Online marketing savvy and business sense put Dennis DeSouza’s team at the top of San Diego’s luxury market
By Pat Sherman // Photography and video by Jamie Lytle
When it comes to working San Diego’s high-end real estate market – particularly bringing affluent, out-of-town buyers to the table – Dennis DeSouza has a well-earned reputation as an online marketing visionary.
Born and raised in Brockton, Mass., DeSouza spent two years as a buyer’s agent with RE/MAX in nearby Stoughton before heading west and joining RE/MAX Associates in San Diego’s affluent seaside community of La Jolla.
DeSouza plugged away as an agent for several years, learning the local market, going on listing appointments and showing homes. From the beginning he demonstrated a hunger to reach the next level.
“I did a lot of open house lead generation, which worked back in the day,” DeSouza says. “I was really pounding the pavement, but at my core I’ve never been a door-knocking kind of guy.”
DeSouza set his sights on breaking into the area’s robust luxury market. He knew he’d have to tailor his marketing and his approach to reach the audience he sought. Open houses alone weren’t going to cut it.
So, in 2005, DeSouza began putting together a team of buyer’s agents. He also developed a proprietary Internet marketing system targeting luxury buyers. The system allows DeSouza and his team to quickly respond to online leads – often within five minutes – with a series of strategic emailed responses, each tailored to address specific needs and types of buyers.
The system – coupled with hard work and personalized follow-through – has helped place DeSouza and his team at the top of San Diego’s high-end sales market.
Between 2007 and 2013, DeSouza’s team, which includes five agents and three administrative staff, was honored as the No. 1 RE/MAX team in San Diego County. While San Diego’s average home sale was about $480,000 last year, DeSouza’s team had an average home sale price of $698,000 and closed about $65 million in sales.
“The cool part was, I was personally involved with only four sales – all the other sales were handled by my very capable team members,” says DeSouza, who never misses his son’s soccer games and loves playing golf in his down time.
DeSouza himself has sold more than 1,000 homes, has earned the RE/MAX Lifetime Achievement Award and is a perennial Chairman’s Club member. He’s also a featured author in the Amazon.com best-selling book, “In It To Win It.”
Working a system
DeSouza admits he faced a steep learning curve to get where he is today, which included countless hiccups and “hundreds of thousands of dollars in mistakes by doing the wrong kind of advertising.”
He advises agents and brokers to spend money only where they can see a measurable return on their investment. “If I spend a dollar, I know exactly how much I’m getting back,” he says.
For DeSouza, pay-per-click advertising is what really connects with high-end buyers.
“For every 100 clicks that we get through to our landing page, SellingSD.com, we’ll get 10 to 12 leads,” DeSouza says.
Other agents can achieve similar results if they’re guided in the right direction and have a system that guarantees timely and consistent follow-up, he says.
If I spend a dollar, I know exactly how much I'm getting back. Dennis DeSouza
“Most agents call once, get an answering machine, and let the lead fall to the wayside because they’re overwhelmed with the day-to-day business of real estate. They’re not able to follow up in a systematic way,” he says. “We have a sophisticated system that follows up with prospective buyers and sellers through email systems based on their behavior, and through inside sales agents who literally call leads all day long, eight hours a day.”
The key is to follow up within the first five to 10 minutes after a buyer requests information online, he says.
“Our system isn’t complicated, “DeSouza says. “It just has a lot of parts to it. If it’s all put together in the right way, in the right order. It’s like clockwork.
“Forty percent of our real estate sales are to out-of-state buyers – and that’s a definite advantage because (before they arrive) they already have an appointment with us. We’re connecting with them before they drive around with their friends.”
Generating net gains
Associate Theresa Panish says her performance has increased steadily since she joined DeSouza’s team three years ago.
“He’s really good at garnering quality leads,” Panish says. “It leaves the agents in a good position. Instead of running around chasing their tails after a bunch of leads that aren’t ever going to turn into clients, we can maximize our talents and professionalism. Dennis teaches us how to ask the right questions so we’re setting ourselves up for success with every individual lead.”
DeSouza recommends establishing a website landing page that primarily focuses on the local area where buyers are searching and secondarily introduces the team with photos and branding.
“It’s amazing how the response is so much higher when you don’t plaster your face out there,” he says. “There’s a whole science behind the way your page needs to appear.
Every agent in the RE/MAX network can literally craft his or her message to the right audience. You can even narrow it down to a subdivision, or a town. The way we position our websites is basically like a real estate funnel that captures buyers.”
Through his skill in courting luxury buyers, DeSouza has also earned a strong reputation among high-end sellers.
“When you establish a reputation for working with luxury buyers, you can turn that into luxury listings because you have the buyer pool that sellers want to reach. It’s a very, very strong selling point.”
High-end buyers are people, too
DeSouza, who recorded his highest-ever sale about 18 months ago – a $12 million oceanfront La Jolla home purchased by a high-profile CEO he met through an Internet lead – advises agents not to be intimidated by the thought of working with high-end clients.
“A lot of agents, I would assume, think that you never deal directly with these people, that they must have agents and assistants you go through to get to them,” he says. “That’s far from the truth. These people are human beings just like you and me. And when they’re looking for a home, they’re sitting at home with their iPad looking at listings and they come across our website. They have the exact same questions that the $200,000 buyer might have.”
The Internet is a beautiful thing. Every agent in the RE/MAX network can literally craft his or her message to the right audience. Dennis DeSouza
Key ways to maximize conversion rates in the luxury market include speaking frankly with clients about their expectations and about potential bumps in the process – assuring you’ll be there to handle any and all challenges to the best of your abilities, DeSouza says.
“You really have to manage expectations,” he advises. “If you treat them right and you frame the expectations upfront, you’ll do just fine.”[clickToTweet tweet=”(40%) of our #realestate sales are to out-of-state buyers. #REMAXAbove” quote=”Forty percent of our real estate sales are to out-of-state buyers.”]
RE/MAX Associates Owner Jason Hall says DeSouza’s ability to tap La Jolla’s heavily saturated luxury market is nearly unparalleled.
“We have such heavy competition in the La Jolla zip code,” he says. “It takes a heck of an effort to stand out in that small community. Dennis and his team put that effort in every day.”
Hall sums up DeSouza’s work ethic in a word: consistency.
“Dennis runs his team like a business. It’s well thought out and consistent in execution. He knows the type of people he wants to have on his team, and he consistently goes out and gets quality people who share his vision.”
DeSouza agrees hiring the right team is crucial to success.
“You don’t need a lot of buyer’s agents,” he says. “You just need productive ones, and you need really good systems that work.”
Need advice for modernizing your marketing methods or team building? Visit www.TalkWithDennis.com for a free strategy session