When Jenny Cloud opened her own brokerage two years ago, she created the motto, “You should expect more from your agent.” Cloud, an attorney and broker-owner of Prominus Real Estate in Dallas and Sugarland, Texas, wants her clients to have high expectations of her and her team. She also requires that any agent she brings on board have a law, architecture, engineering, or design degree, or a high level of real estate expertise.
“Considering the dramatic changes that have been occurring in the real estate market over the past few years, I felt it was important to up the ante, so to speak,” she says.
Cloud served as a construction litigation lawyer for 17 years and still performs transaction work. But when she decided to go into the buying and selling of real estate six years ago, she found herself working across the table with agents who have widely varying skill levels. “Many times, I thought [a deal] was not being done correctly. The clients should expect more from their agents,” she adds.
Similarly, John Coplen, managing broker of the Logan Circle office at Long & Foster, Christie’s International Real Estate in Washington, D.C., believes one of his biggest assets is his background as an architect. He can easily paint a vision of what can be done with a space and offer suggestions to clients on what will be more difficult to accomplish.
“I have found a stream of referrals that come to me from past clients based on my ability to help them on a more holistic way,” says Coplen. “For instance, I helped a client buy an overlooked residential space because it was full of clutter and really run down. Once they cleaned it up and renovated, they banked more than $200,000 in equity.”
As a manager who recruits other agents, Coplen finds that people coming into real estate as their second or third career have a leg up. “Those folks are often able to draw from past experiences and service clients with a deeper purpose,” he says.
The Benefits for Clients
Cloud believes her experience as a lawyer helps her be a better real estate broker. Her clients get the benefit of her knowledge and legal expertise without paying high hourly compensation. However, they can also retain her separately for legal work, if need be.
Her first recruit was an agent who is also a tax attorney in her Sugarland office. “He definitely is the guy to talk to about 1031 exchanges,” she says, an avenue to save on taxes that allows an investor to defer paying capital gains taxes on an investment property when it is sold, as long as another “like-kind property” is purchased with the profit gained by the sale of the first property. She found him by posting on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Cloud has been quite busy building her own real estate clientele. Her goal is for them to feel safe and secure with their choices. Highly educated and experienced agents in their respective fields can help guide clients, she says. For instance, an agent with a background in structural engineering would know if walls could come down without a big price tag.
Coplen cofounded the team Alter Urban Group, REALTORS®, with two other real estate agents who specialize in helping clients make design and architecture choices. Their backgrounds in the design and construction industry offer a different set of skills to market as they locate the right property for their customers.
Cloud has also seen many clients buy a home or condo and then have no idea how to decorate it. So, a real estate agent with design skills could help them select furniture or take them to a store to pick out coordinating decor. “It will be amazing for clients to have these types of people and their experience at their fingertips,” Cloud says.
Many of her clients are attorneys or referrals from attorneys, and they tend to have high expectations. The number one way she adds value, she says, is through her trained negotiating skills. “I had to do it in every law case to avoid going to court,” she says. Negotiations and contract expertise are two skills brokers should look for in their recruits, she says.
Setting Your Office Apart
Cloud continues to recruit by posting positions on Facebook. She plans to step up her recruitment efforts after the holidays. She understands how tough it can be for brokers to find highly skilled agents. Engineers and architects make high salaries in their fields, and swaying them to become agents might be challenging. But Cloud says recruiting designers and lawyers could be an easier place to start because many already get their real estate license just to have it for knowledge.
She wants all of her agents to make sure their clients are informed on every issue from start to close and that their responsibility to the client continues even after the papers are signed.“I am trying to set that standard. I want to give an option that’s unlike the competition because we have certain degrees and experience that others don’t have,” Cloud says. “It gives us a leg up.”