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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.

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