<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=515036989147335&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

REAL Trends 500: Karen Burks, co-owner of Virtual Properties Realty in Georgia

May 19, 2020 6:00:00 AM

Opening her company in her 50s, Karen Burks was ready to tackle growing her brokerage. As an owner, she found that being prepared for success is the only way she could operate successfully. Find out her lessons learned and tips for success in this podcast. 

Tracey Velt:

This is Tracey Velt, editor in chief of content for REAL Trends. We're speaking to the top brokers in the country to take a peek at how they've built their businesses. We'll talk about lessons learned, personal passions, and their top strategies for recruiting and retaining productive agents. Today we're speaking with Karen Burks, co-owner of Virtual Properties Realty in Georgia, welcome Karen.

Karen Burks:

Well, thank you for having me, Tracey, glad to be here.

Tracey Velt:

Well, we want to congratulate you and also find out a little bit about your brokerage, so tell me how you got started in the business and ultimately came to run your brokerage.

Karen Burks:

Well, it was back in 1989, I was reading the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and there was an article in there about Buyer's Connection or Buyer's Agencies, and they were really big in California and there was a company called the Buyer's Connection that had opened up in Dunwoody that was going to specialize in Buyer's Agencies.

I've always been interested in real estate, but I was always afraid to take that exam. I just knew I was never a good student, terrible student, and that's why I didn't want to be embarrassed and take that test and fail at it a bunch of times and embarrass my kids and everybody.

Karen Burks:

I put it off for years and years and I thought, "Well, I could do the Buyer's Agency, I would like that", so I went and got my real estate license and it took me six months of CliffsNotes, taking note cards and everything, because we had to really study hard. I had, I guess, when we call it a learning challenge or whatever, I feel smart but I don't learn quickly, but after six months, I did take the test, passed it the first time with a 92 so I was just like, "Oh my gosh, this old lady can do it."

This was like I said, 1989 and then I joined the company they were talking about in the article called the Buyer's Connection, the very first company in Georgia to ever do Buyer's Agencies, because before then, everything was a sub-agent.

Karen Burks:

You could never represent a buyer, you always were representing the seller and you were a sub-agent, so a listing agent. Well, one of my very good friends who was very successful, was Anne Newton with Re/Max, she had been with them for years and was a top producer.

I mentioned to her I was going to be a Buyer's Agent. Her first reaction was, "Oh my gosh, you are prostituting yourself", those were her words, she said, "Nobody will respect you, you just better think about it twice." I went with them anyway because I didn't want to list, I didn't feel confident enough that I had the ability to earn the respect, I guess to walk up to somebody and say, "Let me list your property."

Karen Burks:

I didn't think I had the experience or, I don't know, the swagger or whatever it took, but I could work with buyers because I had been a property manager years and years ago and I knew how to show properties, so I was confident doing that.

They had their own contracts, the Buyer's Connection was geared only towards the Buyer's Agencies, and it was a totally different contract. Everybody was like, "Oh my gosh, this is illegal" the attorneys, "We're going to have a look at it" whenever we would present an offer, and we did get leads through their marketing.

Karen Burks:

We did get people that thought they needed a Buyer's Agent, so they would call us and we got leads, so I had quite a few buyers I would take out. Every listing agent, a lot of them, in fact, back then in 1989 would say, "Well, don't even accept an offer, they don't represent you, we don't work with Buyer's Agents, we only work with agents that will work with listing agents." We had a lot of resistance and we had to overcome in explaining this is the way it is in California and it's coming here to Georgia and we're in the frontier of it.

Karen Burks:

In fact, just one of them quick stories, my son also got his real estate license right after I did. He was 20 years old, 21 just out of college and he went on a listing appointment. He went to present an offer on a Buyer's Agency agreement and a listing agent who's been around for years and years and years in Dunwoody said, he came back, it was really funny, "Come in here and tell me all about your buyer, tell me, are they very motivated? Do you think they'll take this or that?" And all that, and Steve would say, "You know, we can't talk about this as Buyer's Agents."

She goes, "What do you mean?" This was an older lady, she could not understand why anybody would not work as a sub-agent, and it was just a stir, it took a couple of years and then finally the real estate commission came up with, they would now allow Buyer's Agencies and they would put it on the contract where you checked a box to be a Buyer's Agent.

Karen Burks:

Going from there, the reason we started Virtual Properties because in 1990, about a year after the Buyer's Connection and then the real estate commission came out with the contracts, or it was just before, I think Re/Max Imperial in Dunwoody was the first company that would allow agents to do Buyer's Agency. We weren't with them because the splits were better, it was like a 50-50 split with Buyer's Connection, but the fees were very high back then.

It was about 2000 a month and this was sharing an office, a small office with three other desks. My son and I would share one desk and it was very expensive and we had to get our own leads, we were spending more money than we were making, trying to stay in business.

Karen Burks:

I said, "Let me just start our own company in our, I call it my basement, but the correct term is lower level of your home, and let's see, we have to get out of this expense, you can stay at Re/Max, I'll try to build a business with a lot of marketing, save some costs and all that, because it'd be costing me less if we weren't with Re/Max."

I started doing that in 1991 and started feeding Steve listings, I mean business when it was at Re/Max and we called the company Virtual Properties because there's just been virtual tours were coming out with a photography called IMAX and they're out of Tennessee.

I bought a camera, a couple of thousand dollars camera and we promoted for listings for Steve from my company calling it on Virtual Properties Photography, it was called Virtual Properties Realty and we would be promoting them in all of our marketing with photography that was better than anybody else's.

Karen Burks:

That was our niche, we had a niche, so we started with one agent, that was Steve and I and we since built it up to 3,200 agents. That was pretty much how we got started, to get the company going and why we started Virtual Properties Realty.

Tracey Velt:

Let's talk about lessons learned while building your business. What are your two top lessons that you've learned through the process?

Karen Burks:

Okay, because you know, I was older like in the late 50s, I'm almost 80 now, so I had a lot of lessons and it was hard for me to pick the top lessons that I would want to mention as important. I think through it all, I tend to stress easily, I mean as far as stressing, I get anxiety and worries and stuff like that, so preparation helped me and patience, so that I would be prepared for things that would come.

Those would be my two lessons that I would learn, that I've learned that has helped me in real estate. Now in preparation, I would say that one of my favorite quotes was Zig, I never can say his name, Zig Ziglar, one of his favorite quotes that I tell myself often is, "Success happens when opportunity and preparation meet."

Karen Burks:

Being prepared for success is the way I had to operate in order to succeed. I've done that knowing that I'm helping my agents, we have a tremendous back office for our agents where there's frequently asked questions and all the things I could think about that they would think about, I'd try to think of that and have them answered.

I had checklists or go on a listing appointment, I try to think of getting the bullets down so that they get confidence. We have tutorials, we have lots of resource links, we have a school, a real estate school that seats almost a hundred people, and we have classes every day.

Karen Burks:

We're trying to build up agents and helping them prepare for success, and if they can't come to our mains, we have Zoom, and so we Zoom out a lot of our classes. We have a full time instructor that comes in, she does 12 or 14 classes, she's a professional helping agent, so we have plenty of training to help them be prepared.

Just for a real short note, when I was working as a Buyer's Agent, lots of times it would be on the weekends and my husband and I would want to go out to dinner and I had to prepare us before GPS, so it will always run into the dinner hour and it was not good for the marriage, me preparing for the next day. What I did, because we didn't have GPS, we had maps, map books and they were different pages and then MLS would tell you what page that listing was on.

Karen Burks:

Sometimes I would show 20 homes in one day, and they were on many different map pages, so I went ahead and prepared ahead of time. All the map pages, I did like 20 pages, and it was a bit expensive job, getting them all in little folders by map number so I could pull them out, pull together map numbers 192 and 193 and 194 and then the ones under them, so I would have a big huge map and then I'd draw out everything, but I could pull them up together real fast out of my home and put together and route out the route, house number one, number two, according to the geographic, the most likely best way for the route to go to show homes.

I really work hard and give them the most amount of homes they could go in and make it, so that when they would get through, they would go like, "We cannot go and see another house, let's just pick one" I just wanted to get them more.

Karen Burks:

But that was preparation, one of the things I would do. Now they get the GPS, they don't have to do that. Another one was the audit, the auditors were coming to audit our books, in a couple of years and they just announced they're coming in two weeks that you know to do our audit. GREC, the Georgia Real Estate Commission, they do this for all brokers, and I was going on a cruise and then I was coming back. I thought I can prepare real quickly, but when I got back I was sick as a dog, I couldn't even get out of bed and they were coming on a Monday.

Friday I called them and said, "I can't, I'm throwing up, I've got really something bad or what it is, can we reschedule on Monday for another day?" This is Friday late and then I'm waking up Monday and I'm still sick, I mean fever, and I think, "You know, she might not have gotten this message, I'm just worried she's coming, this is not good, she is going to give me bad points for not being there for her audit."

Karen Burks:

I got up sick as a dog, I've gotten in the car, I had to carry my folders with me in big files, throw them up, we were in an office suite by then, just like the second or third year we had gotten an office suite and carried them up there and sure enough, she was right there when I pulled in, she was getting ready to get another car to do our audit.

I was so glad because I was prepared for that audit before. Every day I was making sure if I ever had an audit, I was ready and if I hadn't been ready, I probably would not have been in real estate because everything was just like it should be, all of our books, all of our files, everything was right and therefore they never came back again.

2020 REAL Trends 500 Marketing Packages NOW Available! Order Today!

Tracey Velt:

That's great.

Karen Burks:

So that was good, I could have really messed up, but that's again a preparation thing. Always be prepared, because you never know what's going to happen. The other one is patience, the second one, and my favorite thing is, "Inch by inch, life's a cinch, yard by yard, life is hard."

It took Virtual Properties 20 years and now in the last year we had over 10,000 transactions, 2.1 billion in sales. We have 17 offices, 1,200 agents, 10 brokers and 37 employees. We're the largest privately owned real estate company in Georgia right now, we're ranked 24th nationally for GCI for independent companies.

Karen Burks:

My favorite story, I have stories, I read motivational books all the time because I can get worried and down, but I try to always stay positive and I have stuff by my desk all the time. Just to throw it in there, it wasn't in my notes, but one of my favorites, if anybody wants to know is the Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra.

It will uplift you if you ever have a bad day, you just read that and it will just get your mind right and you pick it up and go to the next day, if you had a bad day. But Zig Ziglar's story in one of my books I read that I love, is the story about the bamboo tree.

Karen Burks:

This is true, this is a real true story about the bamboo tree, if you plant a seed, it takes that seed five years to grow, you don't see it, it's in the ground, you water it, you fertilize it, you just got to keep the faith, it's going to grow. In five years, all of a sudden it sprouts up, one day you see the sprout coming up and it will grow eight feet within six weeks.

Five years to wait to get eight feet in six weeks is amazing, but during all this time, and this is the moral, the root system is growing. You can't see it, you don't know, you've got to keep the faith, but it's building the base for when it does happen, it can support what is going to happen coming. You just keep on going, you just keep on preparing like it's going to happen and it will happen.

Tracey Velt:

Most brokers build their businesses with a strategic mix of organic growth and mergers and acquisitions, so tell me how you grew your business and did you have one year where you just made a huge growth leap?

Karen Burks:

Right, we grew up by putting the agents first always, providing what the agents want, we've been agents, we knew what they wanted. We strive to have the best commission splits out there, because we're independent companies, we don't have franchise fees and stuff like that, so we have some room there. We have a large choice of commission split, and with a cap, and word of mouth.

Our biggest lead came in 2003 when we moved from an office suite to an office building that was on Sugarloaf Parkway, which is our largest, really main road and a very busy street. We had a big sign, we negotiated in that office, I want to say 2,000, 3,000 square feet. There we had a big sign, it was a class A office building and a big sign saying Virtual Property's coming soon. When we came it was already advertised and they agreed to do that, and we've built it from 100 to 200 agents, that was that.

Tracey Velt:

That's great, so what is your greatest challenge in your business?

Karen Burks:

Keeping up with the technologies coming out every day, the disruptors, we pride ourselves in our technology. We have like ad-ons where agents, we negotiate really good deals because of our size where we can provide the best technology out there, and we think that's better than having in house technology because you spend all this money doing in house and what happens is it changes.

We keep looking at what the best companies are and we go with them and we provide that with our agents. They have choices and there's build-ons, we do provide a lot of free technology, but there's some really good technology out there that we get really good discounts for them. We're trying to keep our commission splits very high for the agents and the fees low.

Tracey Velt:

Yes, I think technology is a big challenge and all of the disruptors, that's a big challenge for a lot of brokers. Where do you see the most opportunity in the coming year in real estate brokerage?

Karen Burks:

Well for us, and right now we've embraced it, the iBuyer, we had a whole division with training, weekly training on how to embrace the iBuyer. We have what we call the buybacks with all the different iBuyers with what they require and this sort of thing.

We trained our agents to go to the listing appointment, get the information, find out if they would be interested in an instant offer, no problem, we've got iBuyers immediately ready to give you an instant offer within 24 hours. We send in the information to the iBuyer, they come back within 24 hours with a quote and then we go side by side comparing that with the traditional agent with the CMA, and then they can make the decision.

Karen Burks:

We're letting the listing person be in this transaction, they make the decisions given the information, we're advisors. We embrace all opportunities because we do represent them, what's the best way for them to sell their home.

There are some software programs out there that will give you that right there in the listing appointment, but they're not real, legitimate offers. We get real, legitimate offers that can sign it that day, not just what an algorithm will give them, this is real offers.

Tracey Velt:

Yes, that's so important, I've been hearing a lot about the iBuyers and the brokerages who are embracing it tend to be doing really well with that strategy.

Karen Burks:

Yes, they have confidence, agents have competence, they can meet any objection.

Tracey Velt:

Right, so let's talk about recruiting, obviously you do a phenomenal job with recruiting, so what are some lessons that you've learned trying to figure out the recruiting puzzle?

Karen Burks:

Okay, the recruiting puzzle. I guess one of the things that amazes me is the reason why agents leave. They give you these reasons and it doesn't meet reality, for example they'll say, we get exit interviews, why they leave and then we get reasons why they come. We get that in their application, and one of the biggest reasons they'll leave is they say they want a smaller company or a larger company.

But the people, agents coming in are coming in because they think we're a larger company or we're a smaller company, that's the reason that they're coming. Or more training, we offer every kind of class you can ever have and then they're leaving for more training, but they're coming to us because there's more training.

Karen Burks:

They've been to our training center, they know we have instructors, so they want to join a team, we have dozens of teams, they leave for that, they want to join a team, but then people come to our company because they're joining a team. All this stuff, it really puzzles me, they just want to move around. There's no reason or rhyme to it.

Whatever their excuse is, it doesn't meet reality. The lessons for recruiting, we have the ambassador program, which is a residual income where they tell their friends and they get residual income for their referral that comes in and makes some money off of it. We do a lot of postcard mailing, telling them all the reasons we think we're the best company.

Tracey Velt:

Okay, great, so you talked a lot about that you read a lot of very motivational books, and that you follow some motivational speakers in that. What, or who inspires you the most?

Karen Burks:

Well, I really like Deepak Chopra. It's sort of a spiritual book, I like him, I like Denis Waitley, I think he's a good one. One of the expressions that I read all the time and in fact, I have it written on my desk in front of me on a clipboard, or a push pin. It says, "We cannot choose the time when we will fully bloom, it happens in God's time.

God has perfect timing, He's never early, never late, it takes a little patience and a lot of faith." I keep reminding myself I've got to let go and let God, and I cannot control everything. That one to me is one of my favorite quotes that helps me let go when things aren't going right and just have faith that it's going to be a better day tomorrow.

Tracey Velt:

Yes, that's a great one. Well, Karen, thank you so much for joining the REAL Trends podcast today and I appreciate you interviewing with us.

Karen Burks:

Well, I enjoyed it, talking to you.

Tracey Velt:

Yes.

New call-to-action

Categories

REAL Trends content, subscribe now!
New call-to-action

Subscribe by Email

No Comments Yet

Let us know what you think