Proving that exceptional talent soars in the right setting, Elaine Koch has kicked her career into an even higher gear
By Scott McCabe / Photography by Mark Regan
It’s easy to appreciate the architecture and design of a home built in 1829, especially for all its character and details, like custom moldings. But it’s hard to imagine a 9-year-old girl marveling at these features.
Elaine Koch grew up in a rambling, two-story home constructed in at least four stages beginning in the early 19th century and, therefore, filled with lots of hidden spaces and nooks perfect for childhood adventures. As a girl, Koch would crawl into the attic to see and touch the aged, original log-cabin walls.
“It was a great place to grow up,” Koch says. “The character and uniqueness of that house sparked my passion for real estate.”
Koch dreamed of becoming a real estate agent while in high school. She earned her license at age 19 and sold her first home while still in college at the University of Maryland, where she graduated with a degree in finance.
Although she started strong and with great ambition, her passion for real estate nearly wilted when, 10 years after first obtaining her license, Koch felt stuck on what she calls “the daily treadmill.” She was merely dabbling in real estate, she says, knowing she could accomplish so much more with the right tools and guidance.
“Most people get into the real estate business and get out, because they don’t know what to do,” Koch
says. “They don’t even know where to start building a sustainable business with real growth potential.”
Enter Judy Milstein, a local agent who represented the buyer of an investment property that Koch owned.
Milstein could see the young woman’s potential: Koch was assertive and ambitious, and she hustled. But she was raw, unfocused and worked out of a small space in the back of her home. Milstein took Koch under her wing.
“I just taught her, ‘We don’t show and tell; we show and sell,’” Milstein says. “Otherwise we’re just taxi drivers.”
Koch followed her mentor everywhere, learning hands-on what to say to clients, how to close a deal and how to
Koch recalls a simple but important lesson imparted after Milstein overheard her asking a potential client the best time to meet. After Koch hung up, Milstein told her that she had it backward: Instead of working around the client’s schedule, tell the client when it works for you; give the client two dates or times to choose from.
“It shows people that you’re professional, you take your business seriously, and you bring value to the table,” Koch says.
Milstein taught Koch how to close a sale, create urgency with clients in a professional way, and develop skills to help Koch most efficiently achieve her clients’ goals.
“No matter what I told her to do, she did it,” Milstein says. “She never gave up, she always hung in there. She just took it and ran with it.”
Koch recalls a FSBO seller who had no intention of making a decision to accept her clients’ offer that day – at least at first. Milstein showed her how to gently push the seller into making a decision.
“We told the truth,” Koch says. “The clients had a second choice, they were in from out of town, and they wanted to make a decision that day.”
That’s all it took – telling the truth.
She joined RE/MAX Metropolitan in North Potomac, Md., owned by siblings Cynthia Wilson and Chuck Wilson, two years ago. She says the added brand recognition has given her already-stellar career a major boost.
The Wilsons say Koch is conscientious, works hard for her clients and has a way of making them feel comfortable with her poise, knowledge, experience and follow-through. She listens and works with clients to achieve what they want, not just settle for what’s available.
But it didn’t always come easily for Koch, who first made her mark in the tony Washington, D.C., suburb of Kentlands, known for its white picket fences, tree-lined streets, and short walks to shopping and schools.
“She competed against a lot of agents – big hitters who had been established for a long time,” Milstein says. “She broke that market wide open and took over.”
Breaking in wasn’t a cake walk. Three experienced professionals had cornered the market – top Realtors who not only had deep roots in the Kentlands community, but who also consistently posted extraordinary numbers.
There was no reason for anyone to call on “rookie Realtor” Elaine Koch.
Undaunted, Koch worked seven days a week to build her name and her brand, and establish a reputation as an expert in her community. She volunteered at local schools, participated in community programs and sponsored events like concerts, home-and-garden shows and homeowner association happenings.
“Her BlackBerry was attached to her hip,” Milstein says. “She was out there hustling; she worked a million hours.”
She also learned by emulating her competition.
One of the agents who had cornered the Kentlands market used engaging mailers to help sell her properties. Koch tailored print-marketing pieces to reflect her unique branding and approach, and she launched a mailing campaign of her own.
“The best way to move forward is to find out who’s successful in your field and take cues from their strategies,” Koch says. “Clearly they work.”
AT THE CORE
As she became more successful, Koch began building a staff and learned early on to hire talented people with experience. To hire the right person, she now asks all applicants to complete a DiSC online personality test to gauge how they might fit with the rest of the team and in what role.
Today, Koch has an office manager and three buyer’s agents, all with varied and complementary skill sets and experience levels. Her buyer’s agents, for example, all have to have drive, ambition, people skills and passion for real estate to succeed. Office managers must be more detail-oriented and have a polished, professional demeanor.
“You can’t bring just anyone in,” Koch says. “You have to bring in real talent and create an opportunity for them to play to their strengths.”
As for herself: “I’m a very driven person – very goal-oriented,” Koch says. Being a team leader and having agents under her is fairly new, but the change has allowed Koch to spend more time with her 14-year-old daughter, thanks in no small part to her office staff.
An office manager/listing specialist oversees the day-to-day operations, distributes leads to agents, staffs open houses and events, and makes sure daily tasks are completed. And a transaction coordinator processes all under-contract files to closing.
“As a result, the rest of the team is free to do what we do best: sell houses,” Koch says.
Koch leads by being available for her team, teaching, mentoring and holding them accountable. Agents must preview homes, know their inventory and be an expert in their community so they can give solid advice to clients.
Her buyer’s agents are required to hold two open houses a month to help generate business, touch base daily with past clients and keep Koch updated on the progress of leads generated from her listed properties.
“My dad came here from Israel at the age of 9, and he raised me to work hard, make something of myself and keep moving,” Koch says. She expects the same of everyone she works with.
Koch’s father raised her and her three sisters after their mother left the family. They lived in the John D. Berry House, a historic Maryland farmhouse that her father, a heating and air conditioning contractor, helped restore and maintain. It was the same home where Koch had all her adventures and grew to love real estate.
Through a chance meeting, Koch recently reconnected with the buyers of that first home she sold during college. Decades later, the buyers, Karen and John Gresh, still remember the impression Koch made.
“Elaine put a lot of effort into the sale,” Karen Gresh says. “She really was a hard worker and even had her dad come in and fix up the place. For that being her first sale, she was very poised.”
Koch continues to exude professional composure, and now has the brand tools and support to go with it. She still hustles, but she’s happy to have arrived at a place in her career where she doesn’t have to “do it all, all the time,” she says.
PLAN FOR PRODUCTIVITY
To avoid getting sidetracked by daily distractions, Elaine Koch sets a series of goals for the day, week, month and year. Here’s how she maintains focus on the big picture in the midst of the details:
Map out each day.
Each morning Koch starts with a list of three goals, and four things that she will do to accomplish each goal. She also lists three leads to follow up on and all her appointments for the day. “Don’t go to your email and don’t answer your phone until you have your day planned and you know where you’re going,” Koch says. “It really does work. I find it’s so much more productive to focus on accomplishing things that will help my business stay on track in the long term.”
Plan early; re-evaluate often.
Koch starts planning for the next year each August. She adds four new marketing ideas, along with a new area of real estate to pursue. She outlines a 12-month marketing plan and identifies what’s currently working. Koch meets with each team member to establish their goals and then follows up monthly to make sure everyone is where they want to be.
Hold a daily meeting.
Koch starts her day with her office manager to schedule the day and the week ahead. That keeps her and her team on track. Often the meetings turn into brainstorming sessions, which ultimately create more business.
Schedule buyer counseling sessions.
Before she shows a property, Koch meets with her clients in the office to identify their needs. She knows what her clients can afford, where they want their payment and what they require in a home.