This week, I am speaking with Shelley Scotto, of Coldwell Banker on Long Island & Queens, New York.
Shelley is an incredible real estate agent that has been successful in every type of market since 1988. We had a wide-ranging conversation about:
- Branding in a Competitive Environment
- Keeping Your Integrity and Reputation
- Marketing and Customer Service
- The Lost Art of Negotiation
- The Cure for Fear in real estate
- How Shelley would Improve the Real Estate Business if she could waive a magic wand.
You know, I’m so grateful to know people like Shelley, because they have so much to teach us. I hope you enjoy this conversation with this incredible real estate professional!
Shelley Scotto’s Links
Topics and Timing
- 0:00 – Introduction
- 1:11 – A Word About Leader’s Edge Coaching
- 2:00 – Start of Interview
- 8:10 – Branding in a Competitive Environment
- 11:05 – Keeping Your Integrity and Reputation
- 14:36 – Marketing and Customer Service
- 19:00 – The Lost Art of Negotiation
- 22:19 – The Cure for Fear
- 28:21 – How to Improve the Real Estate Business
Start of Interview
Bob Burns: One of the reasons I love doing this podcast is that it gives me a good reason to reconnect with old friends and colleagues. Today’s guest is an absolutely incredible real estate professional with Coldwell Banker NRT on Long Island and Queens, New York. I got the opportunity to work with her first as the company’s director of education and later as the VP that oversaw her office in Manhasset. She’s been in the business for 32 years, and a top producer in her marketplace for basically every one of those years. I’ve been a huge fan of hers for a very long time, and I’m super excited that she’s agreed to share her secrets of success on How They Won. So, Shelley Scotto with Coldwell Banker on Long Island and Queens, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Shelley Scotto: My pleasure, Bob, it’s so nice to speak to you again.
Bob Burns: I’m really looking forward to catching up, it’s going to be fun. So we’re going to dive into the business side of the conversation and talk about how you’ve managed to stay so consistent year after year, and all of the other things that you do, but before we do that, I want to ask you about the time you showed a house that wasn’t actually for sale, and turned out was in the wrong town altogether. What happened there?
Shelley Scotto: Yes, I was a new agent and very, very nervous and I made an appointment to show a house to friends of mine, never bothering to look at the listing sheet to see which town it was in. I knew the street very well, and I made the appointment, it was for 10 o’clock and when I got there lo and behold the door was open, which usually means you can come right in. So I did, I walked right into the house, I proceeded to show the house and they liked it. I saw that the homeowner was in the backyard, so I figured she was back there with her children or whatever, family entertaining, and I didn’t bother her.
We went through the whole house, it was quite a large house, and at the end it was time to show the backyard. I opened up the backyard door, and the door to the backyard from the kitchen, and you see this lady’s face just dropped, and I knew right then and there I did something wrong. I wasn’t sure was I supposed to ring the bell, but I just knew something and I said, “Oh, excuse me, I’m sorry I didn’t ring the bell. I thought you left the door open for me.” And she said, “Left the door open for what?” And I said, “Well, I’m the person that has the 10 o’clock appointment.” And she said, “Appointment, appointment for what? I don’t remember making appointment.” I said, “To show your house.” She said, “You showed my house?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “My house isn’t on the market.” And the street was Brookside Drive, and I’m in Manhasset, and I showed this house in Manhasset on Brookside Drive. I looked at my sheet and I said, “Look! Here!” And I showed her the sheet, and she said, “Dear, this is in Port Washington.”
That was the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done. Thank goodness I knew the buyers, and they were laughing, and the woman says, “Did you really go through my whole house?” And I said, “Yes.” And she said, “Oh, I’m so happy that I have out of town guests; my beds were made.” So I think that’s probably the craziest thing I’ve ever done.
The other thing I would speak about is also being a pretty new agent, and I only did rentals at that time because it was pretty hard to get a listing. The price range is quite high where I live. And I went and picked up a key to show a house on a Sunday. Another house, I mean it was years and years ago, I’ve been doing this for over thirty years. Well I think the house was like $999,000, which now the house today would probably be about three-five ($3.5 million) and it was a lovely house, and I said to the lady before I left, the realtor she gave me the key, I said, “You have an alarm on the house?” And she said, “No, there’s not one of those things.”
I never knew what she was speaking about, but okay I took the key. And as soon as I put the key in the door, the alarm went off. And I froze. And luckily, I figured let me just start showing the house anyways until the police come. And I started showing the first floor, because people had come from the city, it was a long way. I hear the cop stop, and I hear his motor go off, and he comes out and his hand is by his gun, and he looks at me and he goes, “Oh, Shelley, what are you doing?” And I said, “I’m showing the house.” He goes “Oh, I figured it was something like that.” I had just rented him a house like the month a month before that, so it was a good thing. Those are the two craziest things I’ve ever done.
Bob Burns: Those are two great stories, and I never heard the story about the alarm. I have something in common with you, you might not have known about. In my very first open house, I was holding the house open for another agent in my office. I didn’t have any listings yet, the agent was like yeah, just go hold it open do whatever you want, here’s the lockbox, all of that. So I get there, I still have my temporary business cards, so my permanent ones hadn’t come in yet. So it was generic business cards with my office and the office logo and the office address, and then I hand wrote in ink my name on the card and my cell phone number.
So, I opened up the open house, I have all my signs out, I’ve got the blinds open the soft music playing, everything that I was taught in training. And like ten minutes later four cop cars show up! You know, the sirens on and the whole thing. They rush out of their car, they run into the house, and I’m like oh, I got my hands up and and they said, “There was a silent alarm activated in this house. Who are you?” And I’m like, “Oh wait, no I’m the realtor.” So I give them my temporary business card with my ink-scrawled name on it, looks looks very suspicious. Thankfully they called the office to verify.
Real estate’s a crazy business, and it seems like it’s always been crazy, but we have fun, don’t we?
Shelley Scotto: Yes, we sure do. We could write books.
Bob Burns: We could absolutely write books. So for those that don’t know about Shelly’s market, Shelley’s office is in Manhasset, New York, which is on the North Shore of Long Island. If you’ve ever read The Great Gatsby, Shelley basically works in East Egg across the bay from West Egg. Is that right, Shelly?
Shelley Scotto: Yes, East Egg is actually Sands Point which is Port Washington, and West Egg is Kings Point, which is in Great Neck. So yeah, really close, and pretty pricey.
Branding in a Competitive Environment
Bob Burns: Pretty pricey as a new agent and even as an experienced agent it’s super duper competitive, and I want to get into that that question about competition right now, if that’s okay. One of the things that I always admired about you, Shelley, is your ability to brand yourself in a super, super competitive environment. What are some of the things that you could share with the folks listening that have enabled you to stand out in such a competitive place?
Shelley Scotto: I think everybody does branding. I think what it really comes down to is the quality of your branding, and putting it in the right place. A lot of people advertise in like a Penny Saver-type of place. That’s good in some areas; it doesn’t work here for us. You know branding has really changed over the years, and I try to change with the market. I see that everything seems to be so much more internet-based than it used to be, but I continue to do my mailings as well as the internet-based pieces. I do postcards, I’m in the local newspaper above the… I’m trying now to kind of do seniors, so I have myself placed by the bridge part of the newspaper, I think that would be a good thing, or the Sudoku, I might have something there. I know people might be housebound during the winter and they might be doing that, or a crossword puzzle as well.
I just tried to do anything high quality. I always said you really can’t climb a ladder with your hands in your pockets. So that’s the way I think about it. I mean I’m investing all the time in my own business. Another thing I think is very important is that I always say, “Dress for success.” Sometimes you see people in the supermarket that I work with and they look like they’re in the supermarket. I always think you always have to be dressed decently, because every time you meet somebody it’s really an interview. You just don’t know where it’s going to take you, and you have to look like a business person.
Bob Burns: Right, your brand is not just a logo or a flyer that you put out. Your brand is everything we do. It’s how you look, it’s how you talk, it’s where you advertise, it’s how you advertise, how you interact with clients. Every one of those situations is a branding opportunity.
Shelley Scotto: Correct, I agree, yes.
Bob Burns: And you’ve been incredibly consistent with that, and I love the quote, I wrote it down, “You can’t climb a ladder with your hands in your pockets.” So thanks for that, I’m going to introduce that one into my rotation.
Shelley Scotto: Unless you’re in the service it’s not one of the things I’ve ever thought of doing, but it’s true you have to spend money to make money.
Keeping Your Integrity and Reputation
Bob Burns: I think it’s so smart. Now let’s stay on the competitive market that you operate in, because one of the other things that I’ve always really admired about you, Shelley, and I don’t think I’ve ever told you this, but I get to tell you now because I’ve got a microphone, imagine that. You always have done the right thing even when no one’s looking, and my experience at least working in your marketplace when I was there, was that is not always the case in the real estate business, where you see agents cutting corners or maybe compromising, because the sale prices are so high, maybe, is a motivator for them, but you know what’s your philosophy like, keeping the integrity levels that you’ve kept through your business?
Shelley Scotto: That’s the most important thing to me, it really is. My manager’s always yelling at me and she’s always saying to me, “It’s alright if you sell your own listing. It’s okay if you sell your own listing.” But when you think about it, and it’s nice to sell your own listing, it doesn’t happen very much if you’re doing it the right way.
My job, I’m really working for the homeowner. I mean as a seller’s agent I am really working for the homeowner, and do I really know the person that just came into the open house they’ve never met before? When somebody else brings in somebody that they’ve been dealing with for a very long time, they have all their papers in hand, their house is sold or their house is under contract and they could prove it, than just going with somebody that you don’t know. I always say my job is to get the house sold for the best possible price in the quickest amount of time, and I live by that. And that’s my reputation.
Bob Burns: So you’ve certainly left short-term commission dollars on the table by taking that attitude, but do you think it’s helped you in the long run in building your business and your reputation?
Shelley Scotto: Definitely, for sure. Oh, for sure. People always say, “I got your name from Mrs. Smith, and she was telling me that you also had your own buyer, but you didn’t push your buyer because the other person was ready to go.” And I really feel very, very strongly about that. I know this is crazy to say, but money is not my god. I’m not such a religious person, but I just think that if you do the right thing, it comes back to you. I’m a good person to look at to see that that really works. I mean when I do something like that, it comes back tri-fold.
Bob Burns: Absolutely. It’s no surprise that you’ve made it 32 years in this business and being successful. I’ve seen people come into this business very, very successfully, like their hair’s on fire, but if they don’t have that long term view of ethics and integrity, and doing the right thing even at the cost of a short-term commission, usually they tend to burn out pretty early, and they don’t turn this thing into a career like you have. So kudos to you I think that’s amazing.
Shelley Scotto: Or they don’t have a very good reputation. You have that, too. And reputation to me is everything. I have to look at myself in the mirror and go to bed at night and feel like I’ve done the right thing. Otherwise, I’m just not happy.
Bob Burns: You’re not happy. And it just makes life harder. You know when you have an offer on another agent’s listing, they know who they’re dealing with, and their guard is down a little bit because they know they’re working with Shelley Scotto on the other side of the deal, versus being on guard to have some other agent submitting an offer on that property.
Shelley Scotto: Usually the homeowner will know my name as well, so that helps also.
Marketing and Customer Service
Bob Burns: Absolutely. So I want to get into… you shared a story about a difficult expired listing that you picked up one September, and they needed to close by the end of the year for tax purposes. How did you approach that after those homeowners couldn’t sell? They were on the market for over a year. They failed to sell. You picked up the listing and got it closed within a couple months.
Shelley Scotto: Yes I got a call from a gentleman that I didn’t know. I hadn’t even shown his property. He was a senior, a really nice man who had his apartment, it was a new senior complex and he likes the complex so much, he went and he bought the largest complex in that building. So he had a small one available, and he gave it back to the listing broker of the building. He gave it back to her.
We spoke for a very long time, and I noticed so many mistakes. The listing on the MLS was different than the listing on the listing papers for a local board. He was very surprised when I spoke about an open house. He said that she sat downstairs and waited for people so she can open the door. She said that it was a virtual doorman where you need to know a combination to get into the building, so she waited for the people downstairs, and then she would go upstairs with them. Which basically means she was greeting all the people in and out, getting her card, looking for more business.
When I take your listing, I’m there to sell your house. You know, many times an agent will take along another agent to their open house, so they can run with them to somebody else’s house during an open house. I am there for the homeowner. So I said to him, “Don’t worry, I will hire somebody to sit downstairs to open the door, while I will wait upstairs for the customer to come, don’t worry about that.” And he said, “I haven’t seen any offers at all.” And I did my research, and I saw the marketing was really lacking. So I said, “I can promise you that you’ll really see a difference in the marketing, and I will do everything that I could do to make this happen.” And it had to close the last day in December for tax purposes, and I said, “I can’t swear that I can do it, but I’m going to try. I’m going to make this my priority to get this done.” And we had several offers, and they weren’t high enough, and he was happy with that.
He saw the difference right away. And then very early in December, somebody came in with an all-cash buyer that did not sell their house yet. And I told him about it, and I explained that that was worth the money as well, just that she can move quickly, and give her a little bit of a bonus. So what we did is, I said, “Give the agents a bonus to get this closed.” The homeowner had all the right terms and it was just that we needed think the agent to really push because there was another property that was available as well. So we gave the agent broker a ten thousand dollar bonus, of course she splits it with her office, but that’s okay, it’s a nice Christmas, Hanukkah bonus. And it was done. It closed on the 30th of December, and I really made a friend for life. And I got another listing.
Bob Burns: I was just going to ask that. So let’s let’s back up a little bit. From a pricing perspective, did you end up relisting it at a lower price than the prior agent had?
Shelley Scotto: Nope, same price.
Bob Burns: So really the marketing was the difference.
Shelley Scotto: It was the marketing that was the difference. It was just being out there with sending postcards out and putting it in the paper, and just being there on a Sunday for an open house. Even if you don’t get too many people at your open house, it’s out there, the word is out there. And it works, it happened. And then right across the street, someone had come to look and they couldn’t do it quick enough. That was someone that could have bought it, but they wouldn’t have been able to close on time, but they gave me their listing so that was it was great.
The Lost Art of Negotiation
Bob Burns: Yet another example of how doing the right thing will benefit you in the long run. It’s just how it how it works. But I want to I want to key in on something else that I heard you talk about, and that is your negotiation strategy on bringing the homeowner to maybe a number that they weren’t super comfortable with but making up for it in terms of this being a cash buyer who was motivated who wanted to close quickly.
Shelley, I think negotiation is a dying art form in our business with offers being shared electronically and buyers agents not even getting on the phone with the listing agent anymore. What are you seeing? What’s your negotiating strategy when you’re trying to put a deal together? Could you share a little bit about how you think about that?
Shelley Scotto: That’s what this is really all about is negotiation. And you’re right, there’s an art to it, and people don’t know the art. They’re so quick to throw their money away as an agent and throw the homeowners money away. And I always say, “I won’t put my hands in your pocket. Don’t put your hands in my pocket.” We’ll come to an agreement that we’re both happy with, and we’ll do the deal.
I think that different strategies that you use at different times make a buyer and a seller come to terms. When you have a time constraint and you have somebody that’s all cash, that’s worth money. When you have a seller whose place isn’t ready yet, and the person’s willing to wait, that’s worth something, too, that you don’t have to rent. Depending upon what the situation is, there’s different reasons. And also as an agent I just don’t believe that it should come from you. The cut that the homeowner is taking should come from the homeowner. It’s a decision that they have to make whether they want it or not.
You’re doing your job, you’re getting paid to do a job, and then the homeowner has to decide whether they want it or they’ll wait it out. And I always tell people, and this is true, I just closed on a property the other day. The longer you wait, the less that you get. The first offers that you get are usually your best offering. It’s really true, people say, “I want.” You know, you’re the professional. You know what the house is worth. I mean I want a lot of things, it doesn’t mean I’m going to get it. As long as the homeowner knows what you expect to get. Sometimes you go into a house and the homeowner says, “Well Joe Schmoe said that he can get me X amount of dollars.” And I say very often, “If he feels that he can get you that amount, and he believes in your home at that amount, give him the listing for a short amount of time, because he’s going to ask you for a reduction very quickly.” And that’s worked for me as well.
The Cure for Fear
Bob Burns: I think it’s so powerful. But one thing that I’m sensing, Shelley, is the difference between you and the average agent I think is fear. So many agents have a fear of not getting the listing, or a fear of not putting the deal together, or a fear that this may be their last income opportunity for several months, because they haven’t done the hard work of daily prospecting. And what starts to happen, is agents are not strong enough to get the seller to list at the correct price or at the correct commission rate, or they’re putting part of their personal income into the transaction to try to bridge the gap between buyers and sellers. And in my experience that comes down to fear. Why do you think it is? Do you agree with that, that it’s a fear issue for other agents? Or is it a lack of training? What is it that causes so many agents to allow the homeowner to not leverage their expertise in this transaction.
Shelley Scotto: I think that many of the agents have their money spent before they make it. I don’t think that they really look at the big picture. I don’t fear…the only thing I fear is getting ill. I don’t think this is something to be frightened of. If you’re a good agent, you should feel strong enough about yourself that this is not your first nor your last deal. and you have to do the right thing, and if this price is not the correct price, and the homeowner is not happy with this price, then wait for somebody else to come along. But I don’t think fear is…fear shouldn’t even be something that comes to mind when you’re working.
Bob Burns: I think it gets back to what you said before, the commission income is a side effect of the job that you’re there to do. So I think part of the way, at least as a third-party arm’s-length observer of you and your business, Shelly, I can see that attitude that you take to the business play out every single day. You’re there to do a job, you’re there to be a professional, you’re there to get results. And if at the end of the day that creates commission income for you, great! But your first priority seems to be to do the job. Do you think I’m correct on that?
Shelley Scotto: Yes, I think you’re correct. I mean, of course you want to get paid I mean well I’m not a social worker, even though you feel like one at times, I mean you’re really holding people’s hands and listening to their problems. I like people. I mean I do, I like meeting different people, I like different cultures, I like learning about different people. And your reward at the end is what you’ve earned, is your commission.
Bob Burns: Makes a lot of sense. I want to stay on the big picture. Like I said before you’ve been doing this for more than thirty years, and you’ve been in every kind of market, you’ve been in recessions, you’ve been in bull markets, you’ve been in high interest rate markets, low interest rate markets, high supply, low supply, buyers market, seller’s market, luxury market, first-time homebuyer market. You have been in every single type of real estate situation imaginable over the years. How have you been able to continue to learn and grow and sharpen your craft?
Shelley Scotto: Good question, I’d have to think about that. You know before I did this I worked on Wall Street. I traded municipal bonds. I had my Series 7 and 63. And again, you go through highs and you go through lows. I mean it’s natural, this economy, it’s the world. But you just need to… it’s just like when I first started real estate, things were different. It’s like anything else, things are changing. You just learned to work with it. You learn when you comp a property, you learn to just go back three months and not to go back a year. You learn to keep up with the times. It’s very important for agents to know their inventory, to know what things look like inside, to know when the title comes of course of what it sold for, what you had inside. You know why it sold so lowe, the inside was not updated, or you know what pricing should be like. Pricing is so, so important.
Bob Burns: So just staying engaged and showing up to work everyday. It sounds so basic, but it’s that’s such a key.
Shelley Scotto: Yes, you know when I started this, I worked in a little mom-and-pop place for a while, and I always said when I put my son on the school bus for kindergarten, five years old, I’ll go to a major place to work. And I’ll really make this work, because I didn’t want to go back to Wall Street. I wanted to be the home. I wanted to see my son grow up. And I did. He’s going to be 34 now. You met him, Bob, when he was young and he’s going to be 34. You know how quick that goes. And I used to put him on the school bus and I was in the office at 8:30. I mean I’d bring coffee for everybody when they got there. I mean I’m still in very early and I can work very late.
I don’t show houses at night. I never did. Once it’s dark, that’s it, because I think that one thing I’ve learned is buyers that come out at night always say “Oh, can I come back on Sunday to see what it looks like during the day? So why are you spending your evenings in somebody’s house with people you don’t know? It’s dangerous. I mean, I think the afternoons, mornings are better, but you have to change with the times.
Bob Burns: And I want to give a quick plug to Shelley’s son’s podcast. It’s called, correct me if I’m wrong, Battle Lines and Ian Scotto is the host. Did I get that right?
Shelley Scotto: Ian Scotto, yes, he’s the host of Battle Lines. Yeah, he’s enjoying it.
How to Improve the Real Estate Business
Bob Burns: So check out Ian’s podcast, everybody listening to this podcast. One more question, Shelley, and then I’ll let you go. You’ve been very, very generous with your time, I know how busy you are. My question is, if you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the real estate business, what would that be?
Shelley Scotto: Well for myself, I think one of the things that I would like is less open houses. I think in this price range I don’t think the open houses really sell your house. It really gets you more customers if you want customers and clients. I don’t think it’s really a venue for selling the house. As I said, it’s really for more business, and as I said, working for the homeowner, and I tell people this all the time, I don’t feel that an open house will sell your house, but if you’d like to do it, I’m more than happy to do the open house. I have no problem with it at all. And I think if that would happen people would be calling the listing agent more. And I also think that I wouldn’t have these Zillow things going on anymore, because I think people selling back your listings to you, it’s a little crazy. That I won’t spend for. That I just think is a little nutty, and I don’t like that feeling. So I think those are the two things.
Bob Burns: Paying someone else in order to market your own listing, and getting the leads sold back to you…it’s a strange concept, and I don’t know how we got to that point, but it is it is awkward. But I’m going to I’m going to try to paraphrase what you said, Shelley, and you can correct me if I’m wrong. What I think you said is you would like the real estate industry to change in a way that allows us to do a much better job of solely representing the needs of our clients, of truly doing our fiduciary duty for the people that we represent, and to remove the barriers that have gotten in the way of that. Would you say that’s kind of a summary?
Shelley Scotto: I would have one more thing to add to that, now that you said that. Very often here we have people calling themselves buyers’ agents and the problem with it is they’re sending their clients to these open houses, and if you read the laws, you’re really not supposed to be speaking to somebody else’s clients. They come to your open houses, and they tell you after they go through the whole house that they’re working with whoever they’re working with, after you’ve had this conversation with them. I just think that it’s not being handled the right way. I don’t think that buyers’ agency is being handled the way it is supposed to be handled. That would be another thing that I would do away with.
Bob Burns: That makes total sense, and I see the same thing in my travels everywhere I go.
Shelley Scotto: You do?
Bob Burns: Absolutely. Buyers agents need to…the contract is a two-way street. It’s a commitment from the buyer to us, but it’s also a commitment from us back to our clients, so that is a two-way contract, and I think we need to work very, very hard to fulfill our obligations and promises to our clients, whether they be sellers or buyers at the same level.
So we’ll wrap it up there, Shelley. I want to thank you again for everything that you shared. We talked about a lot of different things. It was a wide-ranging conversation. I got a lot of value from it, and I know the folks listening will, too. So, Shelley Scotto with Coldwell Banker on Long Island and Queens, New York, thanks for coming on the show. We really, really appreciate everything that you shared.
Music: “My Everything” by Roads used under license from Tribe of Noise.