Mark Choey

Meet Mark, the founder, and CEO of Highnote, a presentation and proposal platform designed specifically for service providers. With a background as a top-producing salesperson, team and brokerage leader, computer engineer, and product designer, Mark has a unique insight into what it takes to create great software for service providers who don’t have time to design.


‘Be a Good Person’: Broker Ryan DeAmaral on Why the Golden Rule is Vital in Real Estate

Ryan DeAmaral

Ryan DeAmaral is the owner/broker of Twin Oaks Real Estate, a high-powered Bay Area brokerage with a mom-and-pop feel. With 140 agents under its name and counting, it’s certainly doing something right. Ryan says its success can be attributed to a number of things – but it mostly comes down to his requirement that every agent who joins the brokerage be a good person. Ryan took time out of his busy schedule to talk about the relationship between the Golden Rule and real estate, and how he operates his boutique brokerage.

Hi, Ryan! Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. Can you start off by telling me a little bit about yourself, and how you got into real estate?

Sure. I got my real estate license in 2017, but before that I was a business owner; I owned a printing business. I sold that and moved to Benicia, California, and that’s when I started my real estate career. We bought a house here and I wasn’t involved in the sale because I wasn’t licensed yet. We had a bad experience with the agent we used. So I got my license with the intention of just helping family and friends out. I had no plans to go all in with the real estate profession, but I have a real entrepreneurial spirit and I pretty much realized I was too young to be retired after the sale of my printing business. So I went all in and the business blew up into what it is today! 

“I got into real estate because I had a bad experience with an agent when I bought my home.”

That’s such a cool story! So if you would have had a good experience buying that house, do you think you would have still found your way into real estate?

Sometimes I tell people that I should thank the bad agent that I dealt with in that sale. He was a real, you know, snake oil salesman kind of agent, and really pushy. If I hadn’t dealt with him, I might have still made it into real estate, but probably not. 

So what do you do in your business now, to make sure your clients feel better taken care of than you did when you bought your house?

My business is really, really customer service based. I don’t come from a sales background and I don’t look at real estate like a sales job at all. For me, it’s all about having a “client first” mentality. Other brokerages, especially the bigger ones like Keller Williams, are super sales heavy and we’re just not like that at Twin Oaks. We always have the client’s best interests at heart, and good things happen because of that. So really, just be a good person and people will love you when you close a transaction with them. I retain all my clients, I’ve done multiple deals with many of them and they make it their job to get me referrals. It’s sad that we don’t see as much of that in the industry nowadays. 

“It’s all about having a ‘client first’ mentality.”

That’s great. But these days, you’re really focusing on being a broker more than an agent, right?

I don’t do a lot of active listings now, but I still do a little bit. I’m mostly focused on being a great broker. We have 140 agents at Twin Oaks, so my full time job is managing them. When I have a recruiting meeting with an agent, the first thing I do is tell them there are two key fundamentals of real estate. The first is to be a good person – it’s a requirement, and it’s the only requirement we have at Twin Oaks. The second is the hard working aspect. We have a place for everybody – people who want to be selling powerhouses and people who want to do a little bit of real estate. A lot of agents who come from the bigger brokerages say we’re like a breath of fresh air. 

Why did you decide to go from being an active listing agent to a broker? 

A lot of agents don’t want to become brokers, I know. They frown upon it. The real answer is that I want agents put first. I compensate agents very, very fairly, and the only way I can do that is to eliminate the overhead of another brokerage. I work super hard at this. We have all these other things we pay for, we have to have our own marketing people, everything is in-house and it’s all to benefit the agents and make their lives better. We work hard for them, it’s the same customer service aspect of how I’ve always served my clients – just put them first and good things will happen. So our agent retention is amazing, they commit to us and we commit to them. It makes me feel super proud that our agents have a safe place here and we’ve built a solid place for them.


I’m the owner, I’m the broker, I’m the CEO of everything, and that’s a powerful thing because when there’s a problem, we have a meeting and I implement a change right away. I like to have full control over what’s going on. People join here because of my vision and I inspire them with my story. At Twin Oaks I can continue that with full control, without having someone at a big brokerage telling me what to do. 

How’s the market in the Bay Area right now?

We’re in an inventory crisis, inventory is so low. It was really low last year, too. So that’s what’s driving prices up and making it so hard for buyers. It’s definitely a seller’s market. We were initially anticipating a positive change in the spring and potentially summer of this year, but it’s actually worse now. Yesterday in Benicia, we had zero active listings. There were two listings the day before. That’s the first time that’s happened in 20 years. 

When buyers enter bidding wars, what can they do to sweeten the deal if their offer isn’t for the highest dollar amount?

Sloppy offer, sloppy agent, sloppy escrow. That’s how it works. So if you, as an agent, are able to put together a really solid package, then you’re already ahead. If the other side feels good about your offer and the transaction moving forward, and they don’t anticipate their sellers having to feel stressed during escrow, then that’s a big deal. So it’s not only about price and contingencies, but the way you present your offer.

“When you submit an offer, it’s not just about price and contingencies. It’s about how you present your offer – and HighNote helps with that.”

HighNote is really great about helping agents do this; agents can immediately show in a HighNote that a buyer has proof of funds and pre-approval, and they can have the disclosure signed and ready to go. When I look at offers, I’m really picky. And the reason why is because I send over perfect stuff. I spend the time required to make sure it’s perfect. That’s what all agents should be doing. 

Great. Tell me more about how your agents are using HighNote! 

We rolled HighNote out on a brokerage level about a month ago, all of our agents have access to it. It’s been great because HighNote offers resources that allow the agents to see templates of what other agents and teams are doing. We’ve also built our own super robust template system that we’re in the process of fine tuning. Our agents share their presentations with each other in our Slack channel, and everyone gets really motivated seeing how their colleagues are succeeding with it. 

“We rolled HighNote out on a brokerage level, all of our agents have access to it.”

I’ve personally been using HighNote for a long time, I was a beta tester when it was just starting out. So I know it well, and it was a huge part of me being able to be such a successful listing agent. I had a package that I would send over to sellers. One thing that I did differently, which I haven’t seen anyone else do on HighNote, is put a form on the top. It was a questionnaire and it was the first thing that my sellers would see when they opened it up. It asked them some questions like whether they had ever sold a house before, etc. Those questions helped me be prepared ahead of the listing appointment, because I already knew the answers ahead of time.

I also have a recruiting package, so I send that over to agents who are considering joining Twin Oaks. It includes all of our relevant materials, and it shows them what we’re up to as a brokerage, the kinds of things we’ve done recently. We also record our weekly meetings and have a HighNote where you can access all of it. 

Do you also use the HighNote analytics feature?

I do. I’ll tell you a story, actually. I’ve been in touch with this one person as they get ready to sell their property, it’s an Airbnb. There are a ton of siblings involved, and some of them want to use a family friend as their agent because they’ll get a discount on commission. Others want to use me. I just sent them a HighNote presentation, and they’re all meeting on Zoom, all these trustees, to talk about which agent to hire. I’m almost positive I’m going to get this listing, and I think it has a lot to do with HighNote. They’re looking at it every day, over and over and over. I know this because HighNote keeps sending me those notifications. And even though this other brokerage is giving them a discount on commission, I put a little doubt in their mind that they get what they pay for. If I can get them top dollar, then who cares if they’re saving half a percent on a commission? They’re doing themselves a disservice if they don’t go with the person who is going to get them the most money for their property.

“I’m almost positive I’m about to win a listing because HighNote is proving to the seller that I’m the best person for the job.”

I feel like the HighNote presentation I’m sending is going to solidify this deal for me, because it’s giving them no choice. It’s letting them know that I’m the best agent for them. They’re going to be forced to go with me because they’re consuming all this data, and I’m in front of them every time they click on the presentation. You know the other agent isn’t doing that. The other agent probably gave them a stack of papers when they met, and that’s it. HighNote is proving to them that I’m going to sell their home for maximum dollar and the other agent can’t provide that same assurance.

Awesome! What other tech tools do you like to use?

I’m a RealScout user, I’ve been a big believer in that for a long time. My #1 tool that has brought me to the success level I’m at is just CRM in general. I’m a powerhouse CRM user. I’m a very scatterbrained person, so I rely on Wise Agent CRM to keep track of everything. I like Wise Agent because it’s simple. I keep every program as simple as possible. If you get overwhelmed by all the features of a tool, then you get tired and you don’t make any real progress. I think there are two differences between a normal agent and a top-producing agent, and those are consistency and follow-up. So CRM helps with that, it’s a great way to set yourself apart from other people.

A lot of older agents aren’t adopting tech tools like the younger ones are. Is there still a place for the old-fashioned ways of doing real estate?

I do think that if you’re a client, you’re doing yourself a disservice by hiring an agent who doesn’t do tech. Typically these agents will show up and take mediocre photos on their iPhone and post them online. You just can’t do that anymore. Everything starts online, especially since the pandemic, so you have to give a great impression online. That’s what gets buyers in the house. That being said, there will always be a place for old-school agents because people will continue to call them. But to be honest, those agents don’t even make good mentors because old-school fundamentals just don’t work for new agents. New agents just can’t prioritize cold calling and open houses anymore. It’s all about online lead generation. That’s not to say there isn’t still room for old-school marketing, though. We’re actually about to start sending out ‘Just Sold’ postcards in the mail, because inventory is so low and we’re adapting to that.

“Online lead generation is extremely important for agents today.”

Let’s stick to the topic of new agents for a moment. What’s your advice to someone who is just starting out in the industry?

Someone told me back when I first started that you have to have confidence; your clients have to know that they’re talking to the right person. If they smell weakness, they’re going find someone else who they feel is truly on their team.

One of the agents that was at Twin Oaks when I first joined told me this, and I tell this to agents all the time: When someone is doubting your skills or knowledge, just remember that you know 10x more about real estate than they do. So have that confidence that they are talking to the right person and you’re the right person for them.

I would also say that new agents who are talking to brokerages should remember that they’re the ones doing the interviewing; the brokerages aren’t interviewing them. They should interview a lot of brokerages, to find their best fit.

They should also ask if a brokerage has a mentorship and training program. But the #1 question they ask should be “how are you going to get me busy?” No one ever asks me that, but they should be. 

That’s great advice, Ryan! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me!

Are you looking to buy or sell a home in the Bay Area? Be sure to contact Twin Oaks Real Estate! You can also contact Ryan directly on Facebook, or send him an email!

…And if you’re a real estate agent looking to take your business to the next level, click here to get started with HighNote!