How Content and Information Empower California Broker
A lot of real estate professionals strive to put community first, but probably not quite the same way Jason Farris does. After all, not many can say that their real estate brokerage started out as an information-packed local blog. But that’s exactly the case for Farris, who expanded his popular FresYes.com into an 80-agent brokerage, FresYes Realty, serving the Fresno, Calif., area. “I wanted a place that best reflects the people, the places and the lifestyle that we call home. FresYes.com is that place,” writes Farris on the blog. At the root of the company and its success? Information and content. Thanks to technologies like a good CRM and data from companies like Cole Information, Farris is able to build trusting relationships with clients. In this exclusive interview, he tells us how.
Maria Patterson: First, Jason, please tell us a little bit about your background.
Jason Farris: I’ve been a licensed agent for 15 years, but I cut my teeth selling agricultural land with my uncle. He eventually recommended that I transition over to residential real estate, feeling that the agricultural market wouldn’t sustain prices. So I made the switch to residential and worked for the first company I interviewed with because I didn’t know the difference between Broker A and Broker B.
MP: When did you catch on to the potential of information for building business?
JF: Shortly after I switched to residential, social media started taking off—Twitter, blogging, phones with video capability…that’s how I differentiated myself from other agents in the marketplace. The more I did that, the more business came my way. In 2009, I started FresYes.com.
MP: The name is so unique. How did you land on that?
JF: I love to travel and every city you go to has a good and bad side. But in my city, everyone focuses on the bad stuff. I decided I was going to be that person who focuses on the good stuff, so I chose the name “FresYes.”
MP: So how did the blog turn into a real estate brokerage?
JF: In the beginning, it was just me and a few agents. Then we were recruited by the largest company in the market and helped them build out a new office based around these new ideas of social media and websites, and sharing and interpreting information instead of holding onto it.
Shortly after that, my business grew and I took on an assistant and created a team before people were talking about teams. I outgrew the brokerage and left to go out on my own in 2015. I started out with myself and seven others. Over the course of the next 2.5 years, I went from seven agents to 80 agents.
MP: How did you recruit so many agents in such a short period of time?
JF: The funny thing is, I didn’t. People came to us because we were doing something different. We were built on a platform of communication first and sharing information and stories about the community.
MP: Such as?
JF: Like a story about the offensive lineman at the local high school, and congratulating the Clovis West girls softball team when they won the championship. We take videos inside local restaurants. We host movies in the park and get thousands of people to attend. FresYes is a brand partner with the local theater company, and we work with a local promoter on a big music festival. We do blood drives. We ran a story about a local nurse who formed a non-profit to support frontline workers and local restaurant owners. We organized the FresYes car scavenger hunt. We informed people about a peaceful protest for Black Lives Matter.
Our uniqueness is that we actually do put the community first. We’re basically a media advertising company that happens to employ skilled real estate agents. We’re about exposure and branding and telling the story.
MP: What is the business strategy behind this type of community-first approach?
JF: I realized early on that I couldn’t out-advertise Zillow or realtor.com®. But what people can’t get through those sites is what it’s like to actually live somewhere. We have more staff than most offices our size and a full-on marketing team. We have clients who list with us because they want to be included in our social media and newsletter. When an agent wants to join us, I don’t care about the number of homes they sold. I care about the effort they’re putting forward for their clients.
MP: You’re really helping to redefine the role of the real estate agent…
JF: Yes…less people in Fresno now think of real estate agents as used car salesmen. And I’ve watched as other brokerages follow suit. Everyone has been forced to think about how they position themselves. I know agents who said, “I got tired of losing the listing to you, so I took a step back and watched what you do. You really made me better.” I make all my decisions based on helping to make people better, not money. If you do the right thing long enough, the money will come.
MP: I imagine your philosophy and business model served you well in the height of the coronavirus crisis…
JF: Yes—when all this happened, we didn’t have to pivot. We kept doing what we’ve always done. We put out lists of community resources, we created online menus highlighting what our favorite dishes are, and lists of local businesses to support. We were already positioned to do things this way, and it’s been exciting because people really care about small businesses in the community.
MP: Where do you think your drive comes from?
JF: I’ve always worked in the service industry. I served people in the restaurant industry, I opened an entertainment business, I was a clown and a magician. I’ve always been right there in front of people, and you have to lift yourself up and have high energy and positivity. And I’ve always written well. For me, it’s always about the emotion and how you can affect people by words and energy.
MP: So in a company that is clearly very unique, what would you single out as your most unique value proposition at FresYes?
JF: It sounds cliche, but I really believe in investing in people. And authenticity is a big thing. It drives me crazy when an agent acts one way in the office and another in public. I want people to be who they are—there’s something magical about that. My only expectation of agents is that they make connections with other people, building relationships and building trust.
MP: How are you building business in today’s market? What’s the current landscape like?
JF: Our market is a seller’s market, for sure. There is an absolute lack of inventory, so sellers are enjoying multiple offers. Buyers have access to low interest rates, so if they’re prepared, they’re going to get a good home. The biggest thing for us right now is that we need consumer confidence to come back. They need to be confident that they’re not going to get sick if someone comes into their home. And I’m concerned about our agents; less transactions mean less money for agents. Just because things are opening back up, it doesn’t mean people have a paycheck in their pocket.
MP: So what advice have you given agents in the time of COVID-19?
JF: The coach in me says, do the work regularly. So I tell them to contact as many people as they can and find out what their needs are so that they think of you when they’re ready to buy or sell. There’s never been a better time for relationships. Get to know your client. People think you can’t scale that, but you can.
MP: How so?
JF: The richest source of business is your CRM. You need to learn about the interests of the people in your database, and leverage technology more so you’re not sending out drip emails that all sound the same. When you reach out, you have to reach out in a meaningful way with information—that’s the future of real estate. If we can’t prove to people that they can trust us, then we won’t succeed.
MP: So what would you point to as the keys to your company’s success and growth over the years?
JF: Information and content. We’re constantly creating content because we’re in the attention economy. How can you get someone’s attention? By knowing their interests.
MP: When did you realize that Cole Information could help you get someone’s attention and start building a relationship?
JF: My coach and I realized that every time I went into a listing appointment, I got the listing. So I made it a goal to do more listing appointments. I needed to figure out how to connect with more people, and Cole was critical in my prospecting. If I called someone and told them something they already knew, it didn’t matter to them. I had to tell them something they didn’t already know that would be valuable to them. So if I took a listing at 1234 Main St., my assistant would put the information through Cole, and I’d get a list of 200 of the nearest neighbors and their phone numbers…sometimes even before I got back to the office. I would contact all those people within 48 hours, because if you give the neighbors too long to talk, they’re all going to know Mark is selling his home. In order for me to provide value, I had to be the one to tell the neighbors first. It was key for me to make those calls as quickly as I could.
MP: How does such a call go?
JF: “Hey, this is Jason Farris. I just listed your neighbor’s home for sale. If you have any questions or concerns, call me directly on my personal cell.” I never ask if they know anyone who’s looking to buy, because why would they introduce that person to someone they don’t know? That’s a common mistake—agents want to go straight to marriage.
MP: So how do you build that relationship?
JF: When the listing goes to pending, I call again: “I want to give you some exciting news. The home is under contract and I wanted to make sure you have the chance to say goodbye to your neighbor.” Of course, people almost always call back to ask, “What price did they get?” That gives me the chance to say, “Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that until it’s under contract, but I will call you as soon as the property is officially sold.” Then I keep my promise and call them. That’s how I build trust. When I tell them the house sold for $350,000 and hear their reaction, I say “Oh wow does that surprise you? If I can get $350,000 for your house, would you be interested, because there are still six people looking?” Then I repeat the process when someone else lists their home with me. It’s always the same formula.
MP: What’s the biggest advantage of using Cole Information?
JF: Agents need to realize this really is a contact sport. The program is available to anyone willing to invest a small amount of money. So many products start off doing one thing well and then they want to get a bigger piece of the pie. Instead of staying the path and being simple and easy to use, they overcomplicate things.
MP: How do you plan to continue to grow your business in the year ahead?
JF: For us, we’re leaning more toward being a media company. We’ll be doing more video, more podcasting and representing other brands. If, for the same price, you can be treated like you’re Rolex or BMW and be on all these information platforms, I think people will gravitate to that.
For more information, please visit www.coleinformation.com.
Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.