Jeffrey Bastress, founder, president and broker-owner for East Coast brokerage company Startpoint Realty. He will speak at the upcoming Inman News Real Estate Connect conference in New York City, which runs from Jan. 7-9, 2009. Startpoint is a full-service brokerage that operates in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Florida.

Bastress responded to a set of questions posed by Inman News:

What do you see happening in the real estate market in 2009?

Buyers are just now regaining confidence. I expect this to grow through the winter. I think 2009 will turn toward a better market, and I predict by September 2009 it will be very strong. There are many pent-up reasons now for buyers to get off the fence, and as long as interest rates remain low (the market) will be back in force.

What advice do you have to help real estate agents and brokers get through this market?

I suggest focusing on cutting back in all areas other than marketing online. Utilize every free online service for listing and personal exposure and use this time to build new relationships with buyers, sellers and professionals in the industry. It’s time to retool and train for the new "eco-green" market ahead. Analyze if working at another company where you net more per deal is not working smarter. Get out of the office and become mobile and flexible to open new niches. There is plenty of opportunity right now in all of these areas. Make more by making more per deal. Make more by saving more per deal. Working smarter is the key in this market.

What sparked the idea to start your company?

The Internet sellers and buyers are demanding better communication, and technology has warranted our fresh approach to business. Buyers and sellers do business with those they feel good about and relate to, and those who will get the job done with the least amount of anxiety for them. The company name above the door doesn’t matter. Giving consumers what they want — not what your company policy dictates they get — is the key. Traditional real estate companies are focused on themselves — not the agent or the consumer. Happy clients mean happy agents.

What’s been your biggest challenge in running the business?

Ninety percent of the business is conducted by 10 percent of the agents in the field. The National Association of Realtors has made it so easy to become a Realtor that many (in my opinion) are simply not well-trained, are inexperienced, or lack the aptitude to be successful or even be helpful in making transactions go smoothly. I can track most deals that went sour due to bad communication at the agent-client level. Most deals have a buyer and a buyer’s agent, a seller and a listing agent, two office policies dictating conflicting approaches, two attorneys with different agendas, a mortgage lender with a separate set of internal policies, and it can be a communications nightmare if all of the information is filtered to the consumers through inexperienced communicators. The biggest challenge I see is getting the egos and ignorance out of the equation.

What new features are in the pipeline? Can you share any future plans, goals?

All of our agents work from home now, and we are networked together through a virtual office that contains the customer relationship management and transaction platform. We expect to grow one agent at a time across New England and the U.S.

What lesson did you learn in the last year?

Saving money and cutting expenses is money in the bank. Increased communication and getting back to basics — with increased understanding and empathy for our clients — helps in building stronger relationships. This focus was lost in the boom years, as there was no time to be as personal. Be flexible and ready for change at any time.

What would your second career choice be and why?

Financial planning and annuity insurance sales. All my clients have lost their equity and/or retirement funds, and job security is at an all-time low. With the baby boomers at the brink of retirement, I see a huge need for good financial planners with good products and answers to assist those planning for retirement. I also see new buyers coming into the market who are concerned about the same issues and don’t have trust in any retirement programs available to them. Most were not worried about retirement just a few years ago. I think everyone is thinking about it now. Everyone. Why not be there for them?

What is the biggest problem in the real estate market today, and how would you fix it?

The problem: buyer confidence. The solution: job stability, low (interest) rates, available honest credit, and good homes.

What do you most enjoy about working in the real estate industry?

I enjoy helping my clients and managing my own time, and the money is good.

Tell us something we don’t already know about you …

I climbed the highest mountain in South America — Cristobol Colon in Colombia — and was the last person allowed to do so.

Hear Jeffrey Bastress speak at the Real Estate Connect conference in New York City, which runs from Jan. 7-9. He will participate in a panel discussion titled "Surviving Your First Down Market," and will be joined on the panel by other brokerage company managers and executives including Jacky Teplitzky, managing director for Manhattan-based Prudential Douglas Elliman.


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