Personalized license plates can pay when it comes to selling real estate.
Just ask Bob Lampert, an agent with Jerry Berns & Associates of Sherman Oaks.
As he tells it, he was driving along one day when he came to a stoplight, looked in his rear-view mirror and noticed a couple in the car behind his, trying phonetically to figure out Lampert's YRENT BY license plate.
Lampert continued to watch, waiting for the smile that comes with recognition. It takes a minute, after all, to decipher a couple of sentences seven characters long without punctuation.
Made License Plate Worthwhile
"A few times before, I jumped out of my car when the other drivers laughed as they realized what YRENT BY (Why rent? Buy) means, and I gave them my business card," he said, "but this time, I gave the couple my card, they called me, and I sold them a house."
It wasn't a huge sale--about $150,000--and it was the only sale he has made through his license plate, though he has passed out 50 to 75 business cards to people on the road. "But one sale was enough to make the license plate worthwhile," he said.
Since Jan. 1, it has cost car owners $36 to buy a pair of personalized license plates, also known as environmental plates, for the state fund the fees support.
Judging from the revenues for that fund, which is used for projects to protect and conserve the state's environment, personalized license plates are about as popular now as they have ever been since they were started 17 years ago.
The total received by the California Resources Agency for the fund for this fiscal year to date is $24.2 million, in contrast with $23.6 million in 1986-87, although $24.97 million was received in 1985-86. That probably reflected the sale of special Olympics plates. The total received in 1984-'85 was only $22 million.
Personalized license plates are also known as vanity plates. One definition of "vanity" is "excessive personal pride." In terms of real estate, this also could be translated into good business.
Consider Jerry Berns' company van plates, which might have been conceived to promote teamwork and a sense of loyalty. They say: R OFFICE.
Tie Plates to Business
Or Berns' own classic Rolls-Royce, which he uses to chauffeur special clients to exclusive homes for private showings. Its license plate reads: JBANDA, which stands for Jerry Berns & Associates.
Many real estate people have their initials, names or variations of their names on their plates, but some, like Berns, tie these into their field as well.
The husband-wife team, Chuck and Carolyn Lamb, is another example. Bill Thompson of Coldwell Banker Commercial Real Estate, the Lambs' neighbor, calls the Lambs' license plates bookends.
Chuck, past president of the San Fernando Valley Board of Realtors and president of a Century 21 franchise, has 21LAMB. Carolyn, a top salesperson in his Northridge office, has LAMB21.
Another variation of letters and numbers is on the license plate of Jeff B. Rhodes, who works out of Fred Sands Realtors' Beverly Hills office. Rhodes has JBR 1. JBR are his initials, but he says the plate can also be interpreted as Jeff, Broker No. 1.
Sandra Deel, in the Westwood office of Merrill Lynch Realty, also has a double-meaning plate, which reads: RE DEEL.
Diane Sharp, of Sands' Beverly Hills office, has OSHARPO, which stands for her name and, she says, "sharpest broker."
Marcella Dibble, in the Department of Motor Vehicles' Sacramento office, deals nearly every day with license plates having double-entendres. Her office screens personalized license plates for meanings that are deemed offensive. Only a few are rejected each year.
"We try to catch them before a plate gets out," she said. Often, although some people try to get a sexy or suggestive plate, many applicants are grateful for having an objectionable double meaning pointed out. "They often just don't realize it," she explained.
Dibble estimates that there are 2 million personalized license plates in the state. How many of those are real estate related? "There's no way to tell."
In the Los Angeles area, though, there are a number, like Lampert's, that have to do strictly with real estate.
Maggie Diamond, another top producer in the Century 21 Northridge office, has 4 RE GAL.
Leha Steuer, head of the Merrill Lynch Realty relocation department and a Brentwood office broker, has the plate BY A HOUS.
Real Estate Link
Frecia Ransom, vice president of investments for Grubb & Ellis, has LDY BKR.
Todd Doney of Cushman & Wakefield has SP BROKR. SP stands for space.
Steve Geiger, a real estate developer with offices in the Burbank area, doesn't have a personalized license plate himself but knows of a Rolls-Royce owned by a contractor that has the plate 1ST DRAW, referring to construction loans.
"I've also seen 6 PRCNTR," he said. That refers to the real estate sales commission.