By Scott Marshutz and Deborah Ball Kearns // Photography by Tara Rochelle
The most important life lessons Neal Weichel has learned weren’t taught in a classroom. They came from three summers of going door-to-door in Pennsylvania and New York, selling books while he was an undergraduate student at UCLA.
The experience, he says, changed his life. It taught him persistence. It taught him to accept the harsh sting of rejection. And, most importantly, it taught him that he was pretty good at sales.
Weichel took those lessons to heart in the corporate world, where he was sales manager for an oil company. Eventually, he became disenchanted; he felt like his personal growth and income had reached its limit. That’s when a friend suggested, in 1991, that he sell real estate. Weichel gave it a shot and became hooked.
Twenty-one years later, Weichel is a top-producing RE/MAX star. His team, which ranked No. 36 in the world – and No. 16 in the U.S. – in 2011, is on track to close more than 160 transaction sides this year. From the moment he entered real estate, he realized it would involve some ups and downs.
“It was tough when I started,” says Weichel, a RE/MAX Circle of Legends member and Diamond Award winner with RE/MAX of Valencia in Santa Clarita, Calif. “Large companies were packing up and leaving town, we had a major earthquake, the Rodney King riots were going on and things were shaky all around. None of that mattered, though, because people were still buying and selling; I just had to work hard to find them.”
The Santa Clarita real estate market of 1992 was fraught with perilous conditions, but that didn’t deter Weichel from hitting the ground running. He aggressively farmed neighborhoods day in and day out. When he wasn’t going door-to-door looking for potential leads, he worked the phones with just-listed or just-sold scripts.
“It was tough when I started and things were shaky all around. None of that mattered, though, because people were still buying and selling. I just had to work hard to find them.”
The effort paid off. In his first year, Weichel closed 66 transaction sides and became the No. 2 agent in the area.
“I worked six days a week prospecting, and on the seventh day I held open houses,” Weichel says. “I built my business up quickly by working in a constant mode of run, tackle and block, and I made a lot of contacts. I was driven.”
Weichel had his eye on RE/MAX from the beginning, but he sensed he wasn’t ready. RE/MAX was known as the home of top producers – the kind of environment Weichel wanted in a brokerage.
He worked tirelessly to prove himself. By December 1993, he was sitting face-to-face with John O’Hare, Broker/Owner of RE/MAX of Valencia, and wondering whether he should make the move. O’Hare was anxious to have him.
“Neal was exactly the type of person we look for,” O’Hare says. “He had a burning desire to succeed.”
Perfecting his approach
Weichel realized early on that delivering fast, efficient personal service and being a problem-solver would set him apart from a sea of mediocre competitors.
“A lot of us forget about the fundamentals that helped us get going,” says Weichel, who sticks to a strict schedule every day. From date nights with his wife, Kim, to his son’s high school basketball games to family getaways in Hawaii, Weichel focuses 100 percent of his attention on the events in his schedule. This approach has allowed him to pursue his passions, including basketball, regular workouts and traveling the world to see his favorite band, U2.
“It doesn’t work for everyone, but scheduling things keeps me organized and on top of everything,” Weichel says. “It’s not difficult to be successful in real estate and do things we need to do. You just have to be willing to work and honor the commitments you make in all aspects of your career – and your life.”
His clients get his undivided attention, too. Weichel builds on the credibility of the RE/MAX brand by doing all the little things that make a big difference. He returns calls immediately, he lets clients know how much their business is appreciated, and he encourages feedback when he or his team – two buyer agents and four administrative staff members – isn’t living up to expectations.
In fact, Weichel invests so much time in client care and appreciation that he doesn’t spend much on traditional marketing. Instead, he focuses on maintaining a reputation for getting things done, which ultimately leads to profitability.
“If I had $10,000, I’d put it into a huge client-appreciation party rather than buying bus benches,” says Weichel, who blogs about market conditions frequently and gives clients items of value throughout the year. “My greatest marketing tool is having a sold sign on my listings. That’s why I care about having a great team who shares my vision; when I’m not around, they represent me.”
Weichel understands that real estate markets are cyclical, and he stresses this to clients constantly. From 2003 to 2005, sales activity was red hot, and prices in the Santa Clarita Valley reached all-time highs. So did Weichel’s business.
But it all came to a screeching halt in 2007, with the housing downturn. It was like déjà vu for Weichel. He remembered his early years in real estate and how bad market conditions could be. By 2008, the valley was flooded with REOs, with inventory rising too high. Prices dipped as much as 25 percent.
Weichel didn’t panic. Instead, he heeded the advice he heard from Dave Liniger during a California tour – to get distressed-property training so he could work REOs and short sales.
He also created a national agent mastermind group to brainstorm ideas, best practices and solutions for working REOs. The group had monthly strategy calls and traveled together to REO conferences around the country. It turned into a gold mine of information.
“Put on your game face and treat all your clients like they’re the best you’ve ever had.”
“It was essentially a crash course, and everyone I invited was more than willing to contribute and share ideas,” says Weichel, who believes he attended more conferences in the initial two years of the downturn than he had in the first 17 years of his career. “I got ahead of the market early and also worked on my relationships with big lenders like Bank of America and Wells Fargo. It took me two years to get an account from Wells Fargo, but I kept calling; kept prospecting.”
Weichel’s efforts paid off. He closed more than 100 REO listings in four years. Though initially reluctant about short sales, he eventually dove in, trained a staff member to negotiate with lenders and conducted “upside-down” consumer seminars to educate distressed sellers about their options.
These days, short sales comprise a third of Weichel’s business. And he’s a better agent for it.
“I made a business decision that if we were going to do short sales, we had to do them well,” Weichel says. “That’s my philosophy about everything I do.”
The decline in his market is over, but Weichel now faces a new challenge: low inventory. He has plenty of buyers but not enough properties to show them.
Weichel also sees a trend of low appraisals acting as deal-killers – frustrating buyers and sellers alike. He blogs about it extensively to explain the various avenues people can explore to achieve their real estate goals. Weichel sees his blog as one of his best tools for delivering great service to clients. (And it costs him next to nothing!)
He sometimes uses the blog to motivate others to do their best.
“Our business doesn’t have the reputation it should, and it’s because of a small percentage of agents who don’t do things the right way,” Weichel says. “As Realtors, we have a huge impact on people’s lives. There will always be market changes and reasons people will say you can’t sell homes. So put on your game face and treat all your clients like they’re the best you’ve ever had. They’ll use you again and again, and you’ll be as successful as you want to be.”
Weichel’s Words of Wisdom
“Education has been central to my success. I’m a huge fan of Mike Ferry seminars, and I strongly believe in the power of mentoring and having a coach to keep me accountable,” says Weichel, who’s regularly invited to speak at Mike Ferry events. Says Ferry: “I ask Neal to speak at my events because I want people to see what a professional salesperson is supposed to look like — physically, mentally and emotionally.”
Do your homework
“Study your market like you would study for an important college course. What are the demographics? Where are the areas of highest turnover? What are the builders doing?” Plan for success “Have a business plan and an accountability partner — a coach or a mentor. The whole idea is to be able to start and grow your business. I think a lot of new agents expect business to just land on their doorstep.”
Use the web to sell
“My team redesigned our website about three months ago with all kinds of extra information, such as a client Q&A, REO and short sales resources, city-specific data, market news and trends. The site sells me when I can’t be selling me. That’s also why I’m on YouTube.”