Rethinking the Rules

Looking for ways to serve customers better.

March 1, 2010

Nest Realty’s Jonathan Kauffmann doesn’t accept the status quo. From his company’s For Sale signs to its Web site, he’s always looking for ways to serve customers better.

Jonathan Kauffmann


Nest Realty, Charlottesville, Va.

Years in business: Became a sales associate in 2004; opened brokerage in 2008

2009 gross sales: $29 million on 80 transaction sides

Number of offices:1

Number of sales associates: 8

Branching Off on His Own

I was working in sales and marketing for several small marketing and consumer services start-ups after I graduated from college in 1999. In 2002 I got involved in real estate as an investor, essentially flipping houses. Two years later I got my real estate license and went to work for a brokerage here in Charlottesville as a sales associate. Eventually I developed a strong belief system about the business of real estate. I wanted to put my own ideas into place and be in charge of my own destiny, so I founded my own brokerage in the summer of 2008.

Doing Whatever it Takes

Owning a new company, I had to deal with the fact that people were unfamiliar with us. There’s always skepticism before you have a track record. But within six months we had gained a lot of momentum. We’ve been avoiding developing niches, such as the condo market, because we want to be able to help people with whatever kind of home they’re trying to sell or buy. Our motto is: Do whatever it takes to make clients happy. Some of our agents help people move or help them paint—whatever is necessary.

Raising the Professionalism Bar

I require that all of our agents work full time and have a minimum of three years of full-time real estate experience. I also require that associates earn their broker license within six months of joining the firm. From a brand perspective, higher standards differentiate us. All of our agents have a track record before they get here. Last year their individual sales volume ranged from $2.5 million to $8 million. As a company rule, we also don’t do dual agency. We made that decision thinking in terms of what’s in the best interest of our clients, not our cash flow. It doesn’t matter to us if it hurts our profitability.

Open Sales Meetings

We have a strong team, but it’s not how a lot of people understand teams. We all make money on our own. At our meetings, we don’t talk about sales and listings; we talk about issues in real estate like short sales and marketing strategies. We’re not big enough to bring in nationally known sales trainers and coaches. But we encourage idea sharing. There’s no hoarding of information. We’ve been talking about the promised launch of Realtors Property Resource™. We’re looking forward to it being an accurate and efficient way to locate data about a property all in one place.

Changing the Desk Culture

Half of our eight associates wanted their own desks, and they pay a small fee for it. Some just pop in and out whenever they feel like it. We’re located in the heart of downtown, and I wanted that visibility, but it’s not necessary for them to be based here.

Customer-Pleasing Signage

We looked at a lot of the traditional ways that the real estate business has worked and decided on areas where we wanted to wipe the slate clean. For example, For Sale signs typically feature the face of the agent, the company name, and a phone number. We decided that this approach was not the best thing for the client. Instead, we create custom signs for each listing to highlight the property itself. The signs feature four photos, a property description, a custom Web site, pricing, and our business name. Clients love them. Ours cost about 20 times more than typical signs do, but we see this as a wise use of our marketing resources. It helps our properties stand out.

A Neighborhood Web Site

We scrapped the idea of the basic site where users simply plug in beds, baths, and prices. Our company site,, allows people to search by neighborhood. We cover 175 neighborhoods in and around Charlottesville, and about half of our listings have video tours. We also feature neighborhood guides and lifestyle information.

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