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How one real estate agent revolutionized marketing

Surterre co-founder and chief marketing officer Paula Ansara-Wilhelm on how to build a brokerage

Walk into Surterre Properties in Newport Beach, California, and you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped inside a marketing agency instead of real estate brokerage.

That’s by design. The company has an in-house ad agency, which includes marketing managers, experts in web and print design and even printing press employees.

“What we do is take it to the next level,” says Surterre Co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer Paula Ansara-Wilhelm.

“We have 65 full-time employees, and they do everything. Whatever the agents need, even beyond marketing — because the agent’s time is best spent selling and being in front of clients.”

Ansara-Wilhelm is no stranger to marketing or the hard work it takes to be an agent. She has a background in marketing and branding, and she had a number of real estate brokerage clients before getting her real estate license and spending a year learning the business from a top agent.

“That’s when I realized how un-evolved the real estate industry really was in terms of marketing,” she said.

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Because most agents are independent contractors, Ansara-Wilhelm saw no cohesiveness in branding, and she saw a lot of individual marketing and ad campaigns that weren’t as effective as they could be.

She also began to realize that real estate sales wasn’t her forte, so she started Strada Properties with some top agents, with the concept that the brokerage would control the brand and the agents would focus on selling.

“We looked so much bigger and stronger than we really were right out of the gate,” Ansara-Wilhelm said, “because all of the agents were using the same brand platform and the marketing was being done by experts.”

The company grew from 12 to 200 and was sold three years later to Coldwell Banker.

In 2006, Paula took what she learned at Strada — including the knowledge that she needed to find a way to better scale the in-house agency concept — and founded Surterre Properties with her partner, Gary Legrand.

Last year Surterre sold $2.6 billion, and today the brokerage has 430 agents servicing luxury clients throughout Southern California.

The company is still one of the few to use such a model, primarily because of the high cost of staff absorbed by the brokerage.

“Other brokerages may do it on a smaller scale, but they often go back to outsourcing because they are not willing to sustain it from a financial standpoint.”

Paula attributes her success to long hours and hard work.

“There wasn’t a shortcut. It took a lot of hours, and perseverance is one of the things that I attribute to my success.”

Along with perseverance, she says compassion and being a team player is also essential to being a successful and respected leader.

“If I had not been an agent and understood the demands and challenges that come with it, I wouldn’t have been able to recognize the challenges within the brokerage models.”

Surterre is in its 10th year of business, Ansara-Wilhelm says the biggest concern for the future of the industry is not staying current with rapidly changing technology.

“Those who think you can do business the same way it’s been done for 25 years may be surprised in five years,” she said.

Everything from commission splits to marketing budgets are being impacted because of technology.

“Agents need to be aware or have someone in their brokerage who is staying current and keeping them informed.”

For more insights into marketing and the luxury market, be sure to attend Luxury Connect in Beverly Hills and see Paula speak.

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Email Kristy Hessman