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The Thousand: Tracy McLaughlin Director of Luxury Estates for The Agency in Marin County California.

Nov 3, 2020 7:50:45 AM

Tracy McLaughlin, Director of Luxury Estates for The Agency in Marin County, California.

Ranking No. 20 by Transaction Volume

With a keen eye for design and construction, Tracy parlayed that into a brand for her real estate business. In this podcast, she offers her strategies for building a brand and how to take a creative passion and build a business with that passion.

 

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 and Chief of Content for REAL Trends. Today, we're speaking with Tracy McLaughlin, Director of Luxury Estates for The Agency in Marin County, California. Tracy ranked number 20 individual real estate agents by volume in this year's REAL Trends rankings. Part of her success comes from her comprehensive pre-listing plans for design, construction, and staging implemented on about 80% of the homes that she lists. We'll talk about that and more in this edition of The Thousand podcast. So welcome Tracy.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate being asked to be on.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, we're excited to talk to you. So just for our audience, tell us a little bit about your current real estate practice and your geographic footprint.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

Yes. So listen, I'm here in Marin County, which is about nine miles over the Golden Gate Bridge in a small little hamlet, beautiful town called Larkspur. And Marine County is sort of a gateway for people moving from San Francisco who are ready for great public schools and sort of an outdoor lifestyle. Mountain biking, surfing, hiking, running it's a very athletic county and it's beautiful geographically.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

So I'm here, I'm running Mauricio Umansky, Northern California. I'm the director of Marine County for The Agency. And I've been at this for about 21 years and formerly owned both Morgan Lane and Pacific Union, here in California.

Tracey Velt:

You're obviously known for your design expertise and I know that you've personally purchased and remodeled over 20 properties. So how does that impact your current business?

Tracy Mclaughlin:

Yeah. It's been immensely helpful to have had all this experience in construction, design and understanding really how to monetize a home. Gosh, starting in the mid-90s my former partner and I, we started buying homes and understanding just almost immediately how to add value without overspending on them. Like which ones to buy, exactly what to do not to push it too far, but to be able to have a very high ROI. And back in those days, we had a 30% sort of minimum of when we would touch a project.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

But anyway, having done many, many of those, it's almost like it's something I can just see almost before I walk in the home. I walk in, I know exactly what walls need to come down, what surfaces need to be changed. If a house is too far gone, whether just to tell a seller, you know what sell it as is let's get the reports on it, but this isn't worth putting money into, to sell versus which ones are worth putting money into sell. So I've just been able to kind of hone that craft by doing this so much.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

And I've done it for about 400 of my sellers over the course of my career, whether it's a minimal and this doesn't sound minimal to some people, but whether it's just paint carpet landscaping and lighting changes, and sometimes we spend as little as $50,000, including staging all the way up to about a half million dollars of reconstruction to make sure that we're not leaving money on the table when we go to sell people's homes. So it's a really exciting thing to do for people. It's a lot more work, candidly, it's just way out of the scope of what an agent normally does. But I have found that it's a huge value add for my clients and it allows them to understand why they should not leave money on the table by just selling a home as is.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. And that's so important for, I think, a real estate agent to have that eye and help with that because I don't think all sellers really understand what it takes to understand the market. So it's very useful to have experience with that. And do you still purchase and invest in real estate on your own?

Tracy Mclaughlin:

Yes, I do. Yep. I'm developing a large home right now, out in Aspen, Colorado. And I always say these homes are for me, but ultimately I end up selling them because I'm sort of addicted. It gets into your blood to just, it's the creative part of it is really fun. The problem-solving part of it's really fun because every job site always has issues. So, it's a bit of an addiction. Unfortunately I wish I was addicted to something that was less expensive than turning houses, but it's actually a lot of fun and you always learn a new lesson on every single project. You never stopped learning. So the learning curve is quite high, which is another reason I enjoy it. It's actually mentally stimulating, so.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. Yeah. Well obviously we're kind of still in the recovery stages of a pandemic in the middle of the pandemic and while it's been horrible, it's also allowed people to slow down and rethink their businesses. So how has COVID-19 changed your business?

Tracy Mclaughlin:

Gosh, I mean, how is it not changed my business? That's what I would say. It's first of all, it is the word is volatile right now. There's a high level of volatility in the market, people making decisions they never would have made if it was not for COVID. I mean, the ability for people to have their children at home with them gives them this unprecedented sort of liberties to go try another life, right? So it could be we've always wanted to live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The kids can homeschool from there. We're moving to Jackson Hole and Oh, by the way, we might as well sell because we don't know when we're coming back.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

There's a been a flood gate, a migratory flood gate from San Francisco to Marine County that's unprecedented, even complete city dwellers who are multi-generational San Francisco residents are making changes going across the bridge. They never thought they wanted to live in the suburbs, but the vertical living and the no yard in San Francisco is pushing them to do, to make changes they would have never made.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

So when you get caught in that kind of crosswind of people moving from Marine to go do something that they can do that they never thought they could do. And San Francisco simultaneously moving over here, it's very, very high volume, fast moving, still low inventory. So there's still pressure on pricing and you got to be on top of your game. You got to watch every listing that comes on, make sure things are not being missed for your buyers because they're trading out very quickly. And especially in that, what I would call the high end right now here. So interesting.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. I know it's accelerated a lot. I know. I live in Florida, so we're seeing a lot of people from the Northeast who maybe plan to retire here who moved that up because they could work remotely. They felt like, well, now's the time let's go ahead and move five years earlier, a couple of years early. And it really has changed where you can live with kids. Obviously homeschool has been around for a while, but it maybe hasn't quite been as attractive as it is when you're the parents who can work remotely as well. So yeah.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

Yeah. I mean, it's going on all over the country. It's just very interesting. I mean, if we ever sat here on January 1st of this year and said gee, in three to five months, people will be moving all over the country to places they never imagined. The other thing I think that's going on that's interesting for me and my business is watching the merging of families, the grandparents and the children and the grandchildren buying an asset together and affording way more than any of them could afford individually and making sure there's a guest house for the in-laws and actually merging. I've been seeing this more and more. And I think it's very interesting. I think it's look, if people are homeschooling their children, what an opportunity for the grandparents to help out or to live with them or really become an appendage to the family. So I think I'm also seeing that as kind of what I would call trending out of COVID.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. That's an interesting trend that I have not heard yet. So yeah. Well, you've been selling luxury homes for more than 15 years. So maybe what are your top two tips that you might have for agents who are trying to break into this niche?

Tracy Mclaughlin:

You know, what I always advise my colleague, if you're just getting started to develop a brand for your business that is unmistakable. So bigger out what it is that you bring to the table, because we have to add value for our clients. We're no longer living in a world of, I'm real estate agent A, B and C, and I sell luxury homes. That's just not enough. We have to have a message that adds value in our brand. And spend the money even with a brand consultant, figure out what it is that you're really good at, whether it is that you're fantastic with negotiations or legally, you have a law background and you can bring a lot to the table in terms of keeping people safe from lawsuits, whatever it is. Design, if you've got a design background, if you've got a high negotiation level background.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

Take whatever it is or you work 20 hours a day and you want to communicate to the public that you are tireless and you never stop working whatever that brand is. And then get together with a brand consultant and figure out the imagery and the language around the brand, and then consistently execute it. What I find is a lot of agents just kind of surrender because they try an ad or they try an ad campaign very briefly, it doesn't get traction and they go, well, forget that. I'm not going to spend any more money on this. Now I'm going to go over here and sell a house over here or I'm going to go sell a house over there.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

It's far better to be an expert in one area in this business than it is to try and be a jack of all trades to everybody. So the brand is consistent. And then when you have a listing, the listing should actually be branded the way your business is branded. People should understand what you're selling. There should be a story or a narrative along with your listing, as well as you as an agent. The branding and content and language around who you are as an agent to make you stick out in front of the competition is really critical.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

And that's the first thing people should think about it, and they solve think about the geographic farm that they're working in. And really just pummeling that farm with either a postcard. As old-fashioned as postcard sound, I still use postcards 22 years later, very consistently in my business. People that are older, save them. They tape them to the refrigerator. They are reminded that you're an expert in that area and you can't get to everybody on email or on social media. So I still think old-fashioned postcards actually work in a large distribution arena.

Tracey Velt:

Okay. So tell me a little bit about your brand, because obviously you're ranked very highly on The Thousand, so you've obviously built a solid brand. So describe it for our listeners.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

Yeah. So my brand is basically, it's a lot around this ability to renovate and trade out houses. And it's also, I would say it's a high-end look and feel brand. If you go on my website, tracymclaughlin.com, you will see the fonts, the imagery, the videos, all being a nod towards the high end. And I think it's important even if you are starting out in this business and you're selling lower-end homes, I've talked to agents, my colleagues all over the country. I've had people reach out because of the book, Real Estate Rescue and say, look, we only are selling $300,000 homes here. This is a very luxury kind of brand.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if your clients are in what we consider, maybe a lower price point in some markets around the country. What matters is the image that you're selling of yourself and of how you're going to package their home and sell it so it feels consistent with a higher level. I mean, if you're going to take the time to write up a marketing overview for a home and take photos of it and shoot videos of it, why shouldn't it look luxury, even if it's not in that price point?

Tracy Mclaughlin:

So I think that that's very well-heated advice. I don't think we can elevate our content right now because of our immediate communication with social media, you can turn a great iPhone on yourself and stand in front of a listing and talk about why you love that house so much and get the message across in an elegant way, by how you dress, by how you speak, by how you shoot a house, by how you write it up. And certainly your enthusiasm round to all of that. So elevation of brand is super important.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, definitely. And it's a great, great tip, no matter what the price range. And I did notice that you give a percentage of every close sale to Marin Center for Domestic Peace and it provides safe housing for women and children. So tell me a little bit about that and how you got involved in that charity and why you chose it.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

That's a great question and I would encourage all of my colleagues to do the same thing. There's a perception that we make a lot of money that we shouldn't make. That's just out there, right? Because I mean, fee structures have changed in so many industries and they really haven't changed quite as much in our business. So there's always this, Oh, you make so much money. So one way to diffuse that is to pick something that you think is really important in your heart and soul. And that's how I picked this. And to give a percentage of everything you make to it. It's a great message to send to your clients, to send to your community. I've actually had calls from people who said, I only called you because you support this. And that's important to me.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

So the Center for Domestic Peace is providing safe houses. I mean, houses are houses, right? I'm selling houses. So I thought it was a really good tie into what I do for a living. And I also think that there can't be maybe anything worse out there than, Oh, a woman and her children feeling unsafe. I happened to know the director, who's on the board for that particular organization. And I went to a lunch and I heard the stories from the women firsthand about who had lived in a very, very secluded addresses. Nobody will ever know where they are. And I listen to the stories firsthand. And I thought about a little child feeling unsafe and honest I may have tears in my eyes I'm talking to you right now. But it really, I felt that's just something so easy for me to do. And it's a really important thing to support. I can't imagine being in that situation. So that's how I came across Center for Domestic Peace and I'm very proud to support it.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. Yeah. It sounds like a great charity. And finally, my last question is really a two-part. First, I want to know where you see opportunity in just the general real estate industry today.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

Where do I see opportunity in the real estate market today?

Tracey Velt:

Yeah.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

You know, there's always opportunity in our business. I think right now, given the low supply, I still think... Here's what I always tell people. If you're thinking about whether you're a first-time buyer or wherever you're at, if you go into a neighborhood, you say, gosh, that seems like so much money. I can't imagine spending that on a house right now. In five years, you will look back in the rear view mirror and you will say, wow, that was a great deal. So the high appreciating markets that are in the, like for here, it's in the flats with indoor-outdoor living, new construction in A-one locations with very good public schools, like that's what drives value here. So when I say to people, I know this seems like a lot of money, but choose the very best place in terms of school district or whatever drives value in your particular community and spend more than you're even comfortable spending because in the rear view mirror, that will be the highest appreciating real estate.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

It's a mistake to dummy it down and say, well, I only have this certain budget. I'm never going over that because if you think about where we're putting money, right, we're either investing it in the stock market, which we can't control really, as smart as all of us think we are as date investors or whatever, or it's a commercial building, or it's an apartment building or it's a startup. I mean, all of those things have risks, but with a house we get to actually enjoy the risk. Okay. And if you're putting the money in the right location, and by the way, you get to raise your family there and Oh, by the way you create memories there and Oh, by the way, you can fix it up and add value. I think that's a far better asset to roll the dice on if all investments are considered to have some level of risk.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

So I say you go for the best. I mean, I'm always telling my clients look, and I'll tell them when they're even overpaying for something, but I'll say, I'm going to show you what the numbers in the last five years, this went from A to B in terms of straight appreciation, especially with capital improvements and you made a really smart choice. So that would be my advice in that particular area.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. Great, great advice. What about luxury home sales? Do you see any opportunities in that specific niche?

Tracy Mclaughlin:

Oh, I do, because I think that in that this gets into a whole another conversation, but right now, we've been sort of trending out of these big rambling Bohemus mansions. Right? I know that like Darien Connecticut and Greenwich Connecticut took a huge hit on those very large, 7,000 to 10,000-square-foot homes. You couldn't give those away a year ago. Well guess what? Even what I referenced a few minutes ago in terms of families merging together, I believe that even though those homes fell out of favor with the market, because you look, millennials, generation X, younger, early 40-something buyers, those people don't need servants quarters and second kitchens and media rooms. They tend to live more simply. It doesn't matter what their net worth is. They tend to live more simply.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

So I think that right now, if there's opportunity in the luxury market, it is to go ahead and buy something that might be undervalued. It's quite large like that and repurpose it. Maybe create one wing is going to be for in-laws or one wing is going to be for homeschooling. I think you can take these homes that they're undervalued kind of slice and dice them to what you need now, and probably get good value and add value. And also with COVID, people need a lot more square footage in yard than they did even a year ago. Their kids are in-home classrooms, they're running around, they need to recreate on site. So I think there's good opportunity and sort of those mega mansions that were just dormant for the last five or eight years in the marketplace, I think that they can come back for these reasons.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I mean, people are certainly looking for more outdoor space, more space that they could have for home offices and that, so it makes a lot of sense. Tracy, thank you so much for joining REAL Trends on our The Thousand podcasts. We really appreciate you taking some time to talk to us.

Tracy Mclaughlin:

It was my pleasure. Thank you so much for asking me.

 
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