Real estate is a competitive environment by nature, and the best agents know how to stand tall above the rest. Those agents are intuitive and personable when connecting with sellers, and do all they can to give their buyers a fair shot at their dream homes. No matter the situation, competition is the name of the game – especially in today’s market.

Kyle Whissel of Whissel Realty and his team member Clayton Connolly sat down with us to talk about San Diego real estate and what it takes to win the deal these days (hint: Clayton wrote and performed a song on behalf of his buyers)! 

Kyle and Clayton, thank you for sitting down with us today. We’re excited to have both of you here! Let’s start out by talking about how you both got into real estate.

Kyle: Sure. I got started in the industry when I was 20 years old. I bought my first property, made a ton of money on it, and got hooked. I started out for the first few years working with my Dad on the commercial side of things, and then I got sick of working with him! So I started my own business on the residential side in 2008. I did a lot of short sales, a lot of REOs. 

I started building a team in 2010, and the rest is history. Today my team has 40 agents, 19 US staff, and four virtual staff. I want to finish the year at 60 agents. 

Clayton: I got into real estate in 2004, when my house burned down, I had a little house in the mountains near Lake Arrowhead and it was a really dry summer. There was a wildfire and my entire neighborhood burned. So then I was left with a big insurance check and I figured I’d use it to get into real estate. I needed a house and I needed a job, so I decided I’d get a job selling houses. 

Kyle, 40 agents is a pretty large team! What did the growing process look like for you?

Kyle: I ran with just myself and an assistant for the first couple of years, but then I got to a point where I just couldn’t handle it on my own. Initially, I tried outsourcing the lead follow-up to other companies, which bombed. I tried having a couple of agents under me, but not really coaching or training or teaching them anything, so that bombed too. Then eventually I just decided to go all in. I bought 10 computers and then I just started hiring a ton of people. I screwed up royally in the beginning because I hired anybody and everybody – even people who weren’t the right fit. I got a quick reality check on understanding culture and hiring people that fit that culture. And once I did that and started implementing the right systems, we went from 82 transactions to 242 transactions in a year. That was our big leap year, and we’ve been growing ever since. 

I know both of you are fans of HighNote. Kyle, I’d love to know how you’ve used it to win business.

Kyle: The best story I can give you is that I just went on a $3.5 million listing appointment which is big for me…I tend to play in the median price range of around $500,000 to $1.5 million. I was going against the #1 luxury agent in all of San Diego. I sent the seller a HighNote with about 10 different pieces in it. He only watched the videos, nothing else. That helped me a lot, because I knew going into our meeting that he really cared about video. And when I got to the house, he started telling me how he’s an engineer for video studios for schools. So I was able to go a lot heavier on video in my conversation with him, and that was a big differentiator between me and the #1 luxury agent I was up against. I won the listing, which was really cool. 

San Diego, CA. Photo by Jeremy Revlock.

Clayton, I hear you have an awesome example of how you used HighNote. You wrote a song!

Clayton: I did! There was a home that came up and my buyers were qualified with a 20% down payment. The house was beautiful, listed at $1,550,000, and after going through the home we were waiting to get a pulse on what a good offer would be. We found out there were multiple offers that hit around $1.7 million. We knew we needed to stand out because we found out there were 16 offers in total. The first thing we did was send over the offer through HighNote. There was a video introducing myself and my team, and information about my buyers’ offer and lender, their pre-qualifications and proof of funds. Then, using the analytics, I realized that the agent hadn’t forwarded the HighNote presentation to the sellers, so I followed up and asked them to do so. Then I could see that both the agent and the sellers looked at the presentation for quite a while. At that point, I knew we’d made an impression. 

The sellers narrowed it down to us and someone else, out of 16 offers. So then I started asking myself what else we could do to stand out – and that’s when I decided to write a song. It was called “Pick Us” and it was super kooky but also super fun. It basically let the seller know that the buyers loved the house and the neighborhood. So I recorded it and sent it over on HighNote and they saw it. They called us back in about 20 minutes and said they were picking us. They also said they had another offer come in at $40,000 higher than us but they still picked us. We were able to make that personal heart connect with them through the power of video.

Kyle, do you feel the same about the power of video?

Kyle: Yeah, I think a personal video is huge. I love having a video that introduces a seller to the team. We have cool videos with each person, like “Hi, I’m Shannon. This is what I do.” So it really shows that we have a big operation and we’re organized. We also include video testimonials in our HighNote presentations, along with a little bit about the process, our marketing, comps, and a sample listing agreement. 

How else are you using HighNote in your day-to-day operations?

Kyle: Right now, the two main ways are the pre-listing presentation and offer submission. Then we also do it for pre-buyer appointments. This helps a lot when we’re dealing with Zillow leads where you’re just taking a call from a random person. We’re able to send them a nice presentation before meeting them, and separate ourselves from the competition. I also want to build HighNote presentations for every single community we serve. That way, when we’re talking to a buyer that wants to see a home in downtown San Diego we can show them that we’re local experts in that neighborhood – here are the places to eat, here’s what’s going on with the schools, etc. 

San Diego, CA. Photo by Ikaia Pal.

The analytics with HighNote are also so great, just being able to see what people click on can tell you so much. If you go into a meeting and know that all someone watched was the videos of me and my team, they’re “people people.” If they just looked at the comps and market data, then I’m dealing with an analytical person. So that’s the magic of it. It’s a nice presentation, but the analytics on the backend are probably the most important part. 

Let’s switch gears a little bit. California is finally starting to open up, after some pretty strict COVID-19 regulations. Are you ready to jump back in with in-person open houses and showings, or do you actually enjoy the virtual side of things?

Kyle: I can’t wait to do open houses again. My personal opinion is that on the backend of COVID-19, people are just craving community more than ever. People will come to open houses just so they can be around other people. 

Clayton: I actually love the virtual stuff. I wanted to do Zoom videos long before everybody had to. If you tell someone you’ll meet them at your office at 2pm, when you’re all the way across town or in another city, you have to watch the clock and drive there and sit down and have a 45-minute discussion, and then you have to pack up your stuff…it could end up being a two-hour ordeal for a 45-minute appointment when all is said and done. Clicking on Zoom wherever you are is so much easier! I can help a lot more people more quickly that way. It’s also been super cool because whereas normally the consumer has to actually get up and find an office they’re unfamiliar with and meet with a stranger, now they can be in their own element. So it’s been great for me, I had the best year ever last year. 

A home staged for an Open House event. Photo by Francesca Tosolini.

I don’t want the virtual stuff to completely replace human interaction, but I want it to replace the rigid old-school thinking that you have to show up for everything in person. And I think when that shift takes place, it will make human connection that much more sweet when it does happen.

It’s great to hear both of your thoughts on what we’ve all been through with COVID-19. Kyle, I think a great way to wrap up our interview would be for you to share some advice based on what you learned in the early days of building your team.

Kyle: I’d say that if you want to be successful, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. That’s the best thing you can do, is get around people. There’s a quote that was said at the end of the Super Bowl, the owner of the Buccaneers said: “If you want to know the road ahead, ask the person who’s been there.” So if someone is new to real estate, they should join a team. I think agents who start out on their own are crazy; that’s a recipe for disaster. Find a team that’s successful already and start out and join that team. You’re going to have much more success that way because you’re going to plug into proven systems and processes, to where you’re going to start doing transactions immediately, as opposed to trying to do this whole thing on your own. 

From there, maybe you’ll love the team and you’ll stay there forever. Or maybe you’ll stay for a couple years and then set out to do your own thing. But you’ll be way more successful starting on a team because you’ll actually do transactions and get to understand the process of selling homes, because you’re trying to do it on your own. 

Thank you so much, Kyle and Clayton! It’s been a real pleasure! 

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