Courtney Poulos on how real estate agents stay competitive
Today’s episode of HousingWire Daily continues with the latest episode of the Women of Influence podcast miniseries. This episode features 2020 Woman of Influence Courtney Poulos, Broker/Owner of ACME Real Estate and co-founder of ACME Florida.
Poulos began selling real estate in 2005 and since getting into the industry, mentoring and training the next generation of homeowners and agents has been a key part of her career.
When Poulos was first named a 2020 Woman of Influence, she was the broker/owner of ACME Real Estate, then launched ACME Florida this year. During the interview, she discusses the launch of the brokerage and explores some unique trends in the Florida housing market.
As a mentor to many agents, she also talks about how competitive the market is for real estate agents right now and how they’re staying ahead of the competition.
Here is a small preview of the interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity:
Brena Nath: How has this market been for real estate agents? It’s extremely competitive right now, so how are agents staying competitive?
Courtney Poulos: We’re a quality brokerage, we’re not a quantity brokerage. And I do feel like there has been an influx of discount agents, apps, and programs and those kinds of things that are causing sellers to want full price service at a discount. Our job has been to really be able to very clearly state what it is that we do that’s better than our competition. Come up with a way of enunciating your value proposition to be very clear, and have the evidence to back it up. Sellers think, “Okay, well, if I throw it up on the market, it’s gonna sell, I don’t even have to do anything.” But the reality is, if you do that, you’re probably leaving some money on the table.
HousingWire’s Women of Influence podcast miniseries spotlights the significant contributions of women who are driving the U.S. housing economy forward, interviewing our honorees over the years on the impact they’re making today. Hosted by Brena Nath and produced by Alcynna Lloyd.
Below is the transcription of the interview. These transcriptions, powered by Speechpad, have been lightly edited and may contain small errors from reproduction:
Brena Nath: Hi, I’m Brena Nath, HW+ Managing Editor here at HousingWire. We’re continuing our “Women of Influence” spotlight podcast mini-series where we’re going back and interviewing the women of influence over the years who are continuing to make a difference in the lives of people and in the housing industry, the real estate industry today. So, first off right now, I have with me Courtney Poulos. She is the broker/owner of ACME Real Estate, but she is also recently the co-founder of ACME Florida. So, first off, thanks so much for joining me, Courtney.
Courtney Poulos: It’s such a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
Brena Nath: Now, for those who’ve been listeners for awhile or also listened to “Girlfunds,” I’ve had the pleasure of chatting of Courtney before and going over your Women of Influence award profile. And even since we last chatted, you’ve done quite a bit, including what I just listed in your title, which is become a new co-founder of a new operation in Florida. So, I mean, not to give a spoiler, I’m sure there’s a lot more there, but can you share some of what you’ve been up to since we last chatted?
Courtney Poulos: Absolutely. So, like you mentioned, we have expanded the brand to Central Florida. I’m very excited about it. We’re still kind of putting our team together. We’ve got nine agents right now and we are curating all of our listings and our marketing material and all the stuff that makes ACME ACME for the east coast effort. And so, that’s, like, an ongoing work in progress, but I really realized that there was a need for what it is that we bring to Los Angeles market in other markets. So, this is my first experiment with expansion and so far it’s going so well. Heather Unger, who is an Orlando native, is my partner and she’s amazing. So, she’s on the ground and we’re, like, you know, working ACME Florida, trying to hit exactly the right note for this market. And Orlando’s, like, crazy booming market. A lot of people are leaving California and moving to Florida and Texas, so it seemed like a perfect time to start creating product that people who are from California or New York might really love to see. So, there’s that.
And then, we opened a second office in Los Angeles, so we now have two offices in Los Angeles and 46 agents. And I’m very proud that my two top producing agents, Dominique Madden and Silke Fernald, are now broker associates and they’ve moved into leadership of the West Adams office. So, we’re putting women in leadership positions in the company and, you know, there’s a lot going on.
Brena Nath: I feel like at this point of time, that’s an underestimate, which is great because I wanted to chat with you. You have a great view of what is happening in the housing market. I think people hear all different types of adjectives when it comes to what’s currently going on in the housing market, where they see things headed. So, from your perspective, as an expert in the industry and who’s closely, especially watching Orlando in markets and California, can you touch on how you describe the current housing market?
Courtney Poulos: Sure. Interest rates are still crazy low, which has a lot of impact on the lower end of the market, the first-time homebuyer part of the market. And in LA, that’s been really pushing prices up quite a bit. I will say the inventory is starting to catch up a bit with demand, so you are seeing a little, like, what was, like, 24 offers on every property, now it’s, like, 5 to 10 offers. Your buyers actually have a chance, but there are risks in that too. And I feel like some buyers are just super addicted to the process and they throw offers out but then, like, don’t respond on counters, or you’ll get these really aggressive offers before you’re on the market or, like, in the first week and then they fall apart and then you have to be, you know what I’m saying, you have to be careful when buyers are accustomed to just throwing offers out at multiple properties, because it does put a different burden on listing agents in terms of doing their due diligence and making sure that your sellers are really choosing a solid offer. So, the challenge hasn’t been getting the offers, it’s been, like, picking the right one, the ones that are going to close. So, I’ve actually seen a lot of inventory improvements, which I don’t mind. I’m happy about it in Los Angeles.
In Orlando, there is a different thing going on, which is vacation rentals are up. The price points are so much more affordable that you can actually, you know, flip a house, for example, and turn a pretty good profit in highly desirable areas that have all the things that buyers want, like great schools and not a ton of traffic and excellent restaurants and all that stuff. So, I see an opportunity for agents in Orlando to really, like, help their sellers get the most out of their property. So, Orlando’s just now kind of getting into the space where they’re starting to get it, that it’s truly a seller’s market and how do we make sure that we’re getting the sellers the maximum dollar amount. So, there’s, like, a new awareness coming to the Orlando market, which is great.
So, the inventory is still low in Orlando. If you ask an agent, they’ll be like, “There’s not enough inventory.” But, from my eyes, from LA, it still feels like more. There’s still more choices and, like, great choices at better prices. But, LA, you know, it’s a stable market. You cannot lose when you buy in LA. The market always appreciates there, even if there’s a downturn or a settling or even, like, in the mortgage crisis of 2008, LA prices recovered super quickly and those people who short sold or jumped the gun on selling or foreclosing or whatever, are probably kicking themselves right now because they would be making a much bigger profit. I think they jumped out too fast, to be honest. So, I feel like, you know, you can’t lose when you’re investing in real estate, but the markets are different. Overall, I think it’s very healthy and I’m excited to see more new first-time homebuyers in the market.
Brena Nath: What does the flipside of that look like? So, the answer to that, it’s a great, kind of looks at, you know, the current housing market and the flipside is rather than look at the borrower perspective though, technically their answer does fit the borrower’s and also the agent’s, but looking from the agent’s perspective, how is this, I mean, it’s extremely competitive right now also for agents. So, how are agents staying competitive knowing the current state of the housing market?
Courtney Poulos: Yeah. That is a trick question. So, we’re a quality brokerage, we’re not a quantity brokerage, and I do feel like there has been this influx of discount agents and discount apps and discount programs and those kinds of things that are causing sellers to want full price service at a discount. So, our job has been to really, like, be able to very clearly state what it is that we do that’s better than our competition. And I think coming up with a way of enunciating, like, your value prop position has to be very, very clear and you have to have evidence to back it up.
Sellers think, “Okay, well, if I throw it up on the market, it’s gonna sell. You don’t even have to do anything.” But, the reality is, if you do that, you are probably leaving some money on the table. The marketing does matter. Like, creating a house and a product that buyers wanna buy is what ACME specializes in and it’s what I see goes by the wayside when sellers just choose random agents who are lazy. So, you can’t be lazy in this market and have a long career. I think it’s a momentary sort of greediness kind of a thing. You know, we’re just not those agents.
So, to me, being competitive means knowing your value, being able to very clearly address it with your sellers and knowing how much value, what you’re doing actually adds, being able to prove it. So, having some evidence is great. Knowing that getting a little lazy or even rude in this market doesn’t do you any favors. Like, I’ve had a lot of weird interactions with rude agents, like, people are just, you know, I don’t know. It’s, like, I don’t know if they weren’t trained in ethics or what in the heck, but we’re on top of that stuff with our agents. We have a rigorous 11-week training course for every single agent that joins ACME so that people can thrive in a, like, an easier market, like, one offer, one house, or a competitive market. The people who sell real estate, they don’t go away. Like, you’re gonna bump into them again in your field, so you gotta make sure that you’re being professional and kind. And even if it’s a seller’s market now and a buyer’s market the next time, most of us have been around for 15 years or longer, know that you find yourself on both sides of that coin. So, I would say don’t slack on the marketing, be very clear with your value proposition, have the evidence to back stuff up and be willing to go the extra mile. That’s what sellers are expecting.
For buyers, you cannot get exhausted. Buyers have to look at a lot more houses than they used to, in order to win, you know, because of the competition. So, I think that to be competitive, you have to remain engaged and continue to, you know, inject energy into defeated buyers, you know, and come up with creative ways to get them a winning offer. Like, for example, we work with HomeLight a lot. They have a trade-in program that allows sellers to buy before they’ve sold their current property. So, it allows them to make a non-contingent offer on the buy and I feel like that’s probably the only way somebody in that situation could win in this competitive market, you know, because sellers won’t take the sales home contingency, so you have to be creative and clear about your value.
Brena Nath: Switching gears, something else that you’re passionate about that you and I have chatted about, is also finances when it comes to women. And you talk about that when it comes to real estate, you talk about that, even you mentioned it earlier when it comes to your own leadership at the company. So, the first question I have, and then we’ll dig into it a little bit deeper, is this idea because you do, I mean, you have a book out there also about this. So, kind of this idea kind of started me on. So, if you’re sitting in a room with a group of high school girls, they’re about to start off their life, trying to figure out what they wanna do for their career or even to start budgeting, they maybe haven’t before, what would you want to tell them before they go off to college and into the world?
Courtney Poulos: I love this question. Yes. I do talk about it in “Break Up! With Your Rental.” I feel like women who are about to enter the workforce need to buy real estate before they buy expensive shoes. So, it means, you know, stop with the…I don’t know about you, but when I first got to college, those credit card companies, they were right there. Their desks were right there. They were ready to give me that first credit card, and I was like, “Woo hoo, free money.” And I paid for that mistake for, like, the next 10 years. My credit score was terrible. And I had all this, like, debt, terrible debt, like Avon fashion debt, terrible. It’s embarrassing.
But anyway, I think that we should do a bit more financial education because real estate’s so transformative. So, if I was sitting with a group of high school kids, I would say, “Okay, guys. You guys are all thinking about getting a job now. Let’s see how you can set aside enough money to start the process of saving for your down payment. Even if you save $5,000 a year for the next four years, that’s enough for you to do an FHA loan on a condo so that, you know, when you’re in college, maybe you’re living in a condo that you own. And then when you leave, you hold onto that condo and rent it out to other college students. Partner with a friend. Partner with a friend’s family. Talk to your family. Get your summer job, save your money and buy the place that you’re gonna be staying in for your next four years if you’re going to college.” That’s one piece.
But, stay away from the credit cards right when you get out of high school. That’s the second piece. And I think actually it would be really, really cool to put high school students in touch with lenders so they could talk to them about the reality of financing right now. So, not everywhere is like Los Angeles. You know, there are a lot of cities and towns throughout America where you can still buy a house for $150,000 or $200,000. They might not appreciate as quickly, but if you can leverage that and turn it into a rental property, for example, you know, that’s a long term buy and hold and some money that you’re not working blood, sweat and tears to make every month and that, you know, you can see a profit, a passive profit from. So, real estate for most high school students is something that seems like what you’re going to do once you get married and have babies and you are full-time in your career, and I think that’s the myth that we need to break. And financial education for high school students would be a great way to do that.
Brena Nath: That is such a great piece of advice.
Courtney Poulos: No credit cards. Save a little money. Let’s go. I mean, really, I don’t know about you but when I travel, I always look at what the prices are everywhere I go. Like, I was just in Jamaica and I was looking at the prices in Jamaica. I always look at, you know, prices when I land in an airport in Dallas or whatever. I’m always looking because I’m, like, surprised by how affordable the houses actually are. I mean, with 3.5% down, if you’re buying a $200,000 house, that’s, like, $7,000 down payment. So, if you’re working a job, you know, you should be able to save that in a year and a half or so, I think, especially if you’re living at home. Like, if you’re a high school student living at home, work a summer, you know, and maybe a little more, and I think you should be able to save that.
Now, speaking with a lender is going to tell you how your income will help you qualify, but there’s no question that being creative at the very baby beginnings of whatever it is that you buy, keep to it. Like for me, I needed to get a co-signer, I think, for my first loan and they counted my ex-husband, who was my fiancé at the time, as a roommate. So, it was like, there was income. You know, sometimes there are creative things that lenders can do within the underwriting boundaries that can help a first-time homebuyer, you know, figure it out. So, I just think there’s more than one way to skin a cat and if people could see how much actual cushion it would give them in their 20s, for example, to say I’m a homeowner or to be paying themselves rent while they’re in college or to be thinking about these things before they get married, then that’s going to get you to your dream home quicker whenever you do find, you know, Mr. or Mrs. Right.
Brena Nath: It’s that idea starting the conversation early, and maybe this is a terrible analogy, but the idea of bringing loan officers into high school kind of reminds me, you know, a weird way of, like, the ski resorts, that they go to high school students because they’re young and, you know, their parents are still paying for often their ski tickets or their snowboard season passes. But, it’s, like, this long-term investment and it’s almost the same with loan officers of, like, you know, they’re probably not gonna buy a home right away, but it’s a long term investment that if you could just bring the financial education, the awareness because you have all these assumptions that you don’t [inaudible 00:16:26.676] too much later in life, but getting them on the stable footing early and just the realities around it, it’s a long term investment just even for you in your business, but also in just the future of success of the next generation.
Courtney Poulos: Yeah, I totally agree. In fact, I think that what, I mean, it’s on my bucket list. I don’t know if I can get to it this year. But, creating something like 4H for high school students who are interested in real estate, I have on my list of things I would love to do, because I do really think that especially if it’s a student who doesn’t wanna go to college, which there are people who do not wanna go to college or can’t afford college, getting your real estate license can be life altering. And you just have to be smart and teachable, you know, be able to read a contract and understand, have a good mentor and a good teacher to help you get it and you really don’t need to have a four-year degree in order to succeed in this field. So, I feel like it should be a career option for kids who are interested in really making, like, life-changing money without getting all that debt from going to a four-year college.
I mean, look, there are people who are saying that getting a degree is kind of like the equivalent of a high school diploma now because everybody has one. So, I personally think understanding money early on in your life is gonna set you up to make much better financial decisions, but not just financial decisions, even, like, partnership decisions, you know, or residency decisions, you know. If you know you can afford to live in New York City because of your rental property in Orlando that you bought when you were 18, like, hey, now you have freedom. You can do a thing that you really wanna do and be supported by a seed you planted early on. So, to me, real estate’s just completely changed my perception of money and the limitations I thought I had based on the socioeconomic class I started in. And I feel like that’s the message that I want high school students to leave a little forum with is, like, hey, there’s a way to make this happen for you too and it’s not rocket science.
Brena Nath: Speaking of, the last question I always like to ask during these “Women of Influence” interviews, especially because you are leaving a legacy in the industry, and you mentioned yourself that in your own company, you promoted women into leadership. So, what do you think it’ll take to get more women and more diversity into the industry, and then why do you think that’s important?
Courtney Poulos: That’s a great question. I think in order to get more women into the industry, well, into the industry, I believe we’re doing all right. I actually think licensees in California, women are pretty, may even be more than men, in terms of actual members of licensees. But, the problem is the leadership positions, like the ownership of the brokerages or managing broker positions or C-suite positions still tend to be dominated by men. And when I look at real estate, I think, yes, there’s a financial component to it that’s typically lived in the patriarchal, but there’s also a holistic component to it and that typically lives in the feminine. So, bringing men and women to the table together is what’s going to be key to our success.
So, for me, advancing women in my company is my way of contributing to adding more women to the table, to have the conversations and to be able to stand on solid ground. I mean, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gotten the, “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it,” or, like, you know, “Courtney, calm down, Courtney.” I will lose it if somebody tells me that I need to, like, settle down, you know, which is just a typical kind of, like, patriarchal business device. You know, that just doesn’t exist when you’re dealing with people who are more in the equality space. So, I feel like women having a strong confident foot in leadership teaches the men underneath, you know, that are in the firm’s, how to interact with women in leadership, which is key, and also it establishes some confidence in a way that we can defend ourselves against the old school, patriarchal kind of silencing of women’s voices.
It’s still ongoing. I mean, if you look at certain conferences and certain panels, you’re like, “Wow, there’s not even one woman at this table. It’s kind of like the Supreme Court making decisions about women’s rights.” You know, like, “Hey, can I be a woman…” You know, I know, obviously. But it’s like, can there be, like, a, you know how many men to women are making these decisions? You know, it’s not equitable. And so, I do feel like our industry has some of that going on. But, I’m not afraid to go toe-to-toe with anybody, you know. So, if you want challenge me with arrogance or any kind of patriarchal business leadership, you know, style, I can meet you at your level. But, in an ideal world, there’s a holistic, like, an integration of the holistic, which is the part that is about home, it’s about good energy, it’s about, you know, feeling like we can create the lives we wanna lead. That creative element is the feminine to me. And it needs to be injected into business more, I think.
It’s not just about money. Like, we’re a people business, you know, we’re about people transforming their lives, whether through real estate as a career or through the acquisition of real estate, like our clients, you know. Our job is to make people have success in their lives and be a part of that, which is a huge undertaking. And you can’t do it if you’re being diminished. You will not excel in your position if you constantly feel like you have to ask permission for your creativity. You know what I’m saying? Am I being too…I feel like I’m speaking in these, like, big generalizations, but that’s how it feels for me, you know?
Brena Nath: Yup. I mean, we here, kind of going back to a few of your points, at HousingWire, sometimes we call them “Manoles [SP].”
Courtney Poulos: Yeah.
Brena Nath: And so, getting that diversity of voice and everything you do. And you, I mean, this isn’t the first time that we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing you and just throughout, you know, in the past, your book, you have such a passion for telling the story. And so, we always appreciate you coming on and sharing your journey. Now, you just opened a new place, and so I think those are stories that are important.
Courtney Poulos: Yes. And I, just in terms of diversity in general, I feel like that, what you just said, telling the story, I feel like people have stories they really want to tell and we’ve created a scholarship program at ACME in Los Angeles to bring people who are interested, like recent graduates who are interested in real estate, into the company, teach them, train them and, you know, and hear their story to add even more value to what it is that we do. I mean, I’m all about it. Like, I feel like there is no other way in America right now, and it costs $200, where you can actually make game-changing, life transforming, wealth transforming, class transforming money. And so, any way we can bring in people who are smart and feel motivated to help other people, I feel like there should be a space for them. So, we are definitely all inclusive and trying to even bring in younger people from the communities that we serve, and really make it be all of our stories of diversity in moving into leadership. So, there’s always an opportunity there to reach out and affect more people.
I love training agents because I feel like it takes it out of the classroom training at a big brokerage where you’re a number, into the human part of what it is that makes you uniquely you. And if you can figure out what truly moves you in this field, hopefully it’s not just money, but money is the bonus but it’s the other parts, the service part, the legacy part, if you can find that space, then I feel like you’re bound for success. And so, my job is create those spaces for the agents that I serve.
Brena Nath: Courtney, it’s always been a pleasure to chat with you about all the things that you’re passionate about and your recent work in the industry. You are, I mean, the “Women of Influence” podcast mini-series is to spotlight the women making a difference, making a lasting impact for this industry, and I think that’s a key as I go through these interviews, it’s this lasting impact more than just the year. So, it’s great to interview again, see what you’re doing and hopefully this isn’t the last time we chat.
Courtney Poulos: I would love to chat again. Thank you so much.
Brena Nath: Perfect. Thanks, Courtney.