Coffee Break with Gretchen Rosenberg

► Psst... After you enjoy the full interview, be sure to watch Gretchen answer even more questions in the Xpresso Round Video!

DMAR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the real estate industry?

Gretchen: I started my career in real estate 20 years ago. When I decided to pursue real estate, I was a single mom going through a difficult time in my life. I was losing my house because I had to move, I was losing my marriage because I was getting a divorce, and I also worked for my husband’s family business. So it was a huge point of transition and I was thinking, “What can I do?” I had a business degree, I liked architecture, I liked people, and I wanted to be able to spend time with my son who was one and a half at the time. Pursuing a career in real estate, I knew that I would be working weekends and nights, but I also wanted to be able to take off in the middle of the day and go volunteer in my son’s class. It ended up being a good decision for me.

D: So how exactly did you get started?

G: I went to real estate school and then I called the broker who sold my house - he ran a small brokerage firm, which happened to be in Cherry Creek - and I said, “Can I come work for you?” and he said, “Sure.”  I worked for him for two years and it was a good training ground because I had a broker who was looking over my shoulder, helping me through all the early stages of my learning process. After two years it became pretty evident that I needed to have colleagues and bigger opportunities to market myself. This was in the early stages of brokerages and brokers building an online presence, and he didn't have the scale to be able do those things.

So then I went to Moore & Company, which was locally owned. Within 10 months of working there they sold the company to NRT, which then rebranded to Coldwell Banker. Thirty three agents at Moore & Company’s Cherry Creek office decided to leave and went on to form Kentwood Cherry Creek. At the time, the only other Kentwood office was in DTC. So 18 years ago I went to Kentwood and I’ve been there ever since.  

D: Do you remember your first sale, and what made you confident that real estate was for you?

G: I do remember my first sale. It’s funny because my first client recently found me and friended me on Facebook. At the time, she was a younger woman buying her first condo. She was a friend of a friend - which is how you get your business in the beginning. What gave me confidence to pursue this career was the realization that I didn't really have a choice, that this is what I had to do in order to support myself.

D: Walk us through a day in your life.

G: In real estate there's no standard day. It’s such a dynamic business. Now that I'm in management, I suppose that my day is slightly more stable. I get up around 6:00 AM or 7:00 AM and start working from home, answering emails and texts. I get into the office generally between 9:00 AM and 9:30 AM, and I check my calendar. It’s funny, sometimes I’ll have a light day, and I get optimistic that I'm going to get so much done, but that never happens… my day always blows up. It’s just the nature of this business. You need to be able manage your time very well, but also roll with the fact that you can't always be in control.

[Tweet this] "You need to be able manage your time very well, but also roll with the fact that you can't always be in control." 

D: What would you say are three things that make you successful?

G: In general, I think a successful real estate broker needs to be resilient, optimistic, and listen to their clients’ needs.

D: Why optimistic?

G: You never know where your next deal is going to come from, or how much money you're going to make that month. At the end of every year, I meet with all of my agents and I have them put together a business plan; it doesn’t matter if they did six million or 20 million, the next year they’re afraid that they’ll have no business. We all have to be optimists in that sense; you need to keep putting one foot in front of the other, since this is not a salary job, and there are no benefits. It’s what you make of it.

D: In today’s market how do you balance optimism with realism?

G: Our industry is changing rapidly and there are a lot of outside pressures. It’s not that we haven't dealt with disruption in the past, but it's becoming pretty dramatic. We’re also at the tail-end of an economic upswing, so we have to be pretty optimistic every day that we're going to be able to solve our clients’ problems, and that we’ll be able to negotiate well for them. But we need to process all of this through the filter of what's going on in the market and the world at-large.

D: How important is mentorship for you?

G: Mentorship is a crucial part to a successful, long-term career in this business. Finding someone who can “adopt” you is pretty valuable.

D: Do you think it’s important for new agents to make an effort to find a mentor?

G: I do. I get phone calls from new agents all the time. They tell me that they’ve just graduated from real estate school, and that they would love to come work for Kentwood. Unfortunately, I have to turn them down because we focus on hiring seasoned agents, and we don't really have a formal mentorship or training program. But I also don’t hesitate to guide these new agents, highlighting things they should look for when seeking a brokerage firm to join. New agents should look for a broker that has the time and is willing to mentor them, or one that has a formal mentorship or in-house training program of some sort. Finding mentorship and proper training when you start out will ensure your longevity in the business.

[Tweet this] "Finding mentorship and proper training when you start out will ensure your longevity in the business." 

D: What technology is most important to your success?

G: (Laughs) Cell phone and computer. I remember the real estate agent who sold my first house had one of those huge cell phones with a big antenna in the console of her car. We would also use listing books that we would get every Friday. On the book it would say, “Not for Public Distribution.” (Laughs) How could that not be for public distribution?  We would hand it to the client and say, “Don't tell anyone I gave you this, just flip through it and tell me which houses you want to see.” At the time, the real estate agent was the gatekeeper of the information… boy has that changed! Communication is so important, especially now that things happen so quickly.       

[Tweet this] "At the time, the real estate agent was the gatekeeper of the information… boy has that changed!"  

D: So how do you deal with clients these days who have a wealth of information at their fingertips?

G: I think that it’s fabulous, and a really positive advance in the industry. What it means for our business is that we have to hone our value proposition more strongly because we’re not just the ones who find people houses, or just unlock the door. There’s so much more to a transaction in terms of understanding the title work, knowing that there’s radon in that neighborhood or what it means if there is a crack in the corner of the door, being able to glance at the roof to find out its condition, knowing what the contingencies in a contract mean, following dates and deadlines… there's just so much value that a broker brings.

[Tweet this] "We have to hone our value proposition more strongly because we’re not just the ones who find people houses." 

D: How do you balance your work and personal life?

G: (Laughs) I've had to reflect on this in the last couple years. My son went away to college three years ago and now I’m alone and I work a lot. I’ve had some people tell me that I need to find work-life balance, and at first I got a little down on myself thinking, “Oh no, I have to find work-life balance!” But then I thought, “You know what? I love what I do, I feel like I have work-life balance because I’m happy in what I do.” If my agents need to call me at 9:00 PM because a deal is blowing up, I don't mind it because I love what I do.

D: How do you manage your time? Do you have any productivity tips?

G: I'm going to flip this and talk about agents managing their time. I recently had a conversation with one of my agents, who asked me to start coaching her and keeping her accountable. In our first meeting, I asked her if in her calendar she schedules inspections. She said yes. And what about appraisals? She said yes. And showings with clients? She said yes. And then I asked her, “Do you schedule in your calendar time for prospecting, or business building like cleaning up your database, or writing thank-you notes, or calling clients?” And she said no.  So I told her that she’s working in her business, but not working on her business. That's what you have to do to be successful.

So the first thing I made her do was book a weekly appointment for maintaining and building her business through thank you notes, cleaning up her database, or planning her next promotion, and then also book time for active prospecting, like meeting or calling people. This is what you need to do to keep a career and smooth out those ups and downs in the real estate industry.

[Tweet this] "You are working in your business, but not working on your business. That's what you have to do to be successful." 

D: What do you do on your down time?

G: I have lots of girlfriends, I play tennis, and I travel.

D: What advice would you give to new agents who are just entering the market?

G: Have some money in the bank. You need to have resources to live off of in case you don't make any money in the beginning. Constantly learn. Real estate school is just the beginning of the learning cycle. Sign-up for every class you can, and use your Association to keep growing. Twenty years after I started my career in real estate, I still go to conferences, seminars, and classes.

Another important thing is to remind new agents not to give up. I was talking with a friend about the book The Tipping Point, specifically about the fact that when you’re new to something, you’ve got to keep going because people quit right before they hit the tipping point where they’re successful. You have to be really dogged, ethical, and respect your clients.  

[Tweet this] "People quit right before they hit the tipping point where they’re successful." 

D: What is the biggest challenge you faced this year so far?

G: The biggest challenge was the move to our new office. I spent a lot of time project managing; I worked with the architects, builders, and designers. While that was really fun and a great learning experience, I felt like I was taking my eye off of managing my people. Luckily, I have really smart, savvy, successful, experienced brokers. So they just kept doing their thing. But I was nervous and worried that I was too absent. It was hard to balance it all. Now I feel like I’m back in the groove.

D: What are your thoughts on the current state of the real estate industry?

G: The industry is changing because the world is changing. Technology is evolving so quickly, it almost takes my breath away. You know, my son doesn't remember that you used to have to dial a phone, or get up from the couch to change the TV channel (laughs). So that's going to be a challenge for the industry - keeping up with the pace of technology because we tend to be a little insular, a little too confident in what we do. We need to stay open and mindful of what’s coming in the future so that we can stay relevant.

D: How do you keep up with industry trends?

G: I read a lot - RISMedia, Inman, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal. I find what’s relevant for my business. I also listen to smart people around me, and pick up tips from owners, managers, brokers, and peers in Denver and all over the country.

D: What do you think is the next area in real estate that’s waiting for disruption?

G: Possibly our commission structure. If you look at other countries, the buyer pays the buyer’s side agent and the seller pays the listing's side agent. I hope we don’t get to that extreme because the cooperative nature of our business is phenomenal. I mean we do business with competitors and we socialize together. We know each other, we know who we can trust, and we know who’s going to do a good job. This cooperative nature evolved because of the way we co-op the commission. But that could be ripe for disruption.  

[Tweet this] "Our commission structure [...] could be ripe for disruption." 

D: As the current NAR Ambassador to India, can you tell us a little bit more about your involvement with international real estate?

G: My bachelor's degree is in International Studies and Public Affairs, so I always thought that that was interesting. I started the CIPS (Certified International Property Specialist) courses about 15 years ago because I saw an opportunity to do business with international buyers and sellers.

I also participated in DMAR’s Global Committee, and through that I got involved with India because Denver is the Ambassador Association to India. I ended up going to India three times as a representative of NAR at their real estate conferences.  


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D: What’s the biggest difference between how real estate is done in the U.S. versus India?

G: Oh gosh, there is a lot of difference (laughs). They don’t get exclusive listings so the seller will just negotiate the commission with you up until the end. There's also a lot of cash under the table, so there's a real price and then there's the recorded price, and that has to do with taxes and fees.

D: How do you deal with team dynamics and conflict in the workplace?

G: Number one, I try to strip out the drama and get to the core of what's going on on both sides. Then I try to guide them to find a solution. Generally, the truth meet somewhere in the middle.

D: How would you define your management style?

G: (Laughs) I would love to hear what my agents have to say about that. I'm supportive, I always back my agents, and I’m empathetic because I know that what they do is really hard. I just try to be their partner in their business.

D: What would you say are some lead generation strategies that work best?  

G: I think that it totally depends on the agent. There's no one set of successful strategies just like there's no one model for a real estate business. Some agents kill it with open houses; if that's where you get your business from, then go do open houses. Some are excellent at calling people, some build their business from socializing, and others have amazing websites - there are various approaches.  What doesn’t work is scattered planning and trying various strategies without consistency. It’s important to go back, analyze your business, and figure out where you are getting your leads from.

[Tweet this] "What doesn’t work is scattered planning and trying various strategies without consistency." 

D: What worked for you when you sold real estate?

G: Being pretty social. Everyone in my book club bought a house from me, parents in my son's middle school bought houses from me… so what worked for me was networking and being in front of people, but not in an aggressive way. It’s what Larry Kendall calls “being in the flow.” So if you're in the flow with people and they need real estate advice, they're going to think of you. The way I learned to leverage that was -  I remember this so vividly - it was my first or second year in real estate and I had a friend say to me, “Oh my god, my sister just bought a house, I totally forgot you’re in real estate, otherwise I would’ve passed your name on.” I felt crestfallen. I was so sad that she didn't refer me, but then I realized that it wasn’t her fault. It was my own fault since it was my job to keep in touch and remind her that I’m a real estate broker. That experience woke me up and made me realize that you have to be proactive.

D: Networking is hard, especially when you don’t know people in the room. Do you have any tips for effectively making connections?  

G: Going back to India, people are literally flinging their business cards at you. That’s not networking. It’s really about building personal relationships. So if you’re going to attend a Chamber of Commerce gathering, or going to join a league or your kid’s PTA, or get on a tennis ladder, it’s all about building a personal relationship, one step at the time. Going to a networking meeting two or three times is not going to bring you business. You have to be involved consistently and get to know people.

[Tweet this] "Going to a networking meeting two or three times is not going to bring you business. You have to be involved consistently and get to know people." 

D: With the big news of Kentwood being acquired by HomeServices of America, we wanted to ask you what that means for the future of the company.  

G: One of my agents put it perfectly. She said, “It’s the same car, same driver, same passengers, bigger engine.” And that's really what it is. It means opportunity. I think that we're extremely fortunate that our former owner, Peter Niederman, who’s still the CEO, was careful in who he chose to sell his company to. HomeServices of America is a Berkshire Hathaway company, which, according to a recent poll, is the second most trusted brand in the United States.  

And Warren Buffet, with any companies that he acquires, buys the leadership and the people, not just the brand. Their whole modus operandi is keep the brand and the leadership. So we have a lot of support now - we have a huge network of really successful companies, other IT departments, and other marketing departments that we can tap into to help us stay relevant in this industry. But we're still Kentwood, we’re still a local brand.

D: What is the most important lesson that you’ve learned in your career?

G: Always do business ethically and believe in yourself.

D: How would you describe your relationship with coffee?

G: I cannot start the day without a cup of coffee. I drink it black, usually a cup to two per day. My parents are coffee drinkers so I started drinking it in high school. In the beginning you have to put a ton of sugar and cream, but then you wean yourself off of that and just enjoy the coffee.

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