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In this column, real estate agents across the nation share stories of the lessons they’ve learned during their time in the industry.
A former sports journalist and magazine editor, and current podcast host, Val Burmester brings a wealth of experience and entrepreneurial spirit to her work as an award-winning broker with Sotheby’s International Realty. As a Top 1 Percent real estate professional from 2007 through 2023, she attributes her success, in part, to her talent as a connector.
“I am a huge connector. I love to connect with people. I spend most of my day connecting to people and connecting people to each other. I’m usually starting some networking group, a golf group or bringing friends and family together to share amazing wine and food.”
Find out how she got started, and learn some of the secrets to her success.
Name: Val Burmester
Title: Sr. Global Advisor / Broker
Experience: 16+ years
Location: Seattle, Washington
Brokerage name: Marketplace Sotheby’s International Realty
Rankings: Top 1 percent since 2007
Transaction sides: 1,000-plus
Sales volume: $900 million
Awards: Rookie of the Year; No. 1 agent in office; Top 10 in office each year; Top 1 percent 2007 through 2023
What’s one big lesson you’ve learned in real estate?
Don’t delay spreading the bad news. It just delays the process. When something goes wrong in a transaction, have that conversation right away, and address it.
I once had to share bad news, and I just didn’t know how to have that conversation or how to address it. While I was trying to figure out how to share with my clients, it blew up even more. Now, I address every roadblock head-on and without delay.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? How does real estate relate to that childhood goal?
I wanted to be a sports journalist. I loved football in particular. Growing up with an uncle who was a coach and scout for the Green Bay Packers, we were surrounded by football. I loved the sport, the competition and the journalistic side of the games.
Football is very similar to real estate. You have only a few tries to get to the 1st down and then you try again and the goal is to get to the end zone. As Realtors, we work hard every day for our buyers and sellers to get them to the end zone. You can’t give up. It’s hard work, and when we get them to the end zone, we can celebrate with them.
What’s the most important thing you learned in school?
How to get along with others. Real estate is a giant sandbox, and when other Realtors don’t play nice in the sandbox, it becomes toxic for the whole transaction.
By keeping calm in every transaction and treating everyone involved with respect, you not only keep the transaction moving forward, but you develop respect in the community so that in the future, other agents want to work with you.
What’s the best advice you ever got from a mentor or colleague?
If you have a passion for real estate, you will love this job. If you have grit, you will stay in this job. You have to have both to succeed in real estate, not just one.
What would you tell a new agent before they start out in the business?
To network. Don’t limit yourself to just your database of clients, friends and family locally. There is a whole world out there, and by getting to know agents from feeder markets, both outgoing and ingoing, and starting to develop those relationships, you become a better adviser to your clients and are able to connect them to an expert in a different town when they move.
What do clients need to know before they begin a real estate transaction?
The first question I ask them is: “How big is your but?” The “but” is why people want to move. The “but” is what they didn’t like about their last home.
If someone tells me they hated their last kitchen because they couldn’t cook and entertain, and then they fall in love with a house with a small kitchen, but the rest of the house is great, they are going to regret their purchase and want to move again.
Listening to what your clients want and don’t want is the biggest success you can have.
What do too few agents know that would make their lives easier?
Pay for the experts for the things that you don’t do well. I pay for a transaction coordinator to do all of my paperwork. I’m terrible at paperwork. She is worth every cent to keep my paperwork in compliance.
Same with marketing. If you are not good at marketing, pay the extra fees at your office and/or outsource it. Do the tasks that you love that bring the most satisfaction to you. Outsource the rest.
What is the one thing everyone should be doing to make their life/business better?
Stop grandstanding, and just be nice.
If you could do anything other than real estate, what would it be?
I would go around the country and open up transitional housing for homeless families who are struggling, specifically for those who didn’t choose to be on the street. I would coach and encourage them to find a passion, get good jobs, and give them parental and relationship advice.
Tell us a story about your most memorable transaction.
It was the very first day I got my broker’s license. I had just passed the test and was on my way to the brokerage to hang my license, when my friend called to say her neighbor was selling and I should call her. I did and was asked to come over and look at the house.
She had already met with three of the top brokers in the area, and they had told her the house was worth about $1,350,000. I told her that I had three buyers and asked her to write on a piece of paper she would pay me 3 percent if one of them would buy it.
I called all three buyers, they all walked through that afternoon, and by the end of the day, one of the buyers bought it for $1,500,000. I didn’t even know how to write up a contract, but sold a house off-market on Day 1 of having my license.
The seller was so impressed, she shared another friend, and I ended up selling her house 25 days later for $1,250,000. At that point, I was hooked, and here I am 17 years later.
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