Sunday, May 9, 2004

Cindy B! agents specialize; the results speak volumes

Staff growth, sales numbers soar for Northern Ky. firm

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

Cindy Brouillette, standing in her Fort Wright office, says her agents will recommend improvements to a home so the seller will have the information to help sell the house faster.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/STEVEN M. HERPPICH
FORT WRIGHT - Cindy Brouillette was a marketing professional before she got into real estate sales, so she brought a marketing perspective to her new field.

She was puzzled by some real estate practices. Why was there not better communication among agents within the same firm? Why were busy, productive agents expected to spend potential sales time on telephone duty or delivering signs? Why did some listings languish for months before they were sold?

Although she became a top-selling agent in her nine years with a large real estate firm, she grew convinced that competition among agents, overwork and unrealistic pricing of properties detracted from real service to clients.

So Brouillette created her own way of selling real estate. At her company, Cindy B! Realtors, agents' work complements that of other agents.

"In most real estate companies, everyone does all their own work," she said. "I wanted specific people to learn specific things and specialize in those things."

The results speak for themselves, said seller specialist Dan Laycock.

Cindy B! listings average fewer days on the market. Clients come back and refer their friends and family members to Cindy B! The firm, which focuses on the Northern Kentucky market, has grown substantially without major advertising and includes 21 staff members, up from four in 1998.

"We sell 34 homes per agent per year. The industry average is six homes per agent, and there is high burnout," he said.

Small beginnings

Brouillette stepped out on her own in 1998, establishing 1st Residential Realtors in Northern Kentucky. Her company consisted of herself, administrative specialist Anette Roskey, a contract manager and a buyer agent. Brouillette stayed true to her vision, and, as sales grew, gradually attracted other agents and support staff who understood and appreciated the fact that her approach helped them do a better job of serving clients.

An advisory council of past clients helped her surmount a few challenges. For instance, the new company name didn't build on the reputation she had established in real estate. They suggested she incorporate her own name, and so Cindy B! Realtors was born.

To build a unified image, Brouillette insisted that her company's agents not market themselves individually but promote the firm as a whole. She also required them to be either a buyer specialist or a seller specialist.

"This independent agents' group works together as a team," Laycock said.

To ensure that her agents can focus on their clients, she hires one support person per agent. Those office staffers handle everything from setting up appointments to scheduling appraisals and completing legal documents. Three of them work full time on closings and contracts. One person takes all the photographs and assembles the ads.

She also continued to innovate. When other agents were still posting photographs of their listings on the Web, Brouillette was offering panoramic "virtual tours" on her site. While all conscientious agents share with sellers helpful feedback from potential buyers, Brouillette set up individual Web pages for her sellers so that they could immediately see comments from those who had toured their homes and compare them with earlier comments.

And, while there were already discount brokers in the market, she developed a fee scale based on levels of service - an idea she got from her cable company when she ordered installation of basic service and the company rep tried to sell her all the frills.

"I heard myself saying, 'I don't want it, and I'm not going to pay for it,' " she recalled with a laugh. "Then I connected the dots."

Now a seller can choose among various tiers, from closing- and contract-only support for a flat $1,500 fee to a complete portfolio of services for 7 percent commission.

"It gives people freedom of choice," said buyer specialist Joy Chapman. "Some people might not need the highest-commission plan."

Motivated workers

Cindy B! pays for items that in most firms are agent expenses: ads, support staff salaries, office supplies. In return, she expects her sales staff to be productive and to offer excellent customer service.

"My definition of 'teamwork' is 'do your job,' " she explained. "Don't expect others to take up the slack. I have a low tolerance for incompetence and laziness."

She has expectations for her sellers as well. Her agents will recommend improvements to help a house sell at a good price. The goal is to give the seller information that will help the house sell quickly.

"People expect you to sell their home and to find you another," Brouillette said. "Doing that doesn't get you repeat and referral business. There has to be something above and beyond that. We make the process as stress-free as possible, and we communicate with our clients throughout."


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