Top Performer: Kaz Sera

Turning up the heat

October 1, 2000

There are hot markets and then there’s San Francisco, a city where homes in many neighborhoods now average $500,000 and time on the market is often measured in hours.

The salespeople who thrive in this environment are those who understand how to maximize competitive bidding. Kaz Sera, a salesperson with N.A. Sapunar Realty, has mastered the game.

Sera’s business is almost exclusively sellers. “With buyers, you’re one of 15 people bidding on a house which means you have a one in fifteen chance of receiving a commission,” he says.

Sera typically carries only between two and six listings at any one time. This is partly a function of the tight market, but it’s also emblematic of the way he does business. “I like to focus on one listing at a time,” he says. Because the sales period is so short, he still winds up with nearly 40 transactions a year.

The heart of Sera’s strategy is a marketing plan that seeks to capitalize on the near frenzy in the buying community when a bargain-priced house comes on the market.

“I advise the sellers to price their house up to 20 percent below the market price and not to look at any offers for two weeks,” he says. The timing, he adds, is key. “Three weeks is too long and one week isn’t long enough for word to spread and for people to get their bids in order,” he says.

Another important factor: Sera advises all sellers to pay for termite and contractor reports and to make them available to all prospective bidders. “That way,” he says, “people know exactly what they’re bidding on. There are no surprises and no last-minute price reductions.”

During the two-week selling period, Sera will run an ad in two Sunday editions of the San Francisco Chronicle, hold two open houses, and host two broker’s tours.

The results can be breathtaking. Sera mentions one recent sale, a $400,000 house that the sellers priced at $318,000. At the end of the two-week marketing period, there were 47 offers and the house eventually sold for $540,500.

Although San Francisco has a large Asian community, Sera--who is of Japanese ancestry but grew up in the United States--has never targeted that market. “You need to speak the language to market to that community, and I know just enough Japanese to get into trouble,” he says.

Instead, Sera says he finds listings mainly by networking with past clients and by staying in touch with people he knows will be ready to sell at some point in the future. Many are older people who are either retired or looking to downsize their living environments.

As for the fabled "dot-commers"--the Internet entrepreneurs who are usually cited as the main reason the San Francisco market has skyrocketed in the last five years--Sera says he deals with them only rarely and then mainly as buyers.

He also sells a fair amount of new construction. It’s almost 50 percent of his total business and a very profitable niche, he says. “The trick is to develop some long-term relationships with builders and contractors. Last year, I did 10 transactions with one builder and almost that many with another.”

Kaz Sera

N.A. Sapunar Realty
San Francisco; 415/268-4555
Web address:

1999 gross production volume $15 million
Average sales price $500,000
Average number of listings 2-6
Hours per week I work 50+

Robert Sharoff is an architectural writer for The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Chicago Magazine. With photographer William Zbaren, he has produced books highlighting the architecture of Detroit and St. Louis. He is a former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine.

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