In a business where technology can easily take center stage, LaVerne Pike, an award-winning veteran agent with Seattle’s Windermere Real Estate, stands apart by focusing on the person-to-person connection and a level of service that puts him—not the internet—at the center of the relationship. In this interview, Pike explains how his detailed knowledge of the market, along with his genuine desire to help people, combine to guide clients through the highly competitive Seattle real estate scene.
Maria Patterson: Please briefly describe your career path in real estate and how you got to where you are today.
LaVerne Pike: I was a chef in the restaurant business in Seattle for quite some time. A real estate managing broker, who I had gone to school with, kept coming into the restaurant and would say, “Gosh, for as hard as you work, you should be in real estate. You’re great with people and service-oriented—in real estate, you’d realize more impact and a better lifestyle for others, as well as yourself.” I really liked the service end of the restaurant business and the energy. After four years, he finally convinced me into it, and now I’ve been in real estate with Windermere for more than 20 years.
MP: What regions do you currently serve?
LP: I serve all of King County. Being a Seattle native, I understand the nooks and crannies of the Puget Sound area, and I’ve been able to create relationships, connections and family all the way from Graham to Island County. If someone needs service, I will take care of them to ensure they’re making a solid and successful decision.
MP: How would you describe current market conditions?
LP: Inventory is the lowest it’s ever been—and there are 15 percent more buyers than the previous year. Part of the issue is that we’ve had a lot of buyers coming into the area for jobs with the tech industry—Google, Amazon, Expedia and Microsoft, to name a few. In addition, cash buyers are changing the way we do business. I’ve seen 89 offers on a particular home and I’ve seen prices go from $10,000 above asking price to $350,000 above asking price. Cash offers that need no appraisal and waive many contingencies are common, and properties are closing in two weeks. This has been going on for 14 months now, and I don’t see any end in sight. The median price for a single-family residence in Seattle/Bellevue is above $800,000.
MP: What’s the current status of new construction?
LP: It’s not keeping up with demand. The municipalities are granting permits at a slower or downsized pace, cautiously to prevent overbuilding. Currently there are a few zoning authorities in the process of creating a moratorium on permits for new construction community start-ups for 90 days or more, with well permits also being held back. That keeps our market inventory low, with pricing pushed to the top of the scale, leaving the market unbalanced.
MP: What are you doing to work with first-time homebuyers then? Are there any options for that group?
LP: I’ve connected with a couple of lenders offering a few programs where buyers can put 0-1 percent down on a first-time home purchase. There are some requirements and certifications needed. You have to go a little bit out of the area to find this price range, but I can find them. I’m in three transactions right now (at press time) under $300,000. It’s considerably more work than working on a high-end home sale, but it motivates me when someone is renting a 600-square-foot, $1,500-per-month apartment in downtown Seattle…and that’s considered a bargain. Ask yourself, “Why not buy a house and get the tax benefits and invest in yourself?” When you’re renting, there’s no benefit—plus, the landlord can raise the rent. When you buy a home, you regain control. It’s important to me to educate folks to take control of their lives and invest in themselves.
MP: Tell us about some of the highlights of your more than two decades in the business.
LP: In 1997, I was voted one of Windermere’s best agents, which was voted on by my peers who represent the top drawer of the area’s REALTORS®. Their work ethic, standards and practices are very high. In multiple-offer situations, people typically go with the offer that is strong, comprehensive and credible over most others. Windermere will get it done. When people list houses with us, they know having the Windermere sign in their yard represents the quality of the real estate professional they’re working with. The proven stability, reputation and marketshare performance of Windermere has been, and still is, the highlight of my real estate business. That’s why I’ve been here for more than 20 years.
I’ve also been recognized as a Five-Star professional by Seattle magazine for the past 10 years.
MP: How do you differentiate yourself in today’s competitive market?
LP: It can be tough because the internet takes all the personality out of everything. You lose 55 percent of a person when you’re reading the written word because you’re losing eye contact and body language. That’s why I always suggest to people who come in as internet leads, if you’re serious, contact me; text, call or email…I’ll respond with a call.
I believe in having a quality experience over having a quantity of experiences. As a Seattle native, I know the area, and that keeps me abreast of what’s going on in different communities. I know that you can drive three blocks in one direction and be in a completely different type of atmosphere. And people need to know the distinctions among neighborhoods. If you’re putting your money in a house and the values have gone down, or you don’t feel safe going out at night, then you’ve made a bad investment. I want to safeguard my clients, so my approach is to adopt all my clients. I have a really good time with them and I don’t pressure them. I don’t mind being silent in the car when we’re driving around because they have a lot to think through. I’m open if there are questions, concerns or input. There’s truly no need for constant chatter. I’m here for my clients, and, as a team, we will realize their goals.
MP: What have been the keys to growing your business and becoming a successful real estate professional?
LP: Being personal and authentic. I don’t like to be insincere. It’s all about the client. This is their biggest investment. They don’t need to hear about me. If I can help fulfill any part of their dream, I’m more than happy to do that—in fact, I get joy out of that. My daughter used to tell me I was too giving of myself, but I told her that’s okay—it will all come back around.
MP: What are some of the biggest challenges you are facing, and how are you tackling them?
LP: Currently, I would have to say the lack of inventory. When we went into the downturn, people didn’t want to buy or sell because their house wasn’t as valuable. People were having to short sell, and I felt terrible. One short sale cost me $2,500 and took me two-and-a-half years to sell. But the upswing can be almost as severe, with multiple and cash offers, which makes us work two to three times as hard trying to put accurate numbers together. Forty-three percent of the houses here sold over full price and 20 percent were under full price and had to do multiple price changes. If the house is priced correctly, it will sell quickly. If not, it can languish for some time.
MP: How do you stay educated and equipped to best serve clients and prospects?
LP: I do my research every day. I stay on top of what’s new and exciting. In the past 20 years, real estate professionals have gone from being the only access to knowledge to now having the internet. Now everyone knows everything about everything. The Information Age has created as many challenges as benefits, so I focus on continued education, classes and constant upgrading of my knowledge and understanding. I ask myself daily, “How can I best be a benefit?”
MP: How do you generate new business and cultivate relationships with today’s consumers?
LP: I dive deep on the personal and emotional level and focus on being of service. I build business by being authentic and sincere and being there for people.
Most people perceive a real estate agent as sitting there with his feet up on the desk, waiting for the phone to ring. Everything I do is an education, and it’s not all rote or standard. Whether it’s a good handshake or a good hug, a good conversation or silence in the car, it’s all about whatever deepens that connection with people. You’re garnering leads off the internet, so you have to create credibility with people and build trust. They’ve eaten pancakes and ramen for a year to save up enough money to buy a home—so that’s a lot of responsibility on my part. Listing a home is extremely emotional given the emotional ties and changes.
MP: How do you stay involved in your community?
LP: Through Windermere, we’re involved with several activities. For example, every Christmas, Windermere teams up with Target for what we call, “Windermere for Kids.” On a Saturday morning prior to Christmas, we have an underprivileged boy or girl shop for their family members. We wrap all the gifts and they get to take them home in a big bag. Little do they know we’ve already bought gifts for the little shopper, as well.
We also work with a variety of non-profit programs. Being a Windermere agent, with every transaction, there’s a contribution made to our non-profit (Windermere Foundation) to give back to our community. Since 1989, we have contributed more than $34 million, all of which goes right back into the community. There’s a particular day where we go out into the community and do whatever is needed for a particular organization—landscaping, maintenance, painting. Every Windermere office has a charity or place they go that day—an army of agents out there doing community service, donating the time, doing the labor, giving back to the community. Our title, escrow companies and lenders participate, too, as assorted vendors contribute and/or donate materials.
MP: What are the biggest concerns for today’s real estate consumers, and how do you help guide them through these concerns?
LP: I understand why some people appear to be a little gun-shy thinking that there will be another bubble. With the influx of 1.2 million people coming into King County alone in the next six years, it doesn’t appear that there will be a downturn. If anything, it will flatten out.
You have to pay to live somewhere no matter what, so why not invest in yourself and safeguard yourself with today’s market? Even if the market levels off, you’ll still have equity and a level of stability. What do you have with an apartment, with your depreciating car or your clothes that are wearing out? The longer you wait, the less your money will be worth. The appreciation in Seattle/Bellevue is 1.3 percent a month. Will you get that kind of raise at your job?
MP: What do you see as the biggest opportunities in the year ahead?
LP: Making more people’s dreams come true. That’s where my heart is. Finding success for more people, gaining trust from more people. Getting out there and making things happen. As for myself, taking all those challenges and getting smarter and wiser. Part of my vision statement says, “I wake up to the future every day.” Be the change you want to see in the world. That’s where the rewards come in. Strangers are just friends we haven’t met yet. Let’s get serious and get results…it’s your move!
Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at email@example.com.
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