Illinois REALTOR: Young Guns

January 2012

Young Guns

By Stephanie Sievers | Associate Editor

They’re young, they’re successful and they’re making a name for themselves in real estate. They embrace social media and technology (many consider their iPads and smartphones vital to working the deal) but also know the importance of the traditional business basics. Most have only known a slow market, a benefit several say has allowed them to learn broader aspects of the industry. These five “young guns” share specific strategies that have worked for them.

Matt Laricy | Full-time agent since 2006
Managing Broker-Partner, Americorp Real Estate, Chicago

REALTOR® Matt Laricy was fresh out of college and looking for a way to jump- start his fledgling real estate career when he found his answer—or more specifically provided other people answers—online.

He’d tried a little of everything from knocking on doors to cold-calling FSBO sellers. But it wasn’t until he became an information resource on sites like Zillow and Trulia that things really took off.

Consumers ask questions about real estate on these sites and early on Laricy made it a habit to routinely post answers to the best of his knowledge. It’s a practice he still continues daily. His contributions have grown and now when consumers search the sites, he pops up as a top contributor. That name recognition has resulted in leads and ultimately transactions with buyers starting their search online.

“You never know who’s going to come across what,” he says. “I couldn’t really afford to put money in advertising, but I was trying to think of new ways to get my name out there.”

The strategy has paid off. Laricy estimates that he now gets at least 75 percent of his business from online.

  • TIP: Get your name and business profile online in as many places as possible. Become a trusted source by answering questions on Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, Yahoo! and  (If you market your real estate business online, remember that advertising laws, rules and REALTOR® Code of Ethics provisions apply.)

Deena Zimmerman | Retail Leasing Commercial Specialist, licensed since 2007
Senior Associate, Jameson Commercial Real Estate, Chicago

If it’s Wednesday, chances are REALTOR® Deena Zimmerman will be out and about networking. Actually, pick any given week and odds are high that she will be attending networking events two to three days that week.

“Networking is the 100 percent reason I get all of my business and I do it across industries,” says Zimmerman who specializes in working with commercial tenants but estimates that 75 percent of her networking is at residential real estate events. Why? Because strong relationships with residential REALTORS® often turn into referrals and as one of the few commercial agents in the room, she stands out.

She’s also found that a key to success within the commercial industry is to find a niche of the market and specialize.
“Within my industry, it’s (commercial) listing agents who refer tenants to me. They’re like ‘well I don’t do that, Deena Zimmerman does though and I know her really well because she networks everywhere and everyone knows she’s a tenant’s rep,’” she says.

Another way to network with like-minded peers is by joining industry groups. Zimmerman is president of the Women’s Council of REALTORS® Chicago Chapter, secretary of REALTORS® to the Rescue and is the 2012 chair of the Illinois Young Professionals Network (YPN).

  • TIP: Get out of your comfort zone and make a commitment to network at least once a week.

Rich Gillespie | Full-time agent since 2006
Broker with The Gillespie Group RE/MAX Unlimited, Peoria

REALTOR® Rich Gillespie was nursing a back injury from his construction job as a concrete finisher when he considered the idea of getting into real estate. His only regret now is that he didn’t make the jump sooner.

He’s found real estate to be a natural fit and his background in construction (his father was in construction so Gillespie grew up learning how to do a little of everything) has given him an edge over other agents because he not only knows his local housing market, he also knows first-hand what makes for good “bones” and structural integrity in a home.

“Taking out buyers and showing them properties and being able to point out certain things that don’t look right has gotten me a ton of referrals. They tell their family, friends and co-workers, ‘Hey, I bought from this guy and he knows what he’s talking about,’” Gillespie says.

His previous experience also comes into play when he is working with sellers and advising them on which home improvement updates will be beneficial for a sale. And since his team works with several new home builders, his knowledge of construction helps when he talking about the details and designs wanted by buyers, Gillespie says.

  • TIP: Not everyone has a background in construction, but you can benefit by learning more about the nuts and bolts of the product you are selling. Take a class on home construction, talk to a builder.

Kai Grant | Full-time agent since 2008
Sales Associate with The Grant Team Coldwell Banker Residential, Oak Lawn

REALTOR® Kai Grant is a firm believer of the adage, “you have to spend money to make money,” particularly when it comes to advertising.

“You really have to invest in yourself and get some advertising out there. Word of mouth is great but you want to have that face recognition. It costs money,” she says.

A full-time agent since 2008, Grant works on a team with her father-in-law and has parlayed her background in marketing and sales into a successful second career in real estate. She’s been recognized by Coldwell Banker Oak Lawn as a “Top Ten” agent and was an International Diamond Society Member in 2010.

One of the keys to the team’s success is investing in advertising. While some agents have eschewed traditional advertising, the Grant Team’s marketing tools not only include Facebook and social media but also bus benches, “just sold” cards, sports schedules and possibly the most effective, a full-page ad in the Yellow Book.

“It works for us and maybe it’s because most REALTORS® don’t do it anymore that we’re one of the only ones in there,” Grant says of the Yellow Book. “It’s expensive but it pays off for us. We get quite a few calls out of there every month.”

  • TIP: Market yourself online and with social media but don’t turn your back on traditional advertising avenues that still work and can set you apart from all the other agents who have switched to online marketing only.

Casselyn Feinstein | Full-time agent since 2007
Broker Associate with ERA Team Feinstein, Hinsdale

REALTOR® Casselyn Feinstein admits the first year was tough and she sometimes wondered what she had gotten herself into. But she kept at it, answering floor calls and prospecting for potential clients.

She eventually got her first client—the service guy at the auto shop where she had been taking her repair-prone SUV—and more business followed. Success breeds success and last year she closed every deal she worked on.

Her advice to new agents: don’t give up and don’t let rejection slow you down. Everyone gets rejected. No one knows except you and the person who rejected you so don’t take it to heart, as it is business, not personal.

It’s also important to be open to all aspects of the market, including working with renters. Feinstein’s clients are often younger buyers who are more comfortable renting first.

“Rentals are a great source of income and are a great opportunity to fuel my future pipeline, as they will most likely purchase. Many agents don’t realize the opportunity renters provide,” she says.

  • TIP: Stick with it. Call back, text back and e-mail back until the point where someone says do not call me anymore, and then contact them one more time. 

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