Introducing Homer

spigot from the plumbing aisle

by Jay Zenner on April 19, 2010

Big Box Lessons Lessons for Marketing Homes

Note: Homer is a pseudonym for an underemployed agent friend of mine who has been working a one of the big box home improvement stores since the market took a dive.  I ran into him on the plumbing aisle on a slow day and he agreed to an interview for 4PsRE. I took notes on the piece of cardboard he tore from a 20X20 box of air filters.

4PsRE: Have you given up on real estate as a career?

Homer: Not yet.  But a little steady cash flow and health insurance mean a lot. I’m part time here.

4PsRE: Doesn’t it feel a little odd wearing jeans to work? Did you have to make any adjustments?

Homer: I love working in jeans.  The neon apron is not exactly what I’d call a fashion statement though.  But seriously, this is my first ever job in retail so it’s been an interesting experience. I think maybe I’m  a blue collar type after all. Being on your feet for 6 or 7 hours takes its toll but I’ve gotten used to it. The people that work here come from all kinds of backgrounds… which surprised me. But they’re a great bunch and if I ever got too busy again with real estate to stay here, I’d miss them.

4PsRE: Homer, how did you end up doing this?

Homer: Well, a guy’s got to do what a guy’s got to do. I decided to start my own firm at precisely the wrong time.

4PsRE: What made you think you could do it? You weren’t an agent that long where you?

Homer: Worse than that. A good part of the time I was licensed I wasn’t selling. I’d been talked into managing another firm.  When I left, I had a partner and she was a good salesperson and we thought we would complement each other. I had a lot of marketing and management experience.

4PsRE: So the economy took you down?

Homer: Well, it didn’t help but my partner had to leave the business for a while for family responsibilities and I stumbled onto an opportunity that I couldn’t resist.

4PsRE: What was that?

Homer: A bank in another town contacted me about a foreclosed townhouse that they were trying to get rid of.  I’m not sure why they contacted me but I had shown it to a client and it was a mess.  It seems that typically when these guys handle REO they slash costs. The place was filthy, the utilities were off,  and it hadn’t been updated since it was built in the 70’s.  My clients just laughed.

4PsRE: So you took the listing and talked them into fixing it up?

Homer: No. I bought it to fix up and flip. Coincidentally, I had done that before in the same little subdivision and knew the community and a lot about the construction of these homes to start with.  In fact, that first flip was how I got into real estate in the first place.  I made a lot of mistakes on that first one. One of the mistakes was that the agent I used to buy it and afterward, sell it, made a lot more money than I did.  I worked on the thing full time for a full summer and she spent a few hours.  So, I got my real estate license to save part of the commission. It was easier to get a license then.

4PsRE: So, did you do OK on the second one?

Homer: I did. I had learned my lessons well. The problem was that whatever momentum I had with my selling career and the company I started was lost and then the crash came alone.

4PsRE: But there are firms that are surviving.

Homer: There sure are,  but to be real honest about it, I don’t fit the mold of the successful Realtor very well.  I had much more fun working on those flips than I ever did trying to line up clients. I guess I don’t suffer fools well, and pretending that I enjoy the company of people when I don’t is tough for me. They suck the energy out of me.

4PsRE: So, don’t you have to relate to people here?

Homer: Of course. But it’s different. Most folks come here with a problem to solve. After doing this a while I can help most of them and they appreciate it and they go away.  I’m not paid a commission and the management is pretty good about taking a long view.

4PsRE: What do you mean about a long view?

Homer: Well, they’d rather we solve the problems and have a satisfied customer base  than just push product.  They do a lot of other goofy things but they’ve been pretty consistent about that.

4PsRE: Well, why don’t you go back to flipping houses?

Homer: You have to ask that?

4PsRE: Yeah, I guess I know but I’d rather hear it from you since this is an interview and some of our readers might not know.

Homer: Sure.  With the real estate market in free fall in a lot of areas, it’s pretty risky… for both flippers and lenders.  The shame is that there are a lot of bargains out there.

4PsRE: We’re seeing signs that the market is coming back in a few areas.

Homer: Yeah.  For someone with some money to invest I think it would be a good time to pick up some bargains and turn them over.

4PsRE: Are there any other lessons that you learned from your experience?

Homer: Oh yeah. I get where you’re going with this 4 P’s stuff. I think flippers…and probably builders…are much more attuned to it than the average real estate agent.

4PsRE: How so?

Homer: Listen, I’ve got people poking around down there in toilet repair. I’ve got to get back on the job. It’s been fun catching up.

4PsRE: Can we talk again?

Homer: Sure. I learned a lot about marketing the flips from making mistakes and, surprisingly, I’ve learned a lot here. Our company website has tons of material about how to fix up a home.

4PsRE: And you’d be willing to share what you’ve learned with my audience?

Homer: Do I get paid?

4PsRE: As soon as I do. Is that fair?

Homer: ( laughing) I guess so. I’m looking forward to it.

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