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13 Questions with Neal Heery

Welcome to the latest installment of “X Questions” series.  This go around, I spoke with Neal Heery, who is 50% of the Heery Brothers duo.  Neal and George are both agents with Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty, which is quite a mouthful when introducing yourself on the phone. As a member of the Atlanta Board of Realtors Million Dollar Club every year since 1998, he’s proven to be quite successful in this arena.

Neal HeeryNeal knows the Atlanta area well, having attended Woodward Academy for high school.  He’s also a graduate of the University of Mississippi, and a Desert Storm veteran as a member of the United States Marine Corps.  In fact, if Neal had his way, he would have stayed in the Marine Corp longer than he did, but then, many buyers and sellers would have been deprived of one of Atlanta’s top producing teams.  Not to mention, “I thought I was 10 feet tall and bullet proof and probably would have gotten myself hurt, or killed, and never would have met my wife Rebecca and had my beautiful daughters.”

Without further adieu, I present my conversation with Neal Heery:

How did you first get interested in real estate and how did your experience progress?

My father helped an employee buy an old house. It was not the best purchase and it was in a rough neighborhood. The employee had some other issues and walked on his part of the deal. My dad did not have any equity in the house, but it rented for enough to pay for itself. He signed it over to me. I promptly bought the two houses next door through owner financing and started my real estate empire. I was 18 and a senior in high school. I decided I would study real estate in school…then again, I also wanted to be an Army Special Forces Officer. It was not until I did a year of army ROTC at Colorado State and then spoke to the Marine recruiter that I decided to enlist in the Marine Corp.

In my first year in the residential business, I made $7,500 and had $13,000 work of expenses.  In my second year in the business, I was assisting Doris Robinson who at that time had over 50% market share in Druid Hills.  In the first month I worked for her, we closed 12 transactions.  I made about $35,000 that second year as an assistant and about $30,000 myself.  In my third year, the phone started ringing and I was showing competency to condo buyers who were my age.  That’s when business started creating itself.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received and from whom?

Mary Rebecca — on real estate —- Get up early, go to your desk, sit down and work. Do it again every weekday.  Also, Bruce Wilson, one of the great Atlanta Commercial brokers, once said, “Seller’s are losers, never buy any real estate that you might need to sell.”

You mentioned that the three most important things for buyers are location, condition, and feeling like they got the best deal.  How do you make sure that buyers feel they got the best deal?

We get them the best deal!  Seriously though, we pride ourselves on negotiating for every little bit.  In fact, there have been a number of occasions where the buyer was ready to make a deal, but I was still pushing them to make a better deal.

How has the industry changed since you started?

We are no longer the gate keepers of the information. Everybody out there knows more than me since the arrival of the Internet. It is our skill now that makes the difference

What made you think that you’d be successful at this business?

I never considered the idea that I would not be. Marine thinking, Ohrah! But, seriously, it looked really easy. I was pretty good at it, before I figured out how hard it was.

What do you see that makes it hard?

Well, to start our income is commissioned based.  You have to be careful with how you’re thinking goes along these lines, because just when you start thinking you’re rich, things can dry up and very quickly you aren’t.  In particular, over the last few years, the economic environment has made it more difficult to get deals done.  It’s just a tough business.  It’s a business that appears easy to those on the outside, but it’s a lot of work.

What personality traits do you think help make you successful?

No fear. Tell people what you think. Give someone something useful. Trying not to hurt someone’s feelings will not help them. Tell it like you see it. Don’t be offended by reactions.

A lot of people assume that from my Marine background, I developed discipline or a lack of fear towards anything, but really I think the main thing that I brought with me was a sense of bravado and attitude.  Whether things are or aren’t going well, my attitude is to simply keep moving, we’ll get there.

How have you integrated social media into your marketing?

We do it all, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogging. You must always try all new technology. Some people say to me I am not on Facebook yet, that’s like saying I don’t have a fax machine yet or cell phone. By the time they get one, we won’t use them anymore. No, I don’t have a fax machine anymore. If you are not doing some sort of social media, then you’re not reading this article and you’re under a rock.

Do you have any websites that you find to be particularly helpful or beneficial to you? For your clients?

I use the Fulton County GIS, Google Earth, and our company’s site a lot. The Atlanta Fine Homes site and the Sotheby’s technology that they provide to us as agents is better than any I can find anywhere. Zillow is pretty cool.  I also like the website Think Big Work Small, which is geared towards mortgage brokers.

Agents have to deal with tremendous communication volume, whether email or phone calls. Do you have a particular system for handling that volume?

I am ADD as all get out. I talk on the phone, text, and have three screens open on my desk top at any given time. You will never get over the $80K per year hump in this business, unless you are a multi-tasker. That means you can’t do half the job though, you have to micro-focus on each detail and then move to the next. I start early every day and clear all voice mails and email. I clear everything again at the end of the day and as fast as possible as I can all day. I check every 2-4 hours on the weekend. This is a relentless trudge, but if you ever let it get ahead of you, you will regret it.

Also, get a partner who works as hard as you, one that you can trust, and who has as much knowledge as you. If you don’t, once you hit the seven year mark or so, you won’t last. Assistants break, they just do. This is too much for them.  We don’t have an assistant at the moment, but we do have a virtual assistant in Kennesaw.  We’ve been working with this woman for ten years and I’ve seen her twice.  She handles all of our closing details and we call her our Closing Coordinator.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you got started?

You can’t imagine the dumb things I’ve done with real estate and development, that if I had been working with a good broker, I would not have done. In order to be a good broker, take the drug dealer’s approach to real estate and don’t snort your own product.  By this I mean, don’t get into spec houses.  I did a bunch of spec houses and narrowly survived.  Unlike some other developers, I just couldn’t toss the keys back to the bank.  I do still own stuff and I intend to acquire more, but it will probably more lower rentals.

Also, get good advice from professionals, early and often, even when it is on what you do best.  It doesn’t hurt to get the advice and you can ignore it if you want.  These days, I’ll call someone who might know something about it and let them tell me what they think.

How do you handle balance with your brother?  When you are hired by clients, do they hire you as the team?

We both try to outwork each other.  We don’t define whose deal something is.  It all goes in a pot and a split we decide on.  It used to be decided annually.  We’re pretty set on the split now.  I get a small fraction more than 50% because I was here first.  That was my deal when he first joined.  It never occurred to me that George was going to be here permanently!  Who’s older? I’m not telling!  We like to make people guess.

Our clients do hire us as a team, though typically we find one or the other of us is lead based on personalities and who gets along with the client better.

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Thanks for speaking with me Neal!

For those interested in contacting Neal, he can be reached via email at neal@heerybrothers.com.  Also, you can check out his website for the latest listings and to find out additional information: http://www.heerybrothers.com.

9 Questions with Jenny Stevenson

I’m working to evolve the blog here at hartografie so that it becomes a resource to agents in more than just the photography arena.  Future updates will include ways in which agents can use technology to automate parts of their job or just help to streamline processes.  Of course, there will always be photography tips and updates on some of my more interesting shoots.

Let’s get started with my first new idea, which is the “9 Questions with [Agent]” interview series.  I’ll be speaking with successful agents in Atlanta to help bring you insights and ideas that can help make your business prosper.  Plus, you might just get to know something new about a colleague.

My first victim interviewee is Jenny Stevenson, an agent with Keller Williams – Sandy Springs, which is part of The Rawls Group, operated by Shaun Rawls.  Though she grew up in Maryland, Jenny found her way to Georgia as quickly as possible, and arrived in grand style by attending the University of Georgia in Athens.  She’s been in the industry for six years now, is a member of the Associate Leadership Council at Keller Williams, is a representative on the Keller Williams Board of Education, and is a Life Member of the Atlanta Board of Realtors Million Dollar Club.

1. How did you first decide to get into real estate and how do you land at Keller Williams?

Initially, I was helping my old boyfriend build houses, mostly by assisting him with the design and architectural portions of his projects.  Though that experience, I really got hooked on the industry.

After I made the decision to become an agent, I looked at various companies and while others were really big, I felt that Keller Williams was warmer. I came in early before the strong recent growth of the company – at the time, we had Shaun Rawls as our team leader in one office; he’s grown the group to twelve offices now.  Everybody made me feel great about coming on board.  They were all genuine and cared about me as an individual and as someone coming to join their team.

2. In breaking into the industry, what was the greatest piece of advice you ever received?  From whom?

Be positive.  Especially in this economy.  I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve won, merely because I was the most positive person at a listing appointment.  Aside from the fact that they like my marketing materials, 90% of the time, clients say they chose me because I came in with a positive energy.  That’s huge.

3. What personality traits do you think make you and others successful in this business?

First of all, be genuine.  If you truly care about everyone and treat them the way you would want to be treated, even if means extra work on your part, if you treat everyone the way you’d like to be treated, you’ll have a high level of success in this business.

Also, being smart about what you’re doing.  You need to pay attention to the little details and keep in mind a lot of information.  You need to be able to know that if a client likes a given area of town, but can’t necessarily afford to be there, you need to know of two additional neighborhoods that are comparable to that one, so that you can get them into a home in which they’ll be happy.

4. What tip would you give to new agents getting started in the field?

Remember that selling or buying a home is not about you, it’s about your client.  As such, make sure that they feel important and that you are there to meet their needs.  This includes simple things like asking your client if they have any questions at the end of every meeting you have with them.

5. What mistakes have you seen others make along the way that have kept them from reaching greater levels of success?

Successful people will say, “Ready, aim, fire.”  The biggest mistake I see is a lot of “ready, aim, aim, aim, aim.”  New agents will go to a lot of courses and they’re not going out and meeting people and they’re not getting the business, they’re just learning.  It’s good to learn and educate yourself, but the best way to learn is to get out there.  Instead of going to 15 courses per week, go to two courses per week, and go out and implement some of the lead generation, one on one, and other things we teach.

The other thing I see is too much worrying about how much someone is going to make.  They focus too much on what they are going to make on each house, which gets in the way of a smart decision, like cutting their commission, which will help get a deal done.  I’ve seen so many agents burn deals, because they didn’t want to let go of a $1,000 in commission, and then they lose the whole deal. And the buyer went away because they’re fighting over whatever, a hot water heater or something.

It’s amazing to me how often helping your client in some way and not being petty will pay huge dividends down the road.  That client will never leave you, because they remember how you helped them and they’ll tell their friends about it.

6. How have you used technology to help you improve your customer service and improve your business?

I’m not a huge techie, but being able to do things like ship flyers from a website straight to my clients’ door is a huge time saver.  Technology often seems pricey when you break it down to monthly payments, but when you look at it annually, you see how much benefit you’ve received compared to what you’re taking home.   I’m not a huge social media person.  I’m not regularly mentioning on Facebook that I’m a Realtor, but I keep up with people a lot.  I stay friends with people that way.

I think people can’t live with out Blackberries because our culture has become so accustomed to the instant response.  If you don’t answer your phone or don’t get back on that email quickly, you’re going to lose that person to one of the other 10,000 agents in the city.

7. What do you know now that you didn’t know when you got started, but wish you had known?

Ask more of questions.  When you first get started, you just want to pour information onto people to show them how smart you are, but people just want someone that cares about them and what they want.  If all you ever did was ask people questions, you’d be quite successful.  So many people are just waiting to say the next thing, rather than genuinely listening to another person talk.  Just talk to people, don’t throw up real estate on them.

8. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from a mistake?

Don’t ever recommend or schedule a contractor that you haven’t already been using for years.  Do not go out and find your own contractors and put your name behind anybody you don’t know.  I can’t tell you how much money I’ve wasted on crappy contractors because I wanted to impress clients and show them my value by finding them a good contractor who was not good at all.  Either use someone you’ve had for years or ask your favorite agents who they use.

9. What is your favorite thing to do outside of real estate?

Mostly just spend time with friends, family, and my chocolate lab Dixie.  I’m pretty active in sports leagues, which is a great way to release energy and stay connected with people.

Thanks Jenny!

For those interested in contacting Jenny, she can be reached via email at JennyStevenson@kw.com.  Also, you can check out her website for the latest listings and to find out additional information: http://www.jennyandcomp.com.

5 Common Photo Mistakes in Real Estate

Let’s face it. There are many, many homes for sale at any given time. Standing out from the crowd requires a variety of factors, but perhaps the most important factor is the way a home shows in photographs. According to the 2009 National Association of Realtors Profile of Home Buyers & Sellers, fully “97% of homebuyers who searched for a home on the Internet found photos to be among the most useful features.”

All of this means that you are playing a numbers game when marketing a home on the Internet.  The more potential buyers who come to look at a home, the faster you’ll sell that home.  How do you get more buyers?  Make the home look more appealing.  Here are five commonly found mistakes in MLS photos that are keeping you from getting through the doors of your listings:

  1. Photographs aren’t straight
    The buyer can’t tell whether it’s you or the home that’s crooked.  Keep vertical lines vertical!
  2. Photo doesn’t show enough of the room
    That point and shoot camera you’re using, or worse yet, the iPhone you’re using for a camera doesn’t have a lens with a wide enough angle of view.
  3. There are pets or pet accessories in the photo
    Plenty of buyers see animals or animal accessories in a photo and instantly think of their allergies or how the home may smell less than fresh.  Do you really want them to eliminate your home from their search?
  4. Rooms that are a mess
    Messy rooms indicate lazy behavior and neglect.  Potential buyers then wonder, what else have the current owners neglected?  Has the maintenance been kept current?  Is the roof leaking?  Is there possibly an HVAC issue?  A clean photograph says that the owners were respectful and on top of things in maintaining their home.
  5. Too much or too little flash
    In the first situation, it’s hard to tell whether a nuclear blast has gone off and made everything white or is attempting to hide something.  In the second, a potential buyer wonders whether they’ll be living in a cave.  Neither is good.

I’ll discuss how to solve some of these issues in future postings.  Until then, there is a very simple solution.  Hire a professional.  Your client has hired you, because you know how to quickly sell their home for top dollar.  They’ve also hired you to know when to bring in someone who knows who to photograph their home and make it look like the next buyer’s dream home.

The Taoiseach Visits Atlanta

While I’ve spent most of my time building my architectural and real estate photography business, occasionally interesting shoots present themselves.  In the past, I’ve photographed the Dunwoody Soap Box Derby, the Top Gun Ride for Children, and various Girls on the Run events.  You never know what connections you might make at these events or what interesting people you might meet.

In March 2010, I photographed the St. Patrick’s Day Parade of Atlanta and the dignitaries breakfast for the parade committee.  For all you UGA fans, Vince Dooley was the Grand Marshal of the parade.  Earlier this month, as a result of connections I met at the parade, I was hired to photograph Brian Cowen, Taoiseach or Prime Minister of Ireland, during his meetings with the Governor of Georgia, Sonny Perdue, and the Mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed.  Additionally, he spoke at an Irish Chamber of Commerce of Atlanta luncheon.  I was honored to be hired, so much so that I returned for two days vacation in Florida.  I invite you to check out the photographs from the ICCUSA Luncheon and a few from his official meetings below.