Practice, Practice and More Practice
Q&A by Mark Gordon | Managing Editor
Industry. Residential real estate
Who. Clark Toole, Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, Sarasota
Key. Toole was recently promoted to run the Florida offices of Coldwell Banker, the largest residential brokerage in the state.
Clark Toole is running the biggest, and still growing, residential real estate firm in Florida. His message to sales agents in an era of few sales: Keep working at it.
Clark Toole spent his first post-MBA years in the early 1970s selling Maytag washers and dryers, so he's long considered real estate - even a cruddy market like the current one - a sizeable step up.
Nothing against laundry, but Toole says he's always relished the idea of selling something with as big an impact on both the buyer and seller as a new home. That belief is now getting the full-cycle treatment as Toole recently took on his latest challenge: The veteran real estate executive was recently promoted to the job of president and chief operating officer for Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, the Florida brokerage subsidiary of nationwide broker NRT.
Based in Sarasota, the Coldwell Banker Florida office Toole joins has 6,500 agents working out of 150 offices across the state, including ones on the east coast, Orlando and the Panhandle. It's the biggest real estate brokerage in the state, following the lead of its parent company, which is the biggest brokerage in the country.
Toole was born in Jacksonville and after graduating from the University of Florida he returned to the city to earn his MBA from the University of North Florida. He put himself through school by selling real estate in Greater Jacksonville.
Toole has been with Coldwell Banker in some capacity since 1986, after leaving Maytag. He ran the firm's 37-branch Tampa region and most recently, for four years, he ran the company's Dallas/Fort Worth division.
Toole took on the job in May, after the former Florida president, Budge Huskey, was promoted, too. Huskey now oversees Toole, as a regional senior vice president for NRT.
Toole discounts any notion of having extra headaches for taking on a job like this during a prolonged market slump, saying he simply enjoys challenges. "The fact is we are the largest brokerage in the state of Florida and our market share is still growing," says Toole, "so we must be doing something right."
Clark sat down with the Review recently to talk about his new role, the company and the entire real estate industry. Here are excerpts of the conversation:
Statewide, Coldwell Banker is outpacing its pre-2007 goals; even though it's selling fewer homes, it has a bigger market share. How has that been accomplished?
Knowing that there's more inventory then ever before in the marketplace now is that we really have to educate the consumer about pricing. We have spent a lot of time bringing programs in to teach our associates not only what the correct pricing of property should be, but also how to talk to a consumer about it.
How do you train agents to talk to a potential seller about the reality of pricing in this market, as compared to what things were like in 2004 and 2005?
It's basically being frank with them about what's going on in the market. Unfortunately for that person, they bought in era where they assumed that housing prices were going to continue to rise, or they probably wouldn't have bought it. Things happen in the marketplace. If you look at the overbuilt supply, you look at the hurricanes that we've had, you look at taxes and insurance - that as all aided to that appreciation not happening. The seller has to look at it as 'do I sell now and recoup the money I can recoup, or do I risk it going down or going up?'
What else can agents do to succeed in this market?
Our Realtors are working on their sales skills to keep them razor sharp. That's a choice. You can choose not to make contact, you can choose not to work on your sales skills, and you're not going to get as great a result. I think that's the philosophy I bring to this company because I've seen it work in Dallas/Fort Worth and I've seen it work here.
How can Realtors and agents work on sales skills with so little selling going on?
There's a concept I talk about I call practice. If you look at a lot of people, they will practice their hobbies. If you learn how to play golf, then you go out and practice your golf to become a better golfer. But when it comes to people's professional lives, sometimes they shy away from that.
We work with agents to first understand the theory of practice and what that means. That's learning how to say things to consumers and practicing your presentation. We know we are going to get a whole lot of set responses [when agents talk to clients] so we need to practice how to handle them better. That's what I'm talking about in becoming razor sharp.
If we are going to talk to consumers then we need to practice what to say. I think we ought to spend a half-hour a day practicing our skill set. (Toole picked up an index-card sized book from his desk that he says he uses as his own practice guide. It includes reminders and tips about greetings, active listening and gesturing.)
You ran the Dallas/Forth Worth Coldwell Banker unit for four years, supervising 1,400 agents spread over 19 offices. What did you learn from that experience and market?
When I got to Dallas, we were just coming of the telecommunications crash and unemployment shot up to 7.4%. Sales dropped off, not as significant as in Florida, but they were still off.
What I learned from Dallas that has really helped me here is you focus in on the things you can control. You look for the bright spots, you look for the opportunities and then direct your energy into those opportunities.
What are your top challenges in your new position?
The challenge that I have is there are so many things you could do. But I'd much rather do a few things and master them, then do a whole bunch of things and not do them as well. I want to stay the course and really focus in on helping our consumers have a good real estate experience, and what that entails is helping our associates focus on that. When you do that, good things happen.
AT A GLANCE
Residential Real Estate
Markets: Bradenton, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Miami, Naples, Orlando, Palm Beach, Palm Beach, Panama City, Sarasota, Tampa
Sales agents: 6,500
Closed sales volume/units, 2006: $14.763 billion/35,642
Multimillion-dollar volume/units, 2006: $3.062 billion/1,712
Source: Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate
BY THE NUMBERS
EXPANDING MARKET SHARE
Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, a statewide residential brokerage based in Sarasota, has grown its market share of home sales in several Florida markets in 2007. Here's a sampling of how the company ranks in five top Florida markets:
Sarasota First Quarter/'07 Second Quarter/'07
Michael Saunders & Co. 22.40% 14.80%
Coldwell Banker 10.60% 13.60%
Re/Max Properties 9.40% 10.30%
Hillsborough/Pinellas First Quarter/'07 Second Quarter/'07
Coldwell Banker 10.10% 11.30%
Charles Rutenberg 4.80% 4.40%
Realty Executives 2.30% 3.30%
Broward First Quarter/'07 Second Qaurter/'07
Coldwell Banker 8% 9.30%
Re/Max Partners 3.90% 4.20%
Keyes 3% 3.10%
Miami First Quarter/'07 Second Quarter/'07
Coldwell Banker 8% 9.70%
EWM 5.40% 4.40%
Keyes 4.50% 4.60%
Orlando First Quarter/'07 Second Quarter/'07
Coldwell Banker 6.70% 6.90%
CB Affiliates 5.10% (Watson Realty) 5.50%
Keller Williams 3.90% 4.30%
Sources: Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, MLS Associations of Realtors.