Illinois REALTOR® Magazine  | October 2013
By Theresa Grimaldi Olsen
For some, it’s a neighborhood.
For others, it’s a demographic.
For most, it’s a passion.
It is your niche. For REALTORS®, the experts say, there is no doubt – your niche is the key to success.
“Successful people are the ones who focus on a niche,” says REALTOR® Janice Corley, CEO of RE/MAX Premier Properties in Chicago. Corley manages and coaches about 50 REALTORS® at her agency in the Gold Coast neighborhood. “If REALTORS® listen to me, they will make it really big.”
Lori Cox, a popular real estate trainer who has specialized in strategies for real estate professionals since 1987, says your niche should arise from your passion.
“If you love what you do, people will sense the enthusiasm, excitement and fun you are having and want to join you in that journey,” Cox says. “People like to feel good and when their REALTOR® is having fun and is enjoyable, the journey for the client is more likely to be enjoyable as well. They don’t like people who are selling.”
Your passion in real estate stems from the areas you enjoy or areas of past success, Cox says: “You may choose a niche by your hobby. Think about what makes you happy. What do you like doing? Choose people that you like doing business with. People love to be around happy people. You are your own walking business card. If you are having fun, people will come to you.”
Corley identified her passion the first time she drove on Lake Shore Drive in 1992. She and her husband were planning their move from Houston to Chicago.
“I saw a sign that said ‘available to rent,’ ” Corley says. “I told my husband, ‘I want to live there.’ He looked at me like I was crazy.”
She responded: “Location, location, location.”
The Gold Coast, one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the United States, is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places and contains the Magnificent Mile.
Corley says a home in the Gold Coast wasn’t within reach then. Her daughters were just 15 months and 2 years old. Instead, she bought a house on Chicago’s North Side. However, Corley never lost sight of her dream.
Eight years later, she bought a condo on Lake Shore Drive and eventually a single-family home on State Parkway. It took a bit longer for the other part of her dream to materialize. “I really wanted to sell real estate here,” she says of the Gold Coast.
She wasn’t done in the Old Town neighborhood where she was owner of RE/MAX Exclusive Properties. Then, she helped launch Sotheby’s International Realty office in Chicago.
In June 2011, Corley’s business finally made it to the Gold Coast. Corley and a partner, Cynthia Bauer, purchased an existing office and converted it to the RE/MAX Premier Properties.
“You have to put out there what you want to do and keep coming back to it,” Corley says.
Bauer continues to sell real estate in her long-time niche–Chicago’s South Loop. Corley describes Bauer as an expert on the South Loop neighborhoods.
To develop a niche, you have to become the expert, Corley says: “You have to be very disciplined and learn everything you can about the homes and the people. MLS is your best friend.”
Bauer, president and broker/owner of RE/MAX Premier Properties, says she bought a house in the South Loop in 1997, the same year that she became licensed as a REALTOR®. She discovered an untapped niche market in the neighborhood (particularly in the Dearborn II area where she lived). She began telling others that she was an agent, visited the homes that came on the market, studied the floor plans and market trends.
“I did all my homework,” she says. “I cemented myself in the neighborhood.”
Not only did she know the real estate. She got to know the families and everyone who lives, dies and has a baby there. Nowadays, Bauer says people knock on her door and say: “We’re having another baby, we need another house.”
Robin Simpson, an agent with Coldwell Banker Honig-Bell in Peoria, found a natural fit with a relocation team when she became a REALTOR® 11 years ago. Simpson says she understands the dynamics and stresses families go through during a move because her father was a manager with JC Penney.
He would be sent to stores throughout the United States when they needed help. “As a child, we moved every three years,” Simpson says.
With the world headquarters for Caterpillar, Inc., in Peoria, there is a great need for relocation specialists. In addition, before Simpson became a REALTOR®, she worked in the medical field.
“I had a nice number of medical contacts,” she says.
There are two large hospitals and a medical school in Peoria, and Simpson has developed a network of people who move in and out of jobs in the medical industry.
“It was an easy fit,” she says. “I was confident. You have to look at your own personal interests and network with people that have common goals and that you are comfortable with. You’ve got to go with what you know.”
For some, finding a niche may not be as natural as it was for Simpson. Moreover, a niche that will work in Chicago, may not sustain itself in Bloomington.
Cox says if you don’t know what you love, look at the activity in the market. Research is key. Look for the trends, the market absorption, the supply and demand. Then, find an opening and ask yourself: “Is this something I can do?”
REALTOR® Joe Tetzlaff found his niche after a lot of research and networking. When Tetzlaff, an agent with RE/MAX Professionals in Springfield began working as a REALTOR® in 2001, the number of homeowners who were buying with 100 percent loans and minimal credit checks drew Tetzlaff’s attention.
“There were more and more low and no-down payment loans,” Tetzlaff says. “It was inevitable that foreclosures would come.”
The agency he was with at the time took a few foreclosures here and there, but Tetzlaff saw the huge upcoming potential in the REO niche market.
“This was something that I thought will grow, and I could go after,” he says.
He started working with one bank. Then, he signed up with another bank online and began to network. Potential clients began calling him.
Tetzlaff suggests new agents find a mentor. “That is the best way to break in,” he says. He didn’t have an expert to guide him but he was determined. Agents who specialize in foreclosures are volume brokers, Tetzlaff says. He has handled more than 120 foreclosures per year.
Despite the high volume and overwhelming details required in each foreclosure transaction, Tetzlaff prefers to work independently, without any unlicensed staff, although he does utilize buyer agents in his brokerage to help him keep up with buyer leads and showings.
Foreclosures take up to 85 percent of Tetzlaff’s time. However, he makes an effort to maintain residential customers. “I still do traditional sales,” he says. “I won’t ever completely give it up.”
Hard times and turbulence in the economy pushed Christine Schauble of Keller Williams Premier Realty in Peoria to refocus her niche.
For 17 years, she focused on renovating houses and new construction. Schauble, 43, says her niche was: “If I can’t find you one, I’ll build you one.” Her husband was a builder, and it worked.
Then, new construction came to a grinding halt. She began helping people with foreclosures and discovered a need to help those who were suffering through a turbulent economy.
“My passion is to serve people,” she says. “When you focus on income goals, you forget your passion. It’s not about the numbers. I’m a vehicle to help and serve.”
Theresa Grimaldi Olsen is a free-lance writer based in Springfield. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Potential niches to consider:
Education and thorough research are essential when developing a niche, experts say.
“If you say you are a specialist, you better have knowledge that’s beyond the information that others may have,” says Lori Cox, who has specialized in success strategies for real estate professionals since 1987.
Cox, GRI, CRS, CRB, ABR, SRES and e-PRO, is the author of Real Estate Checklist and Systems and is a licensed Continuing Education instructor in Illinois.
Joe Tetzlaff, an agent with RE/MAX Professionals in Springfield, stresses that the REALTORS® Code of Ethics says REALTORS® should not take on transactions that they are not capable of doing.
There are many classes and certifications that can help establish your niche as an expert in a particular area. Tetzlaff is a Certified Distressed Property Expert (CDPE), GRI and a member of the National REO Brokers Association (NRBA).