Like many business people, Steamboat Springs real estate broker Tom Willman saw his success in the 1990s come to a screeching halt after Sept. 11, 2001.
The blow made Willman, formerly of Colorado Group Realty, step back from the industry, where clients' changing attitudes -- as well as advances in cyberspace -- were signaling a shift in the real estate business and a need for more options.
Willman decided it was time to offer discriminating clients a new approach to buying and selling real estate -- a model using a combination of high-tech marketing and buyer incentive rebates to sell properties.
"Being a student of the industry, I decided to re-invent myself," said Willman, who, with his brother Dwight Willman, also formerly of Colorado Group Realty, started Time Value Real Estate Inc. in a modest office in the Wells Fargo Building.
Almost a year into the business, the brothers are preparing to open an office in Vail, in addition to an existing office in Summit County, and are beginning to build a marketing staff.
"I'm ecstatic," Tom Willman said. "It gets better every day as people become aware of us."
Like traditional real estate offices, Time Value Real Estate lists properties with the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors Multiple Listing Service. TVRE brokers also represent buyers exclusively or act as transaction brokers in situations where they handle a transaction for buyers purchasing TVRE-listed properties.
Unlike traditional offices, however, every buyer represented by TVRE receives as much as 1.5 percent of the sales price of a property: If buyers purchase a property listed by TVRE, the buyer receives the full 1.5 percent.
Buyers who purchase a property listed by another real estate office receive half of the "co-op" commission offered by the listing broker to the TVRE broker. The buyer receives 50 percent of that commission up to 1.5 percent of the sales price.
"It seems complicated on the surface, but really it's very, very simple," Tom Willman said.
Although Tom Willman considered the TVRE model for about five years, advances in technology and the Internet, which provide cost savings opportunities and flexibility, helped spur the business.
The Willman brothers conduct much of their business digitally, especially their marketing, which uses strategically placed advertising to attract attention in high traffic areas on the Internet.
The technique appears to be working. On Tuesday alone, Tom Willman tracked 1,270 hits on TVRE's Web site, with 94 of those being "unique visits" or visitors spending a significant amount of time exploring the site.
TVRE's use of technology doesn't mean any less service for the customer.
"What's marvelous about it is it's the highest and best use of technology without sacrificing personal relationships," Tom Willman said.
In devising the TVRE model, Tom Willman said it was important to make a place for the traditional brokerage community, which he was a part of for 10 years and still respects.
"What I didn't want to do was cut the traditional broker out of the process," he said.
TVRE charges a 3.99 percent fee for every property listed. If a broker from another real estate office sells a TVRE-listed property, the selling broker is guaranteed a 3 percent commission.
"Gladly -- we'll do it all day long," said Tom Willman, who noted the TVRE model requires the company to do two to three times the amount of volume as a traditional brokerage.
"We have decided to take less, give the same level of service and do more business," he said.
The TVRE model is appropriate for any real estate market, said Tom Willman, who plans to keep the Steamboat office as the company's headquarters while expanding to Boulder and possibly other areas on the Front Range.
Not only does the TVRE model allow buyers and sellers more leverage for negotiation, it works with any price range, he said.
For example, a buyer may be reluctant to take a 1.5 percent rebate, which is considered income for tax purposes. TVRE may then approach the seller about reducing the price by 1.5 percent -- or about half of TVRE's would-be commission.
"There's no catch here," Tom Willman said. "There's no smoke and mirrors."
As with anything new, the TVRE model often is perceived with skepticism from some who may question its legitimacy.
The company, however, recently passed a standard Colorado Real Estate Commission audit, and also is a member of the National Association of Realtors, the Colorado Association of Realtors and the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors.
Although Tom Willman stresses business ethics in everything from the company's Web site to its office policy manual, the line of ethics isn't quite so clear in some companies who advertise similar models.
Sometimes referred to as "discount" brokerages, some companies aggressively advertise substantial rebates that end up being a portion of commissions rather than sales prices.
Other companies' rebates may be contingent on how much service a client receives. With TVRE, however, clients receive the same rebates regardless of whether they view five or 25 properties.
It's all part of a system geared toward optimal customer service.
"What I wanted to do was give a gift to the consumer," Tom Willman said.
For more information about TVRE, call 871-0044 or visit timevaluerealestate.com.
-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org