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BIG Ideas, Partnerships, and Lifesizing with Martha Webb

November 18, 2019

Episode Transcript

Start of Interview

Bob Burns: This episode of the podcast began four months ago, over 1,000 miles away from where my guest and I are sitting. I was in New Jersey, having dinner with a friend and colleague from Las Vegas, who suggested that I call Martha Webb for advice on a project that I was working on.

Even though I basically started my real estate career in Martha’s backyard, I didn’t know her. I mean I knew who she was because I watched her training program Dress Your House for Success on VHS, but I didn’t know her know her.

So, I got back from New Jersey and I basically cold called Martha. To be honest, I had low expectations. Why would this absolute giant in our industry who basically invented home staging in the mid 1980s help me, a complete stranger?

I could not have been more wrong. I asked for 10 minutes of her time and Martha stayed on the phone for me for with me for over an hour giving me advice and feedback on what I was trying to do. Steering me in the right direction. Making suggestions about who else I should contact and what I should think about. She was absolutely beyond generous with me and I could not be more grateful.

Martha has been written up in the New York Times. She has appeared on Good Morning America and CNN. She has hosted a show on HGTV, and now the pinnacle of her career is being a guest on the How They Won podcast.

Martha Webb, with Edina Realty, thanks so much for being on the show. I am totally honored!

Martha Webb: Thank you Bob. Thank you very much. I’m honored to be here.

Bob Burns: Oh, that’s awesome!

Take us back all the way to the beginning. It’s the mid-1980s and you were in PR in the entertainment business.

Martha Webb: Right, I was in PR and motivational film production for corporations.

Bob Burns: Interesting. So, why real estate?

Dress Your House for Success is Born

Martha Webb: At that point, it wasn’t even why real estate. It just happened. I was selling my own house. I did what everybody expects you to do. I called three agents and they all basically gave me the same price.

I did one of these, just shook my head and said, “No, I need more money than that.”

They politely said, “You can’t get any more money than that.”

So, I selected an agent and asked him if he would list my house higher. He talked to me about the two-week window. We all know about that, and I said, “Yes I know.”

So, I listed my house and asked I asked him to give me ten days.

I went through my house like I had a viewfinder, looking at every room. Every time I turned a corner, I asked myself, “What do the buyers feel?” Not just what they see, what do they feel? That came from motivational film producer production.

So, long story short I went to work on the first day, first open house. Two hours into it, we had a full price offer and it was 14.5% over what they said I could get.

So, I got to thinking, “Is there a need for this in the real estate industry? What did I just do?”

I realized that I was staging, like I was for a film production – to elicit emotions; and with my partner, we decided to do a little bit of research. There wasn’t anything out there, and we started a company, and started Dress Your House for Success.

Bob Burns: That’s incredible, and I want to dig a little deeper into Dress Your House for Success, but rewind for a moment. Now, you’ve got the insight of 30 years or so of being in this business, and I’m sure you’ve had clients like you were – who know better than we do and don’t need us.

What’s the clients point of view? Dig into a little more of the psychology of…ok so, you invite the three professionals over, and you the client, who is not a professional, but knows and loves your own home, and in your case, you’re a professional in eliciting emotions, that was the business that you were in. What’s going through the clients mind when we come in as real estate professionals, first time in their house, and start talking about “facts,” and their feelings are…

Martha Webb: Yeah, they’re defensive. They still are defensive, and they’re very emotionally tied to it. They have blinders on when it comes to their own house. I have to go through statistics.

I have a little presentation that I do. I don’t even know how many years old it is now.

When the book first came out, I was approached by Procter & Gamble to be a spokesperson to the real estate industry. They did a survey to find out why buyers buy, or how they buy – their criteria.

So, I still use those statistics, that we can control about 80% of their first impression and it’s done with very little time work and money. So, when I put it onto a Procter & Gamble survey, and even though I was part of that, they seem to look at it a little bit more objectively.

I’d never go in with the money options first. I go in with what we can get done for the least time, work, and money. I can’t say that everybody agrees right away, and sometimes I have to keep working at it. I do budgets with them, and I will manage it for them, too.

Bob Burns: One of the things that you’re talking about is something that I try to teach all the time. It sounds simple, but I think it’s one of the biggest challenges that I have as an instructor; and that is: my belief is all sales, real estate sales, cosmetics sales, auto sales, any kind of sales, is an emotional process backed up by logic. We have to first think about the emotional aspects of what we’re trying to communicate and convey, and then after we kind of bring people into our conversation, we have to have the facts and figures to support that initial emotional reaction. Would you say your experiences is on par with that?

Martha Webb: Exactly. Although, I do have a little bit of an advantage because when I go in to talk to a client, they already know my background. They have some expectations that I’m going to come in with a plan for them. Every single time, Bob, I’m a little nervous about talking to them because I know that they don’t want to put any more money into their house. They want to know, “If I put this in, will I get it back?”

It’s the same every time. So, I really have to spend more time listening to them upfront and understanding what their issue is, and it’s either time, work, or money,  every time.

Bob Burns: So, like most things, it’s not a data problem, or an information problem that we’re trying to solve as real estate professionals. It’s really a communication problem.

You’re a professional communicator first, and then you got into real estate second do you think that gives you an advantage when you’re in competition?

Martha Webb: Absolutely. Yeah, I know the words. I know to not start a sentence with, “You need to do,” because that starts the defense. I know to start a sentence with, “We want buyers to see,” or “We want buyers to feel.”

Bob Burns: That’s really solid advice. I hope everybody’s taking notes. We’ll put this in the show notes so you can download it. I think you just hit on something really, really cool.

So, it’s the mid-80s, you get into real estate by accident. You know better than the professionals, and it turns out you were right. That validation is really cool. Then you develop the Dress Your House for Success course.

It came from an idea, but here’s the thing about ideas in our business. I’ve been doing this 20 years, you’ve been doing it 30 or longer. It seems like in real estate, ideas are like belly buttons: everybody’s got one, but it’s so, so rare that you come across an individual that can actually execute their idea and turn it into something real.

Walk me through that process of taking this concept, this fairly big ambitious concept of basically inventing a whole new piece of what we have to do as real estate professionals, and making it a daily part of the lexicon across the industry.

Martha Webb: Well, in the 80s, I didn’t get into real estate selling. What I did was produce the Dress Your House for Success videotape on VHS.

We even had to convince people to use VHS. They didn’t even know why they should be doing that. We packaged it, and went to a National Convention, and had a booth. We would have maybe 10 or 20 people standing around watching this videotape, because, not that they hadn’t seen videotape, but we produced it from a motivational film producers background. So, it was short, fast, leaving the seller feeling, “Yeah, I can do that.”

Then, to top it off, we created the checklist so we could organize them to do it. So, you can tell them to do something but you can’t just leave it there. You’ve got to show them how to execute it, and so that’s what the checklist did.

Then, that got picked up by maybe a half a dozen national companies. We branded it for them.

So up until about 2000, we were primarily selling product. I was also producing for some of the national companies and producing their training and producing marketing pieces for the agents to use.

One company was actually starting a new brand of real estate, and I was involved in writing and producing for them. During one session, where I was talking a little bit about Dress Your House for Success, one of the VPs of Training said, “That’s a certification.”

“No, it’s not a certification. I’ve written a book. I’m done. I’m not writing anymore.”

He said, “Just trust me.”

So, we spent two years writing together, and that launched Certified Home Marketing Specialist.

Bob Burns: That’s so interesting. Can I ask, was that David Horowitz?

Martha Webb: That was David Horowitz.

Bob Burns: So, David Horowitz, for those that don’t know, David was the head of Education for NRT when I met him, but he had been in real estate education forever. He’s one of the godfathers of real estate education. If you’re a real estate educator listening to this, I know I’ve got some in my network, everything I know, I learned from David. David is one of those Giants in the industry that I don’t think enough people know about what he did for all of us.

Martha Webb: And I don’t think David knows how much he did for us. I tell him that he mentored myself and the person you had dinner with.

We would go to deliver CHMS, or Certified Home Marketing Specialist, and David would go along. He’d take notes, and you know, we’re exhausted after an eight-hour day and you can’t get away.

“No, we’re going to sit down and we’re going to go through this. Do you realize that you went a half hour before you asked a question?”

He was instrumental in this and I tell him often that a huge part of my success is due to David Horowitz.

Bringing BIG Ideas to Life

Bob Burns: You think you’re just going out for dinner but he’s bringing his notebook.

I want to go back to my question. Taking an idea and turning it into a reality.

I’m sure you’ve come across people in our business over your years of experience, that want to share their idea with you, and they want help. Or, they want advice, or they want guidance on turning their concept into a reality.

Where do you think most people go wrong in the execution in the genesis stage of their idea that they never get it across the finish line?

Martha Webb: That’s an interesting question.

As I was listening to the question, I think a lot of why Dress Your House for Success made it from an idea to a product, to now an industry standard, now a landing page, all these different elements, was people like David. People who had design ability.

I didn’t try to package it myself. I tried to control it a little bit, but ultimately, I had a designer work with me. I had professionals. Experienced professionals of different areas that would bring their expertise.

So, I didn’t just create it all by myself, and walk out there to the market and wave it. It was a lot of other people. From marketing and advertising, to production.

For people who don’t get it out there, I think they don’t take advantage of other disciplines in that area.

Bob Burns: They’re idea FSBOs.

Martha Webb: Exactly. That’s a really good way to put it.

“Yeah, I’ll do this all by myself.”

You can’t! Look at any really good product that’s out there. It wasn’t just one person. It may have been their idea, but if it stays in your head as an idea, it probably won’t get to market.

Bob Burns: I think that’s awesome advice and super insightful.

Even if it appears to be simple to launch something, there are an infinite number of details that someone knows how to do and has done many times before; but for you, it’s the first time. A lot of times, as individual entrepreneurs, or as real-estate practitioners, we don’t have an ability to see far enough down the road to understand what obstacles we’re going to encounter before we get there.

Martha Webb: Because we don’t even know what they are.

Bob Burns: Right. We’re driving around without a map. We think we know the way.

It’s just like me and my wife going on vacation. “Stop and ask for directions.”

“No, I know the way.”

That’s me.

Getting Into Sales

OK, so, you have this huge idea that didn’t probably feel very huge at the time. You brought it to life. You’ve implemented. It’s all over television. It has just become, like I said, part of the lexicon.

At some point you decided, “OK, I’m going to pivot, and I’m going to actually start following my own advice that I’ve been giving real estate professionals. I’m going to become one.” How did that happen?

Martha Webb: It was sort of that way.

It was during the recession and I was still teaching a lot. I was doing a lot of the CHMS courses, and things were starting to change. I thought, “You better put your feet on the ground. Boots on the ground,” as they say.

I got my license to see if what I was teaching really worked. I did it just to confirm what I was doing at that time, and that was primarily teaching. I had developed an online version of it too. So, I got my license and I just had fun.

I thought, “Why didn’t I do this 20 years ago?” Because you were too busy doing something else, but that’s how it started. It was just a confirmation, and now I’m just having a blast!

Bob Burns: So, you’re not one of these gurus who just knows everything about the real estate business, but has never sold a house.

Martha Webb: Correct. I’ve sold a lot of houses.

Bob Burns: Tell us a little bit more about your real estate practice.

You went from playing on a national/global stage, and kind of doing almost what I would call business-to-business sales. Your business selling your ideas and products to other businesses. Now, you’re ultra-local in your marketplace, in a business to consumer sales situation.

What are the parallels and what are the differences?

Martha Webb: I think a lot of the parallels are from my film production and my account executive PR background. I had to become an expert in whatever I was going to talk about.

So, I had to listen. Whatever the industry was, whatever the company was, I had to become an expert in that, and that involved listening. That’s what transfers over to a consumer. Client face-to-face is an ability to listen.

Almost every real estate transaction is kind of the same, but it’s never the same. So, I know what the process is, and then I just have to tailor that to how they need to hear it and how they need to be walked through it. My business is almost a hundred percent referral.

Forming a Partnership

Bob Burns: That’s incredible, and I wanted to ask you…I think recently, you’ve teamed up with another agent and formed a partnership. My coaching clients ask me about this all the time, and I think like implementing an idea, going from an individual practitioner or two individual practitioners that are successful in their own right to a team, is just fraught with pitfalls. You can get it right, but most people get it wrong.

How did you approach that process of partnering up?

Martha Webb: I didn’t. He approached me.

We had worked together before. He was managing broker and I was an agent. I think it’s been eight year eight or nine years, and he decided that it was going to be more fun selling than being a managing broker.

People ask me, “Why did he not want to do that?” My answer is, “Can you imagine managing a hundred mes?” and they just get it right away.

Bob Burns: It’s so right. That’s a hard job. Let me put it like this. The star players on the field always make significantly more money than the head coach and have more fun.

Martha Webb: So, we know we work together well, and it was like, yeah it makes sense. We’re a really good balance. I can go in and do wonders with a house, and he’s not all that good at it. He is absolutely great with pricing and he knows the market from all of that experience. He knows how to look at the market and analyze it, and we just put the two expertises (if there’s a word like that) together.

We also have fun, but it was a challenge, because we hadn’t worked together in that capacity. So, we really just agreed to try it out and make adjustments as we went along.

Now, it has been not quite a year, and it is really, I think, working very well. We’re out there. We’re going to kill it!

Bob Burns: Good for you!

One of the first questions that I encourage folks asking me about this to think about when they’re forming a team is, are the team members going to be generalists or specialists? Are you all going to do a little bit of everything, or is each of you going to specialize in one aspect of the business?

It sounds like you specialize a little bit with your partner.

Martha Webb: Yes, we do, but we don’t we don’t have a team, and we’re not going for the team approach.

We have our our clients, and we just do what we both do best. So, as a really good example, a couple weeks ago, I was out with a buyer, and we had seen a number of houses. We were getting down to the wire. I knew he was going to buy one or two of these, and I was able to just text Matt and say, “Hey, pull some numbers,” and he did. Whereas, without that partnership, I would have been going back to the office and doing the numbers on both of those. I was able to give that information to the client to make a really solid decision in hours before I would have been able to do it alone.

So, I can go into a client that he has, and he says, “Just go for it” with getting it ready and talking him through it.

Bob Burns: So, really what you’re doing for each other is, you’re supplementing a full-service package that each of you would have brought to your clients on your own, but you’re speeding it up, you’re improving it, you’re making it better. It would work on its own, but it’s better together.

Martha Webb: It’s better together.

One of the things that we have pulled together in the last several listings is a team of people that we can bring in.

From cleaners, to washing windows, to painting, all of that. We’ve got it all together. We can just bring those people in and manage it.

Bob Burns: You know, that’s so important when you put together that supporting cast, to know that if you pass the ball to somebody, they’re going to catch it and score.

Have you screamed these people? Have you worked with them before ?


Martha Webb: We have screened them. We’ve worked with them before. We’re constantly looking for new.

One of the things that I mentioned to you when we talked, was the concept of Lifesizing. That grew out of Dress Your House for Success.

It actually was a couple, maybe several, months ago. I was going through a storage facility trying to get rid of some things, and I came across a third book proposal called, Lifesizing. I had forgotten about it, and this was probably in the early 2000s. It was aimed at people, primarily Boomers, who would be downsizing, but maybe not downsizing, maybe just changing things.

So, we decided to try that out, and am now working with, I think, three two or three people who are going through the process, and I’m documenting it. I’m putting together a checklist of what do you do, how do you get them through it, and it’s a lot of emotional managing.

Bob Burns: Lifesizing was something that we talked about before, and it was definitely on my list to cover in depth. I really think you’re onto something, because the word “downsizing” is the word that people normally think about, but I think that only tells a small portion of the story. That’s not really what it’s about.

It’s about selecting a lifestyle and executing on it with the client. In fact, I think this is so big. Just, I don’t know, 20 minutes ago, before I walked up the stairs into your office, my father-in-law, who is a Baby Boomer, texted me about aging in place, about moving, about downsizing, or what are all these options. And, it doesn’t really make sense, because it’s not a downsize necessarily if it costs you more money. He’s more interested in the lifestyle, not the size of the property that he’s moving from or to.

Martha Webb: Exactly. I don’t think we’ve touched on the number of people, because the Boomers, we’re not a critical mass yet. I’m a Boomer, but I’m not an old Boomer. The oldest Boomers are 73 years old, so we’ve just got a huge number of people coming up through the ranks.

Just yesterday, I showed a property to people who had just retired, and they say they’re downsizing. Well, they weren’t. They’re going to 3,500 square feet. That’s not exactly a downsize.

They’re Lifesizing. They wanted everything on one level, but they also wanted the lower level to be able to entertain and have grandchildren stay. So, it’s just a change of lifestyle. They’re actually just making a lateral move in terms of money.

It’s a different house and it goes back to an early thing in the book I wrote, Finding Home. How do you integrate home into your life? You’re not just buying four walls and a couple of bedrooms. You’re buying something that is going to support your life. When your life changes, maybe your house needs to too.

Bob Burns: Absolutely. I think you’re onto something there. How can the audience learn more about Lifesizing? Do you think it’ll turn into a course that they could take?

Martha Webb: It might. I think so. I don’t know if it’ll be a course that I will teach.

I am into teaching online and having it on demand, and that, I think, will happen.

I spoke on it last year at a real estate conference and shared the Excel sheet I had done for this one couple. Everything from helping them find shredders, to an estate sale. So, I’m still working on it, but I think it will turn into a course. It’s got all of the elements of Dress Your House for Success, but a lot more depth of what you have to do. It’s not just take ten days and paint your house. There’s a lot more to it.

Bob Burns: Right. As Steve Jobs would say, “The simplicity is complex.”

Martha Webb: Exactly.

Bob Burns: People can find more information about you on your website, Where else can they find your courses, your materials, and your books?

Martha Webb: The books, I don’t know that you can right now. I think you can find them online a little bit, but they were written a long time ago. Somebody asked me, “Are you going to change it?” It doesn’t change, it’s the same. has got information on the courses. The Certified Home Marketing Specialist course is housed on Digital Chalk, and that you can get to through my website. A couple of the nationals have branded it on their own LMS, and you would know who you are.

Bob Burns: That’s good advice.

Martha Webb, with Edina Realty, thank you for this discussion. I learned a lot, and I’m sure people listening learned a lot. I wish you all the success in your real estate practice, and with Lifesizing, and Dress Your House for Success.

Keep blazing a trail for those of us following you. You’re incredible.

Martha Webb: Thank you so much Bob. It’s been just a pleasure.

Music: “My Everything” by Roads used under license from Tribe of Noise.

Click here for Martha’s website.

Episode Timeline and Notes

  • 0:00 Introduction
  • 1:10 A Word About Leader's Edge Coaching
  • 1:45 Start of Interview
  • 3:13 Launching Dress Your House for Success
  • 13:20 Advice for Bringing BIG Ideas to Life
  • 15:45 Getting Into Selling
  • 18:26 Forming a Partnership
  • 22:47 Lifesizing

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