RISMEDIA, February 16, 2009-Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, a leading Bay Area real estate services company, has named venerable San Francisco Realtor Malin Giddings as its top agent in Northern California for 2008 and the No. 2 agent in the United States.
Giddings, who works in Coldwell Banker/TRI’s Van Ness Avenue office, sold approximately $250 million in real estate last year, surpassing 4,150 agents from Lake Tahoe to the Monterey Peninsula and more than 100,000 agents around the globe.
During her sterling 35-year career, Giddings has sold more than $2.5 billion worth of luxury homes. To put that in perspective, her sales alone have surpassed those of many entire real estate companies in the U.S. She has been featured in publications ranging from The Wall Street Journal to Unique Homes.
Born in Stockholm, Giddings was exposed to an international lifestyle from a very early age as the daughter of a Swedish diplomat and president of the Nobel Foundation. In the late 1960s she visited San Francisco and immediately fell in love with the City by the Bay, where she has made her home ever since.
During a far-reaching interview, the Bay Area’s most celebrated agent talked about her career as one of the industry’s top rainmakers, gave her thoughts on the real estate market, and offered tips for new agents dreaming of one day duplicating her success.
Q. Why did you choose a career in real estate?
Giddings: Real estate really fits my interests and skills. I used to be in public relations and marketing, and that certainly is a big part of what we do. I also really enjoy meeting and working with people, and I love the design and decorating aspects. There’s really nothing about real estate that I don’t like. In this business, you wake up every morning and you have no idea who will call you today and what beautiful home you will be seeing. There’s so much variety in the services we provide. It’s never the same, so you can never be bored.
Q. What were your first home sale and most expensive sale?
Giddings: The first property I sold was a $350,000 house in San Francisco. That was a lot of money at that time. It was a beautiful home with a wonderful view in a great location. The most expensive home I’ve sold was a $30 million-plus property. The appreciation that San Francisco real estate has seen over the years is mind-boggling. That $350,000 property today probably would go for $40 million. It’s all about location, location, location. That hasn’t changed.
Q. Can you tell us who bought and sold the $30 million estate?
Giddings: I wouldn’t be who I am today if I talked about it. My clients know they can count on my discretion.
Q. How has real estate changed since you entered the field in 1974?
Giddings: It’s absolutely mind-boggling. Technology has changed so much. It has made information, agents and clients themselves so much more accessible – whether it’s by email, the Internet, cell phones, you name it. None of that was around when I started. In fact, when I began, there was no such thing as the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) and cooperation between brokerages in providing listings. We used to cut out ads in the San Francisco Chronicle and other papers and then assign an agent five of the homes to follow up on and get more information. There were just rows and rows of real estate ads – no pictures or drawings of the home, just price and address. Now it’s so fantastic that you can get all of the information you need so quickly and easily.
Q. Does the easy access to information by consumers lessen the need to work with an agent?
Giddings: Well, a lot of people say ‘why do I need an agent if I can get information myself on each listing?’ But there is so much more to buying and selling a home. First of all, this is the single biggest financial transaction many of us will ever make in our life. There’s really no other professional field where we would even consider trying to go it alone. Can you imagine representing yourself if you were on trial? Of course you’d seek the help of a professional attorney. And sports figures would never consider representing themselves instead of using an agent. In real estate, I cannot tell you how many times a buyer trying to do it themselves overpaid for a home. And in the market I’m dealing with, that can be by millions of dollars. Similarly, I’ve known of sellers who sold for much less than their property really was worth simply because they didn’t know better or didn’t have someone negotiating on their behalf. The single most important step in a successful transaction is finding the right person to represent you.
Q. What are the greatest challenges for real estate agents?
Giddings: One of the most difficult things for agents is that you must negotiate your compensation before you do your job. And unless you’re successful, you don’t get paid. That isn’t true in most professions. People really have no idea of everything we do, the services we provide and the time we put into each transaction. There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes that clients never see – from meeting with inspectors and contractors to all the marketing work to negotiations to keeping a deal together. It’s funny, but I’ve never had anyone question the value after the transaction is over, but to prove the value of service to a complete stranger is extremely difficult.
Q. What advice would you give to someone starting out real estate?
Giddings: Focus, focus, focus. Focus on your clients, focus on a specialty and focus on your work. Too many people try to be all things to all people. It’s the old saying – a jack of all trades and a master of none. People deserve to get an agent who is an expert at what they do. Agents should decide what it is they do best, and then focus just on that. I have a very unique specialization. I only focus on the north part of town and the very high-end market. That’s it. I’m the only one in San Francisco with such a narrow niche. As a result, I know my market extremely well and I have sold many homes two or three times. Too many agents will take whatever business comes in the door rather than doing what they do best.
Q. What do you mean by focusing on real estate?
Giddings: Real estate is one of the most difficult things you can do, but a lot of people still perceive it as a part-time job. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a 24 by 7 job. If you want to be successful, you can expect to work days, nights, and weekends – whatever it takes. A lot of times your clients are only available nights and weekends and you need to work around their schedule not yours. This is not a business for everyone. You need to devote all of yourself and your time to be successful. Real estate has to be your life and clients must be your social life. Everything you do must revolve around real estate. You can’t go to a dinner party and not be asked about the housing market. I can’t imagine doing this job and also raising a family. My advice is to stay away from real estate unless you’re willing to throw yourself into it completely.
Q. What about focusing on clients?
Giddings: My clients know that they always come first, that they can reach me anytime. That means you have to make sacrifices sometimes. It means you can’t just pick up and go to Paris or spend a lot of time on hobbies, or even plan a dinner party in advance. Because you know the minute you do, you’re going to get a call and an offer has to be written right now. If you have a $6 million or $7 million sale, telling a client that you can’t jump on it because you are having a dinner party is not a good answer. People who know me understand that I don’t make plans unless it’s a last-minute thing.
Q. Do you have a team that supports you?
Giddings: Yes, I have a wonderful group of associates who work with me. That’s all part of specializing and focusing. It’s important to have a team behind me so that I can focus solely on my clients. Nobody can give the service that six, seven or eight people working full time can give. There are so many details that go into a real estate sale. There is no way I could stay calm and focused on my clients if I was spending my days making copies of keys, doing escrow paperwork, meeting with inspectors and so forth. My wonderful associates do all this in the background seamlessly so that I can focus 100 percent on the needs of my clients, negotiating the best possible deal and providing them the very best service.
Q. You represent a very elite clientele. Do you approach your work with them differently as a result?
Giddings: No, not really. It comes down to treating everyone as they are your most important client. If you look people in the eye and be honest with them knowing you provided them with the very best possible service you could, that’s going to be the winning formula no matter who your client is. In a way, it’s a little easier because of the clients I deal with. They often have their own attorney, their own accountants, their own bankers. So I don’t have to worry about every aspect of the sale as I might with the average buyer or seller. That allows me to just focus on what I do best.
Q. Has the real estate slowdown hurt your business?
Giddings: Actually, just the opposite. In difficult times, clients understand just how important it is to choose a good agent to represent them. My sales production over the past year is about twice what it normally is. When the market is going well, I think people start thinking they can do it themselves or go to their cousin, but in challenging times like this they figure they better use a professional.
Q. Do you write a business plan each year?
Giddings: No, actually I don’t. I work so hard there isn’t time to put it down in a plan. I’m too busy doing the work to plan it.
Q. What is your typical day like?
Giddings: I generally wake up about 7:30 every morning. I walk for about an hour with my iPod in my ear and my cell phone with me – always! I go over to the Caffe Greco on Columbus and have Double Greco Grande. My days are so varied that it’s hard to say what a typical work day is – meeting with clients, viewing a home, working in the office, negotiating a sale. Generally, my day doesn’t end till late in the evening, sometimes around midnight.
Q. Do you have a hobby?
Giddings: My passion is golf. I love golf. My handicap is in the low 20s, although I joke that my real handicap is myself. Golf is the only place I don’t take my cell phone. It would annoy my golfing partners because it would never stop ringing.
Q. What are you most proud about?
Giddings: I’m proud of the staying power of my career – sticking with it for so long. There are ups and downs in every business, but if you have determination and stick with it the bad times will eventually turn around. And I’m proud that even in this market, my listings are selling very well. In 2006, my homes took an average of seven days from the time they were listed until an offer was ratified. In 2007 that went to nine days. And despite the tough market last year, I still managed to sell my homes in just 11 days (compared with four to six months average in the market).
Giddings can be reached at TRI/Coldwell Banker, 1699 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco, by phone at 415.229.1211 or via email at email@example.com. Her Web site is www.sfproperties.com.
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