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.


‘Beg, Borrow & Ditch the Rent’: DC Agent Gregory Ireland on Why Today’s Sellers’ Market is Also Good for Buyers


If you’re a real estate agent, you’ve probably used the term “sellers’ market” multiple times this week. It’s probably become engrained in your brain and you say it on autopilot. The media has caught on, too, with virtually every real estate article including the phrase. But what if you flipped the whole sellers’ market idea on its head? Sure, the market is favorable for sellers right now – but that doesn’t mean that buyers can’t benefit as well. That’s exactly what Washington DC-based real estate agent Gregory Ireland has done. He sat down with us to explain why he believes renters should “scratch, kick, beg, and borrow” to get on the property ladder, even in today’s market conditions.

Hi, Gregory! Thanks for joining me today. Can you start by telling me a little about yourself and how you got into real estate?

Of course. I actually went to school for architecture and engineering, so I have a strong IT and technical background. Years ago when I had a daughter, my wife and I decided to buy some properties, and we thought that by the time our daughter went to college, maybe we could sell one property a year. We were living in Baltimore at the time and we were going to auctions on a regular basis, maybe one or two a week, just trying to understand how that process worked. However, we had a tough time getting people to really let us into that world or tell us what we needed to know. 

So at that point we decided we would just go get our real estate licenses. Long story short, you know, after going to all those auctions, we were always afraid to pull the trigger. We didn’t know what we were doing, to be honest with you. Then one day, we went from not buying any properties to buying two on the same day. And from that point forward, we had a really strong interest in real estate.

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We originally did real estate part-time, but that changed when a company I had a contract with was sold, and I was laid off. Then my wife was laid off within the next two months. We initially put so much energy into finding other jobs but then I thought, let’s go ahead and put that same amount of energy into real estate. That was about five years ago, and now we have a real estate team. We have both feet in, and it’s how we keep our lights on. 

We both have project management experience and my wife’s background is in accounting, so having the technical and the business aspect is great for us. We also have an extreme sense of urgency and a high sense of customer service. We’ve had very demanding clients in the past, and it’s actually those clients who make you better. We’ve developed some really good habits and we genuinely care and have a passion for helping people make smart decisions as it pertains to real estate. 

It’s great that you were able to take those layoffs and use them as motivators to grow your real estate business. Did you feel ready to do that, or did you just take a leap of faith?

We had planned to go full-time, but in about two years. That two-year plan became a two-month plan.  

Are you happy that you had that extra push to start sooner? 

I guess the biggest thing I wish I would have had is more planning. I’m big on planning and preparation so I think more of that would have let me become more successful sooner, as opposed to just jumping in. I was a little more frazzled because I had to make things happen so quickly – there wasn’t much of a choice, there was no money coming in. So we didn’t initially have all our ducks in a row, or the time to properly put a plan in place. We just had to do it the hard way. 

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You operate in the Washington, DC area. I’d love to hear how the market is doing there.

Properties are going for above asking, so we make sure we’re very honest with our clients. We explain to them what’s happening in the market and we make sure they make careful decisions, because people are waiving inspections right now – and you have to be really careful with waiving everything. And that might mean we don’t win the first offer, but it’s important to remember that when everything settles, it’s just going to be the buyer and that property. So they have to be happy about the decisions they’ve made. 

The DC area was devastated back in 2008/2009, and people are now asking if there is about to be a repeat of that. I’m asked that question every week. There’s a lot of noise and news surrounding that topic, so it’s really up to real estate agents to soften that noise and educate people. The reality is that today, more than ever, people have more equity in their homes. Everything is up about 13% or an average of $30,000 from 12 months ago. So obviously it’s a sellers’ market but it’s also a buyers’ market, so we spin it that way as well because we work with sellers, buyers, and investors.

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Everyone is talking about how much of a sellers’ market it is but they need to realize it’s also a very strong buyers’ market because many years ago the interest rate was double digits. It’s extremely low now, so buyers should take advantage of it if they’re able. I tell people to scratch and kick and beg and borrow and do whatever they can to get in. Do whatever you can to get in, and if the interest rate goes down later, try to refinance. But the fact is you have to get in because rent is going up faster than mortgages. I’ve been putting that on my blog for over a year now, because I’ve been tracking that. 

We talk to people all the time, their rent is going up and up and there’s nothing they can do to control it. They’re at the mercy of where they live, and their landlord or apartment complex. And if a person moves, think about it – nowadays it’s around $3,000 to $5,000 just to move into an apartment. So it’s best for them to see what they can get from a lender, see if they qualify for programs that can help with downpayment assistance. Then they can start generating wealth by being a homeowner. This year alone, we’ve helped five people who were renters get into a home.

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One of the people we helped was so ecstatic because she didn’t think she was ever going to be able to buy. When she signed that last piece of paper at the title office, she literally jumped about four feet in the air and she came and gave me a big hug. That’s what it’s all about. Nothing can ever replace that genuine gratification of giving someone keys who has that amount of motivation to improve their circumstances.

That’s just one of many stories that we have. We love educating people about the value of home ownership and how it’s 100% attainable. 

That’s a great story, and it’s great to hear that you genuinely care about your clients – especially in this hot market, when agents don’t really have to try as hard as they used to! 

Yes, a lot of agents are getting sloppy and it angers me, because that’s my world. My title is a REALTOR® above everything. We’re still trying to do better, trying to do more, because the market isn’t always going to be like this. But it doesn’t matter what kind of market it is. Your client still deserves your best.

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In this age of fierce competition and bidding wars, many people think the highest offer will always win. Is that the case in your experience?

There are many variables when it comes to winning, and the highest offer is not always the one that wins. For example, if I’m representing the buyer, I might ask them if there’s anything in particular that’s important for the seller to see in an offer. It could be something like they need two weeks or three weeks or 30 days before moving, because they haven’t found a new house yet. So in that case, maybe we could rent the house back to the seller for $1 for those 30 days. That’s just one example of things you can offer which can be appealing to sellers.

That’s positive news for anyone looking for a home in today’s market! Now, I’d love to hear how you win new clients. Which tools do you use to stand out from the competition?

With my background being IT, I think we have an amazing website. It’s a resource, and I work hard to make sure it provides value. If you log onto my website, you can look at the blog page and get truly educated right off the bat. I talk about everything from interest rates to why now is not like 2008. I talk about renting versus buying. People can also find market reports for communities there, and those can just give so much value. They synchronize with the MLS multiple times a day so when you see the reports on my website, they’re accurate.

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We try to have very good technology behind what we do. We try to streamline our processes to make it easy. We have a process for sellers and a process for buyers, we just try to simplify everything. We’re also very big on communication. I think that’s a really important factor. We pick up our phone when clients call, we have a strong CRM. So I think our technology separates us and I think technology will continue to be one of the biggest differentiators moving forward.

Our goal is to strengthen our technology, communication, social media, and marketing so that in the downturn we’ll still be out there in people’s minds if they happen to think about real estate – even if it’s just to have somewhere to ask a question. We do “Ask Me Anything” sessions online every other week and we have some very healthy conversations with people who have all these questions but feel they have nowhere to ask them. So we try to be that space for them. We also do online seller seminars and buyer seminars, as well as virtual happy hours. We’ll just hang out with a cocktail and invite people to ask some questions. 

That’s awesome. I also know you’re a fan of HighNote! How do you use it?

Well, I was really struggling when people would ask for a home valuation. I would put together packages and leave them at people’s doors, or try to get them on the phone. I was struggling to hear back from them. So when I saw HighNote, that’s the first thing that came to mind. So I started using it for that. And then I started using it for listing presentations. 

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A great example is that I spoke to a person on the phone and I told her that tomorrow I would send her a package of information. I received an email saying she had opened up the presentation, and it was so great to see that. Then I saw that she was looking at it a second time. The analytics told me exactly where she put her time, the two areas where she looked the most. So I knew I would focus on those areas the next time I spoke to her. It was like magic. I was so excited. 

When I spoke to her, she said the presentation was excellent. Those were her words. I won the listing, and she gave me confidence that HighNote was a great product. 

You also use HighNote for buyers, right?

I do. I first speak to a buyer and then I send them a buyer’s consultation package on HighNote. It has information in there that can really educate them about what their questions may be. And then when I follow up, I can refer back to the material in that presentation. I can do a Zoom presentation and reference that material and answer their questions. And the bigger piece is, to make it very simple, I have a flowchart in there so i start with that. I also include a copy of the buyer’s agreement, I’m very upfront with everything so that I can eliminate questions if I can. 

We also have a bio there, but we make it clear that it’s really not about us – it’s about the buyers and sellers. But we definitely want to make clear that we want them to select us, and we want to show that we’re qualified. 

Great! Thanks so much for speaking with me today, Gregory! 

You can check out Gregory’s blog here!

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