Coffee Break with Heather Heuer

The past couple of years have been pretty monumental for Heather Heuer. And to be honest, that's probably an understatement. At the 2018 DMAR Excellence Awards she was named Broker/Manager of the Year and then was later elected Chairwoman of the DMAR Board in September of 2018. During her time as Chair she worked on several major projects including merger conversations with REcolorado and IRES, the adoption of SentriLock as the official electronic lockbox for the Association and the first-ever Women in Real Estate Denver (Wired) Summit we hosted last fall. On top of all that, she was appointed Senior Vice President of Operations at LIV Sotheby’s International Realty in May of 2019, having previously worked as President and Employing Broker for PorchLight Real Estate Group. We sat down with Heather at Novo coffee to discuss her career, her experience as Chairwoman and much, much more.

December 20, 2019

DMAR: Can you tell us about yourself and how you got into real estate?
I've been in Colorado since 2002, when I came here to take a job in the restaurant industry as a general manager, and I realized that I didn't love food that much other than eating it. I had a friend who sold us our first home, and I loved the process of real estate - all the different people who were involved and the nuances of the transactions. She offered me an opportunity to start as an assistant and I became licensed in 2004 and have been in real estate ever since.

D: Did you have a mentor or anyone who you credit for helping you get started?
My mentor was my first team leader, Rebekah. She was super organized. She created business plans and we had a weekly meeting where we reviewed everything and set goals. She was absolutely the best person for me to work with. A lot of people don't have that compass, so they flail around and try something and then it doesn't work, so they try something else, and that doesn't work either. And in all honesty, it probably isn't that it didn't work, it's just they didn't give it enough time. But when you can't see it happening and you're potentially spending money on something you want a fast turnaround and real estate is not a fast turnaround. It's just not.

D: What's something you wish someone had told you when you first entered the industry?
Probably that you have to be in control of your time. The industry tells you when you're supposed to work and when you're supposed to get up and when the clients are supposed to meet you. But that's not how business works. Business works on the schedule that you create. I wish I had done a better job of that. It would have been great if someone had said, "Hey, be disciplined in what you do and business will come because you're good at what you do.”

D: Can you tell us about your role at LIV Sotheby's?
My title is Senior Vice President of Operations and I basically oversee all of the processes and systems that go into making a brokerage run. And that can be from the Managing Broker perspective, from the agent perspective or from the staffing perspective. How do we make sure that our offices are running consistently throughout the company? We have LIV offices in two states, plus two sister companies. My role is to help create processes that can be streamlined in all of those operations. I also oversee human resources as well as some of the pieces that go into business planning and training and coaching agents. Again, there’s a big emphasis on making sure our compliance packages work and tie in with everything. So my fingers are in a lot of places.

D: Do you miss working with clients?
 Initially I did. I moved into management in 2012 and I sold consistently until about 2016. In that stage, I did miss that interaction and their excitement. I enjoyed showing properties and talking to people about the nuances of homes. I liked the negotiation piece and the excitement of getting under contract. But now I see hundreds of contracts every year and so I'm involved with the agents and the managing brokers to problem solve and make sure that we're doing the right thing in terms of following the state laws. I don't have the stress of wondering what's going to happen. I try to convey that real estate's not a life or death emergency and we're going to get through it. Everybody can go home and take a deep breath... there are things we just shouldn't discuss at 10:00 PM after two glasses of wine.

D: How would you describe the LIV Sotheby’s brand? It seems like they have a focus on the luxury market, is that true?
I think it's now become a misnomer that LIV Sotheby's is just the leading luxury brand in our marketplace. Hands down, we can show it a million different ways, but what's more important is that luxury lives on every level. Someone in the $300,000, $500,000, $1 million or $10 million range … all of them have their own expectation of luxury, and being treated with respect and honoring the product that they can afford or move up to. We believe in treating everybody fairly and with the same respect for their version of luxury. And that's the premise of LIV.

TWEET THIS: "... luxury lives on every level. Someone in the $300,000, $500,000, $1 million or $10 million range … all of them have their own expectation of luxury." 

D: Walk us through a typical day in your life.
I get up just after 5:00 AM. I have two kids who I need to get ready for school so I pack lunches and whatnot. I check my emails and calendar before I go to bed at night so I can make sure I'm prepared in the morning. After I take the kids to school, I'm usually in the office right around 8:00 AM or 8:30 AM. I check in with the staff, say hello, check emails and prepare for any meetings I may have. I'm generally booked with meetings all day.I will go and visit our other offices, check with the managing broker to see what they need, and then I'm usually out of the office somewhere right around 5:00 PM to get the kids or do any after-hours things. I check emails until probably 8:00 PM, and then I try to have the sensibility to shut my phone off.

I think there's a need to shut down and not have to deal with work situations. People know they can reach me via phone, email or text all day. I do believe in getting back to people. It's important for me to have consistent communication and to respond, even if it's to just say, “I can't get back to you today, but I'll get back to you another time.” A lot of my time is spent getting back to people and making sure that we're on deck for the next stage. 

My husband is a chef. He makes a lot of our dinners, which is good because I'm a terrible cook. At least I'm not experienced. And then I'll have the stuff to do with my kids; my daughter's in fifth grade, so she has math homework that nobody understands. And my son is in first grade and so he has homework that I get. We'll have dinner and then put the kids to bed. I usually go to bed around 9:00 PM.

D: When did you first join a REALTOR® Association, and what made you decide to join? 
I joined a REALTOR® association in 2004 right when I became licensed. I worked at Prestige Real Estate and my team very strongly believed in the REALTOR® Association and understood it was a huge benefit to them as well as to their clients. I have been a member since then.

D: Did you become active in the Association right away, or when did you first join a committee/join the Board?
I was not active right away mainly because I just didn't know what I was doing. Working on a team, I certainly attended different events and classes that were put on by the Association, because it was a consistent place. We knew that they had good instructors. We knew that they had good content. But I didn't actually become a part of the Board until I believe 2013 when I joined as a Director. I felt that during that period in my life it was time to give back. It was time to be a part of a community that had given a lot to me and I wanted to do more.

D: What would you say to newer agents or people who aren't involved in the Association about why they should get involved? 
Some of the benefits are clichés, right? You meet new friends; you have different experiences. But the reality is that you're building relationships. I think a lot of people miss the boat on understanding why you want relationships with fellow REALTORS®. It isn't just because you know, they're nice people. It's about business exchanging. It's about creating referral networks. It's about understanding how the industry works from different perspectives. We don't just throw parties. We're actively trying to make sure that the members are taken care of, that their best interests are there, that the homeowners are protected and that when we see issues come up on the ballot that most people don't understand we show them how it relates to their business.

TWEET THIS: "I think a lot of people miss the boat on understanding why you want relationships with fellow REALTORS®. It isn't just because you know, they're nice people. It's about business exchanging. It's about creating referral networks. It's about understanding how the industry works from different perspectives." 

We have people who are actively going out there and figuring it out for us so we can vote appropriately. They are making sure that we have the right tools to be able to make decisions on what matters and then translate that to our clients. We also have access to great resources that people can just drop into their social media or email to share with clients that make them look like a superstar, even if they may not understand all of what it means. If you provide data, people naturally think that you know what you're talking about. And that's important.

It's not hard if you join to show up to one meeting a week or one meeting a month based upon your District or the committee that you're on; it's how you show that you care. When other people see that you care, they naturally believe that you care about your work and they're more apt to want to do business with you and refer business. So you're telling your clients that you're actively involved with your Association. A lot of people belong to an Association, maybe a different one, and they know the work that goes into it. They know the time, the commitment and the active listening that you have to do, and they respect you. That's important.

D: In terms of stepping into a leadership role, what type of person do you think is best suited for that? 
 Being passionate is critical. I would especially love to see more people with a higher level of experience become Directors. I think they just have a broader base to be able to make decisions. But at the end of the day, if someone is actively engaged, they are doing business, they're trying to find out what's going on in the communities and they're asking questions, then they should step up and join the Board. And if they aren't a part of the Board, then they should see what committees they can be on because that will just give them more experience. But it is about passion, and it's also about knowing what you're getting into and reading the issues. It’s important to be active and read the dialogue that comes through. Pay attention to the news like the Denver Business Journal and the reports that DMAR puts out because, at the end of the day, we're not doing it for fun. We're doing it to give people the tools they need to be successful, and if they have questions about it, then they should ask. ​

D: As Immediate Past Chairwoman, can you tell us about your experience leading the Association? 
I knew when I joined the Association in 2013 that I would move into a leadership role. That's just how I work. I believe that if you're a part of something then you need to find out how it works on all levels and certainly leading the organization is the way to do that. I talked to my husband when I knew that my last “regular” year was coming up, and I did not wish to join as simply a Director for the next year. I felt that I had more to give and I also knew based upon the timing for my family and where my kids were, that we were in a place where I could do something else. I knew that it was essentially a three-year commitment being the Chair-Elect, the Chair and then the Immediate Past Chair, so I had to consider that. But I was excited to be able to move forward in that role. The role itself was certainly challenging. I did the research. I talked to other Immediate Past Chairs and the current Chair at the time and asked what were the expectations, how many hours were they working, would they do it again, what were the drawbacks? And I felt that people were honest. I also felt that they were thoughtful, but everybody's sense of thoughtfulness and honesty is based upon what they're dealing with in their personal lives. To be honest, there were definitely more meetings than I anticipated because you forget about the District's needs and just the other intricacies of the business and what's necessary to keep the Board running. I also didn't anticipate how many people would call me for questions. There was also the added piece of the media calling or our PR firm calling and saying, “I need help with this.” You feel obligated to participate and try to find that time. For me, I also accepted a role as the President of our company during that period so it was a lot.

But it was good. I'm glad I did it, that I'm a part of it and that I had that experience. I got to meet and know a lot of people in a different way. And I also really, really understand how the local Association works and how it interacts with the state and the national board. In the end, I don't know that I could've done more given that my job - my real job - took up so much of my time.

D: How would you describe your leadership style? 
: I'm direct. I want people to know where I'm coming from and I don't want anyone to be sidelined or blindsided. I think my best example is that when I start the meetings, I tell people what my expectations are. We're going to get through the meeting. We all have better stuff to do than be here talking about this for 10 hours and we're not going to pontificate. If we already started talking about this, then we're not going to talk about it 10 more times. We agree and we're going to move on. But I also want to be respectful of the fact that everybody has a different opinion and I want to make sure that their covered and do it in a way that respects their opportunity to speak.

I also started the "Two-Minute Rule." You know, sorry, if you can't get it done in two minutes, then you just aren't thinking it all the way through. And I need you to stop and rethink it and then re-present. But I know that some people don't like that method and they want more time to feel that everybody has had more time to talk. I think that if we're prepared for our meetings, reading the notes in advance and we're there to actually be a participant on the Board, then we need to bring our "A" game.

D: Would you chair again?
 Not tomorrow. But I would be the Chair again if there was an emergency. There are too many people out there who have the skills and the ability to be in that role. Are they going to do it the way that I want? No. Are they going to have different opinions? Sure. And that's good because if we always run the same course, we're always going to do the same things. I absolutely find that people who will misstep or fail forward, as long as they recognize it and can turn it around - that’s fine. If they can't recognize it, well then I'm going to help in the background. I’m here more to help the people who need to move forward, but I don't need to be the forefront person. I prefer to be in the background. I step up because I see a need.

D: What would you say was the most challenging part of being Chair?
The most challenging part was working with the other boards and the personalities that came before me in some cases. There's a process of being respectful to your elders if you will, and understanding that other people had experiences and challenges before. Being able to say, "That's great and I respect that; however, the situation has changed." This is what it is now and we have to look at in terms of how our market is today, and how our members are today. If we spend too much time dwelling on what happened before, we'll never make progress. I don't think that message was always delivered in the nicest way. Because we just don't have enough time and we just had to move forward. If people couldn't get on board then they were left behind in some cases.

It was only because I very strongly believe in making sure our Association is forward-thinking, taking care of our members, and making sure that we're protecting our clients and the public from things that could happen in our industry that we're not aware of. And that means we have to make decisions early.

D: You had a lot of big projects to tackle during your term. What would you say was your proudest accomplishment as Chairwoman?
Probably the REcolorado piece. Deciding to replace three directors was really hard. It hurt me and it hurt my Board to do it. I don't like telling people that they're not right for the role anymore, not to say that they didn't do a good job. But I see that as being a catalyst for how we progressed the rest of the year. It absolutely changed how DMAR was perceived in that REcolorado boardroom. And in some ways, it wasn't great. I didn't make any new friends at REcolorado, but I showed them that we are watching, that we are prepared, that we care and that we aren't interested in paying attention to what used to happen. We're interested in making sure that things happen the right way. That’s why we had to move forward and create a fair playing field for all of our Associations, and all of our members.

TWEET THIS: "I didn't make any new friends at REcolorado, but I showed them that we are watching, that we are prepared, that we care and that we aren't interested in paying attention to what used to happen. We're interested in making sure that things happen the right way." 

D: Speaking of REcolorado, do you still think a merger is going to happen?
No, I don’t think that the merger idea is going to happen. The data sharing piece of it is more likely to happen in some form and for a lot of reasons. The RESO dictionary upgrade that's happening, the need to have more consolidation among MLS's, the fact that we have so many people who are doing businesses in adjoining areas and in other states that are close by. That piece will change. Is it going to happen tomorrow? No. Are we still going to be sitting back and waiting? Yes, because it has to be right for the entire group, and unfortunately that takes a long time. I do think that we have people in place in the REcolorado board now who are interested in making the hard choices and having the hard conversations to move us forward.

D:  What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that our industry is currently facing?
The industry is facing the challenge of REALTOR® versus licensee. There continues to be a struggle for REALTORS® to show their value, and to do it in a way that is more than just the "R". The "R" is great because it is a unified front. It allows us to go and lobby at the White House and on the political landscape. But the "R" is more than that. The "R" is saying that I stand up for what I believe in. It's saying that I respect my colleagues. It's saying that I believe in the integrity of the commission plan and the ability to move forward as an industry to do good and provide people with the right to shelter. That's important. I think that we lose that when we have other industries come in, that spend a lot of time with these disruptors that aren't really about the client. They're simply about making a dollar. And that's a problem area. 

TWEET THIS: "But the 'R' is more than that. The 'R' is saying that I stand up for what I believe in. It's saying that I respect my colleagues. It's saying that I believe in the integrity of the commission plan and the ability to move forward as an industry to do good and provide people with the right to shelter. That's important." 

The other major issue that I think we face is again around MLS's. We have so many different platforms and ways to do things and NAR, while it has the best intentions in mind, isn't an enforcing board. And so because they don't enforce the rulings that they put forth, there is no reason for other MLS's and Associations to comply because aren’t consequences. We need to have accountability.

D: Let’s change gears a bit and talk about electronic lockboxes. Why do you think Colorado was so late to the game? 
How embarrassing, right? It’s because nobody cared. You know, it's a cost and just another thing you have to do. We have such a small group of big metropolises - Fort Collins, Denver and then Colorado Springs - and then you have all this open area in between. People tended to just say, "We'll do what we want to do.” It led to these silos. And if the silos are competing against one another, then one factor is cost. When you factor in that electronic lockboxes tend to be more expensive than mechanical, it can be a challenge. People feel like, what's wrong with mechanical? They still get the job done. There isn't any negative effect to not have them in place because we haven't had a string of incidences - and we don't want the incidences. That certainly would be bad, but there just hasn't been a direct need to switch to electronic.

I also think another big factor is that our Association works in conjunction with two others, and the bylaws were written in a manner that says there has to be a unanimous agreement to do anything as a big board - which applies to REcolorado, as well. If we as three Associations can't agree on how to do anything at all, then we certainly aren't going to be able to come to any agreement on how to enforce things that go through REcolorado. And that's just something that I'm not sure how to fix at this point.

D: Do you think people in the real estate industry are perhaps more averse to change than other industries?
Well, let's talk about it. The median age for an agent within NAR is 53 years old. So they've been around the block, you know. At the end of the day, they have grown up from a time when they had a rotary phone and then they went to the cell phone. They’ve gone through this huge electronic shift and it's happening so quickly. It's hard to keep up.

So let's talk about change. What's really hilarious about change is that every single day a REALTOR® wakes up and their day changes. They got up and they thought they were going to have coffee at 9:00 AM, and then we're going to have a showing at 10:00 AM. Then they were going to be able to write a contract at 11:00 AM. But then their client calls them and says, “My kid's sick, I have to move it to 2:00 PM.” Then the photographer calls, and it's snowing and they can't get there in time. So the agent's entire life is based on change. And it's stuff they have no control over, but they're dedicated to meeting that change in order to take care of their clients. What kills them is that they don't have that control. So the piece of saying that they don't "want change," I don't think that's necessarily true. I think it's just they want a little more control over what the change is going to be. And if they can actively choose not to switch to electronic lockboxes, or not to learn about the newest technology to send to their clients, they're okay with it because they got to make that decision.

D:  What do you think is the next step in terms of electronic lockboxes. We’ve given away about 5,000 free lockboxes, but we're not necessarily seeing a whole lot of them on listings ye. What do you think is going to be the next push so REALTORS® embrace them?
As much as we want to stop talking about electronic lockboxes, we can't. The next Chair has to keep pushing them. Every Chair has to be pushing that. And we have to talk about it all the time. We have to talk about the wins. We can't ignore the fails, but we have to talk about how we can make adjustments to create opportunities. We have to showcase why they're important through talking points and showing people how easy it is. That's the other thing part of the change issue. Everyone can download an app on their phone, but they have to know how to use it. And if they don't know how to use it, then it's just an app on their phone. If we can keep pushing that it's easy then I think the adoption rate will grow. 

D: We wanted to talk with you about the Women in Real Estate Denver (Wired) Summit we hosted this year. You played a big part in getting that event off the ground. Can you tell us about that and why you think it’s important for us to have an event for women?
I was at Inman a couple of years ago and they had the women from California come and talk about their event, WomanUP!® Conference, and I thought, "Oh, that's cool.” But I didn't really think about it. Then right before my term as Chair started, Ann (DMAR’s CEO) told me that she had a really exciting opportunity that she wanted to talk about. She let me know that we were going to put on this women's conference and how appropriate was it that I was a female. And I thought, “Oh, that's fun.”

The inspiration came out because we continue to find that women are a giant part of our industry - they're huge in the Denver market - yet too many women still don't think that they have the same value as men in the REALTOR® world. This was specifically about women and being a REALTOR® - we have different challenges. We still tend to be the primary caregiver in the home. We are still the ones who have the babies. We're still the ones who tend to be the caregiver later in life. And that's just what it is. A lot of women don't mind that. I love taking care of my kids. I'm excited that I have two kids, they're great and I want to take care of them. I want to know about their school day. And I happen to have a husband who’s very involved, but a lot of women don't understand that they can still have a viable business.

They can still take care of their clients, they can still crush it and do $20, $50, $100 million in sales and be equally, or more, effective than their counterparts. We wanted an event that would embrace that and remind women that they matter. And, at the same time, if they don’t want to have a crazy business, that's great too. As long as they're contributing in a positive way that shows that REALTORS® and women are a fabulous part of our world, then great.

I think that we succeeded by bringing in people to the Wired Summit who met everyone at their level, and it provided educational tools. It provided the opportunity to relate. It showcased a young girl and what she could do and reminded people why they got into the business or why their kids might get into the things that they get into. And it resonated. I was excited to be a part of it and so pleased with how everybody came together.

D: How have you seen Denver change in the past maybe five to 10 years, and where do you think we're going in the next five?
The change for sure has been in the influx of infill housing and all of the multi-family construction that has happened. That was separate from the condo defects issues. What we're seeing built are apartment complexes. So there's tons of infill, there are tons of these small slot homes that have shown up through our Denver market, and it's changed the landscape in certain neighborhoods. That's fine and good except that we're unable to convert them into condos for different reasons. But that's a whole other story.

I think that we will continue to have attached family housing. We will continue to have this competition between the Boomer generation and the Millennial generation wanting similar things for at least the next couple of years. And we're going to continue to have issues with financing. Not because of the problems with financing, but because of cost and the challenge to secure a down payment to be able to afford homes for younger generations. They just don't have the funds to be able to purchase.

D: If you weren't selling real estate, what would you want to do?
I always thought that I would be a hospital administrator. I was going into nursing school when I moved to Colorado, and I anticipated that I would run a hospital. I like the healthcare industry and to me, it’s similar to real estate in that it's always changing. There are always things to learn. There are always different people. There's always catastrophes that you have to solve and I like to solve problems. I like to help people.

D: What's your favorite activity outside of work?
Oh, gosh. I don't have very many activities because I have two little kids. I like to read, but I don't read very often. I just remodeled my kitchen and I have two ovens, so I have to bake Christmas cookies this year. I like to bake. I like to ride my bike. I like to camp and be in the outdoors. I like to sit by the river and watch it go by. I like to ski. That's about it.

D: And the last question, which we ask everyone because it's Coffee Break, how would you describe your relationship with coffee? Do you have a favorite coffee spot in Denver?
I have a coffee maker and I brew 10 cups of coffee in it, every day. Then I drink probably one and a half cups. And I have it with cream, I'm not a black coffee drinker. I used to drink tea at night, but I found that I'm allergic to tea, so that's cut that out. But I like coffee. Growing up, no one in my family drank coffee. 

In terms of a favorite coffee spot, I don’t know. I tend to float because we have offices all over the place. I don't have a favorite place because I like to just try different things.