Lee Nelson is a freelance journalist from the Chicago area. She has written for Yahoo! Homes, TravelNursing.org, MyMortgageInsider.com, and ChicagoStyle Weddings Magazine. She also writes a bi-monthly blog on Unigo.com. Contact Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Market Series: Midsize Metro Broker
Meet a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based broker-owner who’s grown his business through strategic diversification and by staying true to his own passions.
April 25, 2019
This Broker to Broker series profiles three individual broker-owners from a small, midsize, and large city to understand how they’ve built their businesses to accommodate their market and customers’ needs.
Part Two: Midsize Metro
Blu House Properties
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Ryan Ogle isn’t sure if he chose real estate or if real estate chose him. Broker-owner of Blu House Properties in Grand Rapids, Mich., Ogle was in high school, working a part-time job at a private athletic club when he met an older member who tipped well and often held conversations about real estate with other patrons. That planted the entrepreneurial seed in Ogle, who opened his own business after high school painting and power-washing fences. By age 21, he had his real estate license and never looked back.
A self-proclaimed social butterfly who’s proud of his hometown of Grand Rapids—which is frequently named to “best places to live“ lists and polls—Ogle touts the city’s “green and clean” environment. “The biggest advantage to a place this size is that it’s only 15 minutes to drive anywhere,” says Ogle, who’s learned to market the benefits of his midsize market to out-of-state buyers. He even had one client from California who asked if the city has people walking around picking up trash.
Many of his local clients have come from word-of-mouth, but he has gained out-of-town buyer referrals through the relationships he’s built with other agents from around the country while attending National Association of REALTORS® conferences and networking events. He also has community pages on his website with helpful information for people moving from out of state.
Now in his 18th year in the business, Ogle has his agents focus on three categories of success: relationships, opportunities, and wealth. He expects them to constantly be building relationships with their current and past clients though communication and touch points through the year. As an office, they host four annual client events. In June, Blu House books a theater for a get-together with former clients and their families to say thank you for their business. In the fall, they host an orchard event. Ogle trains agents to look for opportunities that will help clients find their dream home, and building wealth, he says, happens by showing clients how to build equity.
Diversifying his business has helped Ogle stay competitive in his market. In addition to his residential sales business, he also operates a commercial real estate branch, a construction company, a property management business, and a marketing company. The overall brand includes 10 agents and 15 staff. “We can provide our clients with whatever their needs are—to sell their home, manage their properties, or fix their bathrooms. They come to us for whatever they need,” he says. For instance, if a client needs $10,000 in repairs to sell their home, Ogle will send over his contractor workers on a Saturday and get it done for a fraction of the cost. Sometimes he covers the cost and gets reimbursed at the closing. Other times, his company charges clients up front. “We use our in-house construction as an advantage to help get a home ready to sell or to get through inspection issues,” Ogle says.
While Grand Rapids isn’t expanding in population nearly as quickly as many metros, Ogle has grown his business by taking on a wider market area. He now operates in several nearby small towns as far as an hour away from the city center, which has opened up a significant amount of sales for his agents.
Read the Entire Market Series
As a midsize-market leader, Ogle offers tips for building a real estate brand in a similar-size locale:
Do intentional networking. Ogle just booked an eight-day elk hunting trip in Idaho with a former client from California. “He flew out and bought a property from me, and now we’re friends for life. I have really good friends from all around the country,” he says. When you network, relationships form, and throughout the years, those friendships flourish and so does your business, he adds.
Follow your passions and business will come. Ogle tells his agents to have fun, get involved, and talk with people. “I play basketball at the gym three days a week, and volunteer at my church and kids’ school. I get leads from everyone interact with.” For instance, he loves the outdoors, and he began ice fishing with a nurse he met at church. That nurse introduced him to a doctor who bought the most expensive house Ogle has ever closed. He advises newbies to the business who don’t have a database to sit at coffee shops, bars, and restaurants and simply meet people. Join a community board, volunteer at a charity, and get involved with your local real estate associations, he says. “Tell people you are a REALTOR®, and your database will grow.”
Be friendly with other real estate pros. Even in a midsize market, real estate is a small world. “We are all in this together,” Ogle says, and expects his agents to also adopt a similar attitude. Technology can be efficient yet impersonal, so Ogle encourages his agents to have more face-to-face interactions with other agents and brokers in the community. That way, “you then can put a face on a name when you get five offers,” he says.
Go beyond the call of duty. Grand Rapids used to have a sidewalk inspection law, where the city had to inspect sidewalks before a home could be sold. Ogle had an elderly client selling her home, and everything was ready to go when a foot of snow dumped on the city the night before the inspector was scheduled to come. The snow was hard and deep, so Ogle brought a blowtorch to the home to help melt the snow, making it easier to shovel the sidewalk before the inspector showed up.
Further the profession. Ogle encourages other brokers and agents to dedicate some time to bettering the industry. In 2018, Ogle served as president of the Greater Regional Alliance of REALTORS®, and he continues to be involved in the association by teaching classes to new licensees. “I want them to see this as a real profession. I want the public to see that, too.”