Coming Home

Stephanie Hofman, a sales associate in Highland Park, Ill., never imagined that the first home she bought after getting married in 1997 would become her first listing as a real estate rookie in 2009.

February 1, 2010

In 1997, newly married Stephanie Hofman and her husband purchased a split-level four-bedroom Highland Park, Ill., home. Four years later, the Highland Park native sold the home.

In March 2009, Hofman left the world of advertising and got her real estate license, becoming a practitioner with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Highland Park. While passing her former house in March 2009, Hofman noticed the For Sale by Owner sign in the front yard and decided to see if the current owner would be interested in some professional help.

"There was a previous owner between this owner and me, so this was not the owner I sold the house to in 2001. But the property had been on the market awhile, so I decided to give the owner a call," Hofman recalls.

"My pitch was basically that no other agent knows or loves your house like I do, so I will be the best person to represent you. The owner said if she hadn't sold the house on her own by June, she would give me the listing. When the listing didn't sell by June, she was true to her word and gave me the listing," she adds. Although the first deal fell through, the second one stuck, and in November 2009, Hofman closed her first sale.

"It was very karmic," she says. "My first sale was also my very first home, a place that was really special to me."

How did you start building your client list as a new sales associate?

HOFMAN: I started with everyone I knew. I gathered names and created a database. I also looked at the spheres related to my children's schools and my charity work. I started sending out handwritten notes to let people know that I had joined Coldwell Banker. I compiled a list of about 250 names and started sending out informational e-mails once or twice a month to talk about the market and establish myself as someone who understands the local real estate market. It's like any other business; you have to start by chipping away. But this method is working. I'm getting positive feedback.

How did you get started in real estate?

HOFMAN: I earned my master's degree in 1993 and went into advertising and pharmaceutical sales. I was always in marketing, but I always loved to look at real estate and would look at homes on the weekends. I knew I wanted to make it my career at some point, but I wanted to wait until both of my children were in school full time. Real estate is not the kind of job you can do part time. In March 2009, I got my real estate license.

Tell me about the first property you sold.

HOFMAN: It is a midcentury split-level four-bedroom, three-bath home built in Highland Park in 1963. It's on a nice piece of property in a good neighborhood. I lived in the home from 1997 to 2001.

What was the listing price? What was the selling price?

HOFMAN: The listing price was $509,000 in June, and the home sold for $450,000 in November. We had it realistically priced. And we got really good offers. The first deal in July fell through because the appraisal came in about 18 percent below the agreed-upon sale price, and we were unable to renegotiate terms. One of the four bedrooms was on the lower level, so the home could not be appraised as a four-bedroom and was appraised as a three-bedroom. We got another offer at the end of August. The appraisal was still an issue with the second sale, but the buyer and seller were able to agree on an acceptable price.

How long did this first transaction take?

HOFMAN: I got the listing in June. We got the offer in August and closed Nov. 3.

What was your closed sales volume that first year?

HOFMAN: My closed sales volume was $603,500.

What were some of your biggest fears about your first real estate transaction?

HOFMAN: Letting down my client. I wanted to make sure I provided a really good experience for my client. By working hard on my end and keeping the lines of communication open and stepping up the client service, I was able to move beyond many of those early fears. In my past two careers, client service has been really important. It is also paramount in real estate.

What did this transaction do for your professional career?

HOFMAN: Choosing a real estate practitioner is a business decision. Your real estate agent is not only a salesperson but also an advocate who should educate and guide you through the entire process to ensure you get the best results possible. The most important lesson is maintaining constant communication. There are a lot of curve balls that get thrown at you in real estate. If something happens and you don't know how to react, get some advice from your mentors. Getting the right answers in a timely manner and keeping a cool head was a big factor in this first sale. It's stressful for the client, but the practitioner must keep a cool head. You can be upset on your own, but remain calm in front of the client. For me, this sale reinforced the idea that despite the questionable timing, getting into real estate was the right move.

Did you have a specialty or niche when you started?

HOFMAN: I was really just focusing on my neighborhood and not limiting myself to first-time home buyers. If I have a niche, it's staying with what I know: my neighborhood and my sphere.