Being the Landlord Pays

In the heart of Nebraska, Nicole Straka's small brokerage is sharing its space, generating rental income and plenty of foot traffic from adjacent businesses.

November 1, 2010

Kearney Realty LLC
, Kearney, Neb.

Years in real estate: 14; became a licensed personal assistant in 1996 and a salesperson in 1998; obtained her broker’s license in 2002 and opened Kearney Realty in 2003
2010 gross sales (projected): $4.5 million on 30 sides 
2009 gross sales: $5.8 million on 42 sides
Number of offices: 1
Number of sales associates: 3, including herself

A True ‘People Person’

"I started in real estate as a personal assistant to a broker while I was in college at the University of Nebraska. In 1996, the year after I graduated with a degree in business administration with a concentration in real estate, I got my real estate license. I loved the work. I loved working with people. And typically, I was dealing with people who were happy. They were happy to be getting their first house or making some other change in their lives."

Carefully Planned Growth

"After starting my company, I worked out of my house for the first six months to see if I could really make a go of it. I didn’t want to get in over my head. I took a calculated risk. I’ve always been a "consequentialist," thinking of the possible worst-case scenarios before I make a decision. When I began to rent office space, I took on one agent. In 2005, my husband—a contractor—and I built the building we’re now in, and I’ve since added two more agents; there are three of us now. It was and still is important to me to be the landlord, not the tenant."

Symbiotic Tenants

"Half of our 4,000-square-foot building is leased by a physician, which provides great, steady income. Originally, I had planned to use the rest of the space for my company and bring in many more agents. But it’s not easy to find great people. I look for a lot of intangibles relating to their character and ethics. I don’t just want to fill the office with warm bodies, so I thought about how else I could fill the space. Then, last year a local hospital announced the closing of its Healthy Living Center and I reached out to a few massage therapists. One of them is now my tenant. The arrangement has worked out great—both of our businesses have benefited. My business gets more people in the door, and I give massage gift cards as closing gifts. We share a lobby and a receptionist who can answer basic questions about both of our businesses. Rental income represents about 20 percent of my company’s overall revenue, which has helped a lot as the real estate business slowed."

Turning Renters Into Owners

"My husband and I own about 15 other rental units in the community and we provide incentives to the renters to become home owners. If they want to buy a house through my company, we let them out of their lease. It’s great for all of us. This happens several times a year. We also provide rental units to sellers if they need a place to stay temporarily after they vacate their homes. It’s a nice benefit to offer people."

Memorable Marketing

"Several years ago I rented a billboard about 20 blocks from the office. It showed my agents and me dressed in jeans, standing in a wide-open wheat field. It read: "We are outstanding in our field." We took it down after some of the agents left. But people still remember us for it and ask about the sign."

Staying Small

"People gravitate to Kearney Realty because it’s a mom-and-pop shop and they don’t think they would get the same quality of service at a franchise. We make ourselves available all the time. Our phones are always on."

Communicating the Best Way

"I got a master’s degree in speech communications while I was working as a salesperson. I learned things that are very helpful to this day. For example, analytical customers would prefer that I send them charts, graphs, and statistics than have face-to-face meetings. I also learned that when customers get angry, it’s important to have a thick skin. You can’t take it personally. Sellers get angry when you talk to them about cutting their price. But you have to stay cool. I work in a small town of 30,000 people. Your reputation sells itself."

Wendy Cole

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