AN INTERVIEW WITH NINA HATVANY, A SAN FRANCISCO TOP PRODUCER
In 2006, Nina Hatvany closed the most transactions, completing a record $106 million in sales at the San Francisco office of TRI Coldwell Banker. She is in the top one percent of Coldwell Banker nationwide. Her career in the real estate industry has also included past work in development including building townhouses in Palo Alto, refurbishing Bay Area apartment buildings, and restoring and rehabilitating homes in San Francisco. She has both a contractor’s and a real estate license.
Before real estate, Nina was a professor at the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University and later the Graduate School of Business at Berkeley, California. She holds an M. A. and Ph.D. from Stanford in Psychology and is widely recognized as one of the best-trained negotiators in the business. Nina has resided in San Francisco for 25 years with her husband. They have three adult children who have had a wonderful experience being raised in the City.
Can you tell us about yourself?
I was born and grew up in London and came to this country about 30 years ago. I originally came to the U.S. to get a Ph.D. in Psychology at Stanford. I was only going to study in the U.S. for one year. But, when I got here, I loved it and decided to stay. My first job after Stanford was teaching Organizational Behavior at Columbia University School of Business.
During those years, New York was going through a gentrification process and I got involved with some development work. My position at Columbia gave me access to people at some major lenders so I teamed up with a developer and handled marketing, loans and things like that. It was fabulous and great fun. Eventually, I returned to the Bay Area, got married and had a family. It was not a stretch to use my experience in NYC development for similar work here. But, when you are renovating houses that you live in, you tend to need to move frequently. With a family, we needed to settle down. That’s when I started focusing on real estate sales. That was 1991.
You were one of San Francisco’s top agent in 2006. Call you describe how you set your goals in the beginning of the year?
I don’t set monetary goals at all. It’s too unpredictable. I plan a series of activities that I believe will result in success over the year. In the beginning of the year, when it’s quiet, I make contact with my sphere of influence. I mail them every two months with a variety of messages that may or may not be related to real estate. For example, I mail them to remind them of the time change in April. Before mailing, I go through my list to make sure I am up to date on any life changes, too. While mailings are effective, they are impersonal. As a result, I often use January as a time to call people and speak with them on a more personal level.
Call you take us through your efforts to get listings?
It’s gotten much easier recently. I get many more referrals than when I was starting out. Prospects may see my signs or may follow up from an open house. But, when I do get a call from someone who sees one of my signs, there’s still no personal connection. I assume such an individual is talking to at least three other agents.
I always follow up with a very thorough proposal that takes a long time to put together. I consider my follow up proposals from an initial meeting very, very important. Crucial. That’s my chance to compete with another agent for a listing. Prospects see my proposals as an indication of the marketing I will do for them. Plus, it’s respectful to them to see that I have put in so much effort.
How do you position yourself?
I specialize in San Francisco only but other than that I don’t really have a niche. I am much more client focused. Once I get involved in with a client, my goal is to represent them and their families for the duration. As the years go by, I often represent their adult children and other relatives. I do homes of all prices all over the City.
How is your team structure?
I have one full-time licensed assistant. She does everything alongside me. She helps with marketing, listing presentations, etc. I also have a part-time transaction coordinator to help with the paper flow. I share a marketing person who does my web site and graphics.
What works for you best when marketing a listing?
The goal is to be comprehensive. I don’t like to hear if another agent is doing something that I’m not. Everything from the most basic: cards to the neighbors, printed pieces, print advertising, Coldwell Banker’s Previews. The Internet is incredibly important.
What do you do with the web?
First, I get excellent photos! Second, I really massage the text of an ad with plenty of client input. Everything is reviewed by my clients. I use my web site, www.ninahatvany.com and www.camoves.com, which feeds into realtor.com. I also use luxuryhornes.com.
What has been the best results?
Direct mail works best, then the web. I’m finding print ads to be less effective. The clients like it and there is a certain amount of branding, but I don’t think print ads to consumers are selling properties right now.
Other than referrals and real estate signs, what is your best source of new clients?
Open houses. I do an open house as often as I can. It is a great way to meet people. Believe it or not, I have had people call me who met me at an open house three years in the past! Fantastic. Open houses are a very public place to be and they work.
Call you tell us some of the things you do for your buyers?
The role of an agent to help buyers has really changed. I used to take people out for long tours and advise them what homes to see. Those recommendations came from my visiting homes before them. That was before widespread use of the Internet Today, information is coming to both of us at the same time. So now, my clients and I jointly decide if a home is worth seeing. I may know the house or apartment building just because of my years in the business but my buyers know about homes the same time I do.
Given the changes you describe, what is the value proposition you bring?
Sometimes I joke with my clients that ”I’m the party-pauper.” It’s a serious role. They don’t need an agent to see a property but they need one to advise them on it. Location, setting, light, surroundings, structure, foundation, homeowners’ association rules, disclosures, things like that. For example, I may note that a condo association doesn’t have enough regular meetings to, in my opinion, manage the property. That’s something I would convey to the client. I find this work to be very interesting. It takes advantage of my knowledge more completely than in the past.
What is your approach to negotiation?
My philosophy is that if there is an able buyer and a willing seller, there’s a deal to be made. I am cordial, optimistic, and focused on the goal. Taking a hard line and sticking to it doesn’t make a sale.
What advice would you give to new agents to be successful in San Francisco?
It’s hard work and it takes a serious commitment. I work every day, all day, and most weekends. Do floor time at your office. Do open homes. I also think it is important to expose yourself to other people, prospective clients, in a setting where people see you work. Take a leadership role at your child’s school, or a club, where people can see you being capable and responsible. It is an effective way to get clients and support a cause you feel is important. And, in San Francisco, people are love real estate. Always remember you are a REALTOR”®.
People love to talk about real estate in this town. It’s good to trade on that.