A look at two routes into the new construction market

by Scott Klocksin

Ever notice how those lists of the top-producing agents always seem to include a lot of folks who got to where they are largely by selling new construction? That’s no accident. When new listings literally rise out of the ground, the sales can add up quickly.

We took a look at two routes into new construction by speaking with Liz Brooks, Belgravia Group’s executive vice president of sales and marketing, and Millie Rosenbloom, a Baird & Warner agent who is a three-decade veteran of new construction sales, from townhomes to high-rises and detached single-family homes.

Rosenbloom certainly didn’t have her path paved for her. Back in the 1990s, she began to form relationships with developers, starting with one to whom she’d sold the plot of land where he built his family home. That led to a sales assignment for a townhome development in the South Loop.

After getting a taste of what working in new development sales was like, Rosenbloom wanted more. So she started taking developers out to lunch to better understand what they were looking for in an agent.
“I looked at the area where I worked and knew well. I looked to cultivate relationships with developers and share my ideas about what might work on what site, and why,” Rosenbloom said.
Rosenbloom isn’t a developer herself, but she isn’t shy about sharing a vision for what certain pieces of land in the city might become in the right hands.

“You have to understand what’s going to go on a site,” she said. “They want to know what you think should be built, what there’s a market for. They want you to advise them. And if you don’t know it, you’ve got to go out and learn it.”

And occasionally, luck plays a role, too. Like when Rosenbloom asked a developer working on a project in Lincoln Park where residents would park once it was built. At an adjacent hospital was what she was told, but, having her ear to the ground in the neighborhood, Rosenbloom heard that the hospital was going to be sold. She alerted the developer, who was able to include the hospital site in the plans for what’s now North Pointe, a townhome development taking up two city blocks, which Rosenbloom marketed when it opened in the early 2000s.

Eventually, word gets around about an agent who actively facilitates the work of developers. “Once you become known and they associate you with successful projects, developers start coming to you,” Rosenbloom said.

Selling just one developer’s product is a totally different discipline than the more flexible model of selling existing homes, according to Liz Brooks, who leads the sales team at Belgravia — one of only a handful of developers in the city that has its own in-house sales arm.

“When someone walks in the door of the sales office, you only have the product you’re building to sell them. You just can’t say ‘let’s go look at something else’ if they don’t seem interested. Which means you have to learn how to overcome objections and it takes some persistence,” Brooks said.

But when you sell units at one development day after day, you can get pretty good at it. Brooks contrasts that to what can happen if you’re only dabbling in new construction.

“An independent agent may have to supplement their new development business with listing other properties or representing buyers,” Brooks said. “Their focus and attention can become a bit diluted. They can experience some fatigue and some burnout.”

Specializing in a specific set of properties, though, can be a way to avoid that burnout. “Doctors specialize in certain areas of medicine, and we specialize in new development sales. We’re precise in our approach,” Brooks said.

Buyer’s agents appreciate the approach, she said, and trust the sales team to tell their clients everything they need to know about a development — even if it’s in presales and doesn’t physically exist yet.
“If a broker has three open houses on Saturday and their client wants to come see our property, the agent knows they can just send them over to us. They don’t have to feel that their relationship with client will suffer.”

She said having an on-staff sales team helps Belgravia guide buyers through the process and make sure all their questions about the property are answered: “It’s fun to rep a brand-new product because it’s so easy to create a dream for people.”

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