A Creative Touch

Michael Nicola is as interested in how his clients live as he is in selling properties. He's not trying to be everyone's broker.

July 1, 2009

Santa Fe, N.M. broker Michael Nicola draws from his experience in the design industry to help buyers see possibilities they had never considered.

Michael Nicola
Michael Nicola Group, Santa Fe, N.M.

Years in Business: 25; more than a decade as a salesperson in Los Angeles before relocating to Santa Fe in 1993; owner-partner of Homefield Realty, Santa Fe, N.M., from 1993–2004; opened Michael Nicola Group in 2007
2008 Gross Sales: $10 million on 25 transaction sides
2007 Gross Sales: $20 million on 50 transaction sides
Number of Offices: 1
Number of Sales Associates: 3

Why he Entered the Business

Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved houses. But real estate wasn’t my first career. I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I was a literary agent as well as an interior designer and fashion designer for the likes of Diana Ross and Ann-Margret in the 1970s. I also opened a fitness club in Los Angeles. Real estate appealed to me in the 1980s as an art form. I like to think of it as matching people to the home that’s right for them. My focus changed over the years. I moved to Santa Fe in 1993 looking for a place that wasn’t as high-pressure as Los Angeles.

His Company Vision

I want to help people define or redefine how they want to live. Long before the housing downturn, I was beginning to sense that people were less interested in big trophy houses. People were literally feeling lonely in their homes and wanted to move downtown. A lot of retirees were looking for alternative living environments. They don’t want to live like their parents, who never moved and wanted things to stay the same. People want a sense of community. There’s a lot of interest in cohousing developments with common outdoor space, group meals, and activities. They want a more interesting way of living. This awakening is stunning to me.

Not Just Another Deal

I’m a good fit for people who have an inkling that they need to look at different options. I’m not trying to be everybody’s broker. I view the business as a creative process rather than a sales opportunity.

Exploring Buyers’ Options

With the kinds of relationships I develop with my clients, it can take longer for them to find the right home. We usually talk at great length about what they are looking for, and sometimes it becomes clear that what they think they want isn’t right for them. We don’t just get in a car and start looking at houses. I have a conference room in the office with a high-resolution flat-screen TV hooked up to the MLS, so I can take people inside 100 homes before we actually visit any. I ask if they’re willing to look outside of their comfort zone. For example, are they willing to buy a home and share it with a friend? I open their eyes to options that may be different from what they thought they wanted. I think of it as more than just changing houses. I’m helping people change their lives.

Putting his Previous Career to Use

I use my design experience a lot. When buyers are touring homes, I find they’re sometimes overly focused on eliminating properties from their search. If I visit a home with a client but the kitchen isn’t right, I may sketch out a new one on the spot. I have tons of friends in the fields of architecture and design who can address their concerns. This helps eliminate objections to particular features.

Making Clients Feel at Home

I only take listings I believe in. I don’t want to sell anyone a bill of goods. I treat clients as I would want to be treated. My office is decorated like my home. We have large comfortable chairs, beautiful lights, oriental rugs, and art on the walls. We make fresh gourmet coffee and tea—one cup at a time. Clients want to feel embraced. The old line "Buy a house or get out of my car" doesn’t work. I always try to establish a personal connection. From my life experiences, and from having traveled extensively, I know people all over the country. This helps in making that connection with a client in the beginning. Then we can move forward.

What he Looks for in Recruits

I’m always noticing how people talk to others. I’m interested in people who know how to make others feel comfortable. I want people who understand our vision of helping clients transform their lives. I never pressure people to join us. We have great harmony in our office.

What’s Your Story?

Do you have a brokerage success story to share? Send an e-mail to wcole@realtors.org; please include "Standouts" in the subject line.

Wendy Cole

Wendy Cole is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.