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Below, RISMedia Columnist Barbara Pronin interviews Doug Nelson of HJN Team Real Estate in South Dakota about what makes their firm stand out, how they keep up with technology, and what it takes to succeed in today’s market.

Barbara Pronin: How would you describe your company?
Doug Nelson: We are not only the largest real estate company in Sioux Falls, we are the largest of the 400-plus real estate firms operating in the state of South Dakota. Our 75 agents represent more than 10% of all the licensed agents in the local area. We’re proud of our impact, and we like to think it’s because we work hard to live up to our mission statement: “to be the leader in real estate information for consumers and for the industry.”

BP: How has the company kept pace over the years?
DN: The real estate marketplace changes all the time, and we believe the key to staying vital lies in anticipating what is coming next rather than simply reacting to it after it happens. In the 15 years since I’ve been involved with HJN, I can honestly say the co-owners have always been committed to analyzing the local and national trends so that we can make predictions about our own market and stay ahead of the curve.

BP: What makes your firm stand out in the marketplace?
DN: Our flexibility as a company. We are always open to change, based on all the research we do, even to changing our business model from time to time. We don’t believe there is only one way to do things or one business model that fits all. Agents can be very different in terms of experience, needs and personality, and what works for one may not work for another.

BP: What’s the consumer mindset in your area?
DN: Consumers here are like consumers everywhere. They go online, they read the national news, they see all the negative things that are going on around the country—and they assume it all applies here. But real estate is a very local issue and not all of it applies. Yes, our home sales and prices took a tumble, and they are down from their peak a few years ago, but we have pretty much leveled off. I would say we are now moving upward again. In all, I think consumers are far less fearful than they were a year ago.

BP: How do your agents build strong relationships with consumers?
DN: Our agents make a concerted effort to communicate regularly with everyone in their sphere of influence to be sure they have an accurate picture of what is happening in our local market. They do it by phone, they do it by knocking on doors, they do it electronically—whatever it takes to keep people informed so they can make the best decisions. Also, we use our website and RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network® (RREIN) newsletter to educate consumers about the latest trends and data.

BP: Why do agents stay with your company?
DN: Agents come to us because of our size and reputation, and they stay because we provide what they need. We believe top producers should have options, and we make the constant effort to re-recruit our own top people. One of the options we offer, as an agent’s production grows, is the opportunity to be part of a team. We currently have five teams operating with about 20 agents. They have dedicated administrative assistance to help field phone calls and handle the paperwork. That way, top agents who just want to list and sell are able to make the best use of their time.

BP: How has your technology evolved to meet the needs of today’s consumers?
DN: We’ve made a huge investment in technology and software development over the years to ensure that we have all the leading-edge tools and platforms. We’ve encouraged our agents to “get mobile,” and we see desktops fading and being replaced with laptops, mobile applications, smartphones and social media platforms. We understand that nothing will ever replace the face-to-face contact most customers still want, but we also want to be sure we have every technological advantage to help us communicate with consumers as they wish.

BP: In your opinion, Doug, what does it take to succeed in the real estate business?
DN: Agents need to focus first on having the best, most current market information and, second, on the delivery system they use to communicate that knowledge. Just as every agent develops a personalized business model, every customer has a preferred means of contact. And, of course, agents need to be responsive—sometimes instantly in today’s environment, because nothing puts a consumer off more than not getting a quick answer to his or her question or concern.

BP: What are your plans for continuing to grow the company?
DN: We are always open to merger and acquisition opportunities, and we research the market on a daily basis. But we also want to grow from within by recognizing and rewarding talent. In addition, we ask ourselves all the time, “Where are tomorrow’s leaders?” Growth comes from being the best at what you do, and that will always be our goal.

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