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Misery finds abundance of company at Realtors expo

Industry pros gather to compare scars and trade survival tips

October 17, 2008|Diane Wedner | Times Staff Writer

Get thousands of real estate professionals in one place during the worst market since who-knows-when, and this is what you find: yard signs for use in selling foreclosed properties, and a bunch of guys in yellow vests handing out life preservers.

"We're trying to keep Realtors afloat," joked David Bronson of Pismo Beach-based People's Choice Brokers, who, along with his colleague Ben Payne and others, sportingly donned bright yellow nautical gear at this week's California Assn. of Realtors Expo.

They were among 12,000 agents, brokers and other real estate professionals gathered in Long Beach to take stock of the market, attend seminars, check out the latest business-boosting gadgets and services, and commiserate over the sorry state of the market.

On a rescue mission of his own, Scott Cranford showed up at a news conference in an orange cape and blue tights to help the aptly named Stormy Mayersky pitch a system that allows home buyers to search real estate listings from their phones via a GPS device.

"You can see details of a home," Cranford deadpanned, "like I do with my X-ray vision."

Ryan Woodward, a mortgage loan officer with Bank of America, told passersby about the lending programs his bank was offering while manning a skee-ball game whose winners walked away with a tote bag, if not a cheap 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage.

"I'm trying to distract people," Woodward said, adding that he also selected one iPod winner a day from the stack of business cards he collected.

Sure, participants lined their pockets with hard candies and played games at some of the 200 exhibitor booths.

But most sat in on a host of educational seminars, such as "Riding Out the Downturn: Tips and Techniques for Navigating the Market Ahead." Marty Rodriguez, a Century 21 agent in Glendora, offered advice on how to create client loyalty now to increase business when the storm passes. The veteran Realtor said that agents' biggest battles today are with sellers who still haven't gotten the message that prices have dropped.

"The only motivated sellers are the banks," Rodriguez said, "and some are getting multiple offers in the under-$500,000 range."

Many agents wondered aloud about whether prices were about to bottom out, which could be a harbinger of better times ahead. Those waiting out the storm searched optimistically for ways to enhance their business while the downturn churns on.

Phil Jones, a Coldwell Banker Coastal Alliance broker from Long Beach, said that one key to getting ahead was boosting technological know-how, which he saw as lacking among many agents. He was pleased with the number of seminars offered about tech-based tools, more than 25 on Tuesday alone.

"About 80% of the agents in my office have personal websites, but they don't utilize them as they should," Jones said. "Consumers want daily updates on their neighborhoods." He planned to share his newfound knowledge with the 225 agents in his office.

Technology and building "green" business practices were the themes of the convention, but there was plenty of theme park as well.

"Do you bank with Wachovia?" boomed Brad Stark, a Texas-based Wells Fargo Home Mortgages specialist in new construction, who served as a barker at the banking giant's booth. After a couple of hands shot up, he blasted, "Welcome to Wells Fargo! We rode in on a white horse, and we're giving you a white horse!"

Conventioneers lined up six deep to try their luck at winning a stuffed equine by shooting water into a small target that propelled colored lights around a racetrack.

Christa Shanaman, president of the Santa Cruz Assn. of Realtors, cheerfully clutched her prize horse but said she would feel a lot better after the credit market loosened up, and after the election was over. "Many people are in waiting mode right now."

Glendora agent Rodriguez echoed that sentiment.

"This last year has been like getting off a roller coaster at Disneyland, and you don't know which way you're going," Rodriguez said. "I'm hoping that by mid-next year, most of this downturn will be over."


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