One of the biggest coincidences of my life occurred yesterday when, a few hours after sending a Facebook message to the late, great Joe Ferrara‘s sister, I saw a friend write that I was an Inman Innovator Award finalist. Joe was, among many things, a writer at Inman News and a huge influence and inspiration before his untimely passing in 2010. To be selected with only 6 other agents to be a finalist by the industry trade publication, an organization as respected as Inman, is a great honor. By the way, if we know each other and you don’t vote for me here I will boil this furry little kitten.
At first I was unsure how much of an “innovator” I really am, as I never invented a game changing tool or practice. I did always aspire to make what I did have better and to use what I had access to more effectively than my competition. However, innovation isn’t merely invention. It is adaptation, implementation, and most importantly, execution. In those departments, I will say that Ann and I have given it our all.
Westchester is a competitive, brand conscious market. From the beginning, I believed that the way for a small firm like mine to win in this environment was to do what Sam Houston did to beat Santa Ana: beat them in the place they weren’t waging battle. Houston advanced at night. The place I felt I would do the best to resonate with consumers was to put all my chips on creating a great online presence. Even in 2005, it was obvious to me that more and more people would start their real estate journey via the Internet. That’s where I put time, my focus on niches, my marketing, and my perspiration. Every night when I went to sleep (or woke up drooling on my keyboard) I wanted to ensure that if someone who never heard of me googled me that they’d like what they see.
I could write for hours on the niches I continue to work, the specializations I focused on, and the effort it took to do the uncomfortable. Approaching expired listings, who often weren’t happy with real estate agents, was one of those things. Putting myself out there in other under-served areas was a muscle developed daily. It wasn’t enough to be online, or just great online, I was all about going where other firms seldom or never went. Our goal wasn’t to be paperless or virtual. I simply de-emphasized brick and mortar and made house calls to my niches. I continue to do that, and in spite of being in a brutally competitive suburban New York market, the worst housing downturn since the Great Depression, and dealing since 2007 with our son Gregory’s autism, Ann and I have grown this thing from a one man operation to a vital, growing organization of over 30 agents.
Which brings me back to Joe Ferrara. In 2009, after the market had crashed and small firms like mine were going out of business in droves, I was experiencing severe fatigue. My production was down more than 30% since 2007, I had a new home and mortgage, and my fledgling blog efforts were sputtering. I knew Joe a little from the Lucky Striker Social Media Club but had respected him as a huge industry voice for years. He was a celebrity. We spent some time together at some industry events in 2009, and Joe told me that he thought I was funny, smart, and that I should keep blogging. He told me to be myself and break the rules. Don’t worry about offending people. It was not a lot of conversations, but it was like having the Oracle speak to me. At the time, I was blogging on the Active Rain network (I still do from time to time, and owe the platform a debt of gratitude as well), and I jumped back into blogging with renewed inspiration.
The results were rewarding. I got on ABC World News when a producer found me on Google. Agents began to join our firm. I became Vice president of my Multiple Listing Service in 2010. I am now in my 4th term in that position. I have been in the print media and quoted by news outlets. My firm is now a member of Westchester Real Estate Inc, the most prestigious consortium of independently owned brokerages in my market. I am on Zillow.com’s Agent Advisory Board. But none of that would matter if I didn’t have a good reputation. That was the holy grail, and punctuated my daily work. As I tell consumers, the feathers in my cap mean nothing if I cannot get them to the closing table with terms reflecting their best interests. That is all it has ever been about for me.
It is gratifying that the industry has noticed. Joe Ferrara was kind enough to reach out first, and if I actually win I will share the honor with him and his family.[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywtYRS6nSj0[/youtube]