Long before Paul Graves became the hardest working agent in Central Ohio, he worked for his family’s piano company. That career might seem like a far cry from real estate, but it turns out there’s a lot of overlap between selling pianos and selling houses. Paul took time out of his busy schedule to speak with us about his real estate success and the importance of remaining humble and kind.
Hi, Paul! Thanks so much for joining me today. Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into real estate?
Sure. I worked for my family’s piano company for most of my life, selling pianos all over the country. And then I worked in the corporate world for a couple of years, selling life insurance. But I reached a place in my mid-30s where I just felt stuck. The family business wasn’t really what I wanted to do, it was just something I fell into. Family businesses can be a blessing and a curse in that way! I knew I wanted to do something different, but I have kids and I couldn’t just go back to college and start an entry level job and work my way up. I needed something that would allow me to make a pretty decent income quickly.
I knew real estate wouldn’t be easy, but I immediately saw how much potential there was in this business. I also noticed that so much about real estate was outdated, people were doing business like they were living in dinosaur times. So I saw an opportunity to stand out, make decent income, and support my family without having to go back to school. I’ve been in real estate for three years now!
That’s awesome. I noticed your slogan is “The Hardest Working Agent in Central Ohio.” You’re also in the top 5% of Columbus agents. I’d love to hear how you got there, and how your hard work sets you apart from the rest.
I actually have my family business to thank for that. We would sell pianos that cost as much as a house, sometimes around $250k. These beautiful concert pianos would be built in New York or Europe by hand, so our customers were obviously expecting them to be as close to perfect as possible. Every single detail, everything about that piano would be looked over and obsessed over.
Then when I became a real estate agent, I would go through houses or look at presentations and see that there were so many details left untouched. Some agents would rush to put a house on the market, saying it was “good enough.” So many things were just shoddy, when they didn’t have to be. So that’s what I bring to the table. I go for as much perfection as I can. I go over every single detail and prepare in advance.
When it comes to getting houses ready, I don’t hesitate to paint and help out in other ways. I’ve helped clean mold off of things, I’ve done landscaping. I’ve helped clients move and declutter, to rent trucks and dumpsters. I do all that kind of stuff, whatever it takes to help the client.
I think that’s our job. We agents get paid pretty darn well. If you add up the hours I put into these things, it’s like I’m making attorney money for renting a dumpster and moving some stuff. I know that some agents shy away from that kind of stuff, and they put themselves on the same level as a high-powered professional. But to be honest, we go to school for like a month and a half to get our license. So I think of myself as someone who makes really good money for the amount of time that I studied. So I’m happy to do whatever it takes to make my clients happy. And it also gives me peace of mind knowing that I really put in the hard work.
You mentioned earlier about some agents being a bit lazy when it comes to making a home ready. I imagine you’re seeing even more of that now, in this extreme seller’s market!
Yes, so many agents are saying “the market is good, so let’s just list it.” I think that’s so wrong, and it’s not honoring the buyer. When you go to a car lot and you buy a car, you expect that it’s going to be detailed and smell good and look good. And the car dealership is going to make less money if the car is dirty and there are cigarettes in the ashtray. But when a buyer goes into a house and they can smell the fresh paint and they can tell that things have been recently touched up, they appreciate that. They get emotionally invested and it makes them excited. Then they offer more money and it’s a win-win for everybody.
What do you do to maximize the chances of your buyer’s offer being accepted, particularly if their offer isn’t the highest one?
Well, it’s important to realize that sellers want professionalism and certainty. I think if you get an offer and it’s for the most money but it’s written kind of shoddy, just sent through Dotloop with no letter, then the seller might start to question how serious or qualified the buyer is. So for this reason, I always write a very professional letter. I detail all the bullet points, I attach the proof of funds. It’s laid out in a very organized way. I also sometimes include a video of me talking to the agent, which he can also pass on to his client, where I present the offer and talk about it. So I think that’s really the main answer to your question – just take the time to look professional.
I know that you also use HighNote to make a good impression on your sellers! I’d love to hear how you use it.
Well, I do visual pricing. I include the number of days on the market, the price per square foot, etc. And I know that if I put all of that in an email, there would probably be about 17 attachments and a huge amount of writing. No one wants to receive that, and they’ll probably say “whoa, this guy is too much.”
So I love that HighNote lets me make all of this information visual. There are pictures and graphs, and the clients get much more involved. I can put a little picture of their own house in there to make it more personal.
With HighNote, they can see all of these thumbnails as they’re scrolling down, and kind of take everything in at once. I saw it as a way to make an email much more readable and visual, it’s basically like turning an email into a presentation. I was tired of writing these humongous emails and wondering if anyone would even open them up. But with HighNote, I can see the analytics so I know exactly what they clicked on and how long they looked at it. I think that’s just amazing. And people see the presentations and think that I took forever to make them. But the truth is, once you make one HighNote you can duplicate and change and adjust. HighNote presentations take me less time than writing an email!
In addition to the visual pricing, I also include information about myself, my awards, and accolades. Even if they only see these things but don’t open them, it still speaks to my professionalism. It shows I’m a serious agent and I mean business. It shows I’m going to take care of them.
I had one client that already had the listing agreement printed out from the HighNote pre-listing presentation when I showed up to meet them. She was ready to sign. That’s the moment that I was really sold on HighNote, knowing that she was ready to hire me before she even met me, just because of my presentation.
I heard that you also have another great HighNote success story! Can you share it?
Yes! I had a listing appointment set up with a client. He had already interviewed two other agents. The day before the appointment, he wrote a brief email and said that he was just so overwhelmed. He had already spoken to agents and was going to cancel the appointment with me. It was like a “Dear John” letter.
Then I started thinking about what I could do to still meet with this guy. I have a little studio set up at my computer, so I decided I was going to make him a really professional video. So I made a HighNote presentation and put the video in there. I sent it over.
The next day, he wrote to me and said that he and his wife were so impressed with the presentation and they wanted to meet with me! He ended up choosing me, and we just signed with an off-market buyer a few days ago for an all cash deal. HighNote helped me win that deal, so it more than paid for itself in that one transaction!
You’re based in Dublin, which is outside of Columbus. Are most of your listings in the city, or do you focus more on the suburbs?
When I first started in this business, I would go anywhere – 24/7, 365 days a year. I would drive 2.5 hours away for an unqualified buyer. Then I started to have difficulty with work-life balance, it put a lot of stress on my family. So nowadays, I do my best to stay within 15-20 minutes of Dublin, which is the northwest quadrant of the Columbus area. It can be frustrating because one of the biggest growing areas in the city is actually the southeast. But you know, I’ve seen a lot of agents who have a really hard time with work-life balance in this business and their families suffer. I’m really trying to avoid that because I want to do this long-term. I want to be happy. So my long-term goal is to be a specialist in this area. I’ll lose a little money, but that’s okay.
It’s very refreshing to hear that you remain so humble despite your obvious success!
I think that being humble in this business is an absolute must. When I first started real estate, I was pretty arrogant. I thought I would conquer the world and that every other agent was terrible. I burned some bridges that way! It didn’t take me long to realize that the best way to go is to be kind and help other agents whenever I can. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get the most business, but it means you’re going to feel the best in the end.
Paul, it’s been a pleasure! Thank you so much!
Are you looking to buy or sell a home in Central Ohio? Philadelphia? Be sure to contact Paul!
…And if you’re a real estate agent looking to take your business to the next level, click here to get started with HighNote!