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By Kayla O’Brien

RISMEDIA, Dec. 20, 2008-“The Internet is like the front door-you only get one first impression,” says Arthur Sterbcow, president, LATTER & BLUM Inc. Realtors and C.J. Brown Realtors. So to make sure his company and agents are greeting consumers the right way, the first time, he ensures a technology-rich strategy, coupling good products with good services. Here, learn what real estate best practices are crucial to his company’s success.

sterbcow_arthur_bw.jpgArthur Sterbcow
LATTER & BLUM Inc. Realtors
C.J. Brown Realtors

Years in real estate: 31
Number of offices: 28
Number of agents: 1,000
Region served: Gulf South-extending from the Mississippi/Alabama state line to southern Louisiana and almost to Texas
Average listing price in your market: $217,000
Average listing time: Fifty percent of the homes we sell are on the market less than 30 days.
In order to get the right listing price…Do market research and investigate the comparables very carefully. Just because something sold for $160 per square foot, you still have to see what types of repairs have been made, and consider closing costs, etc. to get you a net figure so that you’re not over-quoting what the real price is.
How do you ease tension with difficult clients? Facts. Whenever in doubt, present people with cold, hard, brutal facts. Then, there’s not much you can argue about. Most people run into conflict when they “think” something, so once you offer the facts, they’ll see you’re credible and in synch with market realities-not the bad guy.

Having a real estate website since 1988, what are your company’s online marketing best practices?

Accountability. With some of our competitors, when an agent lists a property, no one helps that agent with feedback to tell them how their listing is performing. It’s left up to themselves. So we’ve automated a lot of procedures, reports, etc. to keep the agents informed on a daily basis and to better alert our homeowners.
We provide homeowners with reports on how their listing is performing vs. competition, including unique visitors and open houses-we give them a lot of information and data so they see we’re on top of our game. It also gives them the reality that if we’ve had 240 people look at the property on our website, few have set appointments and no one has yet bought, what are the problems? Then we’ll revisit photos, home decorating, etc. The Internet is like the front door-you only get one first impression and on the Internet, there are hundreds of others they can go look at.

How has your home warranty alliance with American Home Shield helped you stay ahead of your local competitors?

American Home Shield has been one of our best alliances. A lot of home warranty companies have come and gone-leaving buyers high and dry. For us, it’s been all about the service. The best compliment I can give to them is their renewal rate on warranties after a year. They are incredible. The buyers are saying they like it after using it, see the value and renew. No one forces you to buy a home warranty, but you have to be nuts not to, especially in our area, where air conditioning and heating systems can be a big expense. We get terrific thank you letters with compliments from our buyers. Consumers are sharp and savvy, and if you have a good product and great service, it’s very rare that an agent or homeowner has an unresolved problem.

How are you keeping your agents productive in a slower market?

Great agents do even better in slower markets. Weaker agents drop out of the market and leave more business for them. Buyers and sellers recognize their value even more. So for most of our agents-this is not our first rodeo. We’ve even been through hurricanes and the agents in our area are extremely resilient and resourceful with our technology-they know what it takes to get back into the game. That is why we are recovering as well as we have. People who saw New Orleans three years ago come back and say, “what hurricane?” We put on our big boy shoes and pants and got back into the game.

How are you communicating with agents today?

We try to have a buffet table of communication. We allow agents to dictate their favorite way of communication and facilitate getting it to them. We want them to get it the way they want to get it. We use e-mail, video conferencing, Internet, telephones, instant messaging, SMS texting-a lot of different methods. Some agents don’t use e-mail, so they use the phone. Others just send text messages or say, “IM me.”