated agents who go above and beyond to educate and this type of market lets the best survive and the weakest fall away, leaving the industry much stronger.

Best idea for time management: I schedule time in my palm pilot. I schedule personal time with my family and I have my assistant and my partners keep each other accountable. I also have to schedule education time and lots of off-site meetings.

Philosophy for a successful life in real estate:
Do things for the right reasons and do them the best you can. Also you have to look at the whole picture rather than just the single transaction.

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