Trevor Halpern J.D. of Halpern Residential at North&Co: “Novelty is rare”

Novelty is rare — don’t reinvent the wheel, just make the wheel yours. Many people enter this industry thinking they are going to be disruptors or that they are bringing something so different that the masses will flock to them. The reality is that such disruption or novelty rarely works out in real estate. If you plan […]

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Novelty is rare — don’t reinvent the wheel, just make the wheel yours. Many people enter this industry thinking they are going to be disruptors or that they are bringing something so different that the masses will flock to them. The reality is that such disruption or novelty rarely works out in real estate. If you plan on relying on your network to provide business for you, find a network-based agent or two and learn from them. If you plan on buying leads or developing your business through advertising and technology, find experts in the field in that realm and learn from them. Learn their systems and ways and make them better. Any mentor who doesn’t share their best practices with you is not in fact a mentor.

As a part of my series about the ‘Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Real Estate Industry’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Trevor H. Halpern, J.D.

Trevor H. Halpern, J.D. is the #1 independent agent at Phoenix-based North&Co. and the founder of the Halpern Residential real estate group. As a Phoenix native, Halpern’s deep knowledge of both people and property has allowed him to create client success in all areas of town. As a graduate of ASU’s College of Law, Halpern prides himself on delivering high-level strategy, efficient negotiations, and precise tactical execution. Since 2011, Halpern has sold over $100 million in real estate and has been in the top 1% of real estate agents in the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area since 2016.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?

Quite honestly, I failed my way to the real estate industry. I attended law school knowing I did not want to practice law and as I approached graduation, I had a job lined up as an associate attorney at a national law firm and I found myself super depressed about that prospect, so I respectfully declined the job and set out to find a job as a legally educated person in the business world. After bouncing from layoff to layoff during the lean years of the “Great Recession” I decided I wanted to do something for myself. In a lunch discussion with my dad, he suggested real estate to bolster income while finding my footing. I explored it, dug in, and went all in! At the time (2011) the real estate market was recovering, and I figured I would build my real estate practice while the market was on the rise. I haven’t looked back since!

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far?

I often joke that my team and I could write a book about all the strange encounters we are exposed to daily! People (agents and consumers alike) oftentimes let emotions get the best of them during the stress of the sale, which can result in some seriously crazy interactions! Buying and selling is also a time where business and personal intermix, so we get to see how people live…. You’d be quite surprised! Some of the people you’d expect to be buttoned up have sides that you see in their home. We once found a bong integrated into a gasmask in the trashcan of a house our clients were moving out of! One of the most interesting situations I had to deal with was with a husband trying to hide from his current wife the fact that he had an ex-wife and a child with said ex-wife. His loan was declined because of the child-support payments that he did not initially disclose to his lender. He called me in a panic and asked that I not tell his wife why the loan was declined. I told him what I tell all of my clients in such situations, “Although it is not my job to tell your secrets, it is also not my job to lie for you. Should she bring it up, I’ll ask her to ask you.” That sort of stuff comes up more often than one would think!

Do you have a favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share a story or example of how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have quotes for days! I can picture my family and my staff collectively rolling their eyes thinking of me answering this question! One life lesson quote that I use frequently in my business life and one that my kids now use against me is, “You know what the answer is if you don’t ask.” Oftentimes during negotiations or even before offering on a property, clients will talk themselves out of the ask…. “What if we offend them?” “What if they say ‘no?” It is easy for people to talk themselves out of asking others if they think it will upset the people on the other side, so they will just forego asking, thus ensuring the answer is “no”. Whenever I am in a place with clients where they are hesitating to offer or hesitating to ask the other side for something for the reasons outlined above, I always tell them, “You know what the answer is if you don’t ask, so you might as well ask.” In my life, I use that phrase to empower myself, my family, and my team. I ask for business, I ask for favors, I ask for help. My kids recently got to see this in action a few months back as quarantine restrictions were easing in Arizona. The lead singer of our favorite band was visiting Tucson, AZ and playing at a small outdoor venue. Our 2-year-old loves this band and says “Hi Jack-Jack” to the lead singer, Jackson, every time one of his songs comes on. Information about the setup was scarce and I wanted to ensure if we were going to travel from Phoenix to Tucson that we would be sure the kiddos could see the show. I found one small telephone number on one small flier about the show. It ended up that the number was that of the show’s promoter and when we got him, I asked for what we wanted: For my 2-year-old to meet Jack-Jack. And that is exactly what happened! I knew the answer to seeing the show and meeting the singer would have been “no” had I not asked and so I did. It was that easy!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’re ALWAYS working on projects! The best part about our projects is that they are EXACTLY made to benefit our clients (and sometimes designed to benefit other agent’s clients too). As a real estate professional who derives 95% of my business from my network — sphere, friends, family, past clients, referrals — our job is to deliver the absolute core of our value to those clients, so they become lifelong fans and voice multipliers. With the growth we’ve experienced, we want to make sure we are still providing heart space and headspace to our clients how we want to. Therefore, our biggest initiative right now is a bit of a homecoming and is focused on engaging deeply with our client base and referral base. At the crux of it are a handful of questions: How do we show love to the base that has shown so much love to us? How do we with absolute clarity of focus and evolution of process make sure that our clients gravitate to and receive the value we are trying to deliver?

As we are finding out, those topline questions create many sub-questions and categories, each of which needs time and attention. Wrangling time from delivering value to current clients to dive into how we can build a better value delivery vehicle is a delicate balance and we are currently working our way through it.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

One of the key things that makes our company stand out is our standard of communication. We strongly believe that the spoken word via interpersonal dialogue progresses narratives more than any other form of digital discussion. Internally, our staff knows that no discussion involving the business is out of bounds. If there’s an issue or if you are feeling something is off, let’s chat now, not later. Later allows other emotions, feelings and potentially animosities to build. Externally, we universally find that our toughest situations are best handled with open and emotionless discussions.

We often find ourselves in the middle of highly stressful personal situations. The purchase or sale of a home is oftentimes the largest single financial transaction people will make in their lives and as such, emotions can run high. It is easy as a practitioner to get wrapped into the emotion. If I know I am wading into a potentially emotional discussion with a client, a cross-agent or another party to the transaction (lender, escrow officer, etc.) I try to gather my facts, data and talking points. I then center myself and pick up the phone.

We recently had a buyer purchasing his first investment property. The marketplace is very dynamic right now which is adding to the emotional load Buyers are carrying. This particular client happened to have a trip planned right after he got under contract. His boy’s trip to Florida to fish involved lots of drinking and jostling with the guys every time we spoke. My spoken words were misheard or were responded to with bravado because of the environment he was in. He had a decision to make, and I knew his decision-making capacity was diminished, so I strategically awaited his return home to have the discussions we really needed to have as I knew his wife was a moderating force and that his environment would be more conducive to big picture discussions. The conversation that ensued at home and with the buyer and his wife was calm, cool, and collected. The change in environment allowed us to fully speak and deliver what we call “truth and knowledge” to our clients. That phrase is written in our company Vision Statement, and I bust it out for conversations just like I had. I broke through the bravado and helped the Buyer see that his posturing with the Seller was actually cutting off his nose to spite his face.

In the end, communication, conversation, and process orientation helps our company stand out in a sea of real estate licensees.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am a big believer that there is zero need to teach yourself lessons when others have learned them already. That has always led me to seek those who know more than I do. Until about three years ago, that meant seeking traditional real estate coaches, learning via seminars, etc. I hired and fired three coaches, I found my revenue stagnant and found my mind wandering to other businesses I could start. Whenever my mind wanders like that, I know change needs to happen! At that point, I started interviewing other Brokerages and was introduced to Brian North, the Founder of North&Co. My mind was blown from that first conversation! Brain’s influence has been profound. He set up a real estate brokerage focused on creating better people and better agents to deliver a better real estate experience to consumers. North&Co is focused on increasing agent IQ and EIQ. Since joining, Brian has become and still is my largest single mentor outside of my dad. I have grown as a person and entrepreneur through Brian’s leadership and by engaging with the coaches (business and mental) that Brian and his leadership team engage with.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry? If you can please share a story or example.

My very favorite thing about real estate is the entrepreneurial nature of it. At its most basic level, the business is about selling enough homes to cover whatever your goals are. The very nature of the business is so entrepreneurial in fact that some people don’t even set goals, they just hang their shingles and grind! My version of being entrepreneurial is to always find what Brian North calls “the empty parking spot”. Where is there opportunity? What is missing in the market and how can we solve it? My most recent example of this is with a print and digital campaign we recently launched. We found that our conversations with clients and prospects revolve around five topics (inventory, lack of understanding of market conditions, timing of selling in order to buy, the debate of remodeling or selling, and general distrust of the industry). We heard the pattern and created a campaign for our network that addressed those concerns. The campaign landed in their mailboxes and then followed them digitally around the internet. We shot videos and had landing pages, etc. We wanted the word to get out that we were cracking the code to the market in tough times. That kind of entrepreneurialism and creative flow in solving big market problems is one of the most gratifying things I get to do as the CEO of my real estate company.

Another aspect of the business that excites both me and my staff is the interpersonal nature of what we do. We get to help people make decisions that pull on both logic and emotion. We get to work with people who want to work with us and vice versa. The exchange of trust allows us to really find the true nature of their goals and reverse engineer the outcome. That involves getting to know people and for a team of empaths, that is gratifying in-and-of-itself.

Finally, one of the things that excites me the most about the real estate industry is the dynamic nature of it. From the outside looking in, many folks think real estate is practiced as it was decades ago. The simple fact is that in nearly a decade in the business I have seen many seismic shifts in the industry and in how people buy and sell homes and how people interact with real estate agents. The evolution of our industry is constant. Big companies have injected big money into capturing market share and virtual eyeballs in home searches. Technology changes constantly and has provided both consumers and professionals with instantaneous data. Laws and regulations are continually changing all the way down to the rules that govern local Multiple Listing Services (MLS). What’s fun about the dynamic nature of the business is in trying to unlock new riddles as they appear. How do we play with new technology? How can we redeploy old technology? Do we even need technology, where analog solutions can work? What’s over the horizon and how can we prepare?

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest? Please share stories or examples if possible.

Seasoned agents will tell you that one of the most concerning things in our industry is the low barrier to entry. Getting your residential real estate license is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to start a business, which generally speaking is a very good thing. That leads to a lot of people entering an industry that is tremendously complex and riddled with pitfalls. Additionally, the lure of big and/or quick money sometimes draws the wrong kind of people to the industry. We’ve all heard horror stories of real estate agents, which collectively rank among the least trusted professionals in the country. Many of those stories involve inexperienced agents making big mistakes, or greedy agents making ethical errors — or both! Every agent must start somewhere, but brand-new agents are best off learning the ropes from Brokers or Team Leads who have their best interest in mind, which subsequently is the best interest of the consumer. Therefore, even though the barrier-to-entry is low and should remain low, our industry might be served well by implementing mentorship programs for the first number of sales an agent participates in, or a mentorship program if an agent does not do many transactions a year. After all, selling real estate is not like riding a bike — one loses the mental “muscle memory” if not exercising it through real estate transactions regularly. A good example of the crossover of inexperience and market dynamics involves contract language surrounding appraisal waivers. We are seeing ever-increasing complexities in contract language because of the maneuvers consumers are taking to secure a home in this marketplace. One of the tools employed is that of an appraisal waiver. By waiving the appraisal contingency, the buyer is telling the seller they don’t care where the home appraises in relationship to the purchase price — they are willing and able to bring cash to bridge the gap between the two numbers if the appraised price is lower than the purchase price. The language that many buyers’ agents are using can obligate the seller to sell the home at the appraised price. It is a bit of a sleight-of-hand, but if an agent receiving the offer is unaware of that little buyer agent hack, it can cost their seller clients thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars!

One of the concerns I have with the industry is an overreliance by practitioners on technology. Technology has a time and place. We utilize TONS of technology to run our business (CRM, workforce operating system, virtual phone system, website, app, etc.) but what we’ve found is that there is no way to “tech” your way out of communicating. Buying and selling a home is a rare chance in life where people get to mix logic and emotion. A poorly phrased email or text can throw someone down a deep emotional rabbit hole. Therefore, I find a quick call or video chat can move the needle in almost any situation further and more efficiently than written word can. In a three-minute phone call, I can accomplish what hours of crafting and responding to emails can do. Our industry and the experience of the public would be dramatically improved if we just spoke with each other.

Many people in my industry are worried or concerned that iBuyers (Zillow, Offerpad, Opendoor) will eventually crowd them out. Although I feel a larger percentage of market share will be taken up by tech companies, I believe that agents will always be needed in complex situations, or when Sellers do not want their personal residences commoditized. Well-heeled agents focused on providing value to their clients should always have the ability to prove value beyond what technology can do. After all, buying and selling seems simple on the surface, but is a raging river just below.

What advice would you give to other real estate leaders to help their teams to thrive and to create a really fantastic work culture?

This is one of my favorite subjects! As my business coach Zanzibar Vermiglio puts it, a leader must possess two things to effectively lead people: 1) the ability to pull apart non-performance; 2) the ability to hold your employee’s futures honorably in your hand.

Both of those are learned skills. Both take planning and practice. The pulling apart of non-performance from a managerial standpoint is something that must be done immediately when non-performance is felt or sensed. Only then can it be discussed without aforethought malice and/or without letting the nature of the non-performance grow in the employer’s mind as the employer rolls through the scenario repeatedly. Such intervention can be as simple as asking, “What did you mean by that?” or by saying simply, “Thank you for doing XYZ. In the future, please be sure to ABC.” Quick and effective without emotion.

Holding one’s future honorably in your hand as a manager is simple when you really break it down. It involves engaging your employees to make them better people and better employees. Set a path for them. Engage them. Show them what the future looks like at your company or beyond. If you grow them and grow their expertise and if they end up leaving you to pursue their highest self, what better of a compliment to your management and tutelage? Just have the departing employee train the incoming employee before they leave! If they have a consistent growth path and want to stay, keep them. Eventually, they may grow as much as they can in your business and at that point, it’s probably best to kick them from the nest and have them rise to the next challenge in life.

Engaged employees are your champions. They will be the foot soldiers in the re-creation of the intention of your business out in the marketplace.

Ok, here is the main question of our interview. You are a “Real Estate Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the Real Estate industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?

Don’t create a brand until you find who you are in the business. Some people enter real estate with guns a-blazing! They’ll create logos, brands, collateral, slick social media campaigns, etc. They’ll spend all their time “getting ready to get ready” as I like to say instead of just getting out there and doing real estate. As Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Although starting your real estate business is not quite tantamount to getting punched in the mouth, there are ups-and-downs and there are definitely “unknown unknowns” so there is only so much you can plan for before getting in there, mixing it up, getting experience, and building your unique value proposition. Until you get to know yourself in the industry, get organized, but don’t over plan, because you WILL pivot!

There are tons of ways to spend money in real estate. Keep your powder dry in the beginning. The real estate industry attracts hundreds of ancillary industries that offer countless goods and services to agents. From apps, and websites, to postcards and print advertising, an agent can quickly get underwater trying to leverage technology to do what they should be doing, which is talking to people, building rapport and providing value. One of my cheesiest jokes is that I want to write a book entitled 1001 Ways to Spend Money in Real Estate and I bet I’d get thousands of agents to buy it!

Reputation is everything and no matter how big your city is, the real estate industry is tight. Wrong one agent just one time and they won’t want to do business with them, or they will make it more difficult to do business with them in the future. If your clients are in a competitive situation and the other agent doesn’t like you or had a bad experience with you, your client will suffer. Don’t make the other agent hold their nose while doing business with you!

Find a mentor. Most agents come into real estate with a license and zero know-how. Other agents are not incentivized to help you grow. Therefore, it’s best to either push your way into an environment where you can learn from others, where the brokerage is thick with knowledge and sharing, or to find a mentor who is vested in your success. Sometimes such mentorship involves joining a team. Sometimes, your Broker can help you as they make money when you succeed. Sometimes agents will help you with mentorship in exchange for paying them a fee per deal until you get up and running. However you approach mentorship, make sure it is part of your plan as your path to success will be improved and the timeline to financial success will be slashed.

Novelty is rare — don’t reinvent the wheel, just make the wheel yours. Many people enter this industry thinking they are going to be disruptors or that they are bringing something so different that the masses will flock to them. The reality is that such disruption or novelty rarely works out in real estate. If you plan on relying on your network to provide business for you, find a network-based agent or two and learn from them. If you plan on buying leads or developing your business through advertising and technology, find experts in the field in that realm and learn from them. Learn their systems and ways and make them better. Any mentor who doesn’t share their best practices with you is not in fact a mentor.

Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My movement would be that of eliminating interpersonal competition. The constant need to put ourselves in competition against others, on social media, and in our imaginations prevents us from focusing on the good that is in our lives right now.

One of the most powerful proactive decisions I have ever made is to practice eliminating competition with others from my life. In a highly visible and social media heavy industry that creates agent classifications based on income, units sold, volume, etc., it is very easy to get caught up in competition. I’ve found that keeping an eye on the scoreboard is helpful for business metrics, but not for business and personal growth. I found that by driving my business and my personal life by what I have that others don’t have or by what others have that I don’t have was leading to anxiety and depression. By not competing with other agents, I am able to focus on the positive things my team and I have built, and I am able to focus more of my energy on providing exquisite value to my clients, not on worrying about what the competition is doing. That’s not to say that I’m perfect! I get zapped sometimes if I don’t see my name high on the performance list at our monthly Brokerage Meeting. That zap is a good test though. Now I try to not even look at the sheet. I know if I do my best, good things will come to me, my family, my employees, and my clients.

Personally, I go into tons of homes I will never be able to afford. Even some that are just out of my reach sometimes create a sense of not being good enough. The second I pull down my street, walk into my happy little household, get hugs and kisses, none of what I physically do not possess matters.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Our website, is a great place to start. All of our media, articles, social media and videos are housed there. You can get a really good sense of who we are and how we operate from there.

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