Inman is interviewing real estate leaders. Here’s Dustin Oldfather, CEO at The Oldfather Group of Ocean Atlantic Sotheby’s International Realty.
What’s been the biggest obstacle your business has encountered, and how have you dealt with it?
Attracting the right people and helping them into roles that suit their strengths and building systems that support them. We deal with it every day. As our style has evolved, it has become easier to articulate what we do and how we do it, and that means having a dirty uniform. Not everyone can work that way.
It gets back to our blue-collar nature. We love dynamic, talented people who work hard and take what they do seriously while having a little fun along the way. The longer we do it, the luckier we get to find the right people — the right people more often approach us now. It’s a grow-and-shed process, much like all of healthy living.
What puzzles you most about the industry?
Why we — the National Association of Realtors and Move — lost control of the online consumer. We had the data and allowed third parties with poor data to develop better platforms and win the minds of the consumer.
Now, News Corp. owns realtor.com, and the proceeds from that sale are being earmarked for Upstream. Call me a skeptic, but I doubt our leadership of slow-swimming old fish will be able to swim upstream faster than the sharks to control listing data distribution. Interesting to watch the carnival act.
Are you the first entrepreneur in your family?
Yes, that’s a fair assessment. We had everything we needed as a family growing up, and we were fortunate that Mom made the choice to stay home with us even as more and more families were moving to dual incomes. The emotional impact was worth so much more than any economic rewards.
I especially enjoyed working for my grandfather, a mason, when I turned 12 and into my teens. It was a special time to be indoctrinated into the “man’s” world and be able to make my own money as most others we went to school with got allowances.
I keep my grandfather’s ring on my chest of drawers and am reminded of the lessons of hard work, persistence and a job well done every day. I am sure that has a great deal to do with my work ethic.
Why’d you decide to join your company?
Ocean Atlantic Sotheby’s International Realty is an amazing company. The brand is fresh, aspirational, sophisticated and hip, with multiple offices in strategic locations. Beautiful office spaces and family-style brokerage. Since the volume is so high, it’s difficult to call us a boutique, but our broker, R. Justin Healy, cares very much about keeping that vibe.
Describe a time when you felt particularly insecure about the future of your company. How did you bounce back?
The darkest time in our careers were after the recent real estate crash. Sellers couldn’t get to market price, so we were clinging to listings that couldn’t sell and carrying the costs associated with marketing with greater and greater pressure while buyers would visit and tour multiple times with no urgency — often just disappearing.
Both listing and buy sides were black holes, and Mariya and I were both fully invested in the business and had leveraged all of our investments into real estate. We didn’t doubt we could be successful, but we did wonder if we could make it to the return of the market.
I dabbled at selling solar energy part-time as a last attempt to carry us through, and then we were the first to become proficient and adopt short sales. We looked over the cliff almost every day for a few years; I think we still imagine the cliff, which is probably for the best.
What would you describe as your company’s biggest victory since you joined it?
Adopting the team approach to real estate. It’s so simple and elegant — a team of inspired specialists will always outperform a generalist.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about building a business?
Find your style of articulating your passion; live and attract others who like the way you do it. In short, be authentic and keep growing.
One of our core tenets adopted from Tom Ferry is that “everyone is in training — everyone.” When you are constantly growing, there is a life-force momentum that invites others to do the same. Then, help the people who join you to work in their areas of strength and build systems to help them perform well.
Oh, and be grateful every day for each person who shares their life with you as a worker or a client. Gratitude and acknowledgement are spiritual binders.
Confront mistakes when they happen, but don’t dwell on them — mistakes are necessary for becoming truly great. They should be embraced as long as they are not negligent.
What’s the most overrated real estate technology?
I would have said Trulia until the merger. I don’t hear that many positive experiences about Kunversion, but I must say their chatty agent add-on is ridiculously good. It costs $100 a month for a full-time virtual chat concierge for all of our websites converting leads that don’t otherwise register? Yes, please!
How will the role of the real estate agent change over the next five years?
With the ever-increasing supply and transparency information in the real estate market, I suspect we’ll see another wave of consumers going the do-it-yourself path as the market becomes stronger.
As we move through the next correction, consumers will still get value from the economy of scale for marketing distribution and service of buyer lead capture and service. Consumers now expect and demand (fairly) immediate follow-up and excellent service.
The role of the future agent will be to be excellent at what you do, know your market and be a valuable part of a highly specialized team that can handle the rigors and diversity of those demanding clients on a significant scale.
I feel badly for the failure rate of new agents in our industry. Many brokerages are happy to burn up the savings of new agents in cooperative initiatives designed to further the brokerage first. We try to do our part by continuing ongoing training, retaining the best coaches for our agents, and maintaining a nurturing environment for learning and mentorship.
At the end of the day, it’s still important to have an agent protect your interests and to be a buffer in negotiations. I imagine we’ll continue to see the most efficient teams assimilate more and more of the best agents as there is irrefutable power in a properly structured and scaled group of specialists.
What motivates you more: power or money?
This is going to come off as self-serving, but neither. I feel called to be a real estate professional and hopefully improve the lives of others along the way.
Power and money are byproducts of a job well done. When you work with a servant’s heart, you don’t have to worry about those things. I know, it sounds corny.
What’s your favorite activity outside of work and why?
Traveling, working on jazz guitar solo arrangements and spending time with Mariya and Sofiya at the beach. We put so much energy into our clients and team; we need to stay connected to the coastal lifestyle we love so much that brought us here.
We all work hard, and we keep that in the context of living well and respecting our spirits. As Darren Hardy says,”sprint and recover.” Rest and recovery is necessary to be our best for all of those around us.
What’s your favorite classic piece of literature and why?
“Great By Choice,” by Jim Collins. When the market was at its worst several years ago, I found courage and resolve from the affirmation of the principles and stories of ultra-successful companies that had also been through dire circumstances.
I have read “Great By Choice,” “Good To Great” and “How The Mighty Fall” at least 10 times. Success (and failure) leave clues.
What is your biggest professional fear?
Online mechanization of the real estate sale that changes our role. (I am watching!)
What is your biggest personal fear?
Not having enough reserves to keep all of the amazing people who work with us and put their careers in our hands during the next correction when it comes. I don’t want anyone who contributes their heart and soul to us to ever go through the pain and insecurity of the last correction ever again.
Who do you respect most in the industry?
That’s easy: Tom Ferry.
Describe what you do in one sentence: I list and sell real estate in Coastal Delaware and have developed the largest real estate sales team in Delaware.
Degree, school: Naval Nuclear Power School
Location: Rehoboth Beach, Lewes and Bethany Beach Delaware, Ocean City Maryland
Are you a real estate leader who’d like to participate in our profile series? Email email@example.com.