Amanda Howard Real Estate was ranked No. 30 Teams by Transaction Sides and No. 157 Teams by Transaction Volume by the REAL Trends The Thousand as advertised in The Wall Street Journal.
Join QuantumDigital’s CMO Eric Cosway as he interviews Amanda Howard, founder of Amanda Howard Real Estate. Amanda has embedded a culture of community service into her brokerage. A member of the 1000 Top Real Estate Professionals, a national award ranking sponsored annually by REAL Trends, Amanda’s company has adopted key mentorship initiatives, in addition to giving back to her Huntsville, Alabama community.
Eric: Amanda, welcome to our podcast.
Amanda: Thanks for having me, Eric.
Eric: Can you tell us a little about how you got started, or what you did before you got into real estate?
Amanda: Well, sure! It was not quite that interesting. But, I just worked a variety of jobs. I had worked for some IT companies. I worked for another computer company that created database software for car sales, and so I would go out and help them explain why they needed this database or CRM for their car sales department. I even worked in the ice cream shop. So, I just did a plethora of jobs.
Eric: Was there an “a-ha” moment that got you started into real estate?
Amanda: It was actually a conversation that I had with my husband. Because I was not happy in my job. And he loved what he was doing. He was in IT. And he said, “Will you just figure out what it is that you want to do, and something that you love? And just do it.” So, as I thought about it, I thought, “Well, I’m terrible at dishes. I’m terrible on the computer by myself.” But, I really enjoyed it when I was face to face with people. I thought back to a time where I had visited my aunt, in Oklahoma City during the summers. And she was so fun, and I had a great time in the summers with her. So, I asked her what it was that she did. Because I knew she worked. I just didn’t know what she was doing. And I was with her all summer long, hanging out. She said, “Oh, honey. I was selling real estate.” Oh! I didn’t even know that. So, she talked with me a little about that. I went and immediately signed up, took some classes and got my real estate license then and there.
Eric: What year was that?
Amanda: That was in 1999.
Eric: So, it’s been almost 20 years. What surprised you most about real estate?
Amanda: I was surprised at how alone I felt in real estate. So, that was probably one of my key changes that I wanted to make when I was ready to settle down. I did move move around a lot. I came to that realization, got my license in the Chicagoland area. And, again, I felt kind of alone. I was going to NAR, which was awesome—although that was downtown, and an hour and fifteen minute drive for me to get to—I would, every chance I got, go to see a Brian Betheny seminar, or go see somebody there that was teaching at NAR. So, I learned a lot. But I still felt alone. I didn’t have a mentor. I didn’t have a team. I didn’t really have the backing of a… I was in an independent brokerage, but they didn’t really have classes. Even their sales meetings just seemed like they were really there for vendors to sell me something. I was good at buying stuff, too. And then I moved to Florida, got my license there, and it was the same thing… felt alone. Then we moved to Alabama. And that was really where I got my start, and where I finally said, “I’m taking the reins. I’m not going to feel like a victim. I’m not going to feel alone.” I needed to make something of it, because that was the time in my life where I had just had babies. And I realized I need to grow up. It’s now time to be an adult.
Eric: Walk us through that first year in Alabama. Was that a pivotal year for you?
Amanda: It was! What happened was, we moved to Alabama. I moved into this great town called Huntsville, Alabama, and I’ve got a 2-year old and a 2-month old. We moved in, literally, with my parents, into their 1,300 square-foot, 3 bedroom home—myself, my husband, and my two babies…
Eric: You guys are really brave!
Amanda: Yes, I know! I didn’t say it was the best decision. However, I learned a lot. So, it was motivation, also. It’s time for us to grow up. We’ve had a lot of fun, we traveled around. Now, we very quickly had these two babies that we’re responsible for. I realized that I need to work, and I’m not going to live with my family—not with my parents, in this little house. I want to have my own family, my own house, and my own things. So, I just took my girls into the back seat of the car, and started knocking on doors, literally. And I know people say, “Oh, gosh! Nobody really door knocks.” I sure did! I checked the expireds, but I couldn’t afford to send out postage. I would just show up at the house, let them know the same script, pretty much—“I understand that your home was on the market before. It’s beautiful. I just wanted to find out, are you going to stay? Or were you planning to maybe re-list it, and sell at a later time?” And, they would just have a conversation with me, then and there. Because I’m a girl in the south, and I’ve got two babies standing behind me—not really standing behind me, they were in a wagon I was pulling—but, it was a conversation starter. People were friendly. I was friendly to them. I was treating them the way I wanted to be treated. I was offering to help if they needed any help. I followed up, consistently, giving advice and suggestions on what they could do to either prepare or, if they were For Sale By Owner, of how to get their home sold. Eventually—we all know what the stats are—most people can’t sell themselves. So, they called on me as their trusted advisor, who had been there consistently keeping up with them every week. And they said, “Hey, Amanda. We’re ready to talk to you, and see what you have to offer. Because we’re just kind of tired of doing this ourselves.” Very quickly, that first year, I had decent success. I was not a rock star by any means. I sold about 30 homes, on my own, doing door knocking—and, with my kids, because I couldn’t afford a babysitter. I thought that was pretty great, especially because I was stupid enough to bring my kids. We all know you don’t take kids on an appointment. But, it worked for me. And people understood. I just told them, “I’m sorry. Babysitter didn’t show up.” I didn’t tell them I couldn’t afford a babysitter. By the middle of that very first year, only 5 months later, we were actually able to afford to purchase our home and move out of my parent’s house. That was very rewarding and exciting for me. By the end of that year—probably even three-quarters into that year, of my very first year of us not knowing anyone except for my parents, who are sweet as can be, but they’re introverts and they in the outskirts of town, they do not live in town—it was really like starting over. I didn’t know anyone. Because they weren’t even introducing me to anybody. It was also a nice time to start fresh, too.
Eric: When I think of door-knocking, moving to a new city, moving in with your parents… you pushed through a lot of fear.
Amanda: Oh, absolutely. Seeing them in the back seat, and knowing I have to go get diapers now. I have to go get some formula now. That’s motivational, when you know you have mouths to feed, literally. And the only option is you.
Eric: That journey, obviously, led up to founding Amanda Howard Real Estate. How long have you had your own brokerage?
Amanda: It did lead up to that. That was November 2009. We were quite literally kicked out of the brokerage I was at. It was the best thing that could have ever happened. At that moment, I was scared. I didn’t want to do it. I felt let down and betrayed by people I thought were my friends. But the Lord comes in mysterious ways, and He never gives you more than you can handle, even though sometimes I was like “Goodness! The good Lord must think I’m a badass, because he is giving me a lot to handle. It worked out extremely well. Because at that point in time, in 2009… really a couple of years previous, I had met an incredible coach, and some incredible agents who became mentors—though they were in other states and across the country—that I was relying on getting advice from, talking to… creating a team where you don’t feel alone. Where you have the support and the motivation and the backing, and proven track records from them and their experiences that I was utilizing and able to grow with. So, they all said, “This is going to happen. You’re going to get kicked out. We see the writing on the wall.” And I went, “No! It’s not going to happen. I’m honest, I’m open, I’ve been telling them everything.” And they said, “That’s exactly why you’re going to get kicked out! You’re telling them everything that you’re doing.” Sure enough, I got kicked out. Then, they said “Prepare to have a 15% to 25% dip in business in 2010, because you don’t have name recognition.” And I decided to go independent. I spoke to a couple of franchises, and just could not get the numbers to work out right. And we were in a rush, since the unexpected kicking out. So, we went independent. And it was a phenomenal year. We actually increased in business by 19% that very first year of opening. Which was… it shocked me. It shocked my friends who had been through this as well. We came to realize that I was losing business being in that previous brokerage. So, even though I was wanting to stay, and begging to stay, and not wanting to get pushed out, it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. And it was because—what I was getting involved with in taking care of the community as best I could, and taking care of our customers as best we could—we understood we’re a people business. We were serving the community and people in such a way that my name was getting out there, and people were associating me with that brokerage. Well, that brokerage was also working to get its name out there. But there’s sometimes agents who just don’t do what they should do. And that’s no fault of the brokerage, or the broker. We’re all independent agents. And sometimes they would do things that were not in the best interests, or it didn’t shine a proper light onto a name, and I was associated with that. So, they were thinking I owned the company, so I was condoning the bad behavior. There were times when I was on appointments—I was on a lot of appointments—and they would call the front desk, asking to speak with me, and of course, what are they going to say? “Oh, I’m sorry. Amanda Howard is on an appointment right now. But, I’m so-and-so, could I help you?” Well, of course, then all of a sudden they assumed they were going to be connected with me in some way. And they were really going off with another agent.
Eric: Sounds like you had incredible brand recognition. As you look at your firm today, what do you think really sets you folks apart as an independent?
Amanda: It is our consistency and our message, as well as we take away fears. That’s been my stance since the day I knocked on the first door. I didn’t understand it back then, but when I look back at it, that is what held us strong. I was always asking the questions—not only, “How can I help you?”—but you have to ask deeper questions: “Why do you need this help? What is the challenge of you getting that or not getting that? What is your fear?” Taking away their fear. The customer’s fear many times was that they couldn’t sell, and if they couldn’t sell, that we went, “Well, if you don’t sell, why is that a problem?” Well then, this is the problem. So, I just consistently worked at removing fears. And we grew that into a brand that people recognized. And, so now that’s what we do, as well as they know we give back to the community.
Eric: Let’s talk about giving back. I think I read something that… you’re donating to 5 Alabama charities to celebrate your 400 homes sold. Is that 400 homes sold this year?
Amanda: Yes. That was actually this past month. Last year, we donated $19,000 to local charities and schools within our community. We were thinking about it as a leadership group, and we knew that, as we succeed more, it gives us the ability to give back to the community who has been behind our success. Because we wouldn’t be where we are without our customers, without our community. We didn’t want to stop what we were doing, but we just wanted to do something fun and different. I love change. I know some people hate change. I love it. I wanted to do something a little different. I was talking to another incredible agent up in New Jersey—she’s a friend of mine—and she was talking about doing some kind of an award when they hit their 100th home sale. And I said, “Well, that’s kind of fun! I love that idea!” She was pushing for middle of the year. For us, we really were striving for some heftier goals this year. And I said, “Well, if we’re going to do something middle of the year, I’m going to say the 400th home sale.” And even my leadership team was like, “Holy moly! Are we really going to advertise that?” Because, then people are expecting it. And I said, “Yes! I want to do that. This is going to be fun!” So, we did. We started promoting first out to our community saying, “Hey, you’ve been supporting us. We want to give back, but in a way that you want us to give back, rather than us choosing.” Because, I chose where we were going to be spending that $20,000 just under last year. And I’m going to continue to do that because it’s my choice. I want to continue to support the charities I want to support. But now, I want to give a little extra. So, I wanted to take the average sale, or commission received that we would have on that home sale in our Huntsville, Alabama area—so, we’ll set that price as what’s that average—and I want to give that to 5 charities that our clients and our fans choose. In doing that, we went ahead and posted it on social media and out to our newsletter, because I send out the newsletter every other week. People responded, sent in their votes. We compiled it from our clients only—clients and agents—to 10. Then, we sent it out to everybody and we had them give the top 5. So, those top 5 go into our contest to receive the rewards when we hit our 400th home sale. Which, we did that right around the 4th of July.
Eric: What a great emotional connection. I wanted to ask you about a “Yappy Hour.” What is a Yappy Hour?
Amanda: That came up from another one of my girlfriends who sells real estate. I love talking to other Realtors. We get so many great ideas when you have Realtors who love to give back. We were talking about how everybody has happy hours. A lot of our clients like to drink. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s fun. In our area, we really love our dogs. Cats are great, too, but you can’t take them out on leashes. So, I said “Let’s just combine it. Let’s have a little ‘Yappy Hour’ at our community, Big Spring Park. That would be a lot of fun if the mayor and police chief will allow it. It is open container out in the park.” I checked in with them, made some arrangements, and we were able to do it. It was a lot of fun. We had a Yappy Hour. We had “Smooch Your Pooch” booth. At that time, it just fell in line for our 400th home sale. We were able to give our contributions away. We had a big turnout from our customer base, who came out to the park. Everybody was enjoying mimosas and bloody mary’s, and getting to see us give away some fun gifts to all the dogs. Because, we also had some local boutique Hollywood Feed vendors, who also came out and brought some fun treats for pets. I’ve got to tell you, it was a fun time. We’ve got some pictures up on social media, and on our website, of the event. It was a great time. We’ll definitely do it again.
Eric: You’re an absolute innovator. That sounds like a great idea. As you look to the future, what are some of your long term goals?
Amanda: I want to grow with the people that I have. I have some incredible leaders within our team, and I’ve been cultivating them for a while. What I’d love to see now is… success changes for people in different ways. And success means different things to different people. For me, at first, it was just to get my own house and be able to feed my kids and hire a babysitter. Then, it evolves and it’s definitely financial. But, now that I’m secure and my children’s future is secure, and college is paid, and we’ve got everything that I needed financially to be successful. Now my successful attributes, or my goal, is seeing the people that I have—that I can see the leadership abilities in them—I want them to get those developed and nurtured. And I want to grow them into being leaders. I hope to grow with them, and if they go off to grow at something different, that’s great. Actually, we’ve had two agents who have left us and started their own companies—not in real estate, because they realized their dream and passion was a different company—so, we helped them and supported them in those endeavors. But, we’ve got a few great people that are wanting to grow real estate offices. And, we’re actually in the works with them right now—then, training and putting the groundwork together—so that we can help them open their own offices.
Eric: What a great journey you’ve been on. Thank you for your time today. It’s been a real pleasure speaking to you, and getting to know you better. Keep up the great work in Huntsville, Alabama. You are an inspiration to a lot of the independents, and all the brokerages out there.
Amanda: Oh, it’s a lot of fun!