Highland Partners top producer Debbi DiMaggio tells a hilarious anecdote in her new book, “Real Estate Rules! – 52 Ways to Achieve Success in Real Estate,” about taking a Florida couple around some homes in her market of Piedmont in San Francisco’s East Bay. The wife was horrified over what her money could buy in the posh San Francisco Bay Area suburb. “I can still hear that woman shrieking to her husband, ‘I am not going to live in that! I come from a huge home with gates, and I live like a princess!’”

  • Agents should view other agents in their market as colleagues who can help them grow their business.
  • Agents who are viewed as problematic and not team players will lose out on business.
  • Buyer agents in hot markets are not salespeople so much as cheerleaders and guides for their clients.

Highland Partners top producer Debbi DiMaggio tells a hilarious anecdote in her new book, “Real Estate Rules! – 52 Ways to Achieve Success in Real Estate,” about taking a Florida couple around some homes in her market of Piedmont in San Francisco’s East Bay.

The wife was horrified over what her money could buy in the posh San Francisco Bay Area suburb.

“I can still hear that woman shrieking to her husband, ‘I am not going to live in that! I come from a huge home with gates, and I live like a princess!’”

Adds DiMaggio, “Whenever I see the gates in the opening of ‘The Real Housewives of Orange County’ reality TV show, I remember my Florida princess. Needless to say, they did not take the job or make the move.”

She uses this story to help illustrate the 32nd rule in her book: not to take clients’ reactions too personally. Pause and take a breath, count to 10, then respond professionally, is her advice.

This is the third book for DiMaggio, who left The Grubb Co. six years ago with her husband, Adam Betta, to help friends Heidi Marchessoti and Mindy Sun set up Highland Partners in Piedmont, a luxury boutique agency for the East Bay and a joint venture with Better Homes and Gardens Mason-McDuffie Real Estate.

In 2013 they bought a Mason-McDuffie office in Montclair, where they now have 45 agents; they have 37 agents in Piedmont.

Why some top agents can go into publishing

At Highland Partners, DiMaggio is in charge of marketing. She is busy on social media; her favorite is Instagram at the moment. This interest in marketing has led to her book publishing career, which comprises, to date, one coffee table book, “Contained Beauty,” then the informative, “The Art of Real Estate,” written for agents and buyers and sellers, published by Half Full Press. This new book, “Real Estate Rules!,” is part of the Rules! series published by Brigantine Media.


Debbi DiMaggio and Adam Betta

DiMaggio and Betta are top producers, both in their market of Piedmont and its environs and nationwide. Their team, DiMaggio & Betta, was the No. 1 team last year and the year before for parent company Better Homes & Gardens Mason-McDuffie. Their sales figures for 2015 were $38.3 million and for the first quarter this year, close to $11 million.

Like most parts of the Bay Area, inventory is low, and Piedmont’s population is only 10,000 residents and 4,000 homes, so the team strays into the nearby parts of Oakland from time to time.

The couple have around 15 prospects in the pipeline as they go into the summer — and if they all come off, it’ll be another great year, said Betta.

Their next listing is the Ghirardelli Mansion, on the market for $5.298 million, just a stones’s throw from their headquarters, which is the only real estate office in Piedmont. The Ghirardelli family are San Francisco royalty, creators of the famous chocolate business, and the sale will attract a lot of interest.

As DiMaggio recommends other agents do in the book, (rule 52) she is throwing a party at the house for contacts, agents, press and neighbors next week (May 24) as part of the property’s promotion.

The importance of good relationships with other agents in your market

A convincing point DiMaggio makes in “Real Estate Rules!” to fellow real estate agents — and something she is extremely passionate about — is the importance of having cordial relationships with other agents. It will help them in their ability to win out in multiple-bid situations, and sellers who choose a good agent-buyer team will help make the transaction a successful one, is her argument.

In “Real Estate Rules!” she urges agents to put real effort into cultivating relationships with other agents in their office and outside. “Consider yourself a colleague not a competitor, ” she said.

“Don’t treat other agents as your competitors. In fact, other agents can be the quickest path to grow your business,” she writes.

“The more you engender trust in your fellow agents, the more referrals you will receive from them. Winning a bid for your buyer and receiving referrals are the lifeblood of our business,” she added.

Asked to elaborate on this, DiMaggio said: “Each agent has a reputation, whether it be good, bad or indifferent, aggressive, passive or passive-aggressive.

“If you’ve been in the business as long as we have, you get to know each agent’s style and manner,” she said.

After more than 25 years, she said she has come to know the personalities of each agent in her region — who will be the best to work with and who will make the transaction go as smoothly as possible for both buyer and seller. The agents have gotten to know her, too.

“Oftentimes, my client will get a counter — a coveted opportunity — if our offer is close, because the listing agent knows I am easy to work with and will get the job done without a fuss,” she noted

It is about strong relationships, built over time. And this can only help her clients, she argues.

“Terms and or price don’t always seal the deal, but a sincere, trustworthy Realtor can make a difference,” she said.

Listing agents need to protect their client

As the listing agent, her role is to protect her client,  added DiMaggio.

“One agent in particular is known to put in a high offer, but once in contract will come back and try to renegotiate the deal,” she said.

“If you know an agent who is more of a team player and who is going to make it easy for you and your client, that’s who you are going to go with if possible.”

An agent who does not have established relationships is going to struggle, said DiMaggio.

“If theirs is one of five offers and they don’t have a relationship with that agent, how do you think they are going to do? Not so great.

“Unknown, unproven Realtors can be difficult to go into contract with as you do not know their style or follow-through. Having confidence in your fellow agent is key. It’s a people business, and relationships mean everything,” she added.

Attracting referrals from other markets

Meanwhile, as well as having cordial relationships with your own market agents, cultivate friendships with agents from other areas who might send clients to your market from time to time — and vice verse — DiMaggio advises in the book.

She and Betta worked in San Francisco years ago and are passed on clients from top San Francisco agents every now and then.

“They tend to be sending buyer referrals where a buyer has been shut out of the San Francisco market, so they continue their home search in the East Bay where prices, for the most part, are a bit less expensive,” said DiMaggio.

“They know we are going to be the better person to write and manage the offer,” she said.

DiMaggio also connected with some young luxury agents at Inman Connect San Francisco last year — Dusty Baker from Keller Williams in Santa Barbara as well as Matt Zampella from Silicon Valley Real Estate and Sereno Group’s Hadar Guibara, also from Silicon Valley.

There is a chance they may pass referrals on in both directions, given the commonality of their clientele. Both their markets are benefiting from the tech boom, after all.

“I keep in touch with them on social media, in particular via Instagram,” said DiMaggio.

The role of the real estate agent

DiMaggio and Betta are proud of the company culture the founding partners have created at Highland Partners. The Piedmont office has no closed off areas; it is a completely open plan, and the new agents learn from the senior ones by sitting next to them and seeing them in action.

DiMaggio, with more than 25 years in the business, has strong views on the role of the agent. She does not see it as being a salesperson — not in her market, where buyers know exactly what they want and have educated themselves on the market before approaching an agent.

Buyers come to Piedmont from San Francisco — and oftentimes New York and Connecticut.

Any buyer coming to Piedmont knows why they want to live there. They have either been referred or they have done their own research, said DiMaggio.

“I am not selling them the lifestyle, as Piedmont speaks for itself — maybe in some other areas, agents may have to sell a lifestyle. People who come here know why they are coming, they know they want to live in our community — for both small-town amenities, our close proximity to the city and because of our top rated schools.

“There is nothing I see in what I do as selling. I am a facilitator and an educator,” she said. “I offer guidance. We are psychologists, confidants and therapists. Buying and selling a home is a very trying experience, both costly and stressful.”

“Oftentimes we are a buyer’s cheerleader, trying to keep them in the game after they have lost one, two or three offers. It’s a frustrating learning process for many.

“As agents we continue to engage, to coach and to remind our buyers how our market works. We are patient, as we know there is a learning curve, but we do know our client will eventually prevail. Like all good things, it just takes time.”

It can be even more stressful for sellers who are operating under a number of pressures, she says in the book.

DiMaggio writes: “I package my selling tips into a ‘success sheet’ for sellers. It’s a valuable resource that I give to sellers at our first meeting, which often helps seal the deal for the listing. Providing clarity in a very complicated process is what a seller appreciates most.”

Benefits of a publishing side business

Having gone through the process of looking for a publisher, DiMaggio is happy to help other agents who are keen to write a book, having gone through the research process herself.

A lot of good things come from putting yourself out there.

Being well-known, as DiMaggio is, works well when the company goes to recruit — and they are currently hiring in both Piedmont and Montclair at the moment.

It may also help with her philanthropic fundraising work, which is a passion of hers and Highland Partners.

“Life is built on relationships, and that is what I love most about real estate. I love helping people, building relationships, teaching and sharing my experiences to benefit another — whether that is a buyer, seller, friend, colleague or another Realtor,” she said.

Email Gill South

Show Comments Hide Comments


Sign up for Inman’s Morning Headlines
What you need to know to start your day with all the latest industry developments
By submitting your email address, you agree to receive marketing emails from Inman.
Thank you for subscribing to Morning Headlines.
Back to top
Only 3 days left to register for Inman Connect Las Vegas before prices go up! Don't miss the premier event for real estate pros.Register Now ×
Limited Time Offer: Get 1 year of Inman Select for $199SUBSCRIBE×
Log in
If you created your account with Google or Facebook
Don't have an account?
Forgot your password?
No Problem

Simply enter the email address you used to create your account and click "Reset Password". You will receive additional instructions via email.

Forgot your username? If so please contact customer support at (510) 658-9252

Password Reset Confirmation

Password Reset Instructions have been sent to

Subscribe to The Weekender
Get the week's leading headlines delivered straight to your inbox.
Top headlines from around the real estate industry. Breaking news as it happens.
15 stories covering tech, special reports, video and opinion.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
It looks like you’re already a Select Member!
To subscribe to exclusive newsletters, visit your email preferences in the account settings.
Up-to-the-minute news and interviews in your inbox, ticket discounts for Inman events and more
1-Step CheckoutPay with a credit card
By continuing, you agree to Inman’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

You will be charged . Your subscription will automatically renew for on . For more details on our payment terms and how to cancel, click here.

Interested in a group subscription?
Finish setting up your subscription