This month, Sarah Brown sat down with real estate agent Tad French, with Keller Williams Realty, to hear his story and take on the current real estate market.
1. Tell us about your background and the path that led you to become a real estate agent.
When my parents divorced, I was only six years old. Until then, our family had lived in a prosperous neighborhood in Arlington, VA, but to be closer to the family, my mother decided to move me and my four sisters back to Scranton, PA. With a very limited income, my mother struggled to raise us in a brick house in an alley on the south side of town. "We do not have much," my mother would say, "but what we have is clean and ironed." Even though it was only 1
While serving in the U.S. Army Reserves, I completed my undergraduate degree at St. Bonaventure University before I returned to central PA where I built my first house in 2001. I borrowed the capital from that project and was able to buy a second home just two years later. And so began a fascination with real estate as an investment and the power to use money to control more assets. At the time, I worked in the pharmaceutical industry for companies such as Eli Lilly and Abbott Labs. The income gave me the opportunity to start investing in rental properties. With the help of a pharmaceutical colleague, I started an investment company and, shortly thereafter, a management company. We made every mistake you can imagine in the beginning but always managed to fulfill our obligation to the bank and, more importantly, to learn valuable lessons that we were determined not to have to learn twice.
When the company for which I worked in 2006 was acquired by a larger company, I was offered a generous severance package. In addition, several hundred stock options that I had earned with that company were immediately granted at the new share price. At the age of 29, I was at a crossroads and the money I would take a chance with. That year I got my real estate license and started training full time. After a few months, I was invited to join an experienced agent in central PA as her buying agent. For three years I studied under the very best agent and staff in the industry, learned practical solutions and a philosophy that I still follow today.
In 2008, the economy suffered a significant setback. In the wake of the financial crisis that year, home sales fell and there was a marked change in inventories and the number of home sales. When I was contacted by the pharmaceutical company that acquired my previous employer a few years earlier, I decided to return to work in that industry. It was a good offer at the right time and they even paid for me to return to graduate school in the pursuit of my MBA – a goal that I had started years earlier but which I had left for several reasons. When I went to graduate school, I met the head of welfare management for PNC Bank. Through some mutual friends, she and I got the chance to get to know each other. Eventually, she urged me to join the bank as a relationship manager in her wealth management team.
Without my banking or investment background other than my education, I became vice president of PNC Bank's branch management department in 2011. For six years, among many other lessons, the job gave me the opportunity to learn about lending, property valuation and the insurance process. In a very real way, it was like a continuation of the residence permit I had started with my former real estate colleague in 2006. I can not imagine how rare and temporary my immersion in these two worlds was just at the right time in my life. Not a day goes by in my current practice when I do not benefit from something I learned during the formative years.
2. What is your attitude to the housing and sales process that can make you a little different from other real estate agents?
When I meet a new buyer or seller for the first time, I like to sit down with them and get to know each other a little better. Understanding the motivation or circumstances that make them want to buy or sell now is the key to serving them successfully. Sellers who move to another part of the country or those who have already signed a contract to buy or build another home experience a set of pressures that someone who is shrinking to be closer to their grandchildren may not feel. Taking the time to understand their capital position, timeline and what would happen if the house did not sell at a certain price are important considerations for us to consider together.
With buyers, I like to help them imagine the house that is right for them and their needs in the short, medium and long term. More than creating a list of needs and wants, does this conversation include other factors such as which school district is most attractive and why? How far are they willing to commute to and from work each day? In what ways can a subdivision with parks, street lighting and sidewalks provide an advantage over a house on the outskirts of the city with a larger parcel of land (or vice versa)? Given the tax cut, what does the monthly mortgage payment look like for one house against another? By asking thoughtful questions, my buyers can have deeper conversations with themselves or their families so that we can work together to find the right house and not just a house with the right number of bedrooms and parking spaces.
My formal education in finance, education in banking and real estate valuation and my experience as a professional real estate investor, landlord and real estate agent give my clients an advantage that is not common in my industry. I am grateful for all that life has taught me. I'm really blessed to be able to share that knowledge with my client friends.
It is a commitment from my practice to give back 10% of our annual net income directly to the communities we serve. This year we were able to build a beautiful new scoreboard on the Little League field in Gelder Park. I believe that my small business should always find a way to give back to the community that supports us. For anyone, a lot has had a lot to expect. I am always aware that my four sons are looking at my example. I hope that a spirit of service to society and our country will be my legacy as their father.
3. Do you have a niche or a special area?
Having served in the U.S. Army Reserve for ten years and in the pharmaceutical industry for 12 years, with a physician, I have become a specialist in serving our military, medical and executive relocation clients. Many of these clients work with relocation companies whose guidance and commitment can be positive or negative for customers moving from all over the country or around the world. My support team and I have become familiar with the largest relocation companies in the country that allow us to act as a local extension of their offices. Knowing how to do comparative market analysis in accordance with their strict guidelines enables our salespeople to list their homes with ease and confidence which is comforting to both customers and relocation staff. In addition, relocating doctors, commanders and military personnel often receive funding packages that are not available to the public. An urgent awareness of these lending programs allows me to strengthen a buyer's offer when I negotiate in this competitive market. Those in the medical and military professions speak their own language. Knowing how to speak that language creates trust and calms my customers.
4. Do you focus more on the buyer, seller or both?
I'm happy to serve both buyers and sellers in central Pennsylvania.
5. Do you have any memorable deals (or buy / sell stories) that stand out that can be fun to share?
Depending on the circumstances, a property settlement can be a very emotional time for customers. I have been entrusted with selling houses built by grandparents – homes that have been lovingly cared for by generations for many years. I am honored to have helped single parents find a home that provides stability during a tumultuous time. When parents get older and can no longer maintain their home safely, family members call me to help them handle sales with sensitivity and respect. Serving military families with relocation and welcoming new families to central PA is always a source of pride and satisfaction.
6. What are some home buying trends that you notice?
It's no secret that this is a seller's market. For each house listed for sale, we seem to have five or six buyers who are willing to pay the asking price within just one or two days of marketing. This dynamic has helped to some extent in that it has required our buyers, more fully, to understand the moving parts of the housing process. Buyers learn that the agreed selling price is only one aspect of the transaction. Lenders only provide a mortgage based on the estimated value and not the selling price. Preparing my clients to understand property valuation and lending requirements, as well as the negotiation tools available to them through the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors (PAR), are part of my customer preparedness process. I find that customers have access to a variety of tools online. Websites and online search tools are analogous to a hiking package on the mountain trip for home purchases. These provide tools that are useful on the journey, but they do not provide the training and experience-based knowledge that a guide can bring with them in the process. More than ever before, clients are looking for agents who can serve as Sherpa and help them understand the tools and professional resources they have at their disposal. Competition in the market requires buyers and sellers to adapt to the best possible representation. Like most things today, customers want to work with a specialist and they want their agent to be the "source of the source", who can provide the best people for the transaction, whose expertise can earn or save thousands of dollars while ensuring a seamless and stress-free solution.
7. What is a misconception that you think people have about the home buying process?
From first time home buyers to downward retirees, those moving around the corner to those moving across the country, most customers recognize an element of fear that the home buying process will be difficult and unnecessarily expensive. Vince Lombardi once said, "You can not be sure if you are confused." Helping my clients understand property valuation, the valuation process and the real cost of ownership to include mortgage costs and set aside taxes is one of the best ways I can create peace in the process. By working with a cadre of trusted and local mortgage staff who act as an extension of my own staff, I can help clients remove the mystery, streamline paperwork and set realistic and accurate expectations that aim to deliver under promise and over. Conservative appreciation in the early days of the search results in a happier and more successful client at the settlement table.
8. What are some common mistakes that home buyers / sellers make that you wish could be avoided?
Knowing how your credit score affects your ability to qualify for a mortgage is an integral part of your success in the home buying process. Good advice, early in the process, should ensure that you understand how to maintain your creditworthiness throughout the transaction. Although your score is excellent when you apply for a pre-qualification letter from a lender, you can enter into other revolving debts such as a car loan or credit card negatively affecting your lending terms. In the worst case, the insurance process can determine that these changes are significant enough to make your application a denial. Even where an individual can maintain the extra debt, a lender can determine that they are now a greater risk. This can result in a higher interest rate. It is always best to refrain from incurring a revolving debt or pay off any large outstanding balances until after the settlement of your new home. For home sellers, there is a temptation to try to make very expensive cosmetic improvements to the house before it is placed on the market. Not only is this unnecessary, but it can not, after all, lead to a better selling price. Rather, I recommend that sellers order their own home inspection. Although you may have lived in your home for several years, you may not be aware of problems with your mechanical systems, foundations, roofs or other infrastructure. Knowing these issues before listing allows a salesperson to make practical improvements over time with contractors they know and trust. When sellers leave the home inspection until the buyer's discovery, the results are more often outrageous and more expensive to resolve. In the worst case, sellers may even lose an otherwise favorable deal just because they were not prepared to deal with the discovery of an expensive repair. The best advice I can give sellers is to make sure that everything in the house is clean and in functional .
9. Can you tell us something about your experience with Keller-Brown? Do you have any stories to tell about how we helped one of your buyers? (I realize you have no experience with this, but maybe you can give your impression of the agency. I'm sure Cristy can make something nice about me).
As a local real estate practice, our clients have come to rely on us as the "source to source" for everything related to real estate in central PA. Over the years, I have learned that my partners in banking, insurance and legal services, among many others, differentiate me from my competition. Through trial and error, often on the recommendation of a respected colleague, I have had the chance to work with the very best professionals and small businesses in Midstate. I can not help but compare what my clients and I experience every time we choose a new agency or service provider. That's one of the reasons we're so proud to know Sarah Brown and her colleagues at Keller-Brown Insurance Services. As a family-owned company, committed to serving our central PA community for over 115 years, Keller-Brown provides my clients with access to world-class products and insurance services here in their garden. As a small business leader in the community, my people can look to Sarah and the Keller-Brown team with confidence. The Keller-Brown people are always keen to answer our questions about how to save money on the best insurance coverage and help us navigate complex insurance issues. They know they are a partnership that my clients can trust.
10. What links can we share so that our readers can learn about you or the properties you have listed?
My website is www.wesellharrisburg.com
I am available on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HersheyWestProperties and Linkedin on Tad French, Realtor
I am always available to help buyers and sellers on my direct line at (717) 919-2605 or by email at TadFrench@KW.com
My legal name is Richard French but most people call me Tad. It's a nickname I've had since birth that even my mother calls me today. Tad is the name I am better known by and it is the name under which I practice real estate.