Making it in real estate
Broker finds interpersonal skills, marketing keys to success
Deborah Bernat’s entrepreneurial roots go back to her childhood in Weston, when she collected rocks, painted and shellacked them and sold them to neighborhood children.
“I’ve always been a salesperson,” she says.
Now, as a real estate broker for Coldwell Banker, Bernat puts her skills to work for both buyers and sellers in Boston’s superheated housing market. Sunday, she checked in on a client whose Roxbury home recently sold. The house, which had sustained damage to its water and heating systems, sold above asking price.
“That was a lot quicker than I thought it would be,” the client said.
While Bernat is savoring the successes of today’s strong market, she earned her broker’s license at the dawn of the great recession, turning to real estate after more than a decade working in the nonprofit sector.
“I just decided to take the leap in 2005, just as the market was starting to tank,” she says.
The trial by fire proved that Bernat had persistence.
“I honed my skills in a really tough market,” she says. “It was a while before I earned any money.”
The experience of working in a down market also gave Bernat some insight on what it takes to be successful in real estate.
“You have to be adaptable and resilient,” she says. “There’s no replacement for experience. Even in today’s world of technology, no two deals are alike. If you’re someone who likes predictability, real estate is not for you.”
Bernat says it also pays to be a people person, of course.
“It’s a service industry,” she says. “You have to like people a whole lot.”
Marketing, web presence
Bernat recommends joining an established firm. She began her career with Hammond Associates before switching to Coldwell Banker. Like most brokers attached to firms, Bernat is an independent contractor, not an employee. The firm helps with marketing and provides a brick-and-mortar office space for brokers to meet with clients.
The large firms also have six-figure contracts with publications that list luxury residences, like a $2 million single-family home on 4.5 acres in Weston that Bernat has listed, or the $1.2 million condominium she has listed on Hutchings Street in Roxbury.
“We’re on every single website — Boston Magazine, the Wall Street journal,” she said. “The internet strategy is important in today’s market. You want to get your listing in front of every prospective buyer.”
Bernat says marketing is a crucial skill real estate brokers need to succeed. The most important marketing, she says, is word of mouth — a recommendation from a client’s trusted friend.
“I’m a lifelong Boston resident,” she says. “It really is based on the people you know.”
Beyond that, Bernat has seen the internet rise as the most important marketing tool in her 14 years in real estate.
Bernat was an early adopter of social media when it came into being, joining LinkedIn early on and using it to market her business. The website Property Spark listed Bernat at number one in its list of the Boston-area real estate brokers who are best at using social media.
Even though listings and information have migrated to the internet, Bernat says the experience brokers bring to transactions is still their most important asset.
“Technology has changed our business, but it has not diminished the need for brokers,” she says. “Even though the customers have more information than ever, they don’t necessarily know what to do with it.”
Another asset a good broker brings to the table: instinct.
In her first year working, Bernat helped a client buy a single-family on Dorr Street in Roxbury’s Highland Park section — one of the early new-construction townhouses in that neighborhood. Bernat saw the potential in the neighborhood, despite the proliferation of vacant lots on that street. Her keen eye for a good deal paid off. Over the next decade, values rose substantially in Highland Park and the vacant lots that once lined the street are now filled with new construction.
“When you walk down that street, much of what’s there wasn’t there 10 years ago,” Bernat says.
When that same client sold the home recently, Bernat handled the listing and the seller walked away with a handsome profit.
That scenario is not surprising to Bernat. It’s what real estate brokers aim for — satisfied customers who bring repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals.