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Florida’s Ralph Harvey says limited services model is key to high home sales

The No. 2 individual agent by transaction sides discusses flat-fee models and finding an approach to real estate that works for you.

Ralph Harvey first entered the real estate industry as a way to make a living while still having time to spend with his two young daughters. While the family time he gained was what he had hoped for and expected when starting his career, what he didn’t expect was that one day he would be able to close 3,252 transaction sides for a total of $1.032 billion in sales volume in one year, but that is exactly what Harvey did in 2021.

His impressive number of transaction sides and sales volume earned him the ranking of No. 2 individual agent by transaction sides in the 2022 RealTrends + Tom Ferry The Thousand rankings.

The secret to Harvey’s staggering number of transaction sides in 2021 is the flat-fee limited listing services model he uses. After weathering the 2008 financial crisis as a self-described “traditional agent,” Harvey said he began to notice how much better informed his clients were and he found it more difficult to provide them with added value as their agent. This inspired him to help found ListWithFreedom.Com.

“I didn’t feel good about the whole thing because you earn so much money in a real estate transaction, and I did not feel like I was providing any real professional expertise in the transaction,” he said. He noted that consumers are much better educated than they were some five to 10 years ago. “So, a business opportunity came up, limited services real estate, and I vetted the concept and thought it could be something.”

At first, the flat-fee model operated in just parts of Florida, but it quickly expanded into the rest of the state. Today, is operational in 44 states.

RealTrends recently caught up with Harvey to discuss his business model and the importance of finding what works for you.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Brooklee Han: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into real estate?

Ralph Harvey: I have always had an interest in real estate since I was a teenager. I bought my first property when I was 22, but I also worked in the restaurant industry (since he was 16), and I did that until I was about 30 years old.

I did everything from wash dishes to manage restaurants, but when I was in my late 20s, my wife and I had our first daughter. We got married young, but we waited until we felt financially stable enough to have children because my wife wanted to be able to stay home with them. When my first daughter was born, I was still working in the restaurant industry, and I would go to work at 6:30 a.m. and then come home at 10 p.m.

My wife and daughter would be asleep when I left and then they would be sleeping when I got home, and I quickly realized that this wasn’t what I wanted. I was supposed to be a dad, but I was never there.

So, I went to real estate school and got both my mortgage lender and real estate agent licenses. I went down the path of traditional real estate and mortgage until everything melted down in 2008. When we came out the other side, my real estate business picked back up first so I pursued that as a full-service agent. I was doing pretty well with it, but I realized that the consumers were getting smarter and that was when I decided to change my course.

BH: As a flat-fee agent, what do your typical clients look like now?

Harvey: We have three clients. We have the average seller who is selling one property and just doesn’t want to pay a commission. Then, we have investors, who do the fix-and-flip and buy and sell homes all the time. Then, finally, we have home builders. The common denominator with all of them is the desire to save money.

BH: How has switching to this business model impacted your business?

Harvey: It has given me the ability to become a real student of real estate and to understand it on a much higher level. When you are a traditional agent, you understand it from a very local level. You understand the dynamics of the three or four ZIP codes you work in, but we get to see it at a much bigger, national level.

If you want someone who understands the nuances of your neighborhood, the local agent on the corner can do that much better than we can, but we have found that most sellers [don’t] want or need [that] right now.

BH: What are some of the biggest changes you have noticed in the industry throughout your career?

Harvey: When I first started out, more than 20 years ago, there was no Zillow or Trulia, so the information about the market was very much in the control of the real estate professionals. But the proliferation of these sites and the abundance of information that is out there has armed home buyers with [almost] as much information as the [real estate professional] has.

So, I think that is what is causing the disruption to a lot of the more traditional companies. There are these brokerages that are introducing new models and claiming that they are disrupting the industry when in fact, the proliferation of information is the true disrupter.

BH: As a limited listing services brokerage, what are some of the services you provide?

Harvey: We primarily list on the MLS and make sure the information goes out to aggregators. We also provide ancillary service and email marketing if people want it. We will also do a comparative market analysis for them, as well as document preparation and review. Everything is al a carte, so you aren’t boxed into anything, and you know all the fees up front.

BH: One thing a lot of agents struggle with is lead generation. How do you go about generating listing leads?

Harvey: Like real estate agents, we survive off on referrals, but we have a robust digital marketing strategy. We market to people across multiple platforms, everything from Google to Facebook and Twitter.

BH: What do you like most about working in real estate?

Harvey: It is all a lot of fun for me. I don’t work, I just have fun all day long because real estate has been my passion for close to 30 years now. Before I was in real estate professionally, I was buying and selling properties and investing as a lay person.

By the time I entered the industry I already had a portfolio of about five properties, so my passion runs much longer than my career. But I love the evolution of real estate. I like to watch and participate in the changes and learn new things.

We are always learning something new with the company and trying to improve some aspect of it, whether that is how to market better or how to minimize costs for consumers. I also love that every day is different, and I love the problems that are presented to us that we have to find a way to solve, whether it be on the company level or with an individual seller.

BH: What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?

Harvey: The biggest challenge was coming through the meltdown in 2008, but that wasn’t unique to us. Once we got into this segment of the business, the hardest thing is overcoming the negative stigma associated with the limited services or discount broker model. We have experienced that nationally and on the state level, from the MLSs to the local agents that don’t want to do business with us.

It is more accepted now than it was when I started, but there needs to be more improvement. What is huge though is we’ve gotten referrals from other brokers, agents and title companies who can’t help the seller or feel like we can better provide what they are looking for, and I am really proud because they are coming from our direct competition. I have also had some MLSs refer people to us and that is quite refreshing.

BH: What is your best piece of advice for a new agent starting out?

Harvey: The first thing is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You don’t have to come up with something [new]. You can build off of what is there and try to make it better.

You look at people in your office who are doing a great job and try to emulate them. Figure out what works well for you and what works for you if you tweak it. You’re just building upon what has already been done.

I still see guys out there cold calling and door knocking and that is working for them, but whether or not you should be doing that depends on if that works for you.