Brokers big and small find niche in market

Steamboat sees growing number of Realtors

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Plenty of "For Sale" signs in one market usually means one of two things: People want out of a community or they want in.

When it comes to living -- and living well -- in Routt County, people definitely want in, and Realtors are happy to oblige.

Realty -- particularly in and around Steamboat -- is big business and while some companies' distinct signs have become a more common sight in the area, Steamboat's remote, resort appeal, as well as range of properties and homes, provide a unique niche for companies big and small.

There are 89 realty offices affiliated with the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors. Of those, about 80 percent have three or fewer brokers, according to board statistics.

Some brokers said their offices had offers to merge with other companies, but few considered consolidation a significant industry trend in the past five years.

"It's just a natural progression," said Wendy Fisher, president of the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors and broker/owner of Anchor Realty Ltd. "It's not an alarming thing we're seeing. ... It's not like one company is trying to be the biggest one."

Brokers agree that agents moving from company to company account for a lot of the changes in the size and numbers of offices.

Some brokers also may start their own offices after working their required first two years under a managing broker, Fisher said.

About 285 brokers are members of the Board of Realtors, up from 230 in 1999. Those numbers are consistent with Realtor numbers in resorts such as Vail, Telluride and Jackson, Wyo., according to board statistics.

But unlike those areas, the Steamboat real estate market -- though still expensive -- accommodates a broader range of prices, Fisher said. That, and the community feel of the resort town, have created a niche for smaller real estate offices, she said.

Companies such as Re/Max Steamboat, Century 21 Ski Town, Prudential Steamboat Realty and Coldwell Banker Silver Oaks Ltd. have a name recognized by potential clients from across the country.

But unlike large urban areas where large companies often control the market, some people in resorts may find a more hands on, personal appeal in small or independent real estate offices.

"Buyers and sellers have their own tastes as to what they're comfortable with," Fisher said.

Whether a broker works for a big or small company, many of their clients will come from out of town, and there is particular emphasis on educating buyers about the area.

A company's dedication to their clients is ultimately what determines success, said Patricia MacArthur, the owner and only broker at MacArthur Real Estate Co.

"Different offices are bigger players every year ... that depends on the brokers and how hard they work and whether they let their guard down, because it's all based on service," said MacArthur, who has been a broker for 12 years.

Big offices have the staff to assist clients seven days a week, while brokers in smaller offices are challenged when it comes to being available on weekends and evenings when many clients are considering properties, Fisher said.

But brokers such as MacArthur said the time commitment is all part of the entrepreneurial spirit that drove them to start their own business in the first place.

"I get to call my own shots and decide my own values," she said. "I'm responsible for myself."

Standard operation for owners of larger real estate offices and franchises is to pay most of their brokers' operating expenses while getting a percentage of brokers' commissions in return.

In smaller offices, the brokers are often the owners. They split costs, and have more say in how much of their commissions they keep.

But that concept is being applied more and more in larger companies, such as Colorado Group Realty, which has 28 brokers, 18 of which are also owners.

"It makes everyone accountable to the business when you're all vested as owners," said managing broker Coleman Cook, who formed the business with his father, Jim Cook, in 1995.

The system allows brokers to contribute to business decisions, encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit while also providing camaraderie and a teamwork environment, Coleman Cook said.

But whether a broker is running a one-man show or is part of a team of 20, brokers agree that it is an expensive endeavor, something they emphasize to those considering a move into the real estate business.

"It costs money, that's the biggest thing people don't understand," said Scott Campbell, a broker with Century 21.

Small, independent companies emphasize the importance of creating and establishing a reputable and recognized image in the community. But even brokers such as Campbell, who are associated with a national name, still must advertise their listings.

Campbell said the majority of his expenses go toward promoting properties on the Internet so that buyers find him before they get to Steamboat.

Brokers starting businesses should expect hefty expenses to operate and survive the good times and the bad, said Karen Beauvais, broker/owner of Coldwell Banker.

"The overhead is huge. ... The challenge is keeping your feet above water no matter what the market conditions are," said Beauvais, who has been a broker in Steamboat for 33 years and started Coldwell Banker in 1981.

She estimated her expenses are $22,000 a month, and she spends about $100,000 a year on advertising.

Given the costs, experience and knowing the area are essential for success, especially in the Steamboat market, Beauvais said.

"People think they can get into real estate in 10 short weeks," she said. "What it really takes is 10 short years."

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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