Mike Munter: Hey, Barbara, how are you doing?
Barbara Covert: Hey, Mike, how’s it going? It’s nice to see you on zoom.
Mike Munter: You are a realtor and, you’ve been a realtor for quite a while now.
Barbara Covert: Yes. For about 16 years licensed and a couple of years before that as an unlicensed assistant.
Mike Munter: Wow. Well, we should start back at the beginning. What work were you doing before you got into real estate?
Barbara Covert: I was working in an administrative position for Wells Fargo, in the home equity department. Prior to that, I ran my own business, a clothing store.
Mike Munter: You had already been sort of an entrepreneur—you had an entrepreneurial spirit.
Barbara Covert: Yes. I had gained some experience in owning my own small business. The significance of working at Wells Fargo was it gave me experience with the mortgage industry side, but more importantly, the paper pushing. It turns out to be an important skill in real estate as well!
Mike Munter: How about your small business, the clothing store?
Barbara Covert: It was not a big success for us, but I loved the idea—being my own boss, being in charge, setting my work hours, and having control of the business. It was successful in helping to understand that number 1 I can do it [be an entrepreneur] and number 2 that I liked that work.
Mike Munter: Yes. I’m always interested in hearing about the transition and how that happens, especially someone like you who you did not start out as an entrepreneur. You initially had some experience in the business world working for someone else. Then you transitioned into real estate and became a realtor, which I consider to be an entrepreneurial job. Can you take me through that process and what helped you make the decision to transition?
Barbara Covert: Well, I would like to say it was because I had all this foresight, insight, and I had a true entrepreneurial spirit, but in reality, I needed to make money. I was at a point where I had to make a decision—am I going to continue on this journey with this big box bank? Which I believed I could do, since they were going to offer me a better position with more money. I was going to take it because I was kind of up against that decision—I had to do something. I was maybe about 30 years old and it was time to do something in my life. A good friend of mine had a connection. She had a friend, who was a realtor seeking a part-time assistant. There was a real discrepancy between being a part-time real estate assistant or a full-time employee at a big institution. There was a big financial discrepancy. One job was going to make it easy to make ends meet and was really suspect. But I took a gamble and I chose to go with the part-time position, working with a licensed real-estate agent and I did what I could to make ends meet.
Mike Munter: How long were you in this part-time role before you decided to go for it on your own?
Barbara Covert: I think I worked for about a year and a half first. There’s a saying in real estate–if you have an assistant, you are just training them to be a realtor. Because anybody who or many people who get into that role of being an assistant, who learning all the ins and outs of the trade, can choose to make that leap. You already have the skillset and the knowledge so you might as well get the money.
I don’t want to say that I was only focused on the financially driven side of real estate because when I went into the assistant position, I had already owned several of my own homes. I had always been tinkering around with homes. It was already an inherent love of mine. I never thought that I would be able to mesh that into a career, but it worked out that way for me.
Mike Munter: So you already had your toe dipped into the water of real estate, even by the time you started becoming an assistant? What did you do next? Did you tell your boss, “Hey, I’m going to get my license and compete with you?”
Barbara Covert: I don’t think it went like that (laughing)—I am pretty sure it doesn’t go like that (laughing). I said that I got my license and provided my resignation. It was done with the best of intentions. Anytime you are transitioning out of a position, I think you need to be careful.
Mike Munter: Yeah.
Barbara Covert: What I do remember was sitting down with the manager of my branch at that point in time and saying, “Hey, I’m going to get my real estate license and I would like to come and work for the branch.” And I see him react and so he recommended we sit down and talk about this. We scheduled a meeting, and he asked me a couple of questions—he asked, “why do you think that this might be a good fit for you? Have you ever owned your own business before?” I didn’t really realize at the time–I didn’t really put it together that I had owned my own business, that I had been making it work. When I told him that I had actually owned my own clothing business, that’s when the light went off in his head, that I was going to be a good match for the company. This is a funny story–I just remembered this the other day in thinking about this interview today. My principal broker has had some medical concerns lately and he’s been top of mind. I’ve been thinking about him quite a bit. One of the things I remembered was that I got my license in April and the following January, we had a sales meeting. That’s where they talked about production and awards, who received awards, who was the top agent was, and we went through all this and I was still really green.
Barbara Covert: I had less than a year in the business. I felt really out of place most of the time when I went to the sales meeting. I was awkward and I didn’t speak the language—you know how that is. As he was wrapping up the award ceremony he says, “I would be remiss if I didn’t let you all know of an agent honorable mention.” I’m barely paying attention at this time. He goes on to say, “it’s Barbara, who just missed making the hundred percent club by about $1,500.” I was the top rookie agent of that year. I was so startled. I had no idea. He looked at me and he says, “how did you do it?” I was so surprised. And I just said, “I thought that is what everybody did?” I can tell you that everybody in that room turned around and shot me daggers with their eyes. I don’t know. I just took to it.
Mike Munter: Yes, it’s funny how some people will celebrate your success and other won’t. In the case of the manager who interviewed you and said, “Wait—you want to stop becoming an assistant? Part of the machine? Now you actually want to go and become one of us?”
Barbara Covert: Yes, that is interesting. I feel like I’ve definitely been on both sides of that coin, like a little bit of fear, when some young rookie agent is going come up and take business away from me. It doesn’t work that way. But every now and then I get a fear about that.
Mike Munter: Well, I think that’s an understandable thing. And then we realize there’s enough to go around.
Barbara Covert: There’s totally enough to go around and I’m not going to do it forever. So we need the rookies.
Mike Munter: Right. Going back to when you were a rookie, it sounds like you started out pretty strong, you get your license, you become a realtor, and now you actually need to start what telling your friends, here I am. How do you get started into marketing yourself?
Barbara Covert: Well, the company that I started with initially, they had a new agent training program where they would bring new agents in as a group. They would send them through training as a group. Then they would have a weekly accountability meeting as a group to keep us on track. One of the chores we had, or one of the tasks we had as new agents, was to put together our database. A list of people–family, friends–people that we thought would do business with us. Some people had 150 people in my database. They would say I’ve got my aunts and uncles and my vet and my mechanic. And when they get to me, and they ask, “How many people do you have in your database?” I lied because I had like 12 people in my database (laughing) and I just lied.
I said I have 25 people and everyone–I think the thing that has made me successful is not just my love of the job and that I am able to stay on track with things—although not with your question, I’m not on track right now. But inherently have really good instincts about the market and that has kept me in the loop for so long, especially when we’ve seen so many crazy things. I have seen so many crazy things with market crashes and you the worldwide pandemic. And that’s a good question. How do you stay focused? How do you continue to market yourself in a world where anything can happen at any point in time?
Barbara Covert: I guess the most relevant thing that I, or anybody in my position could do is client contact, right? There are so many different ways you can do that. You can do social media. You can send out mailers. I find the most effective thing, Mike, is to pick up the phone and call your people and have a conversation. Have a point of reference to talk about, not just how’s the weather and what did you do last week, but have a relevant piece of real estate information in which to center your conversation around. Say to them, “Hey, I saw the house next door to you went on the market.” People love to talk about real estate. “Hey, I went through your neighbor’s open house the other day, and this is how it compares to your house. Can you believe the pricing on that? Can you believe that’s back on the market?” There’s always something to say about it. Second to that, I think a lot of what people have found success with is the handwritten personal note. That is really big in our industry. Not like a direct mail initiative, but a note that says, “Dear Mike, it’s been a while. How have you been?” That antiquated lost art of writing a note, but I will say it’s easier for me to pick up the phone.
Mike Munter: I don’t think I’ve got a note in a while.
Barbara Covert: That’s funny, I think I said the mail has gotten slowed down with the election and the pandemic.
Mike Munter: So, you are in the flow now. You are a professional—you are seasoned. Let’s go back to when you were first starting out and you only had that list of 12 people. What are your initial phone calls? Are you just like letting people know, this is what I’m doing now and let me know if you ever need help?
Barbara Covert: Yes, that is it. I keep telling you all of these little anecdotes, but I do remember at one point in time, my sister asked me, “Is this an unrealistic call?” (laughing) I would have to call five people a day and I only have 12 people in my database—so my sister was getting a lot of calls. But guess what? She’s my very best client to this day. But yes, that is how the conversation goes.
Mike Munter: I remember that you and were talking about this before in the interview—when others were bragging and saying they had one hundred contacts—like the mechanic for example. That is maybe someone that specific person knows but not really someone who has the level of trust or the relationship that you had with your first 12 people in your database. That has always been your foundation. You’ve grown literally from just 12 people to a database of hundreds of people now.
Barbara Covert: Hundreds of people. It is definitely what we would call sales or referral-based business. My best clients are people that I have worked with in the past or people that they have referred to me. Like you said there’s already a baseline trust, understanding, and knowledge. With my mechanic, I’m just one person driving through complaining because I’m needing my mechanic, so I’m already not happy. So he’s never going to be a good client.
Mike Munter: Cool. We’ve covered some of the marketing aspects. I know that you and I over the years have talked about the programs that some agencies will put their realtors through and you’ve always stuck to your guns and found the best way to get new business, to do a good job, and stay in touch with your existing clients. Yes?
Barbara Covert: Yes.
Mike Munter: Along the way, over these 16 years, has there ever been a time when you doubted yourself or felt like, “What did I do? I left Wells Fargo and the security of that job.”
Barbara Covert: No, really the only time that ever came into play was during the market crash. I could have been in any position and had that thought. No, no–I love my job. There’s like so much satisfaction that comes with helping somebody through a pretty momentous decision for the most part, for most buyers or sellers. It’s a pretty momentous decision and the feeling like I was able to successfully educate them and guide them to a highly desired outcome. Not just them thinking, “Oh, thank goodness, this is over, we got through it.” But the sense that they really did the very best they could under the current market conditions.
Mike Munter: Yes. From behind the scenes–
Barbara Covert: It’s really rewarding.
Mike Munter: Yes. From behind the scenes, I think maybe people have an idea of what a realtor does, but what does a realtor really do? You have many aspects along the way to keeping a deal together, right? From the contractors to giving interior design tips. Can you talk about all of the things that maybe people don’t know about realtors?
Barbara Covert: Yes, maybe you want me to talk about the real value that a realtor can bring to the table?
Mike Munter: Yes, maybe you could start asking the questions and I will answer them? (laughing)
Barbara Covert: (laughing). I’m good at that. That’s what a good realtor does, Mike. They direct the process. (laughing) We are going this way. Like you said, there’s really two different hats. There’s the business hat, meaning how am I going to keep my pipeline full of business. And then how am I going to serve that business. The education piece with a buyer and seller is the biggest component. Everybody thinks—and I’m not saying it is not easy to buy or sell a house, but nine times out of 10, you are coming up against a consideration that your average buyer or seller is not going to really be able to navigate on their own. And specifically not within the confines of our timelines. We have a thousand timelines that you have to pay attention to and each one would remove a contingency in which would protect either the buyer or the seller.
So managing that timeline and educating your client on every step because most clients think that they already know. And a lot of them are really, really, well-educated. They are really well educated about the market. They have looked online, they have done a ton of research but keeping them on track and going through, like you mentioned, all the inspections. How do you get a green buyer through the process? Well, here’s a good example. I just had a first-time home buyer purchase a house–go under contract on a house. He was a pretty savvy guy, in the construction business, but he’s buying a house that is 60 years old and it is his first house. He comes into the process thinking that no problem, he can fix this. Any problem and he’s got it. He can handle any problem that this house could throw at him.
Maybe he can, maybe he can’t. So what do we do? We go through a home inspection and he receives the home inspection report. It is 40 pages, right? They’re all 40 pages. When you sit down to read a 40 page inspection report on a house, I don’t care who you are, it is intimidating. You are like, “Whoa, I didn’t know that that was going to happen.” So being able to navigate expectations about how you can solve problems. Let’s not go crazy. Let’s get an expert in here to tell us how much that roof is going to cost. Let’s get somebody in here to tell us exactly what is wrong with the sewer and how much that is going to cost. More information–let me get you more information, let me get you more information. Now we have gathered all of the inspection information within our inspection timeline.
They are still overwhelmed. He is still completely overwhelmed. He feels like I can’t take this on. Well, now we ask the seller to step in and contribute to this so that we can move forward. And I think the most important piece to ever tell a buyer or a seller is that you always have a decision. You always have a decision. You can terminate at any time. It might cost you some money, but that is a decision when you are in control of it. You can accept, you can reject, you can negotiate, and you can terminate. And nobody wants to lose money and terminate in that fashion. But knowing that they are still in control of the decision is a pretty powerful place to put somebody. Again and again, I had the conversation with this client, up until the very end of closing when he called me and he said, “I don’t care if I lose my earnest money, I’m freaking out. I don’t know about this house. What is going to happen when I take the wall down in the basement, and I see what’s happening in the basement? I just don’t know about this house.” My response is let me get you some more information. Let me get you some more information. Let’s look at what the market’s doing. Look, you can’t get any other house in this market because it’s too tight, number one. If you pull out of this one, it is going to take you months and months and months, maybe even years to get back in the market because of current market conditions. And then let’s talk about any house that you might buy, where you need to take the sheet rock down in the basement. That’s going to be a question in any house you buy, unless you buy brand new construction—so more information. So finally, I get this client where he’s not only comfortable about this house.
He is blowing up my phone asking if we can close early. “I’m so excited. I’m so excited.” Now I feel really good about what I’ve done and what I’ve performed for him. That’s what I love about it. And at any point in the time–I wouldn’t like it if he had decided that it wasn’t the house for him and he wanted to sit out the market for a year. That would be tough because as I educate him, I actually I educate myself. I now understand that he’s buying a great house at a good price in a crazy market. And what happened is we did go back, we got all this information. We went back to the seller, and we got a $40,000 price reduction in a current “sellers” market, which is crazy. Then we sent an appraiser to have the house appraised, and the appraisal was at about $60,000 above his sale price. He’s thrilled. I’m thrilled.
Mike Munter: You are really good at taking something which is overwhelming and going to get more information. That information—one it takes the emotion out of it because you have data and you are really good at breaking it down into these little pieces.
Barbara Covert: Yeah. And then to go back to what you said before, he was a referral from a referral. So I already had–not as strong baseline of trust, but I already had a bit of foundation with the client. That is really important. If I just find a buyer or seller off of the internet, it’s much harder to solidify that relationship. So yes, you know because you have that sales component, you know what that is like.
Mike Munter: Oh yes. Well, it’s much nicer to have someone who already trusts you, refer you to someone else. That is night and day compared to starting something that’s cold where you have got to establish all that trust. It is a lot more work.
Barbara Covert: So much more work.
Mike Munter: Okay. Would you consider being a mentor? If there were someone who is coming up and maybe wanted to consider getting into real estate, and they were not sure. Is that someone you could potentially help or talk to?
Barbara Covert: I would. We have had some turnover recently in my office and we have a new principal broker now. I was talking to him yesterday–part of his introductory calls to all the agents. Asking him, “What are you looking for? What do you need?” I was kind of asking him his vision for the office and where he sees this going. He wants to see us grow the number of agents in our office and he’s been doing some recruiting. He has a couple of people coming on board. I asked, “Who are your new recruits?” And they are totally new. They are not even licensed yet. They’re coming in. I thought to myself, (laughing) cautiously—I mean I do not want to get carried away (laughing). But I thought to myself cautiously, that wow, that might be really rewarding to work with a new agent.
Barbara Covert: Like, there’s this thing that you can’t keep what you don’t give away. I kind of agree with that. It reinforces it. For me, I think it would reinforce and also give back to a new agent because I didn’t get here on my own. I like to think that I scratched and clawed my way to where I am and that nobody helped me, but it’s not true. I had a lot of help along the way. And so I can, in turn around, offer that back to someone. Yes, that mutually beneficial– Yes. Yes. I would mentor somebody.
Mike Munter: Alright. Awesome.
Barbara Covert: Do you have somebody that needs mentoring?
Mike Munter: Well, you never know.
Barbara Covert: You never know.
Mike Munter: I may find someone and direct them your way.
Barbara Covert: I would talk to him–give him my number.
Mike Munter: All right. Well, thanks a lot for coming on today. Anything else that you would like to share that we have not discussed?
Barbara Covert: No, not off the top of my head. I think we did a nice job of covering the basics and I appreciate your time.
Mike Munter: All right. Thanks Barbara.