- Remember, as an agent you are a media company.
- Be prepared to give away a lot of value to attract people to you.
- Not every successful agent should build a team if selling houses is what really drives you.
Real estate agent Ben Hirsh just “wasn’t Buckhead enough” to snag a $3 million listing in Atlanta’s affluent uptown district, known for its large single-family homes, top-notch shopping and the finest restaurants — all with dense forest views.
An inferior agent was appointed instead for her good social connections, he says.
But the lost battle was the impetus he needed to win the war in what’s sometimes called the Beverly Hills of the South.
“It ripped me apart. I hung up, devastated. I thought: ‘I need to get Buckhead.com,'” Hirsh said.
He sent another email to the developer who owned the domain, remade his last offer and he finally agreed.
Hirsh sealed the purchase two years ago — for a six-figure sum — then created an elegantly designed news website in the same name as the community he hoped to infiltrate.
“My goal is to provide interesting information to anyone who lives in Buckhead or wants to live in Buckhead,” he said.
And it seems to be working.
“I’m 100-percent sure if I had that appointment today, I would get it,” said Hirsh.
Part-agent, part-journo equals market domination
The 32-year-old agent has been in the business for 12 years. Since high school, Hirsh always knew he wanted to do real estate and started at Weichert Realtors at age 20. He was doing $25 million to $35 million in annual sales volume before he bought the website.
The digital addition has been a great boost to his real estate business, Hirsh Real Estate, and to his standing in the market.
The backbone of the site, a monthly email package of articles, has just passed 25,000 subscribers. (There are only 80,000 people in the Buckhead area.)
Hirsh, assisted by a team of part-time contract writers, posts around five to 10 big articles a month on Buckhead.com and is constantly adding neighborhood information.
The featured stories cover a wide range of topics. Celebrity listings and news of a Whole Foods Market coming to town grace the site.
Hirsh has written about the possibility of Buckhead becoming its own city and penned a story that interested many: the billionaires who quietly live in Buckhead — Sara Blakely, for example. (You might not recognize her name, but you’ve certainly heard of — or worn — the brand she created: Spanx.)
How an agent ‘scooped’ national journalists
For the record, Hirsh broke the story about who bought Tyler Perry’s extravagant house. He caught wind that the property had sold on the national news, but the buyer was still unknown.
He did some research, found a name and made the call, and in the end Hirsh interviewed the new owner (businessman-turned-evangelist David Turner) ahead of all the national journalists out there.
Hirsh offered to run the story by Turner before publishing, something that journalists rarely concede to, and he agreed. Plus, he used his best agent skills in the art of persuasion.
The story came out July 9.
“An Atlanta newspaper picked it up, it started going ’round the blogs, then newspapers in Europe, all linking to Buckhead.com.
“It ran in Australia, in the U.K., in The Sun newspaper. It was so cool; it was the first international story I’d done,” said Hirsh, who estimates the story had 20,000 hits.
Moreover, in the case of a recent post on a new Whole Foods Market for the area, Hirsh estimates 1,200 people each spent 1.5 minutes reading it.
“That means that for 1,800 minutes of time, I got in front of somebody — that’s really cool, that’s incredible. If 300 people read it, it’s worth it,” he added.
Building relationships with the competition
Hirsh is not keen on rehashing other people’s stories, and his originality continues to pay off.
The content has raised Hirsh’s profile with clients — and also with other real estate agents.
“All of my competition, all the agents, I put them on my email blast,” he said.
The effort has bolstered his relationships with them.
“I want them to see me as an expert as much as my clients. I want them to respect me, and they love it,” he said.
In addition to news, the website has a real estate section with neighborhoods, featured properties and exclusive coming-soon articles.
Where does Hirsh market himself on the site? He is referred to on Buckhead.com as the Buckhead real estate agent under the “real estate section” — but it is subtly done.
The section of the site gives Hirsh’s story and accentuates the fact that he is also the reader’s neighbor.
“If you are buying or selling a home or property in Buckhead, then you must work with the best Buckhead real estate agent,” he said.
‘All of you are media companies’
At this year’s Inman Connect San Francisco, entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk said to the audience of agents: “All of you are media companies.” It’s safe to say that moment in the speech gave Hirsh some major validation.
In fact, Hirsh hasn’t bothered to work out how much the media side of his business is costing. (In addition to paying the writers, he has a contractor doing website design.)
You could argue that what Buckhead.com has done for him is priceless. The young agent had no ties to this upmarket part of Atlanta when he arrived there in 2009 from the trendy area of Atlantic Station in midtown Atlanta.
Convinced as he was about Buckhead as a new home for him and his family, it wasn’t an easy place to blaze a trail as a newcomer.
“I came to Buckhead with no connections,” he said. “I was not born here. It’s a very old money type of place, everybody knows everybody, the top agents knew everybody.
“It had the lifestyle that I wanted, and the price points that I knew I could compete in. I simply chose the place I wanted to make my home,” he explained.
“I have 20 chickens; we live on a couple of acres. At the top of my property I can see the Atlanta skyline, and I’m 25 minutes from the world’s largest airport. The fact that we can have this setting within the city is what is so exceptional about Buckhead.”
Carving out a niche in an established luxury market
Seven years later, he is the No. 2 individual agent in his market. He did $47.5 million in sales volume last year — and his goal this year? $60 million. He and his main competitor are neck and neck, he said.
Hirsh’s tech-savvy, energetic approach is appealing to incoming wealthy entrepreneurs and hedge-fund types he can talk to about local news while sharing stories of his young family.
Buckhead is changing — it’s becoming a hub for entrepreneurs as well as traditional wealth managers, and the district is home to the Atlanta Tech Village, a pet development of entrepreneur David Cummings, set to employ 10,000.
Entrepreneurs like an agent who loves tech, said Hirsh. “I was the first person in Georgia who owned a Matterport camera. I sold a home to a family in Switzerland for $3 million who fell in love with it from the virtual tour.”
Pumping lifeblood from the city’s ‘digital heart’
Buckhead.com is the “digital heart” of Buckhead, Hirsh said. And the Buckhead population has taken to the crest he created when setting up the site.
“I wanted to create a brand for Buckhead that was synonymous with Buckhead.com,” he said. “The Buckhead crest looks good. It happens to be my initials, and it’s now a bumper sticker that we give out at local shops. Around 100 to 200 people a month request them off the website as well.”
The marketing enthusiast has gotten to the stage where he does not have to chase leads from the website.
“I actually quit following up with people who register on the site like I used to. I see it as my job to provide such helpful and compelling information to people that they call me when they are ready,” he said.
Not everyone’s a team player
While Hirsh is a sole operator of Hirsh Real Estate these days, he did have a team of agents from 2008 to 2013, but he found he wasn’t a good people manager and it affected his production numbers.
Now it’s just him and a couple of assistants, including a good marketing expert.
“I’m not a good coach. I don’t ‘hold hands’ well,” he said. “It’s just me selling.
“I’m not going to be Gary Keller. I can’t scale to one million agents, but that’s OK; I’m right where I want to be. I sell homes, in Buckhead, and that is it for me.”
Meanwhile, the agent is planning a magazine for his market. And he’s got the domains ready this time.
“It’s going to be a very thick, glossy, full-color magazine that gets direct-mailed out.”
He will release the publication once or twice a year. It won’t feature ads, but sponsors will offset some of the hefty production expenses.
From his direct mail marketing experience in Buckhead, he has learned a lot of people are not on the internet, and “direct mail gets people’s attention.”
Speaking like someone who’s been the underdog, Hirsh hopes more real estate business will emerge from this next media venture, too.
“In my market, I am competing with international firms. Against the Berkshire Hathaways, the Sotheby’s. What I am is the other guy, the third option.
“I’m the total oddball, Hirsh Real Estate. It’s me — up against 400 agents.
“I say there’s no smoke and mirrors with me. I have the best marketing in town because that’s all I have to stand on.”