James Oaksun is a Realtor with Re/Max Preferred and writes the Broward Real Estate Geek blog.
What would you describe as your company’s biggest victory since you joined it?
That many of the top agents and broker-associates in town, who could easily hang their hats anywhere, work here. And that Re/Max Preferred is seen as one of the top companies in town.
What’s been the biggest obstacle your business has encountered, and how have you dealt with it?
I came to Florida just two years ago, not really knowing that many people. I’d been here on vacations, coming from the northeast — don’t visit Maine in the winter! I knew it was going to take time and effort to get established, learn the market, become recognized. It really is starting a new business. There are upfront costs, and a “burn rate” for your capital. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m on the right track.
What puzzles you most about the industry?
Two things. The number of agents who aren’t really serious about the business, and even more so the number of agents who don’t specialize, don’t have a niche. This is a completely fragmented industry. There are probably around 25,000 Realtors in the three counties.
When I thought about having this as a second career and I thought, and thought again. I concluded that the only way I could differentiate myself was by having some sort of niche, a unique selling proposition. What makes me special? Why do business with me instead of somebody whose name the customer pulls out of a hat? The top professionals know we’re not all the same!
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about building a business?
It takes time, patience and work. Overnight successes are rare, no matter what you’re doing. There’s an old time football expression: “three yards and a cloud of dust.” You are moving forward, but progress can be slow and not everything you do will be a touchdown pass.
What’s your favorite activity outside of work and why?
When I moved down here, I started singing again. I joined the Master Chorale of South Florida, a mixed voice (men and women) classical chorus of about 120 members. It’s a great group of people who love music and perform it well. Come see one of our concerts, you’ll enjoy it! We put on four programs per season, and perform each of them in Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Boca.
What’s your favorite classic piece of literature and why?
Literature, hmm. Maybe Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” Beware of people who tell you exactly what you want to hear!
Are you the first entrepreneur in your family?
I’m second. My sister Jeannie is a landscape architect in the Philadelphia area.
Why’d you decide to join your company?
Three reasons. First, the people here. I learn from them every day. They know the business, and are serious about it. Second would be our managing broker, Marnie Allen, who was president of the Realtor board here and for whom I have a lot of respect. Third would be the Re/Max brand, which definitely opens doors for me. I don’t have to explain what company I’m with; everybody knows Re/Max.
Describe a time when you felt particularly insecure about the future of your company. How did you bounce back?
I’ve never felt the slightest bit insecure about either our franchise or the brand! Back in my former career, our company was acquired by another company that had a very different corporate culture. That was a huge adjustment!
Many people left: some by choice, some not. I was able to stay on because the new management saw my strengths and knew I did good work. When you go through something like that, you just have to accept that the old ways are gone, and you have to adapt. It’s a good life lesson in real estate, too.
What’s the most overrated real estate technology?
Probably a lot of the CRM stuff out there. Overpriced and not necessary. It doesn’t take very long in the business to see there are a lot of people out there looking to separate Realtors from their money. If it’s more than a couple hundred bucks, be suspicious. There may be a cheaper alternative that works nearly as well.
Even stuff like smartphones. You don’t need the latest iPhone 6s to work in this business. I got my phone on Ebay, used. It’s not the latest and greatest (it’s the generation prior), but it has capabilities far beyond what I need, at a fraction of the price.
How will the role of the real estate agent change over the next five years?
I think there will a lot fewer Realtors than today. There’s a lot more information out there, and customers are smarter than ever. Anybody who doesn’t take the time to really become an expert at some piece of the business and be able to share that expertise — I think they’re finished.
What motivates you more: power or money?
If I had to pick one, it would be money, but that’s way, way down the list. Sure, I’m financially motivated, but only to a point. So many studies, and my own experience, show that once you reach a certain point, more money doesn’t get you more happiness.
Maintaining and improving my physical and mental health, loving my family and friends, and feeling like I am making a difference…all are more valuable to me.
What is your biggest professional fear?
Sometimes I worry that I started at this too late. I’m 54, and I feel like I’m making up for lost time. And I don’t want to work forever.
What is your biggest personal fear?
Snakes. And spiders. Hate them!!! Except for Charlotte from “Charlotte’s Web.” She was cool.
Who do you respect most in the industry?
I don’t know if there is a specific person. I guess generally I most respect the people I’ve met who come to this from a very different first career, like I have.
What makes your market unique?
When I lived up north, I had a 150-year-old house. Not any of those in Florida, maybe in Saint Augustine, I don’t know. Practically nothing pre-WW2 in Broward.
Have you ever worked in another city/metro? If so, how did you end up where you are working now?
This is the only market I’ve practiced real estate. I got a Massachusetts license a few years ago but never used it.
I moved here two years ago after having lived in Portland, Maine, for 25 years. I wanted to be on the coast, in a larger metro area, with better weather. Success!
What’s your favorite thing about working in your community?
Incredible diversity. In a very short time I’ve worked with international customers who spoke no English, people relocating from various places from the northeast to San Francisco, and with local first-time buyers.
Is there an area of your community in which you specialize?
While I’m certainly out there looking for listings, I’d say my specialty is working with buyers and investors. The neighborhoods here are so different, no Realtor could ever know everything. I concentrate on center Wilton Manors, the Poinsettia Heights neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale, and Pompano east of Federal. I also know a lot about South Middle River and North Andrews Gardens — those areas are popular with first time buyers.
Describe what you do in one sentence:
I show people that geekery works, and that it can change lives and create value — usually in 44 days or less.
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