Be The Thermostat, Not The Thermometer With Liz Brown

Joanne Bolt:                      Welcome to The B-Word, The B Word, the podcast for women in real estate who want to unlock the clarity needed to put your big girl panties on and rock your career like the true boss you are. I'm Joanne Bolt, your host, and together we'll dive into the things your broker doesn't teach you in order to own your own path, disowned the things getting in the way of finding your place, and stop apologizing for the obstacles you had to overcome along the way. If you're ready to stop playing small and take action in your professional life, this is the place for you.

                                             Okay, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of The B-Word. We are wrapping up this whole niche series today, and I thought I'd bring in a different voice and a different perspective for you guys to hear from. I've got Liz Brown here with me. Liz does a lot of work in the divorce niche, which is one of the ones that we talked about in this series. We'll link back to them in the show notes, but Liz, go ahead and tell everyone a little bit about yourself, where you are in the business, how long you've been here, and kind of what's going on in your world.

Liz Brown:                          Sure, all the fun stuff. Well, I've been in the business going on six years now. I'm located in Raleigh-Durham area, the triangle in North Carolina, and lots been going on. Obviously we've got the ever evolving fun getting through COVID, which going back through the niche, I think a lot of couples have figured out that they either really want to be together or they don't. It did open a few eyes. I truly believe in history. Most men and women really had to spend time together, so you explored a lot about each other. But I actually branched out in May, started my own firm. We're small, but mighty right now boutique firm and growing.

                                             That's been really exciting. Branched out to that, property management as well, and just really how to be a resource and advocate for clients because there's all sorts of niches. As you mentioned, niching down is not a bad thing. It's really great to know what you can do instead of doing a million things and do it well. But it's also being that trusted confidante. How do you do that? How do you get people to be working with you when it's so emotionally attached and thrived as well?

Joanne Bolt:                      I love this whole thing about niching down mainly for something I've always taught the agents on my team is you can be the jack of all trades and the master of none. 20 years ago when I started my team and I had agents, they were either buyer's agents or listing specialists, and they were not allowed to work on both sides of the fence because I really wanted them to learn that side of the transaction. It's no different today with the concept of niching down.

                                             Instead of trying to work with every buyer or seller or investor that comes your way, work with the ones you can really excel at and be that expert because every real estate agent says they're top rated and they're an expert, and most of them really aren't. I find that the ones who will take that time to really dive deep into a specific subset of a buyer or seller are the ones that are going to be sustainable throughout the years.

Liz Brown:                          I agree. Do what you know and do it well. It's also I think a key part is having those trusted people around you just like to knowing... I don't know everything. I'm still trying to figure out how to raise tiny humans, but to know that...

Joanne Bolt:                      Well, when you figure that out, let me know, because I think I fail on that on a daily basis.

Liz Brown:                          Yeah, that's how I'll make my millions one day. I'll keep you posted. But I think it goes back to having trusted partners and being okay with saying, "I'm not sure. Let me find out for you and let's do it together." I agree with that. Instead of just kind of fake it until you make it, really hone in, know it and know it well.

Joanne Bolt:                      Right. If you were going to give someone advice on when they start their niche and you work a lot in the divorce world, what are some of the things that you've discovered you had to discover in the process?

Liz Brown:                          Sure. Obviously everyone knows that it's highly sensitive. It's very emotional. You get to know a lot about people's situations, staying their confidante with that. But I think first go to others that do it well and earn from them. When I'm saying that too, go to your divorce attorneys. Talk to estate attorneys. Talk to your regular attorneys. Talk to financial planners, because when you're going through divorce, you guys split finances. Who in your world sees it every day and that can help you and to know that niche, because there's so many different nuances kind of picked up along the way. For example, I learned...

                                             One of my first ones, not everyone knows what they've done or what they've signed. It's overwhelming. The seller wasn't sure, the wife, so we were... She's like, "Just talk to my attorney. Just figure it out." Well, I just didn't... One of the first I've done when I started. I would email the attorney this and that. Well, she got hit with a bill. Attorneys are paid by hourly rates. Me reaching out to her attorney for whatever time, a yes or no or filing a file, she got charged that rate. It's little things that you pick up that she's going to come back to me that you start, how can I consolidate? What is just one thing? Is this a must have, or can we figure this out?

                                             And to start doing your checklist. And that's even when you get ahead and you start even at that listing presentation, or if it's a past client, that initial conversation. Really have that list of where you guys at with that, who's your contact, what stage are you in, to surround yourself and to learn other things. If somebody saying they're separate versus, depending what state you're in, if you're legally separated are two different things. You don't live together and you want a divorce versus you file papers to have a divorce. Ask that, because what the wife says versus the husband could be two different things.

Joanne Bolt:                      If they have filed for the divorce and then you go on the market and something happens along the way and the papers don't get signed off on and the divorce doesn't become official because someone kicked something back in the clause, is it going to mess you up being on the market, or do you need to wait to go on the market until everything is finalized?

Liz Brown:                          Agreed. I think sometimes it's being the thermostat and not the thermometer to set the tone and kind of be a voice or reason. For example, when they're closing and they don't want the funds dispersed yet, well, here in North Carolina, most attorneys aren't going to hold those profits just in their accounts. An attorney has to make their own trust account. Well, where are those funds going, even if you can't agree yet to be split up. That's just another decision.

Joanne Bolt:                      Who's going to hold them in funds jail?

Liz Brown:                          Exactly. Not me and not my closing attorney. But where does that go? It's getting all those parties involved. At the end of the day, it's covering yourself. I think it's just clear, concise, open communication. You'll have one spouse versus the other that doesn't reply at all. Will just text you. You just got to bring them back in, because you never want one person saying you're favoring the other and just keep it there. Keep it open. Be trustworthy and trust yourself in your process.

Joanne Bolt:                      I think that setting boundaries is really critical when you're working in this type of niche. I think it also applies to estate and probate. Because if you're also working in that niche where you're dealing with selling a home on someone that maybe has passed away and there's three or four heirs and they all have to have a split of the inheritance or whatever, when there's multiple people that have to be involved in decisions, you as the agent setting those boundaries that says you're not allowed to text me and let me tell you why. It's to prevent the emotional upheaval of someone thinking someone's going behind someone's back.

                                             I'm not being rude, but this is why the boundary is there. You have to reply all. If you choose not to, I'm going to reply all just to copy everyone in. These are the rules I've set in place for communication just to prevent some of that emotional... I'm literally picturing that old cartoon, that Wile E. Coyote and stuff, and Uncle Sam who's like head would explode all the time, that kind of stuff goes on.

Liz Brown:                          There is. You're coming, you're walking in an already heated situation. There's a backstory. There's emotions high. You're walking into many things you don't know. You're completely right. If you set that expectation up front, then everyone kind of knows to play by those rules because it's not the first time and you're not backtracking and get yourself in a hole and trying to bring everyone in. It's saving and making it easier to everybody involved.

Joanne Bolt:                      All right. What kind of things are on your initial checklist? Someone comes to you and they say, "Liz, we're getting divorced. We've already gotten divorced. Whatever the case is, we need to sell the home as part of the divorce agreement." What goes into that checklist, because it looks a little bit different than just I want to sell my home checklist?

Liz Brown:                          Yes. One, we figure out timeline and status. Where are you in your divorce proceedings, filings? Do you have that paperwork? Who are the parties involved that we should be in the mix with? Is it both your attorneys? Do you have a financial planner? Is there a power of attorney? Is someone handling this for you? Who's going to be the active parties? Then it's also figuring out who's living there. I've had some where both parties have moved out. They're in different states. One is living there versus the other. That helps you too with showing. Who's the decision maker to allow a showing come in?

                                             Who can accept that? What are the hours? What are the parameters? Also, what are your agreements? We've had to do repairs. Any listing, you come in. You give a suggestion, "Hey, we paused your power wash. We need some painting. You have an old water stain on these floors. Let's fix this." Well, who's splitting that up? What is that going to be divided up against? What is their timeline? Like you mentioned, is it better to wait? The husband's moving out. Maybe there's bare minimum, kind of looks like a college dorm, bare minimum furniture, decor. Should we wait? What's going to be most beneficial to them?

                                             Or it's kind of a little bit like a regular sale. Do you need to move this as quick as possible? Do you have a timeline, or do we have time to set this up and give you the most exposure? What is your timeframe? Also, having agreed upon what is the best meaning to communication? Is it we can always connect at 6:00 PM at night that we can present any offers or if there's any changes to be made. What's your best means of getting in touch and getting in touch together? Maybe they don't speak. That's okay and just say, "Hey, we should all have this. Every single thing we do is in email. If you can respond within 12 hours, 24 hours to that to make the decision."

                                             Also, do you have a separation agreement? Any closing attorney you get to it is going to need it to see if it's separation, if it's divorce, where you're at. When you close, no matter what status, it has to be on the deed if you're separate, divorced. If you're still married and you haven't gone through it, it's still legally going to say married on your deed, even though maybe you don't want to be married to that person, but we just have to know so we can do most efficiently with them.

Joanne Bolt:                      Oh my gosh, I had a client come to me one time. She was getting divorced and she said, "Joanne, can you just send me to a title attorney to get him off the title? Our divorce agreement says he has to come off the title." I remember I looked at her and I was so upset for her that she used the wrong divorce attorney for one thing, because that attorney didn't bother to tell her their agreement said to take him off title and only title. I said, "Well, here's the problem. When you come off the title, that's $100. It's a filing thing with the closing attorney. This is not a big deal. This is super easy. The problem is he's still on your mortgage.

                                             If he quits paying the mortgage or if you can't pay the mortgage or something happens, both of your credits are getting affected if you're both still on that mortgage." It never dawned on her that the reason you actually want to sell the home is because you have to pay the mortgage off at the time of the sale. Sorry, I misspoke. It wasn't to get him off the deed. It was to take her off the deed. Just taking her off the deed still meant he could mess up her credit, because although their agreement said he would take over the mortgage payments, if he didn't pay them, it was still going to go against her credit.

Liz Brown:                          It's so hard, and you see that a lot. I think it goes back to being, in general, just a trusted resource for your clients that they know, "Hey, I've got a divorce attorney. I've got a financial planner, just like I've got a pressure washer." I mean, I got a septic guy too. It's random, but that you can be there and you can help.

Joanne Bolt:                      Oh no, It's not random. I've got three or four septic guys. There's so much septic here in Georgia. I'm like uh-huh. On speed dial.

Liz Brown:                          You got to know. But I think to know that they're going to advocate and have that trust for you and just be the professional in it, because you get all sorts of advice. I was recent closing too for a sale. It was an investment property. They had to sell it by a certain date. They were a divorced, but the husband wasn't off title yet. Honestly, what the divorce attorney they gave them was the incorrect one. We were going and literally two days before trying to file with the county, the correct form for it.

                                             It just becomes a lot. As long as you can be there for them and help them and the ease, it goes a long way. A long winded answer to your question. I think it's surrounding yourself also with people that know more than you. Have people you can go to have those trusted partners.

Joanne Bolt:                      All right. Did you intentionally set out to begin working in this field within real estate? Did it fall naturally in your lap? How did this evolve for you?

Liz Brown:                          Yeah, it wasn't a mission to seek out those getting divorced. It just kind of organically evolved. I kind of joked earlier because of COVID, but had past clients that I've sold houses to and different people in the network just come and say, "Hey, I've got this situation." I think now that I have the experience, the trusted partners that I did seek it out more. For example, I have a divorce attorney that I've great relationship with, and she will actually write me into their separation agreement. I think I'm in a couple right now. It says basically if the husband and wife cannot come to terms on ex-realtor, then Liz Brown Residential will be your preferred realtor for sale.

                                             So then once I started getting into and realizing fortunately that this is a thing, it's happening a lot more than we realize, and it's... Going back to just, well, once they sell, most likely they're buying again if they're staying local or whatever, if their financial means allows it. That's more opportunity where you can gain trust and continue that client relationship. But no, it just kind of fell into it and evolved with past clients and within my own sphere. When I realized it, then I started really seeking out within my own network. How do I arm myself be knowledgeable in that? How do I let other people who are your referral sources know that I do have this experience?

Joanne Bolt:                      How interesting it is to really think about is the evolution of from when you were a new agent, you probably got told put a hundred people in your database, call for sell by owners and expires, to dial in for dollars or working your sphere of influence as your lead generation source. You can shift now that you're begun to really hone in on that divorce crew, now your lead generation probably looks a lot more like I'm going to call every divorce attorney that I've made a relationship with. I'm going to take them to lunch. I'm going to treat them really well, because now they are main providers of my business.

                                             My lender likes to think that he sends me business. But the truth is, most of your clients come to the real estate agent first and get shipped over to the lender to go find out what they can afford. I think most divorcing couples go to the divorce attorney first, and then find the real estate agent. Do you find that that's probably a true cycle?

Liz Brown:                          100%. Love my lender, but maybe once in the blue moon, he'll get someone that calls them that doesn't have an agent. But you're correct. It's kind of looking at probably other agents in other cities. What are my referral sources that I can do to let them know what kind of service you provide. It is forming those relationships. It's just like anything else, it's their reputation. They're dealing with this client. They're working through it. Who do they trust that they'll know going to get a great experience? It's getting in front of people. It's letting them know you're a professional. You know what you're talking about, because that just takes one thing off their plate.

                                             They've got enough going on. They've got their own business. They're not realtors. They're attorneys. They want to be able to provide someone that they can trust, but it is. It's taking them out to lunch. It's going to their kind of networking events. Where are the niches that maybe people aren't as connecting as much? Everyone loves to talk about what they're doing. Have interest. Talk to them. Be people. Everyone is human. You've got dogs. I love dogs. Go and engage in that sphere, in that bubble of that world you want to be in. Who are you surrounding yourself with?

Joanne Bolt:                      Here's what I love about going and engaging in that sphere, in that bubble is instead of being one of 30 agents at a business networking event for the Chamber of Commerce, you are one of the only one real estate agent who is walking into that divorce attorney conference that they're throwing or happy hour that they're having. You are a big fish in a very small pond versus being a little fish in a very big pond of everyone knows 20,000 real estate agents. Nope. I'm going to go live in these people's worlds because then I'm the only one that they think of because I really am the only one.

Liz Brown:                          You're having interest. I think it's consistency too, because people. Like any prospecting as well, people hop in once. They'll never see them again. But if you're generally interested, you're generally coming to the events, people can tell who you are. You get a feeling if you generally care. Go to them. Be consistent. Show interest in what they're doing. Don't go to one networking event and they never see you again. They're going to know. Be the consistent person. Be the face. Another resource too that I'm connected with, I'm in the triangle. There's a lot, Research Triangle Park, a lot of large businesses.

                                             Same for you in Atlanta. What about those HR networking, the HR groups, their niches? All are HR people are relocating. They've got companies. How do you be that realtor and that trusted resource? So people are so busy with their own job. They want to call someone and be like, "Hey, what do I do? Can you help me?"

Joanne Bolt:                      I'm glad you pointed that out. That reminds me of a time a student of mine was trying to figure out what area she should really niche down into. Well, as we were talking, I was like, "Well, what's going on in your world," da, da, da, da, da. Well, she had a daughter who had just graduated from a local university and that daughter was working with her HR department. My student was frustrated because her daughter was trying to find an apartment or a condo to purchase and wasn't using her own mom. Why?

                                             Because in order to get some of the bonus structures or whatever it was, the HR department basically said, "You have to go through our real estate agent to help move you in," because they wanted to ensure that their employees were not living three hours away, that they were right there on time. I said, "Oh my god, there's your niche right there. You get to know all of the big corporations that move people in, and then you work out packages for the young new hires or packages within your company they offer as a benefit. Hey, you just went from manager level to VP level. As part of your benefit, you get this, this, and this."

                                             Because guess what? You get a big pay raise. What do people do? They buy houses. That is one of those things... I love that you pointed that out because that's also one of those niches that nobody thinks to get into.

Liz Brown:                          Like you said, it's being one of the few versus you go to young professionals or whatever it may be, chamber, your local business meetup, there's a bunch of realtors. Everyone talks about their friend who's a realtor. What are you getting out of it? Not to completely hate on them. You do. You make connections and you're in your community and enjoying it. But at the end of the day, what's your hourly rate and what's going to bring the most longevity for you?

Joanne Bolt:                      When you can niche down, you can really figure out that ideal client avatar and start putting yourself. Everything you do is made for that avatar, down to where you go network because that's where that avatar is going to be.

Liz Brown:                          Agreed. But a lot of divorces, usually it's not going to be your first time home buyer. Some of them, I mean, are young or married, but it takes a little bit of time. They could be buy and sell. So then like you said, figure out those networking events, where are those a little bit kind of mid of their age, mid of their career and life's a little bit more established and where can you niche into there and find that circle.

Joanne Bolt:                      Here's another great thing I love about this too is when you're niching down into an industry like probate and estate or divorcing or heck, the medical industry, I mean, all kinds of those things, you really... Liz, it's not your experience with the client that makes you so invaluable. It's how much easier you make the process for the divorce attorney. When you make their life easier, because they've got bickering husband and wife and they can just put in the contract list, "If you guys can't get your issue together, you're going to use Liz. I know she'll treat you right," and then she looks good because she brings you in, guess what she's going to do?

                                             Hand your name out to her bestie divorce attorney when they have a cocktail later that day, because these people all run in tight little circles.

Liz Brown:                          Right. It's the same thing with us for real estate. I mean, I know there's a bookoo of agents everywhere. But if you're doing a decent amount of business and you're in it long enough, you're going to see the same people. You're going to see the same name, and so are those attorneys. But you actually remind me of one other thing with the estates and probates. If you want to niche in that back end as well, start making relationships with those retirement homes, because there's some really nice ones out there. You could be in a state, someone's just elderly.

                                             Someone didn't pass yet, but elderly things are in a state have to downsize. Well, they see people come in just getting quotes. Hey, I'm thinking about this. It's coming. I'm just exploring our options. Hey, if you do get to that, well, here, let me give you a realtor if you even want to talk about it or this and that. It's another back end. Not a lot of realtors are calling up the local retirement home. Same thing, they got enough to deal with. If they can be a resource for their client passed off, they know they're in good hands, they'll spread your name all day.

Joanne Bolt:                      One of the agents that was in an office I was in was so into this estate and probate thing, right? I remember talking to her one day and she said she literally landed a condo to put on the market. When she asked whoever it was that was in charge of the estate, "Well, how did you come to select me as your agent?" She told me, she's like, "Joanne, I had been postcard mailing this neighborhood for four years running."

                                             She said that when the son walked into the condo after mom passed away, she had 15 of my postcards all shoved in her... The counter of the kitchen. The place where mail goes to die and you just shove stuff. Apparently when he was cleaning it all out, he kept coming across her postcards and that's how she got the business. I'm like, because you marketed the complex of the estate.

Liz Brown:                          Hey, I'm glad it paid off.

Joanne Bolt:                      I crack up to this day over that one. I'm like she knew what was coming. She just started putting your name away.

Liz Brown:                          Hey, she was preparing. She was trying to help her family get you down as well. I respect that.

Joanne Bolt:                      Don't hate on it. If you had one piece of advice you'd like to give to a real estate agent out there, whether they're in the first year of the business or they're in year six and they're beginning to finally dawn on them that maybe niching down is what we need to do, what would you tell them?

Liz Brown:                          I would say first before you even pick a niche, don't pick a niche just because it is one. Do one that you actually will enjoy. When I say this, I'm not saying I love helping people deal with divorces, because I know that's an awful time and no one wants to be there, but I enjoy helping people. I enjoy finding the answers, make it smoothly. Be that person that they know that they can trust and to get it on the right path. Don't do something just because someone else is doing it. If you don't enjoy it, if you think it's mundane, you're never going to succeed either.

                                             I think it's the first thing too, to make sure that gives you a little passion. You find a why within it. Because if you don't, it's never going to pan out. If you hate property management or helping someone find rentals that eventually become buyers, don't do it. You're never going to give it and people are going to read that all over you of what you like and what you don't like.

Joanne Bolt:                      That is the perfect lead in to I've got this quiz that I created called the niche quiz. You can take it by texting the word niche quiz is 678-968-7740. But during that quiz, what I want people to start realizing is certain personalities are more in tune with certain niches as well. You've really got to have almost that therapist type mindset to be able to work in the divorce arena because they're going to unload on you a lot, versus my educators, my people who are kindergarten teachers or lower school teachers, they are perfect for first timers because they have to educate and educate and educate throughout the process.

Liz Brown:                          Sure, sure. No, it makes complete sense. Go with what you're good at and what you're going to thrive at because people can tell and you'll pay off dividends.

Joanne Bolt:                      All right. If someone wants to reach out to you to send you a client, send you a referral, just get to know you a little bit better, what is your preferred method of communication, social platform? Where can they find you, Liz?

Liz Brown:                          All the good stuff. You can always find me on Instagram. It's Liz Brown Residential, or just a phone call honestly. It's 919-520-7590. We can go old school and have a conversation. I love to help. I know. That and the handwritten thank you card is just... They're vintage, but they're classics.

Joanne Bolt:                      They are vintage. But you know what? They work well for a reason, so let's keep them around.

Liz Brown:                          Yes, exactly.

Joanne Bolt:                      All right, guys. Well, this has been fantastic as always. Thank you for all of your real estate knowledge, the little truth bombs that you dropped. If you are listening in and you found this to be super valuable, like I know that you did, please share it with a friend who might want to hear it. I know they get tired of hearing from me all the time, so let them hear from Liz, how she actually took one of these niches and made it work for her. We'll l see you same time, same place next week.