Voices of Experience: Fabulous at 50+

These successful veterans have a lot to teach others about achieving under any market conditions.

June 1, 2008

Editor's note: This year, in parallel with our annual “30 Under 30” feature, REALTOR® magazine asked readers to nominate fabulous 50-plus practitioners who also serve in mentoring roles. We received more than 100 nominations. Here, we bring you the advice and insights of five who have a combined 156 years of real estate experience.

During his 32 years in real estate, Californian Chandler Scott has seen his share of downturns. For salespeople in a tough market right now, the industry veteran offers pointed advice: Don’t turn a bad market into a sign of personal inadequacy.

“There are too many people who beat themselves up,” says the plainspoken Scott, who turns 89 this October. “When it comes to attitude, we’re our own worst enemy.”

Four other successful real estate veterans we spoke with echo Scott. Although they work in different areas of the country and face a variety of challenges, they are of one mind when it comes to lasting success. Among the lessons they offer are:

  • Know your market and the real estate business and treat what you do as a business. Clients want straight talk and knowledgeable insights.
  • Know how to prospect. Technology helps but the personal touch, whether in handwritten notes or face-to-face contact, still wins business.
  • Concentrate on the quality of your work. A quality real estate pro treats each transaction with complete care and professionalism. Do that rather than worrying first about quantity, and business will come your way.
  • Be patient, tenacious, and persistent. Solid work habits will pay dividends.
  • Remember work-life balance. Having strong family and community ties gives you the grounding you need to be a better real estate professional.
  • Do what you love. Passion translates into positive energy and positive accomplishments.

Sarah Graham, CRB, e-PRO, started in real estate in 1967 after moving to Corpus Christi, Texas. In Corpus Christi at that time, real estate people had an image of being pushy, says Graham, CEO of Group One Real Estate. Education, she thought, could change that.

So when Graham opened her own office in 1971, she emphasized training. She held classes on sales and real estate basics, such as how to explain every item on a cost sheet to a client and how to accurately measure and diagram a house for a listing.

“A good real estate salesperson is good in any market,” says Graham. “We are problem solvers for our customers, buyers and sellers.”

Personal Contact a Must

Today, Graham’s training covers how to develop and maintain a client base. She tells her associates to write personal notes to three people every day, touching base with everyone on their prospect list two to three times a year.

Scott, who oversees sales associate development and training at Century 21 C. Watson Real Estate in Fresno, Calif., also talks with trainees about personal contact. “I don’t believe real estate professionals should be salespeople. I think they should be real estate consultants,” Scott says.

To do that, you have to not only know your market but also give clients and customers a realistic picture. “Give them straight talk,” he says.

In his market today, that means telling sellers a realistic price for their home. “You need to stand strong, but your conviction about pricing has to be based on something other than just what’s in your head. You’ve got to know the market,” Scott says.

“Overpricing a listing is good for nobody,” agrees Rick Landuyt, e-PRO®, an associate broker at Coldwell Banker Schweitzer Real Estate in Troy, Mich.

Landuyt secured his real estate license in 1979, just before interest rates marched into high double digits. “That was a market that took a long time to move properties,” recalls Landuyt, 53. Back then, practitioners had to come up with creative financing options for buyers, such as assumable mortgages.

He sees parallels to today’s market. Today, he’s seeing sellers paying closing costs and giving home warranties to close deals.

Landuyt’s office also is trying what he calls “reverse offers.” If buyers have looked at a house two or three times but not made an offer, Landuyt will approach his seller and suggest a written offer be extended to the buyers at a price agreeable to the seller.

“A reverse offer works at two different levels,” he says. “First, it opens a line of conversation with a potential buyer. And second, even if it doesn’t sell the property, you now know the seller’s thinking in terms of the price he’s willing to accept.”

Agents of Change

One of the benefits of experience is knowing that change is a constant part of business, says Kevin Sharkey, broker-owner of Independent Brokers Realty in Chanhassen, Minn. “When you’ve been through a market downturn before, you know it’s going to change. I tell people, ‘Be prepared for the change and make change yourself.’ You have to keep working in this market. Never give up. If you hit a brick wall, go over it or go under it,” Sharkey, 56, says.

One of the changes Sharkey is telling his associates about is blogging. “It’s one of the single best tools to get clients on the very local level,” he says.

He advises turning a blog into a community bulletin board. Let people in your neighborhood, town, or market area upload videos showing local children’s sporting or school events, for example. He also advocates posting hard statistics about a market area—number of houses sold, time on market, and prices — and then including an analysis on your site about what those statistics mean in your area.

Sharkey actually uses his blog as a mentoring tool, posting videos of himself discussing such topics as ways to make a listing presentation more effective and the downside of offering rebates to clients.

When it comes to mentoring others, Landuyt starts with projecting a positive attitude. If he finds himself feeling less than enthusiastic about the business day ahead, he’ll take time to change his attitude before he gets to the office and start interacting with associates, he says.

For Linda Charman, broker-owner at Vanguard, REALTORS®, in Santa Cruz, Calif., being positive has meant putting her money where her beliefs about real estate are. Charman, 67, late last year decided to buy out her partners rather than cut staff.

“I think we need to be open and full service for when the business comes back,” says Charman, who started in real estate in 1973.

She’s telling her team “this is a time for them to learn and become intelligent about their business and to know all the ways to sell property,” Charman says. “Hang in there; pay attention and learn what it takes to be a really good long-term practitioner.”

Landuyt holds regular morning script practice sessions and role playing in his office. In one exercise, he puts an associate in front of a group and then has the group shout out, in rapid-fire style, objections potential sellers might raise in a listing presentation. The associate on the spot has to think fast.

Lately, he has been training associates on how to handle price questions. If a seller says a competitor will list a property at a price above the local market, he advises starting with, “Can I tell you why that concerns me?” and then following with specifics, such as what similar houses have sold for and how long they were on the market. If the sellers continue to insist their house is worth more, talk about how appraisers will value the house based on comparable sales in the area. Explain that even if the seller could attract a buyer at the higher price, the appraisal very likely wouldn’t support the higher price and needed mortgage amount.

Balancing Two Passions: Home and Work

All five veterans get early starts on their business day. Graham, for example, attends a weekly 7 a.m. breakfast meeting for area executives. On a typical day, she’ll work until 6:30 or 7 p.m. But come Sunday, she’s in church in the morning and evening.

“Nothing interferes with that,” she says, stressing the importance of maintaining a balance between work and your personal life.

Scott is generally in the office by 8 a.m., but at noon, he heads home for lunch with his wife.

“We get so wrapped up in our business that we can forget that relationship with our family,” he says. He was guilty of that, he recalls, until 15 years ago when his wife was in a serious accident.

The event jolted him into realizing of how important family time is. But it didn’t diminish his love of the real estate business.

“That’s the heart of it,” Scott contends. That’s why he’s still working at a time when contemporaries have long since retired.

If you love real estate, he contends, you’ll find ways to succeed, regardless of the market. Scott, Sharkey, Graham, Charman, and Landuyt are living proof of that maxim.



Chandler Scott
Sales associate development and training
Age: 88
Started in real estate 1977
Franchise Century 21
C. Watson Real Estate
Location Fresno, Calif.
Mentoring philosophy We’re not salespeople but consultants. Aim to be someone who is head and shoulders above the rest.Give your buyers and sellers straight talk. The key to success is honesty, straight talk, and high ethical standards.
Advice to younger practitioners Give your buyers and sellers straight talk. The key to success is honesty, straight talk, and high ethical standards.
Linda Charman
Age: 67
Started in real estate 1973
Franchise Vanguard, REALTORS®
Location Santa Cruz., Calif.
Mentoring philosophy Teach by demonstrating and modeling each aspect of real estate.
Advice to younger practitioners Markets like these are opportunities to learn and grow.
Richard Landuyt
Age: 53
Started in real estate 1979
Franchise Coldwell Banker
Schweitzer Real Estate
Location Troy, Mich.
Mentoring philosophy Lead by example, offer support, advice, reinforcement, and constructive examples.
Advice to younger practitioners Plan and set goals for prospecting, lead follow-up, and training. Set up a schedule that allows you to accomplish your goals.
Sarah Graham
Age: 68
Started in real estate 1967
Franchise Group One Real Estate
Location Corpus Christi, Texas
Mentoring philosophy Encourage, assist, and educate those entering the business.
Advice to younger practitioners Establish a goal, develop a good plan to take you there, and work the plan five days a week, eight hours a day.
Kevin Sharkey
Age: 56
Started in real estate 1989
Franchise Independent Brokers Realty
Location Chanhassen, Minn.
Mentoring philosophy Mentoring is a two-way street; even the youngest associate has a wealth of information and insight.
Advice to younger practitioners All markets have their opportunities, and today is no different. Develop skills that mirror the market.

John N. Frank is former managing editor for REALTOR® Magazine.