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Originally published Saturday, March 28, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Top Seattle-area real-estate agents share their secrets for success

We interviewed four local real-estate agents who were successful in 2008 about their experiences. Here is an edited version of their secrets for success.

Special to The Seattle Times

There's no denying that the housing market is going through a rough patch. Still, nearly 40,000 homes in the Seattle area changed hands last year. We interviewed four local real-estate agents who were successful in 2008 about their experiences. Here is an edited version of their secrets for success.

Teri Herrera

Age: 51

Office/brokerage: John L. Scott

Education/Background: Bachelor's degree in hotel management from Metropolitan State College in Denver; former national sales manager at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

Year licensed: 1992

Specialty: Her earliest deals came from 20-something programmers at Microsoft who wanted to communicate via e-mail before the medium was popular. "I very quickly in my career decided to buck the curve, which was everybody advertising with fliers," she said. "I was going to invest my time and talents into the Internet."

Distinctions: Top 1 percent of sales at John L. Scott in 2008; averaged $20 million in sales each year for the past three years.

Q: Why do you think you're successful?

A: My clients really aren't looking to me for help in searching for a house — they can do that themselves. What they're looking for is knowledge: "Is this a good investment for me? What am I not seeing here? Help me to negotiate the price, and set me up with a good lender."

Q: What's your biggest challenge right now?

A: Trying to stay ahead in pricing curves. We can position a house this week and two weeks from now the position could be different.

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Q: Best advice you've been given.

A: As a young agent, Herrera met weekly with a mentor who taught her the purpose of every form. "It was the best thing he ever could have done for me."

Gordy Marks

Age: 44

Office/brokerage: Re/Max

Education/Background: Bachelor's degree in finance from the University of Washington. Marks' family owned a commercial real-estate brokerage in Spokane, and he always wanted to go into the business.

Year licensed: 1987

Distinctions: Marks has a reputation of fewer days on market and a lower list-price-to-sales price ratio. The average is about 3 percent, and Marks' ratio is less than 1 percent.

Q: Why do you think you're successful?

A: You can't control the market, but you can control how we react to it. So I retooled this year and focused quite a bit more on new construction. We sold quite a few new-construction homes this year.

Q: Is this the worst market you've ever seen?

A: 1990-91 was the last time you had a really bad market, and all the companies were really struggling, as they are now.

Q: Which one was worse?

A: This is worse because it seems to be longer-lasting. In the spring of 1990, it was like someone shut a faucet off and there was nothing being sold. But the market did recover within a 12-18 month cycle. We are over 18 months into this cycle. And most people think it's going to go on at least another 12 months.

Q: What's your plan for success this year?

A: My business in the past has been mostly based on referrals, but since the credit market has been a little bit tight, that doesn't allow our clients to buy and sell as freely as they normally would. So our new set of clients, a lot of them are going to become banks.

Q: Why is new construction appealing to buyers right now?

A: Builders are hugely motivated because they have secured these neighborhoods with their personal assets. They are very motivated not to lose their own homes and everything they've worked for years and years to build up.

Q: Anything else?

A: Somebody said the other day in a meeting I was in, it was a simple thing, "but this too will pass." We're going to make it through it.

Lisa Turnure

Age: 50

Office/brokerage: Coldwell Banker Bain

Education/Background: Bachelor's degree in business administration from the UW, former CPA and CFO for a Seattle strategic-marketing and design firm.

Year licensed: 2004

Distinctions: In 2008, Turnure had the highest sales volume of any Coldwell Banker Bain sales associate. As a rookie agent in 2005, she had the highest sales of any new associate. Turnure also maintains her status as one of the President's Elite, an honor reserved for the top 3 percent of Coldwell Banker agents internationally.

Q: Why do you think you're successful?

A: I think that tenacity is a really important trait. And also I think having that business background is a really relevant. I approach each one of my listings in its own way like a business venture.

Q: What's your biggest challenge?

A: People's fear of the economy. They've been hearing so much negative news they're afraid to step ahead. So really, my job, is turning that around, to help educate people as to what is a good value, what is a good investment in my eyes.

Q: Best advice you give.

A: Follow what you love, and you'll be good at it.

Q: Anything else?

A: There are a lot of people that are buying real estate instead of putting money in the stock market right now, and Seattle has always had a strong rate of appreciation of value in real estate, so even though we see some ups and downs in this current market, in the long haul people still feel that real estate is a good place to put their money.

Jamée Rakus

Age: 53

Office/brokerage: Windermere

Education/background: Bachelor's degree in communications, Western Washington University. Worked as a sales associate at Nordstrom and as a training coordinator at The Bon Marché before going into real estate full time.

Year licensed: 1985

Distinctions: Rakus is known for moving her inventory quickly and knowledge of the West Seattle area.

Q: Is this the worst market you've ever seen?

A: I don't know if I would consider it to be worse, but it is fragile.

Q: Why do you think you're successful?

A: I prepared for this [market]. I made sure I had enough to keep me buoyed during the bad time and be able to give my clients the best service. And that involved everything from helping them negotiate on work orders to trying to contribute if that work needed to be done, just to make sure we could make the deal work.

Q: How has your background helped you?

A: She said her work at Nordstrom is not unlike selling a house. "You have color, design, emotion. How does it work for you, does it work well and are you emotionally attached? But all the same customer-service skills come into play."

Q: How does this market differ from past markets for agents?

A: This is a cooperating market. In the past it was, this is how much I want and if you don't want to pay it, there will be someone else who will.

Q: How do you spend your week?

A: Now you need to preview every day. You need to know what your inventory is. I always say, you can't sell what you haven't seen. In the past, you saw it, and it was gone in a week. Now you see it and it's still there in a month. And it's still there in three months. And you're watching that price go down. So if you've really been doing your job and you've got buyers in that price range, you watch that property and you're going to be able to go to them and say, now is the time to strike.

Q: Best advice you have to give.

A: Be realistic. Listen to your agent. Look at possible issues that come up, and prepare for them.

Q: What does it take to sell a house in this market?

A: You've got to keep it going. Patience is a virtue right now.

Q: Any disadvantages out there?

A: Lenders are very tight and very strict, which takes you back again to how you negotiate. If you have a house with issues, you have to look forward, and know what those issues are going to be, are they going to cost you money, and put them into the negotiating plan.

Q: Anything else?

A: I like this market. It works. What a novel idea that someone has to qualify for a loan, and they have to have some equity to put down. Isn't that the way it should be? You hope. It didn't work that way.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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