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TOP 5 IN REAL ESTATE NETWORK, April 2010—

Mark Strickland
Keller Williams Realty Boston Metro

Years in real estate: 7
Primary region served: Boston, Brookline and Cambridge, Massachusetts
Average sales price in your market: $600,000
Average listing time: 90 days (mine); 120 days (other agents)

What are you doing differently in today’s market to sell condos?

I forward the Top 5 weekly e-mails to my past and present clients, prospects and sphere of influence. Since many of the Top 5 materials/articles I use are for houses in more suburban areas, I edit the articles to apply to condominiums. If, for instance, the article talks about “curb appeal” —I simply insert something into the piece that applies to urban living, such as the importance of staging the exterior of a condo by adding potted plants and replacing worn or discolored outdoor furniture. I have also experienced a plethora of cash deals—folks with money will do anything to avoid dealing with financial institutions these days. I educate my sellers about the “added value of cash” as compared to the living with the anxiety and uncertainty as to whether or not a buyer will actually be able to get a mortgage. In this way, I reset my sellers’ expectations and make them feel better about somewhat lower offers that often accompany cash deals.

What does today’s condo buyer want?

Many first-time buyers and “empty nesters” from the suburbs are not always realistic with respect to getting all the features they want in a city condo. The three most popular Boston neighborhoods in which I work are the Back Bay, Beacon Hill and the South End —where the 90% of the housing stock is comprised of condominiums. For example, the South End (not South Boston) has more (brick) Victorian homes per square mile than any other neighborhood nationwide. Most condos have been converted by carving up these former single-family homes. Therefore, not every condo in a building has, for example, a parking space, outdoor space, and/or eat-in kitchen. Sometimes the floor plans are a bit quirky, and not laid out like a traditional suburban house. When I’m working as a buyer agent, I gently let folks know upfront that in almost every price range one must identify “must haves” versus “nice to haves,” and to get ready to make compromises. Recently, a married couple came to my office for an initial buyer counseling session. After I shared this information, the wife said she didn’t want to work with me because she didn’t like that message. Her husband still wanted me to be their buyer agent because he valued my honesty and market knowledge—but he demurred to his wife’s wishes to keep peace in their marriage! This is the first time this ever happened to me, and so I still think that recalibrating buyer expectations is the right thing to do.

What are you doing to make a difference and drive new business?

I am doing all of the basic things that any good, full-time agent does who is serious about building their business: I call expireds, unrepresented sellers (FSBOs) and keep in touch with my sphere of influence and past clients. I love what I do, and when making cold calls, I deflect fear of rejections by reminding myself that I am offering my skills as a “gift” to make a difference in someone’s quality of life. At my open houses, I have Top 5 materials prominently displayed: reprints of the RISMedia’s Real Estate Magazine on which I was featured on the cover, as well as the “What Everyone Should Demand from their ….of their Real Estate Agent” and “Top 5 Home Buying Q & A”.

I am extremely consumer-friendly. If a client someone wants to meet with me and can’t get into the city to meet with me, I’ve been known to go their office or home. My “Raving Fans” (client testimonials) consistently remark that I “treat each client as if they were my only client”. I also offer HSA Home Warranties on my listings, which are very uncommon in the Northeast and—have made the difference between a post-home inspection sale—or tepid buyers walking away from a deal. I let buyers know that this one year warranty is intended to approximate what they wouuld receive from a builder if they chose to purchase a new home, and this gives folks a good deal of peace of mind.

I have a master’s degree in psychiatric social work (MSW), so I am very astute and sensitive to a client’s need for emotional support. Buying or selling a home can be stressful even when it is a welcome event. Imagine the added stress when one is simultaneously going through a divorce, needs to sell due to a death in the family, or is forced to move to find a new job! I have actually referred clients to behavioral health specialists if they need counseling to cope with any personal issues that might otherwise impede them from moving on—literally and figuratively. My skills in this regard provide intangible added-value.

How do you service your clients?

I present myself to them as their personal “project manager” right through the closing and beyond—when I subsequently stop by withh a closing gift and show an interest in their creation of a new home. When I first meet with a client, I present them with a timeline of events and a list of all the services I provide sequentially along the way. I advise them or the role of each key ancillary player along the way on both sides of the fence. I keep track of all deadlines that every allied professional needs to meet (especially lenders)! My clients rest easily because there is no doubt in their minds that I’m the one steering the bus at all times to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks so their closing will be smooth and on-time.

What’s your most creative marketing strategy for an urban market?

I create a website for each property with floor plans, a visual tour and a multitude of still photos. Rather than putting, for example, 123 Main Street at the top of my open house show sheets, I put the website address: www.123MainStreet.com. I am very pleased that my Keller Williams office provides us with Realtor.com “enhanced listing” capabilities to place more photos on Realtor.com that would otherwise be possible. In addition, I have purchased Realtor.com “Featured Homes” capabilities for zip codes in which I primarily market properties. This feature ensures that my listings will pop up first on relevant searches. Whenever possible, I try to get front page articles with photos in Boston Homes magazine for my luxury listings.

Because we are working in an urban area we do not use lockboxes, which means that either my partner or I am are present for each and every private showing appointment. Although it is more labor-intensive, we are able to personally emphasize the unique benefits of each of our listed properties far better than any buyer agent flying solo—who would otherwise only have access to the concrete facts provided by MLS or even my more creative show sheets. Earlier in my career I was also an employee benefits consultant to Fortune 100 companies, so I know that personally emphasizing key benefits to buyers makes my listings sell more rapidly than those of many of my competitors.

What is the key to a successful life in real estate?

Ignore the press. That’s number one. Nothing is more annoying than sweeping generalizations about real estate conditions “in Boston” in our local press. These sensationalized articles panic both buyers and sellers, so we make a concerted effort to present our own statistics to demonstrate that these general statistics do not necessarily apply to our neighborhoods. Second, try to maintain some semblance of work-life balance. Third, keep an upbeat, positive attitude – it’s contagious! And most importantly, constantly remind yourself that your high-level knowledge and competence really are a gift to your future clients….they just don’t know it yet!

192.168.100.57