Top Performer: Maxine Gellens

Onward and upward

March 1, 2000

Many veteran salespeople are content to live off their referrals and investments. But Maxine Gellens, a top salesperson with Prudential in suburban San Diego, has taken a different path.

Six years ago, Gellens, 61, went out on a limb and changed both her geographic and financial markets. She--and her partner, daughter Marti Gellens-Stubbs--moved 15 miles across town from Del Cerro, a middle-class community north of San Diego where she had been selling for 18 years, to La Jolla, a wealthy coastal enclave.

“I was very scared,” she says. “I had probably a 75 percent market share in Del Cerro. I was worried that I’d lose it.”

She did lose it. “There was no way to do both,” she says. After feeling as if she were working 24 hours a day, Gellens gave up some of the lower-priced listings.

Not to worry. She doubled her sales her first year in La Jolla and was Prudential’s No. 1 salesperson in the country in 1998, with a total volume of $76.8 million. Her volume last year was $71 million.

How did she do it? Even she isn’t quite sure. “Part of it was that a number of my Del Cerro clients were starting to move to La Jolla, so I had an automatic in with buyers,” she says. “But I’ve always been in the top 10 of whatever company I’ve been working for. I just do what I do. It’s really just as easy to sell an expensive house as it is an inexpensive house.”

Well, almost. Gellens’ new clientele is quite a bit wealthier than her previous customers. She says the average price in La Jolla is $550,000–$850,000, compared with $250,000–$400,000 in her old market. (Her own average price in La Jolla is even higher, about $960,000.) “The greed factor gets much stronger at the high end,” she says. “The customers don’t necessarily need the house they’re buying, and they always want to have the last word when they’re negotiating. They’re a lot more exacting and demanding.”

Gellens says her main strength as a salesperson is “my ability to get the deal done. You can negotiate all you want, but I have the gift of knowing when it’s time to stop negotiating and tell the client, ‘This is it. It’s now or never.’”

She also knows when it’s time to back off and let buyers and sellers work out their differences. “I can tell when ego is in the way rather than money, and that’s when the buyers and sellers need to sit down alone and talk without worrying about me,” she says.

Gellens says her business is about 65 percent sellers and 35 percent buyers. “Most of it comes from two sources--direct referrals from brokers and clients, and people who’ve seen our advertising over the years and are now ready to sell.”

For that reason, Gellens does very little direct mail. “I don’t really believe in postcards. You can send out a thousand postcards, and it doesn’t mean anything. Calling someone is a lot more effective. I try to prospect every day by calling past clients and people I know. I don’t cold call strangers. It doesn’t work. The best leads are from people who know you or have worked with you in the past. And even if they’re not selling, they may know somebody who is.”

Maxine Gellens

Prudential California Realty,
La Jolla, Calif.; 858/551-6630
Web address:

1999 gross production volume $71 million
Average sales price $960,000
Average number of listings 20
Hours per week I work 50

Robert Sharoff is an architectural writer for The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Chicago Magazine. With photographer William Zbaren, he has produced books highlighting the architecture of Detroit and St. Louis. He is a former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine.

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