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Friday, October 1, 2010

My life in real estate: Memories of Wendy

Before I got my license, I really didn't appreciate how real estate offices worked.  What much of the public doesn't understand is that real estate agents are independent contractors.... not employees.  They can move around and change brokerages as they like.  Brokerage offices vie to get the top agents and to add new agents to their ranks.  It's actually somewhat competitive between the various brokerage office managers as to which agent they can bring in to represent their particular company.

Understandably, leading a local real estate office is not easy -- it's a bit like herding cats.   Each agent has a contract with the brokerage and runs their own business, so they often have different marketing materials and approaches as to how they manage their own businesses.   Theoretically, you can have more than two agents in an office vying for the same listings or trying to work with the same buyers.   It can become challenging -- sometimes the office manager can even end up being a referee between agents within their own office.   Every agent I know, who has worked with multiple brokerages, would tell you that the most important factor to their selection of a brokerage was the personality and leadership qualities of the office manager.
This week was a particularly difficult time for all my colleagues in our Lake Forest office... dare I say, for most of the Realtors in Lake Forest.  Our beloved office manager, Wendy Bergseth, passed away.  You can read something about her.

When I first went into real estate, the only broker I interviewed with was Wendy.  After spending an hour in her office, she said something like, "After you speak with the other brokerages and are making your decision where to work..."  I didn't let her finish her sentence.  I told her, I wasn't going to meet with any of the other companies -- I wanted to be on her team.  While the decision was instinctual and hardly well-informed, it was one I never regretted. 

To know Wendy, was to love Wendy.  She was larger than life: loving, caring, loyal, tenacious, smart, joyous, enthusiastic, warm, generous -- magical.   Wendy did everything in a big way -- even her signature would take up two lines.   Once you became part of Wendy's team, you stayed with her.  Agents may leave the business or leave Lake Forest, but they would not leave Wendy.

If you had a particularly difficult transaction, you could sit in her office and she would listen, help you to strategize as to how to meet the challenge and then follow up with you later to see how everything went.   She would join you on listing presentations and notice something nice about the house to complement the sellers whether a rug, a picture, a room -- whatever.  She would hug your buyers when they bought a house; hug you if you had a tough day or lead a loud cheer when you sold a house.  She took great pride when lots of agents had sales -- she didn't think an office with just a few superstars was healthy -- she wanted every agent to be successful.   As Stephen Covey would say, she had "an abundance mentality."

In 2006, her Lake Forest office was the highest producing office in all of Lake County.  In February of  2007, she left that office to start-up a brand new Lake Forest Prudential office.   It came as a shock to many of the agents in her former company and some didn't take the news very well.  Having had a corporate background, I didn't find the move particularly shocking or difficult to accept.  I called Wendy and asked, "When do I start?" For me it was not that difficult to change brokerages.  I had joined an office to be on Wendy's team, and that's where I wanted to stay.

When Wendy began the journey of creating the Prudential Lake Forest office, it started with her vision.  She was going to create a beautiful space and a loving and supportive atmosphere.  She was going to recruit agents who would work hard, play hard and share and support each other.  Slowly, lovingly and with amazing tenacity, Wendy created this beautiful place for us to work.   For her to make this dream a reality, she had to push through so many obstacles from reluctant landlords, city bureaucrats and commissioners, false rumors, unkind and even vindictive behavior against her.  She never wavered. She focused on the vision.   She created an amazing office from nothing.   The night of our grand opening party was fantastic.  She hired a band and we danced. 

Within three years,  she built an office with over 50 agents and we are now ranked the #2 office in Lake Forest. Pretty amazing track record.  Even in the midst of this difficult real estate market, it has been nothing but a joyous experience to be part of her team.

Wendy was often underestimated by her competitors.  I'm not sure they realized how really smart she was.  While I loved her effusiveness and enthusiasm, it was her intelligence that I really admired.   While she was warm and loving and supportive, she was also a brilliant marketer, strategist and business woman.    As a consultant, I worked for a lot of different people throughout my career -- some good, some bad and some great.  That said,  Wendy was one of the best leaders I've ever known.  She knew how to surround herself with a wide variety of people and personalities and bring out their very best qualities.  To say that our office -- actually our company, because her reach was far greater than Lake Forest -- is going to miss her,  is a gross understatement.

She was unique.   She will be in my heart always.  I doubt that I will ever see the likes of someone like that again.    With Wendy now in heaven, I know the world is going to start moving in a whole new direction.  I love you, Wendy.

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