At age 7, this now-successful real estate luminary left her native Moscow, in tow to family, to embrace the American Dream—San Francisco style.
Currently the #1 producer at Zephyr Real Estate with $87 million in recoded sales in 2015, this 12 year industry veteran comports herself with a style that can best be summed up as “driven”. The angular traits that drive her success—“God is in the detail” perfection, intense focus, client fixation and acute business nous, are offset by an appealing common-man sensibility that reveres the family and that clearly reflects a spirit at peace with self and success.
On the early years
My family migrated to the U.S. in 1982 and came straight to San Francisco. I spoke no English. My educational progression was first grade at Cabrillo Elementary, Presidio for Middle School, George Washington for high school, and then on to San Francisco State University.
When I was in eighth grade, I took a part-time job at H&R Block during the tax season answering the phones and filing tax returns on weekends and evenings. In ninth grade, I took an additional job with Conlon Appraisers doing admin work. Then at age 15, De Wolf Realty, a property management company hired me to answer phones, file leases, and check out keys – a little bit of everything. I remained there for 15 years gaining experience as a property manager until I left to enter the real estate business. One important lesson I took with me from that job was an appreciation for project management. I can handle an untold number of listings without angst, because after 15 years in property management, it’s nothing more than managing a calendar of events.
On the drive to succeed
I didn’t have any school grants and I lost my father to a sudden heart attack when I was in first grade, so our survival was based on what I earned and what my mom could provide. Money was important because it validated the hard work ethic that had been instilled in me by my parents from birth.
On getting into real estate
I knew I was tailor-made for real estate when I joined Zephyr and went through their training program. I knew that I would either go big or go home. I had previously worked for a company where there were well-established procedures and methods, and from that experience I discovered I’m much better suited to an independent, self-directed environment. As one who is very self-driven, I wanted a home where somebody would guide and educate me– when I needed it. I was looking for a firm that would be there to help me achieve my vision. Zephyr was the perfect match.
My mentors have been Don Saunders and Tara Donohue, my former and current managers at Zephyr. Don made me feel like I could walk into his office at any time, ask any question and he wasn’t going to judge me. I don’t like to be judged. And he had faith in me. Tara provided unwavering support, leadership and encouragement, all of which are so critical to being a successful realtor.
My territory is primarily San Francisco, all 10 districts. I deal with single family homes, condos, TICs, a lot of 2-4 unit buildings. My sweet spot, sales-wise, is in the $800,000 to $3.5 million dollar range, reflecting the fact that many of my clients are from the tech and dot.com sectors.
On her operating style
I’m a very intuitive person, so how I feel about a situation or a person often dictates whether or not I’ll work with them. I’m not trying to be appear arrogant or dismissive, but I bring a level of experience and value that needs to be respected. I maintain strong and continuing relationships with my clients because they respect me and want to work with me, and they appreciate the value I bring to the table. It’s why I’m the second-highest-ranked agent on Yelp. What I’ve discovered about myself is that I prefer to work with people who genuinely value my advice and opinion. And it shows in the results. I’ve done 46 transactions since January 1st and the more selective I’ve been, the more the business has come my way.
You really have to know your stuff, tour the properties and take the time to understand the market. For me, that means a client relationship that runs from beginning-to-end of the transaction– and continues long after. I carefully cultivate such relationships and it pays off–they refer their friends. To that point, 90% of my business is referral. The online press– Yelp, Zillow and Trulia help keep me visible, but you can only sustain that image if you do good, honest work for your clients. It has to be a consistent effort– part of your DNA.
I’m fanatical about things being done right, not missing steps. Detail, focus and perfection define me, probably to my detriment at times. I return my own phone calls and emails. I do my own open houses. That means that I commonly work 16-17 hours a day, including weekends. But it’s not an imposition because I really do love the business. I’ve been called a “fierce warrior” because I stand my ground, but if I’m to be a strong advocate for my client, I have to make sure that people do what they say they’re going to do.
I just closed an escrow where someone left us with a bunch of debris. The listing agent denied responsibility. I didn’t even try to figure out whose debris it was. I called my hauling contractor and said, “Show up on Sunday at 8.00 AM”. I called my client and said, “I’m taking care of it.” End of story. The next day the client called to say, “I didn’t expect you to do that. I wanted the seller to come back and do it.” For me, unnecessary conversations are painful. I want to be your first phone call and not your last. I want to be your #1 resource for whatever it is. If you call me at 2:00 in the morning, I’ll take the call because it must be urgent. I’ve had sellers suffering panic attacks at 3:00 in the morning. Most people would say, “I’ll call you back the next day.” Not me. I don’t have limits. I have a high tolerance level.
I’m not into the toys anymore. I love my shoes, handbags and jewelry. But I no longer need a $100,000 automobile. My clients drive themselves. I’ve had the Range Rovers and Mercedes but I’m in a Toyota now. I’ve outgrown badges. However, real estate is another matter. I have a 7,500 sq. ft. home in Salt Lake City and own multiple properties all over San Francisco. I try to buy investment property at least once a year as part of a long term portfolio strategy and I know how to manage them effectively because of my property management experience. I’ve been doing that since I was 18.
On the marketplace
In terms of the single family and condo markets, I’m still seeing multiple offers. I’m now competing to get my buyers into contract, and I’m also selling substantially over asking price. I think we’ve got another two years of that behavior. However, I do see some leveling out in certain markets –South of Market, Mission Bay, central waterfront. I’m seeing a little bit of that stabilization in the District 10 single family home market, but it’s because the properties were overpriced to begin with.
Willing and able buyers are still out there. They understand the benefit of buying. They want to put down roots. They’re starting families and they don’t want to pay somebody else’s mortgage anymore. I’m also noticing that many buyers who are relocating or upsizing are not selling their first home. They’re keeping it to rent. They’re now asking for guidance and education on how to become an investor. I get constant calls about that.