I Love Real Estate Agents

Remember RealEstate.com? I wrote their “Realtor of  the Week” feature for a couple of years until they were purchased by Trulia. The feature then moved to Market Leader, also purchased by Trulia. You know the rest of the story. . .Zillow gobbled up all of them, sold off Market Leader, kept Trulia (and destroyed it, in my opinion) and, a few months after the buy-out, all of the content from the site disappeared — including many of my features. Bummer.

The site is now back up and most of what I wrote for them is as well, except for my interview with Herman Chan.

I met  many amazing agents during that time that I’ve decided that, rather than let their interviews go to Old Content Heaven, I’ll resurrect them and post them here so you, too, can get to know your colleagues across the country. Just call me the Lazarus of the 21st century.

I’ll start with one of my favorites:

Herman Chan, Bay Sotheby’s International Realty

He may be a media darling, but Herman Chan is basically a down-to-earth yet somewhat “wackadoo” gaysian that will steal your heart when you meet him and vow – hook, line and sinker – to become a member of the Hermanity tribe.

Oh – he’s also a successful San Francisco real estate agent that has built an amazing brand. He is “the guy who puts the REAL back in real estate.”

Back at the beginning, though, is where we’ll start getting to know Chan. Born and raised in Fremont, California, Chan attended the University of California at Berkeley where he hoped to major in business. While it may be cliché for a young Asian man to attend U.C. Berkeley, that’s where the stereotypes end.

You see, Chan is math challenged and couldn’t make the cut to snag a spot in the competitive Haas School of Business. Heart broken, he searched his soul for an alternative major and hit on mass communications.

Destined for greatness

Those of us that feel that everything in life happens for a reason understand the U-turn that brought Chan to change his major.

“After I took my first mass comm class I realized that is what I was meant to do — communicating with people, relating to people, branding, messaging – that really gets me going,” Chan recalls of his college days. “It was really me. It just seemed a better fit for me than crunching numbers at some desk in a high-rise building in the Financial District. It serves me well in real estate,” he concludes.

So, how did this lead to real estate?

Fresh out of college, Chan picked up a job at The Gap, but found it tedious and left after three months. Not one to sit idle for long, he went to work as a stylist on magazine shoots. This is where fate steps in again.

“One day I was doing Frontiers Magazine,” he recalls. “After the model left, there were four or five shots left on the roll and the photographer said ‘Herman, just get in front of the camera and let’s finish off the roll.’ Literally, the next week they put me on the cover. That’s how I launched my modeling career,” he continues.

“I did print work for a while and went to Hong Kong for some work. It was fun, and it’s great when you’re young but jobs were few and far between, being Asian, and also not being in L.A. or New York. My mom was like ‘honey, you know, we sent you to Berkeley; can’t you get a real job?’” he laughs.

Mom was involved in the real estate industry, so on her advice, he got his real estate license. “I was just planning on doing one or two deals a week just to stay afloat, but being the overachiever I am, I had to be weird,” he said.

The king of ink

Today, Chan has a long list of media appearances and interviews published in online and print magazines: CBS San Francisco, NerdWallet.com, CNBC, Wealth Magazine, HGTV House Hunters, Money Magazine to name just a few.

I asked him how this all came about.

“Up until three years ago I was just a run-of-the mill Joe Schmo agent,” he began. “Then I started my video blog, “Habitat for Hermanity,” and from there people started checking out my blog [to the tune of 2,000 hits a day] and I started being asked to speak at conferences,” he said. “One thing led to another and I couldn’t keep up with all of the calls and email I’d get so I hired a publicist part -time to kind of deal with some of the stuff,” he recalls.

It’s easy to assume that all of the media attention was responsible for Chan’s ability to put together enough deals to be named the number one agent in his Better Homes & Gardens office last year. Easy, yes. Accurate? Not quite.

“Certainly there are people who call me because of my media appearances. What I really found out about being in the media, though, is that it reinforces my brand,” Chan explained.  “I still get most of my business through referrals. When I do get a lead or a referral, the second they go to my Twitter or my Facebook or my website, it instantaneously gives me credibility. At this point, I know I’ve got them,” he concludes.

For Chan, the social media, the websites, the media attention and the blog have been timesavers and have helped solidify his brand.

Then, there’s the startling fact that it took Chan a scant three years to build this brand and position himself as a Bay Area real estate expert. He has no idea how amazingly impressive this is, and, in fact says “I’m just getting started.”

The amazing Habitat for Hermanity

You owe it to yourself to check out Chan’s blog, “Habitat for Hermanity.” Since I’m a gambling kind of girl, I’m willing to bet that your first thought is “Hey, he’s that guy from HGTV’s House Hunters!” He is, indeed.

Once you move beyond that, you’ll have a blast reading his posts – they just ooze . . . well, Hermanity.  As Mashable’s Leyl Master Black describes the blog, Chan “pokes fun at the real estate business while empowering buyers and sellers with behind-the-scene tips and secrets of the industry”

To get a peek at the more reverent side of Herman Chan, though, take a look at his LuxSFHomes website. He laughed when I asked if he deliberately made it look like a Pinterest board.

“Yes! Three years ago my website was kind of static and a little wordier. It had pictures but the way that the business has shifted, even blogging is grandfatherly now,” he explains.  “Nobody blogs now, people micro-blog. Now it’s visual — Instagram or Tumblr or Pinterest – everything is visual at this point,” he continues.

“People are visual creatures so I just deleted my old website and created a new one. And, yes, I deliberately made it more visual. I want the images to speak for me.”

I asked Chan if he had any advice for other agents when it comes time for them to do a website makeover.

“The pictures have to speak for you, to tell a story for you. This is why I always tell agents ‘don’t get a template website.’ As a consumer, if I see a template website, I think ‘they’re a template agent.’ Nobody wants a template agent,” he admonishes.

“I’ve reduced the number of links too. Some agents have so many links, it’s like information overload. You just confuse people. The agents probably think they’re helping people by giving them all these resources – free reports and stuff like that —  I don’t know, I think consumers want the general gist,” he said.

So, how does Chan find time to list and sell enough real estate to be a powerhouse within his company, create and maintain an amazing blog and website and show up on scads of TV shows and in numerous magazines? “Thank God I’m an insomniac and I have more hours in the day than most people. I have no kids and no pets and no plants,” he said. He’s single too, although he’ll probably scold me for my feeble matchmaking attempt here.

But wait! There’s more

As if all this wasn’t enough for one guy, Realtor Magazine christened Chan “Internet Sensation Videoblogger” in 2010. His advice to other agents — doled out at speaking engagements for the California Association of Realtors and others, while humorous is also down-to-earth and well worth paying attention to. I asked Chan why he thinks so many agents are unwilling to step away from the herd and be different.

“Agents often times are insecure people. They want to do what everyone else is doing so they’re afraid to step out. They’re afraid of losing business or being different from their colleagues. It’s a very pack mentality, especially if you’re in a really big brokerage — they kind of foster that environment,” he said.

“I understand that fear, though. It’s hard to be yourself. That’s the hardest lesson in life,” he continued. “When you channel who you are and let it all hang out – I hate to get all San Francisco metaphysical here – but when you do what you want, how you want to do it, you’ll attract your “tribe,” Chan suggested.

“Think of it as being in the closet. You’re putting on a show for these wackadoo clients you don’t even care about,” he continues. “When I’m being myself and letting it all hang out, I notice that the clients who come to me are more like me. I didn’t have to win them over and walk around like I’m on eggshells with them. They’re my tribe – they’re my peeps – that’s the best kind of client.”

Let’s stick Herman in a time machine and see where he goes

“I think I would go back in time to when I was younger and tell myself not to be so hard on myself. I think that would’ve saved me a lot of grief,” he begins. “I know the reason I strive so hard is that deep down inside I still feel like a bullied child and I’m trying to compensate by being this amazing person that you can’t help but like,” he continued.

“Yes, I’m gay and yes, I’m Asian. But I think I would say to a younger Herman ‘just chillax and love yourself a little more. It’s ok to be a wackadoo – embrace it,” he chuckles.