Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series of articles that focuses on real estate professionals who work in a highly specialized segment of the market. Read Part 2: "Real estate jobs with dogs and logs."
Jackie Youngblood, a Realtor for Peterman-Wall Real Estate Firm in Florida whose slogan is "skip the outfit, wear the lifestyle," said she doesn’t view any real estate niche as too peculiar.
She caters to nudist buyers and sellers, and suggests that agents are better off having a niche.
"If agents do not have a niche, they can find themselves chasing the market," she said, adding that trying to market to everyone can be exhausting and lead to fewer clients.
"In my experience, it is best to find your niche market and dedicate your time, money and energy to that niche," said Youngblood.
And she is a testament that no niche is ever too unusual. In fact, the more extreme the better, according to Simon Payn, owner of Ready to Go Newsletters, a real estate marketing company.
"After all, homeowners are looking for expertise — a Realtor who they can trust to help them with their own particular (and sometimes peculiar) needs. There might not be thousands of homeowners in your niche, but once you become best in the world — within your niche — those homeowners will bring their business to you," said Payn.
There are many other examples in the industry of agents who are finding success through specialization — identifying with a particular demographic or property type, such as architectural styles. And agents may target several niches, with separate Web sites and marketing campaigns for each.
Youngblood and her husband have been nudists since 1983. When she retired in 2001 she returned back to Land O’ Lakes in Florida, where there are a number of nudist and clothing-optional resorts.
"There are many nudist and clothing-optional folks who buy and sell inside and outside of the resorts so I decided to tap into that market after attending one of Michael Russer’s seminars," she said — Russer is a real estate speaker and author.
As an agent for the nudist community for five years, Youngblood said her niche has had its ups and downs.
While her target market took a hit with the overall real estate market decline, she said that business did not drop off as rapidly in her niche, and "it is beginning to come alive again. The nudist and clothing-optional clientele enjoy this lifestyle and have the money to do so. They invest in rental properties, summer homes and retirement homes," she said.
Blitz Development, a company that provides online real estate marketing services, suggests that agents developing niches should "make sure that the target group is large enough to sustain the volume of business needed to meet your goals."
Jamie Adams & Associates has a real estate office at the stadium complex that is home to the Texas Rangers Major League Baseball team. Adams is also founder of MVP Agent — a national real estate referral network that offers real estate services for professional athletes. Adams has worked with about 300 professional athletes, including baseball’s steroids celeb Jose Canseco and basketball star Darrell Armstrong.
In 1985, Adams met several athletes while selling cowboy boots at a retail shop. A baseball player for the Texas Rangers who worked as a real estate agent and athlete befriended Adams. He suggested that Adams had the right personality to become a real estate agent and the two of them should pair up to open up a real estate business that would have a strict focus on athletes only.
Adams combined his relationship with athletes and his real estate career and started MVP Agents in 1989. Adams said his business is flourishing. He noted that there are important considerations in working with high-profile athletes.
"This is a service about trust — you have to keep your mouth shut. I think knowing a lot about sports will hurt you more then it can help you (as an agent)," said Adams. He said a key to his business has been in building credibility and trust among his clients.
In step with the 90210 crowd
Like Adams, Valerie Fitzgerald — owner of Valerie Fitzgerald and Associates in Beverley Hills, Calif. — has carved out a niche market working with high-profile individuals including actress Winona Ryder and rhythm and blues singer Babyface, but she didn’t set out to work with the stars.
Fitzgerald, a single mother, started a career in real estate in 1987 when her modeling career ended. With a 3-month-old baby, her friend convinced her to jump into real estate. She used to drive around in her car with her baby to the wealthier neighborhoods.
She would call developers, begging them to meet with her. Fitzgerald didn’t have contacts or referrals when she started in the business, so she wanted to network with other agents and their clients. She visited neighborhoods with high-end homes and dialed up the numbers of developers that were posted on signs.
She hoped that making contact with developers would pay off in opportunities to get acquainted with prospective clients and work with other agents in the luxury market. She recalled an occasion in which a developer did agree to meet with her — she had her baby with her on that day and her shoe heel broke off on the way to the meeting.
She said the developer was impressed with her effort and extended an invitation to an open-house event that proved to be a valuable networking opportunity. She steadily grew her database of contacts and met up with celebrities who would become her real estate clients.
But even with more than two decades in the real estate industry, which includes working with high-profile clientele of celebrities and affluent individuals in Beverly Hills and Malibu, Fitzgerald said that having a niche can actually be harmful to someone’s real estate career.
"I don’t think it’s good to have a niche because you are limiting yourself. I have that old-fashioned idea: By keeping your list of clients open you can build a longer list of clients. You could learn a lot that way and meet all types of people and become more successful that way," said Fitzgerald.
Some agents disagree with Fitzgerald, finding that a niche can help them to target their marketing messages and stand out in a crowd.
No business like show business
James Foote, an actor and broker, decided to develop a niche in working with aspiring actors who are juggling real estate work with acting gigs. He created Actors Real Estate in 2006, a division of Manhattan Real Estate Services in New York City. Actors Real Estate is an actor-for-actor company, meaning the agents and their clients are also actors. Foote recruited agents and clientele through his friends and classmates.
Foote and his broker-in-training, Paul Valenti, are hoping to expand the company by recruiting more aspiring actors as agents and clients alike. Foote has built up his client base by attending local shows and going to acting classes and meetings.
"James came to one of our … shows and approached us afterwards. He was friendly and he told us that he was a Realtor. We happened to be looking to rent a small two-bedroom, so we took his card. I think we gave him our card as well, and ultimately he found us a perfect, very small two-bedroom on the Upper Eastside," said Todd Stone of "Stone and Stone," a comedic duo.
Foote said he is hoping to bring his business to Los Angeles soon because of the huge population of aspiring actors there.
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