Client spotlight - Jolenta Averill, Lake & City Homes Realty
One of the things we love about our work at REW is that no client is the same—everyone has an interesting story to tell about their market their business or their personal journey into real estate.
In our interview with longtime client Jolenta Averill, we share her fascinating journey into real estate and how she became a successful, independent broker in Madison, Wisconsin. Jolenta surpassed $100 million in personal sales volume in 2017.
Q: While most brokers come into real estate as a second career, your background is particularly interesting. Tell us what you did before founding Lake & City Homes?
I was raised in this Norman Rockwell neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin, but was always thinking how much I’d love to live somewhere else. As a kid, you don’t appreciate what you have! I actually left home when I was 19 but ironically, I moved in with my mother in Vienna, Austria. She had returned to her birthplace for the first time since 1938 when she and her family of nine fled the Nazis just prior to the annexation of Austria during World War II. My grandfather was the vice mayor of Vienna and an outspoken critic of Hitler. The Gestapo came to their apartment twice to arrest him so when it became too dangerous the family used their connections to escape to the US and were taken in as political refugees.
As a very young child, I had a deep love of languages so living in Europe as a teen gave me the opportunity to further my studies in Spanish, French, German, and Russian. I returned to the U.S. to finish my undergraduate studies but then won a contest that landed me back in Europe a few months later. While studying Russian at the Oriental Languages Institute, I was offered a job with Apple Computer at their international headquarters in Paris. I put my studies on hold to manage Apple’s Independent Marketing Companies who were selling Macintoshes into international schools in 45 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Mediterranean Europe. At 22, it was, of course, the opportunity of a lifetime.
In 1988 I returned to the U.S. to finish my undergraduate degree in Economics at the U.W.-Madison, then worked on Wall Street in New York City for 7 1/2 years, returned to France to complete my MBA at #1 ranked international business school INSEAD, moved to Hong Kong to work for several investment banks & “dotcoms”, and then was transferred to London after 9-11. After all those years of travel and working for large corporations in both IT, marketing, and account management, it was time for me and my then four-year-old son to move closer to family, settle down, buy a house, and stop worrying about working in the tallest buildings (it was a scary time to work in tall buildings). But mostly I wanted to go to work for myself, control my own destiny, and derive more meaning from my vocation. I knew real estate could offer that, not to mention unlimited earning potential.
Q: How did you get started in the real estate industry?
A: I studied for my real estate license while I was still working in London, then joined a local brokerage in Madison to learn the ropes. After a few years, I found that my brokerage wasn’t delivering value for the commission splits and decided to figure out how to branch out on my own.
Q: What gave you the confidence to become an independent broker?
I couldn’t think of anything my broker was offering that I couldn’t deliver myself and I had enough IT knowledge to build myself a basic website. Although it was essentially “brochureware”, it got the ball rolling. When I needed help to get to the next level, I researched the market and found that with a REW site I could generate my own buyer and seller leads and that it would meet my technology needs as a solo broker.
When I came across the REW forums back in 2008, I thought, wow this is the smartest group of Realtors I’ve ever run into. They seemed light years ahead of me (and anyone in my market), so I figured if I could learn even one percent of what they were talking about I’d be golden. It definitely gave me the confidence to move ahead with my solo plans and provided me with the advice and guidance on technology issues that I wasn’t getting from my broker. I could tap into the knowledge of this vendor (REW) and their clients, get help, learn, and feel like I was part of a community. Now with the REW community on Facebook, it’s even easier to jump in and interact, read through the posts, and dive through the comment threads on the posts that interest me most.
Attending the REW Summits has also been an integral part of the experience. I can trade information with non-competing peers and there is a great sense of community and camaraderie. I can always get caught up quickly on new developments as the information sharing takes place in-depth over a 3-day period. I’ve even had some tough love advice at times and got the push—and support—I needed to make difficult changes. Meeting reality TV real estate stars and especially hearing Barbara Corcoran’s life story were memorable summit highlights.
Q: How else do you keep up with technology in real estate?
Realtors and brokers tend to be inundated with technology offerings. So I tend to utilize REW as a filter. If REW hasn’t “blessed” the product and isn’t investing in integrating it into their websites, I don’t sweat it too much. I don’t have time to evaluate everything so I’d rather be a little behind and integrate things more carefully than be struggling to make all the pieces fit together. I’m content with REW deciding, with client input of course, what pieces are most critical to integrate.
Q: How do you generate leads?
My website has been my primary marketing channel. I deliberately wanted to see what I could accomplish by primarily leveraging my IT background. I receive several hundred leads per month on average and get solid continual business from working those leads which require a full-time ISA to process. I’m able to give my clients attentive, personalized service which consistently enables me to win plenty of repeat and referral business. Plus, I like having the time and flexibility to work on the 50–acre organic farm I run with my husband. We’re also integrally involved in remodeling homes for our clients, tenants, ourselves, and our farm.
I rarely do paid advertising but I do invest time in building content on my site and using social media. I try to blog regularly, update and maintain neighborhood pages and community pages, and run a Facebook group called “365 Things To Do in Madison, WI”. When you show people what you know and share that information, the search engines reward you. The website is where everything starts, however, so the focus always has to be, “How can I point more traffic in that direction?”
Q: What advice would you give to people looking to invest in a website now?
A real estate website has to be a solid lead generation system, have useful tools on it, and offer a great user experience. If it’s static “brochureware” it simply won’t produce leads. I’m confident when I speak to people who signed up on my site because I know I’m offering a set of tools with tremendous value. For folks who are active in the market, by far and away the vast majority are delighted when they land on a site that’s both responsive and has the real-time listings they’re looking for. Regardless whether they’re using a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or computer, my REW site automatically formats itself to fit the viewer’s screen. The CRM—built right into the backend— captures the information we need to help get a meaningful dialogue going. Not only is allowing the leads to come to us far more efficient than joining clubs, attending networking events, or going door-to-door, we’re able to help a far greater number of people buy and sell real estate to achieve their financial goals.
See Jolenta's site at http://www.lakeandcityhomes.com