Fresno real estate brokers with a desire to help clients buy and sell houses a little differently or more creatively than big box companies are opening small boutique firms to do business their way.
The housing recovery is a factor, helping brokers feel more confident to move out on their own, lease office space and bring on agents. But having the flexibility to personalize their work, or brand, with clients is the driving force behind these designer offices.
“It was all about creating a vibe, a world, a quality,” said Eldon Daetweiler, who opened Fresno Modern Real Estate late last year with two agents and now has an eight-person team. He admits that opening an actual office, after operating by himself from home and meeting clients at Starbucks for the last six years, is a leap of faith.
“But I’ve always felt that it’s not what company you’re with, but how you work and how you portray yourself as a professional,” said Daetweiler, who started his career 15 years ago with Coldwell Banker in Los Angeles. “Your value translates to who wants to work with you.”
A 2013 California Association of Realtors survey found 55 percent of Realtors are associated with an independent company. A typical Realtor works in a firm that has 25 agents and brokers compared to 23 agents and brokers nationally.
Boutique real estate offices are not new. They are small, independent businesses that can fit special niches in the community. When times are good, boutique businesses are common, said Robin Kane, a Fresno real estate expert.
“Realtors are seeing that they’re making enough money and there’s no reason to split it with the house (the large company), so they open up their own shop,” Kane said.
And with today’s technology, the cost of setting up your own place is far less than it was before, he said. Phone answering services make it sound like you have a million people in the office, and plenty of software programs are available to do business. The downside is when the cycle turns the other way, then you’ve got overhead, Kane said.
Realtors say many agents, especially those who are new, like having a big company name behind them – a business with a track record. Agents can lean on business leads generated by the company name and take advantage of training opportunities.
“If you’re a self-starter and you don’t need the synergy that you usually get when you have fellow agents pushing you, and you can push against, and you can get up every morning and motivate yourself, (a boutique) is a good thing,” Kane said. “But can you do that?”
Daetweiler has a passion for buying and selling architecturally unique homes. Midcentury modern properties are his specialty. He pulled in two longtime Fresno real estate agents and opened a small office at 567 W. Shaw Ave., near the Fig Garden Village shopping center, working in all areas of residential real estate.
The conference room is decorated with midcentury modern furniture to look like a dining room, giving clients a feeling of ease instead of intimidation when they visit. Daetweiler’s office is as eclectic as he is, with a turquoise couch instead of office chairs.
Everyone at our office is extremely passionate about real estate. It’s not a part-time job for us. We’re all there full time helping the client. We’re not there because we need the job.
Teresa Norman, Realtor with Fresno Modern Real Estate
“We can do things how we need to do it,” said Daetweiler while lounging on his couch wearing his trademark fedora hat. “There’s more flexibility, and I think there’s the allure of being in a smaller, more intimate atmosphere. When you join a huge organization, you’re just a little piece, but when you join a smaller company, you’re part of the process.”
Teresa Norman joined Fresno Modern in March after 41/2 years with Guarantee Real Estate, one of the largest real estate companies in Fresno.
“Eldon just had a very more specialized and customized way of approaching his clients on the selling and buying side,” Norman said. “It was a very different approach. … I felt like this type of boutique firm was the next thing to go big. I wanted to be part of that from the ground up.”
When Doug Finks was ready to sell his home in the Bullard High School area this summer, he wanted to go with a small, local firm. Friends referred him to the Fresno Modern team.
“I don’t like chain restaurants, so I didn’t want to go to some huge company” to sell my house, Finks said.
“They put a lot of time and effort through helping me with the emotions of selling a home,” said Finks, who lived in his Celeste Avenue home for 13 years. “There are a lot of attachments. … They see the uniqueness of the property and accentuate that, which is really nice. For me, what I appreciated is that they go out of their way to promote it.”
Knowing the neighborhood
Jason Farris left Guarantee after five years to create FresYes Realty in July. The company is an expansion of FresYes.com, a blog and real estate website that Farris started six years ago. His goal: to be neighborhood experts.
He wants his agents to know the neighborhood school principal, school coaches, nearby restaurants and businesses. Clients can be referred to the blog for stories and videos about the community.
Farris is remodeling two commercial spaces in the Park Place shopping center at Palm and Nees avenues into office space. He has eight agents working with him.
The consumer is very educated and can get housing stats anywhere online these days, Farris said. “As agents, we need to figure out what we can bring to the table that they can’t get on the Internet and I think that’s where the boutique brand stands out. We can pivot quickly. We can customize.”
And the boutique business can be creative. Farris said he is known for hosting innovative open houses to attract buyers. In April, Farris turned an open house for a difficult property to sell into a Fresno Art Hop event showcasing the work of local artists.
The property had three separate one-bedroom, one-bathroom structures – not your typical home, Farris said. It was also the home of the late artist and sculptor T. Newton Russell, who is known for his sculptures of stacked rocks.
Brian Domingos, broker and owner of Premier Valley Realty in Fresno, started his career with Century 21 C. Watson in 2003, then dabbled in commercial real estate entitlements before deciding to circle back to the residential side in 2012.
He had a long-term vision of building a team-oriented company and chose to restart his residential career from a small office at the Fresno Chamber of Commerce instead of going back to a real estate office.
“People like that I’m independent and more motivated and I hold myself to a higher level of expectations,” Domingos said. “Customer service is important to me.”
Domingos opened an office at 5067 N. Mariposa Ave., No. 104, across from Fashion Fair mall, in October. He has three agents and is looking to grow.
“Small boutique firms have a connection to Fresno and a strong desire to see Fresno do well,” Domingos said. “It’s more than a transaction. It’s connecting, to making the region the place to be. We’re not just selling property. We’re selling the area.”