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The Thousand: Jonathan Spears: Scenic Sotheby's International Realty, The Spears Group, Northwest Florida

Aug 25, 2020 8:05:11 AM

 Jonathan Spears: Scenic Sotheby's International Realty, The Spears Group, Northwest Florida

Ranked No. 87 Individual Agents by Volume

Making the REAL Trends + Tom Ferry The Thousand at the age of 24, Spears' hard work found him handling foreclosure sales. However, the luxury market was calling him and, in 2015, he joined Sotheby's and found his niche. Find out his tips and insight for moving from foreclosures to luxury.

 

Tracey Velt:

REAL Trends and Tom Ferry's The Thousand ranks agents and teams through proprietary third party verified process. We're interviewing agents and team leaders who made this elite list of the top 1% of the 1.4 million realtors nationwide. This is Tracey Velt, editor of content for REAL Trends. Today, we're speaking with Jonathan Spears with Scenic Sotheby's International Realty, the Spears Group in Northwest Florida. He ranked at number 87 individual agents by volume.

After graduating college at 19 years old with a degree in business and finance, Jonathan obtained his Florida real estate license and began his career in real estate working under a market leader who operated a foreclosure resale business in his hometown of Destin. In 2015, he joined scenic Sotheby's International Realty, quickly gaining a strong hold in the luxury real estate market in Northwest Florida. Two years later, he started building his team under the Scenic Sotheby's brand, the Spears Group. Jonathan will share his lessons learned to transitioning from foreclosure resales to luxury homes. Welcome, Jonathan.

Jonathan Spears:

Tracey, thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Tracey Velt:

Jonathan, tell me a little bit about your current real estate practice and your geographic footprint.

Jonathan Spears:

Yeah. So I operate a team of seven in the Florida panhandle, and we were just actually talking about time zones. So I'm so far west in Florida that I'm in the central time zone, which a lot of people who come here are kind of surprised. They think Florida is all in Eastern time zone, but we are located in Destin, Florida, and along the beautiful beaches of South Walton County, highway 38.

My team has consistently been ranked the top producing team in Northwest Florida for the last five years. We've been the market leader. It was really amazing because I was fortunate enough to be represented on The Thousand at the age of 24. This was the first time that I was featured on the list. I remember actually getting a call from my client who saw the announcement in the Wall Street Journal, and I had no idea that my numbers had been submitted.

Jonathan Spears:

So it was a really incredible feeling to have that placement, especially at such a young age. But my market in particular is a very unique and emerging market. We're located on beautiful white sand beaches, emerald green waters and we were just ranked number one US market for vacation rental investments.

So folks come to our area, not only to spend time with their families, but also to invest in rental property. So that's been a dynamic part of our business. So the growth of our area's the reason that we're positioned here and we believe that it's not only an affordable part of the Florida coast, but also one of the most luxurious areas emerging in Florida.

Tracey Velt:

Okay, great. And yeah, congratulations on so many accolades so early. That's wonderful. So you moved from- [crosstalk 00:03:08] Yeah. So you moved from foreclosure resales to luxury homes. So obviously, it's not easy to crack the luxury market. Tell me what prompted the switch and how that transition went.

Jonathan Spears:

I did. So what's very interesting is I got into real estate because it was a very entrepreneurial source of business in our area. I started in 2010 right after the BP oil spill, which not only do we just kind of slog through the great recession, we're still need deep in it, but we added insult to injury with the oil spill, which was devastating for a lot of markets in Florida during that timeframe.

So of course, hindsight may not have been the best time to get a real estate license, but for me, it actually propelled an opportunity for education in not only handling high volumes of transactions, but also navigating complicated scenarios of foreclosures. So I started my career at a small boutique firm that specialized in foreclosures. They were doing 200 to 300 transactions per year, and it was a single agent who essentially had a team.

Jonathan Spears:

So he was one of the market leaders based on his volume, both from transactions and total sales volume. I saw it as an opportunity to not only gain market knowledge, but also just get my feet wet in the industry. So I worked for him for about two years. During that timeframe, I was doing broker price opinions for a pretty large swath of geographical area. It was basically ranging the entire stretch of Northwest Florida, which is from Pensacola to Tallahassee.

So very unique dynamic, I wasn't just learning one tech to the market. I was really tasked with learning all sectors. So getting that macro perspective was so helpful because I was able to really gravitate towards what I was passionate about. So that was getting luxury BPOs for the stray luxury foreclosure, which we always really love, especially because the price point was 10 times the average price point that was typical.

Jonathan Spears:

I would really dive into that property and learn as much about that market as I possibly could. What started to happen is I would look at the hot sheet every day and instead of filtering from lowest to highest, I was filtering from highest to lowest and really understanding the high end part of our market and the inventory that was coming up and also the players, the other agents that were transacting in the market and what they were representing and how they were representing it. So that was basically my transition from foreclosures to luxury sales.

Tracey Velt:

So let's talk about lessons learned. You changed brokerages and niche markets at the same time. So tell me what were a couple lessons learned through that process?

Jonathan Spears:

Well, I think the most interesting part of making a decision to switch brokerages is understanding why you would represent one brand to the next. For me, when I looked at the luxury aspect of the market, I knew I needed to affiliate with the best. If I wanted to represent my clients at the highest level, I needed to have a tool belt that reflected that ambition.

So when I decided to transition the Sotheby's International Realty, they had just affiliated in my market. So I've spent five years with a boutique brokerage, really no national international marketing ability, and then saw Sotheby's come into the market. For me, I'm so detail oriented. I started watching their publications and I was watching the way their agents were marketing properties, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of that.

Jonathan Spears:

So just understanding what you're passionate about and really the outlet to which you could serve your customer at the highest level, whether you're doing 200 transactions a year and focused on VA buyers and foreclosures, or you're doing 50 transactions a year and focusing on a high average sales price and the luxury side of the market, it's important to know how you can best serve that customer base that you're going after.

That's kind of where we transitioned into the niche markets aspect is I wanted to be in the luxury sector of our market and really be the leader in that portion of the market. I knew I could take my background of high transaction volume and transition that to luxury products and really handle and ultimately, multitask at a high level. So for me, going after that niche market of the luxury sector was through the Sotheby's International Realty brand.

Tracey Velt:

Okay, great. That makes a lot of sense. Obviously, Sotheby's is known for their luxury brand. What advice do you have for other agents or team leaders who are ready to transition to a new niche?

Jonathan Spears:

So for me and just based on my experience, if you're looking to transition to a new niche of the market, you have to come with some sort of value in that aspect of the market. So when I was working foreclosures, I was ultimately seeing on a very macro perspective of the market. Even today, I watch the market as a whole as opposed to just certain sectors of it because I love the behavior of the markets and the efficiency of the markets.

But when you're looking to get into that niche sector, let's just say it's a specific neighborhood or a specific geographical area in your market... For us, it's Gulf front homes, which are waterfront properties, a prime real estate in the market. I was able to get familiar with the owners and the other real estate agents or players in the market. So you've got to be able to bring a value to your perspective clients.

Jonathan Spears:

So for team leaders and agents that are looking to get into that space, I would specifically ask a team member of mine to look at the value they could bring. So if I've got a team member that I know wants to farm a specific neighborhood, get familiar with the owners of the neighborhood, understand why that neighborhood is a league on its own and why that it's the best place for somebody to live in the area.

What experiences are unique about that place now? How can you articulate that geographical location or that niche market in a manner that brings value to it and brings value to the owners there? So a lot of times, we'll walk into listing appointments in niche areas that we've got commanding market share. I can tell somebody not only statistics about the market, but also the stories as to why things traded.

Jonathan Spears:

So in the luxury realm, people purchase properties at price points that may not have been carved out yet in the market. It may be a pioneering price point. So being able to explain to somebody why a buyer A bought a property for 10% above market versus the home next door, which sold 10% below market is so valuable to them. It's really something that you can't just get on Zillow and go, "Oh, that property sold for a million dollars.

I should have sold for $2 million. I don't really know why, but it should mean I can buy the house next door for a million too as well," right? So being able to articulate why those properties traded, maybe that particular property had some type of efficiency on the lot or some type of special attribute to the lot that made it more valuable to prospective buyer, those types of things really push you in a different lead when you're meeting with prospective clients.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, definitely. So obviously, most successful real estate professionals kind of have an, "aha moment," in the business where they realize they need to change something up or do something different. So what was your, "aha moment," ?

Jonathan Spears:

So my, "aha moment," was when I was working as a single agent, I had an assistant and we did $117 million in business together. Just between the business I was bringing in and the support she was providing, we were able to not only be the market leader, but also get represented on The Thousand, which was always a goal of mine.

I think I was 24, 25 at the time, but what was interesting about that timeframe is my wife was pregnant with our first child. I was working 80 hours a week, which is going to be no I'm surprised everybody else in this business. We always have to put in those long hours, but I knew that I couldn't really break through that new height in the market in terms of production without being able to leverage other people.

Jonathan Spears:

So that, "aha moment," for me, was transitioning to a team based business versus a single agency based business. I started hiring people that I knew could help me serve as many customers as possible without missing something. So when I was doing that amount of business just as a single agent, I was letting things slip through the cracks that I just couldn't get to. Also, the quality of service started to slip a little bit because there's only so many phone calls you could take in a day without having just a completely poor quality of life.

So I was looking to improve my quality of life and then also do what I love and serve the people that I love. So my, "aha moment," was being able to transition to a team based model, which is the really serve not only me well, but those that I work with extraordinarily well.

Tracey Velt:

Okay, great. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. That kind of goes right into my next question, which is do you have a couple of tips for agents who are in the beginning stages of building their businesses? What really worked for you that they might learn from?

Jonathan Spears:

So it's interesting. I ask people all the time, or I get asked by people all the time, excuse me, "How have you sold almost $700 million in business in the last five or six years at the age of 28?" And new agents to get into the business now, we're seeing more and more millennials.

For me, I was able to be so nimble and leverage technology in such a way that it set me apart from a lot of the older vanguards in the market. So our market had been really dominated by folks who've been here for the last couple of decades. I was born and raised in the area, so I'm very familiar with it.

Jonathan Spears:

But breaking into the barrier of the luxury market was a different deal. So folks who are getting into the marketplace in general and looking to not only gain experience, but also find a niche, I would suggest nestling up under a market leader and leveraging technology in a way that sets himself apart, whether it's social media, which is one of the most popular regeneration platforms, not only for my team, but for other market leaders around the United States, or processes that can be streamlined through technology that really allow you to serve more people in a shorter amount of time.

Tracey Velt:

Okay. Great advice. So finally, my last question is really tell me where you see the most opportunity in the real estate today.

Jonathan Spears:

Well, it's a build on a newer agent that's in my mind, I'm seeing so many millennials right now in particular that are foregoing college. That college experience has now changed because of the pandemic. So they're looking for career outlets so they can get started immediately. The barrier of entry to get a real estate license is not extraordinarily high, at least it's not in the state of Florida, which is why one in three people here are realtors.

But I think what's interesting is millennials have this opportunity to not only create an incredible career base, but also grow an unbelievable network by getting into this business. So I see an opportunity for a millennial generation that could really take advantage of this new emphasis on technology that society has, whether it's the Zoom meetings and the FaceTime showings that we're doing today, or it's a social media advertising and the Instagram stories that really showcase a lifestyle that make people want to purchase homes.

Jonathan Spears:

Whether you're in a primary market or secondary market, that's so relatable and really emotionally compelling. So I see an opportunity with not only millennials, but even the next generation behind them being able to come into this business and make a mark on the industry that's typically been ruled by the median age of 53, which is a NAR statistic. So I'm excited about it, and I also love the energy that millennials inject into their work life and their businesses.

So my team is pretty diverse, but I've got a brother... or my youngest brother who works for me. He's 23 years old and he's done well over $20 million in business this year at the age of 23, which is unbelievable. His tenacity and his passion for his craft and what he's doing in his customers is really unbelievable at such a young age. So it's inspiring.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, it definitely is. So Jonathan, thank you so much for sharing your story with us at REAL Trends. We really appreciate you taking the time to interview with our podcast.

Jonathan Spears:

Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me Tracey.

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