What’s the key to launching a successful brokerage in a highly competitive city? A sharp sense for trends, according to Climb Real Estate Co-Founder and Managing Broker Tiffany Combs.
That and choosing a niche that’s not already being exploited by competitors.
Tiffany and partners built the San Francisco-based Climb Real Estate brokerage on the notion that getting in first provides a huge opportunity. The brokerage specializes in urban dwellings, which tend to be new construction condo units in developing neighborhoods.
They saw a niche developing in new residential construction in neighborhoods that historically had been industrial, and decided to target these up-and-coming areas that were low on everyone else’s radar and get in before any other brokerage companies and agents.
After Tiffany bought her first condo in San Francisco in South Beach, a neighborhood south of Market Street that’s undergone massive transformation since its desolate industrial days in the ’70s, she said she realized there were about 15,000 homes coming to market in this small area in the coming years. And she pounced.
“If you can get into an area that is nontraditional, but see that there is growth happening or about to happen, go and build your business around it,” she said.
Tiffany and her partners had a very specific business plan: Get in early, do a good job and become the market leader. “You can really dominate a building pretty quickly because one home is fairly similar to the next,” she said.
In other words: sell one or two and do a fantastic job and you’ll carve a name for yourself. Soon you’re the go-to agent or brokerage for a building that has hundreds of units. The experience of selling multiple units in a building, for instance, builds expertise and deep understanding of the types of buyers who are attracted to the area.
Focusing on specific buildings and neighborhoods seems to work really well because units tend to turn over quickly, creating a constant pipeline of listings.
The ‘Whole Foods’ theory: A recipe for spotting trends
Real estate isn’t exactly a fast-paced industry when it comes to innovation. So how is it that Climb Real Estate is able to spot trends and capitalize on them? A little something Tiffany calls the “Whole Foods theory”.
“Business is constantly evolving – you have to constantly ask yourself, ‘what’s next?’”
When you start researching and see that Whole Foods has been poking around and talking about building a store in the neighborhood, then you know it’s on the verge of popularity. At least in a city like San Francisco, that is true. In other cities, it may be following Target, Trader Joe’s or a new city ballpark. Building plans typically are submitted years in advance, which makes it fairly easy to figure these things out.
Climb figured this out long ago and by moving quickly, they’ve been able to get in first and flourish.
Beautiful properties, beautiful marketing
One of the first things you notice about Climb when visiting their website is how clean and eye-pleasing their property listings look. Part of that has to do with the fact that they specialize in newer urban living and these spaces have a clean, modern look and feel to them.
But part of the feeling you get from searching the website also comes from the staging, photography, videos and presentation Climb provides for its listings.
The brokerage is active on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. And co-founder Mark Choey founded and manages the SF New Developments blog, which updates readers on happenings around new real estate developments in and buildings in San Francisco.
Climb also has a “virtual agent” available on their website. Each agent takes time each week to man the website for questions from buyers and sellers in an instant message format.
Another interesting differentiator with Climb is the way agents are presented on the brokerage website. Each agent has a profile page that reads closer to a Facebook profile than a typical corporate “about me” page.
Buyers and sellers get a more personal view of the agents by seeing them in casual photographs enjoying life in San Francisco. They can surmise a bit more about each agent by reading about their “off-work” hobbies, but can also see their professional accomplishments.
Many of Climb’s agents are top producers in San Francisco. When recruiting, Tiffany said the approach is usually to find agents who are into urban dwelling and lifestyle, and who are “a little bit maverick,” in their business thinking and like a dynamic brokerage that is always excited about change. “We try to keep management as light as possible and stay nimble,” she said.
Climb Real Estate has grown to about 50 agents since opening its doors.
Climb is always thinking about how, as a new brokerage, it can be influential and establish its brand. Tiffany said that for them, it’s very much about spotting the next big thing – either in real estate or reacting to trends in outside industries.
“Business is constantly evolving,” said Tiffany. “You have to constantly ask yourself, ‘what’s next?’”
Throughout 2012, the brokerage had been following the trend in food trucks in San Francisco and analyzed ways to translate that to their own business. This fall, they announced the launch of their newest San Francisco office: a traveling Airstream trailer (pictured above). The move shows the brokerage’s firm grasp not only on providing convenience to their clientele, but also on the culture and vibe of that clientele and how standing out – when done in style – has its rewards.