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In this real estate market, pitch meetings go a long way

ST. PETERSBURG — The weekly pitch session came to order.

Helen Torres has had knee surgery, so please sign up if you can drop off a meal for the Homes by Helen agent.

There's an open house after the meeting at a home that's on the market for $295,000 with motivated sellers. Julie Jones of RE/MAX Metro is the listing agent and welcomes input on the price, so please come by today.

Jeff Joyner of Keller Williams Realty has a new listing for a $3 million house in Broadwater that sits on 4.6 acres with two kapok trees. He's also trying to sell a much smaller house, but the owner is a smoker. Any suggestions for alleviating that odor?

Jill Smith of Century 21 needs ideas on how she can get a concrete ramp built for a disabled buyer who's ready to sign on a $15,000 condo. "I've never worked so hard for $200," she said with a laugh.

This is how some real estate agents are moving property in one of the biggest housing slumps in decades. The pitch session also serves as something of a support group. The agents are competitors who share lifeboats. In the age of e-mail, Twitter, Facebook and digital house tours, face-to-face networking is still indispensable.

"Successful agents learn real quick that there is enough business to go around and they better get along with their competition because they will not survive without them," said Brook Hefte of RE/MAX Metro, who has had several sales come out of the pitch sessions.

Greg Burton of Watts Realty Group has had three transactions since November that were a direct result of the weekly get-togethers.

The group of about 25 agents, bankers, title underwriters and others in the industry has been meeting for three years. They convene every Wednesday at the Bob Hogue School of Real Estate at 2114 54th Ave. N. The room rental is covered by three sponsors: Wendy Murrian, a sales consultant with Fidelity National Title, Stephen Shelton, owner of Exterm-A-Tech, and Pam Fox, owner of Artistic Staging and Design.

"It was a slow start because people haven't done it in so long," Murrian said.

About 20 years ago, the Pinellas Board of Realtors held a pitch session once a week with 100 or more people crowding the room. Then technological advances such as the Multiple Listing Service, websites and Internet property searches meant real estate agents didn't need to see each other in person to promote their properties.

When the market is flooded with homes, however, a face-to-face pitch can go far in distinguishing a property.

"I think it makes a huge difference to talk in person. You run out of adjectives to describe a property in writing," Murrian said. "Agents are able to tell you some of the stories, like these people are trying to move to North Carolina to retire, or these people really need to sell because of financial reasons. It really puts more of a personal touch back into real estate."

Anyone in the real estate game is welcome at the sessions. Carol Hasbrouck from Cornerstone Community Bank is there, along with Jeanene Soltis from Third Federal Savings & Loan, Theodore Smida with Home Express Lending and Dave Ansel with Superior Home Mortgage.

The meetings begin with success stories. Anyone who has sold a home or gotten a new listing shares the good news.

"A listing I've had for two years has finally sold," said Anna Darring of Keller Williams. She started to yield the floor to someone else before adding, "Oh, and I almost forgot. I have a closing today."

After the success stories, participants go around the room and share new listings and price cuts. Then Murrian calls for clients' wants and needs. Somebody wants to rent out a two-bedroom, two-bathroom penthouse condominium at the Walker Whitney Plaza downtown. A family wants to buy a house within walking distance of Shore Acres Elementary School.

Three agents quickly point out that Jill Smith has a listing on Denver Street.

The importance of peer support was evident when Ned Hands of RE/MAX Metro told the group about the change in price of a house he's trying to sell. The motivated seller has dropped the price from $369,000 to $350,000 to $325,000.

"The owner has no debt, so the first offer buys the house," Hands said. "He's probably going to call me in 15 minutes, then again in three hours to ask me if I've sold it. So if y'all could help me out, that would be great."

Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or kssmith@sptimes.com.

In this real estate market, pitch meetings go a long way 07/12/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 12, 2011 10:20am]
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