Open House Success

Birgit DeSotle's simple offer to host an open house for another practitioner resulted in a speedy first sale.

August 1, 2010

In May 1997, real estate rookie Birgit DeSotle offered to host another practitioner’s open house in Franklin Lakes, N.J., and was excited about her first open house. DeSotle, who had secured her license about two weeks before, had modest hopes for her starting year, however.

“When I got my license, my goal was to close my first home within six months,” she recalls.

But DeSotle didn't have to wait long for that first sale to come her way. "[Prospective buyers] walked in during the open house and really loved the home," she says. "We started talking, and I told them about the town." The home, a contemporary single family on a one-acre lot, featured four bedrooms and 3 1/2 bathrooms and sat on a quiet cul-de-sac.

"They put an offer in right then and there," she says.

DeSotle, who was still in training with Weichert, REALTORS®, realized she had no idea how to write an offer.

“We hadn’t touched upon that subject in my training to that point,” she says.

DeSotle played it cool with the prospective buyers, and then quickly called her office manager for guidance.

“I went back to the office, and my manager helped me write up the sale,” she says.

Today, more than 13 years after that first open house and the subsequent sale, DeSotle has moved on, but she has never forgotten  that very important milestone for her career. As branch vice president for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage since 2007, DeSotle, ABR®, SFR, SRES®, dispenses her own brand of support and guidance for two New Jersey offices (Franklin Lakes and Ringwood) and the approximately 65 practitioners she oversees.

How did you get started in real estate?

DESOTLE: I had a variety of sales jobs before getting into real estate. But the most ironic thing about my career is that when I started in real estate, I had two young sons. I thought real estate would be the perfect part-time job. I thought I could work a few hours during the day and some weekends, be home when the boys arrived from school, and earn additional income for my family.

It took about two weeks — in fact, it was around the time I sat that first open house — for me to realize that real estate is not a part-time job. Of course, the beauty of a career in real estate is that you can manage your business and be home by 3 p.m. It’s not 9 to 5. But it can be 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. And with cell phones, e-mail, and texting, you can reach or be reached whenever the time is right.

Even with all the new technology, communication is one of the keys to success. You have to be available when your clients need you. Today, I manage two real estate offices, and it’s the perfect full-time job.

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

DESOTLE: The first thing I did was tell everyone I knew that I was selling real estate. I sent out announcement cards. I talked to anyone who’d listen. And then I sat open houses.

Between family, friends, and people I knew from the town and my kids’ school, I started to build a database and send postcards regularly. If I spoke with someone from my database, I made notes to remind me of little things about them and any details that might be beneficial to me at a later date: their children’s names, birthdays, and even where they were going on their next vacation. If they were going on vacation to Aruba, for example, I made a detailed note so I could ask them about the trip when I touched base with them again.

I use my Outlook [e-mail] program to remind me. Letting people know I remember them or care has made a difference and resulted in business throughout my career. I am a noncompeting manager. But even now, I still mail annually to past clients to let them know where I am and see if I can help them find a real estate professional.

How long did this first transaction take?

DESOTLE: The open house was in May 1997. The list price was $399,900. The sale price was $370,000. We were in attorney review within a week of listing and closed in late August, which was just in time for the family to settle a bit before school began. It was purchased by a family, a couple with two children who were leaving a town outside of New York City to be in the suburbs. They were so excited. I was, too. The buyers have since divorced and sold the house, and the house isn’t standing today. They tore it down in subsequent sales and built a mansion in its place.

What were some of your biggest fears about that first sale?

DESOTLE: I had no real fears. I knew that the seller wanted to sell and move to Arizona after the death of his wife, and the buyers knew they’d found their dream home. I knew so long as the seller wanted to sell and the buyer wanted to buy, we’d work out the details along the way.

What did this transaction do for your professional career?

DESOTLE: It made me hungry for the next deal. Hopefully, everyone starting fresh in a new business has a plan. I did. I expected it would take about six months of prospecting before I could put a transaction together. It happened in two weeks. And I was hooked. That was the only transaction that got to the closing table that year. But I did have two additional pendings.

Today, the office phones are not ringing as vigorously as they did in 1997 for a variety of reasons (cell phones and other new technology, for instance, along with current market conditions), but salespeople need to find other sources of creating business by picking up the phones and calling FSBOs, expired listings, past clients, and their sphere of influence and asking for referrals. It’s still a fabulous business, and it is addicting. You get that deal and you put it together and you change someone’s life. I really believe that what we do makes a difference.

Did you have a specialty or niche when you started?

DESOTLE: I most enjoyed working with first-time buyers. Not only was I helping them to realize their dream of homeownership, but if I succeeded in doing a great job, they’d think of me when they’re ready to sell and become a terrific source of future business through referrals to their friends and family.

It takes a few years to get repeat business when you first start. I sold one house to a buyer I met at an open house in a neighboring town. A couple of years later, I ran into the same client in a hardware store. The next thing you know, I'm listing his house. He bought another new construction and sold that and bought another house. That was five transactions in about 10 years.

You never know where that repeat business or referral will come from, so it’s important to treat each client with care.