Monday, March 17, 2008

Saluting: Rubloff's Mario Greco

This is the first in a series of profiles saluting Condo Superstars, agents who ranked in the Top 10 for selling the most Chicago condos in 2007.

From Engineer to Esquire to Extraordinary Agent

Name: Mario Greco. Brokerage: Rubloff. Age: 37. Years as Agent: 6. Transaction Rank: 7 (142 units). $ Volume Rank: 7 ($57 million). Resale $ Volume Rank: 1 ($35 million). Condos (as % of business): 59. Source of Statistics: Multiple Listing Service of Northern Illinois (MLSNI), Chicago condos closed in 2007.

In 2001, Mario Greco, an honors graduate from Northwestern University in both chemical and environmental engineering and from Boston University in law, was earning $200,000 a year as an attorney.

Yet, every morning, the 30-year-old son of Italian immigrants awoke with an empty feeling in the pit of his stomach. He dreaded his work in intellectual property litigation as a senior associate at a prestigious Chicago law firm. For one thing, any decision he was allowed to make had to be reviewed by three management levels above him.

Over the next two years, two real-estate agents changed his life. The first, his buyer’s agent for the first condo he bought, served as a negative role model, teaching him how easy it was to earn $8,000 by doing nothing and being unprepared.

The second, an ex-attorney who was listing agent for the first home he and his wife, Julie, bought, did everything right. And he persuaded Mario to follow in his footsteps. In September 2002, Mario left his law career to become a full-time real-estate agent. Julie was encouraging; his parents told him he was a fool. (They have since told their son they are proud of him.)

When he awakens these days, Mario can’t wait to get to work. Typically, the 37 year old is in the office by 4:30 a.m.—answering e-mail, searching MLS hot sheets, searching the MLS for active buyers--and doesn’t return home until 9 p.m. In 2007, his passion and enthusiasm helped him earn the No. 7 rank in selling Chicago condos.

To his way of thinking, Mario ranks as Chicago’s No. 2 full-service condo agent. By full-service, he means excluding agents who sell their own developments, who work exclusively or primarily with developers or who sit in sales offices all year selling new-construction and includes only agents, like himself, who generate their own business.

Using that definition, Mario ranked No. 1 in units sold (transactions) in 2007 among the 15,500 members of the Chicago Association of Realtors. In dollar volume, considered the more important metric since commissions are based on it, Mario placed No. 2 among full-service agents, trailing only Jeff Lowe of Century 21 Sussex & Reilly.

In dollar volume of resale (existing) city condos, excluding new-construction units, Mario is indisputably No. 1, with $35 million sales in 2007.

Although The Mario Greco Group has 16 additional members, including seven sales agents, Mario as the group’s leader generates 99% of all sales. His agents, who are paid a bonus for each deal, generally just show units.

In 2007, Mario personally sold 142 units, with a combined value of $57 million. (And condos represent only 59% of his business. His total gross sales were $103 million!) Of that $57 million, he earned $2.7 million in commissions, before splitting fees with brokerages, paying his 16 people, advertising and other expenses.

And 2007 simply continued a series of record years. Since January 2002, Mario has sold $438 million in real estate: $9 million in year one, while still a practicing attorney; $30 million in year two; followed by annual sales of $70 million, $90 million, $101 million and, last year, $103 million. In the first nine weeks of 2008, he sold $35 million.

Any way you slice the statistics, Mario is a Condo Superstar.

What is Mario Greco’s secret? What motivates him? How did he get to the top? What advice does he have for other agents who want to climb into the Top 10? What is the personal cost to him? What does he predict for the condo market?

In an interview in Rubloff’s Lincoln Park office recently, he candidly answered those questions, and more. In his own words:

How does it feel to be a Top 10 Condo Superstar? Even after six years, success still creates a good feeling.

What are your secrets to selling so many condos?

* Motivation: Work ethic of immigrant parents (father held three jobs). Satisfaction of helping people. I’m a great front-runner. I don’t like to play catch-up. Each client is a different puzzle to solve. My greatest satisfaction comes from having a huge impact in peoples’ lives: helping them find a home, advising them on their most important investment.

* Strengths: Ability to read, relate to and connect with, anyone. Organized, detail-oriented. Some agents have told me their clients enjoyed our showings so much, they bought my unit even though they may not have initially liked it as much as other units. I delegate everything that is not of substance so I can focus on three things: meeting new clients, negotiating, showing.

I possess a great radar for people-reading. I'm a life-long Sox fan, so if I’m making a presentation or a showing on the South Side or notice something that indicates a certain allegiance, I anticipate that my potential client likely will be a Sox fan and act accordingly.

* USP (Unique Selling Proposition): Structure (staff), organization (staff), and detail-oriented staff that supports me. A full-time scheduler. All showings are followed up with immediate e-mail to the client and a follow-up call to the agent. I have a full-time person whose only job is to gather feedback from each showing and send a summary spreadsheet to sellers every Tuesday.

* Mix: Ratio of listings to “solds” is 70/30. Ratio of new to resale is 30/70. I don’t try to create an ideal balance between the two; I take what comes.

* Help from others: 90% referrals; 10% call me and want my help, including smaller developers.

* Role of Internet: It’s growing. We’re relaunching as a blog-centered site. Fewer than 10 clients have resulted from cold Internet leads. My site is more a tool to sell listings. Someone comes from a search engine, sees I’ve sold several units for $1.2 million and knows I can sell his or her million-dollar home.

Why do you sell so many condos? They are more affordable, so more people buy them. Also, there are more condos than homes on the North Side, where I do 95% of my business.

Who is your toughest competitor? I am.

What is your greatest weakness? Sometimes I’m stretched too thin.

How do you enjoy your personal time? Our lives tend to center on our five dogs, all of them “rescues.” We even live where we do because our home is near a dog park.

What was your path to success? A child of immigrants, I was raised, along with two siblings, by a stay-at-home mother and a father who taught high school and held two other jobs. My parents gave me a great work ethic. Their dream for me was a “stable” career, such as a doctor or lawyer. I followed their dream. During college, I worked as an engineer for Dow Chemical and Monsanto. After graduation, I went directly to law school in Boston. Back in Chicago, I worked for three law firms. I got my Realtor’s license on 1/11/02, began selling real estate on the side. That September, I started selling full-time and never looked back.

What advice do you have for agents who want to become Superstars? 1) Work hard (there’s no substitute), 2) price correctly, 3) spend money to make money. Spend money on: a. staff (start with an assistant who enables you to focus on clients), b. branding yourself (consistently), c. marketing your listings.

My most effective advertising: yard signs with “Contract Pending”; Just Listed and Just Sold postcards to every home within three blocks of every listing. We get mailing lists from tax records. I spent about $30,000 on postage last year. I’m an old-school guy: There’s no substitute for yard signs and word of mouth.

When thinking of adding an assistant, don’t think of it as $30,000 a year in expenses, but as an investment that will help you sell an additional property per month. Hire enough people to delegate to so you can focus on substance.

I’ve never made a single cold call, never called a “FSBO” for a listing. I prospect, but I don’t troll. I have no written business plan or goals for new-construction vs. resale, etc. I take what business comes my way. I go with the flow. I have all the numbers in my head, as well as my business plan, to the extent I have one. My accountant and bookkeeper do track every dollar in and out. I want to grow organically.

What is the cost of being a Superstar? The personal toll: Not being around family and friends, enjoying a Sox game, etc. I work 100 hours a week, 20 of them managing, 80 selling. On a typical busy weekend, we show 100 properties.

Mario and wife, Julie, on vacation in Argentina

Also, now that my original buyers are becoming sellers (and buying again), they expect the same level of personal service I gave them when I had fewer clients.

What do you look for when hiring agents? They must be responsible, personable and detail-oriented.

Why should buyer/seller work with you? To profit from my personal attention and the support of our staff, we go where our motto promises: “Above and Beyond.”

Looking back on 2007:

* Most important decision: To ignore the pessimistic reports of a crumbling market in the media and keep a positive attitude and keep spending money on staff and marketing.

* Highest moment: Being name exclusive listing agent for a 150-unit project at 47th and Cottage Grove in Hyde Park, called The Shops and Lofts at 47.

* Lowest moment: Scheduler decided to leave group while I was on my only vacation for all of 2007. I’m still trying to recover.

* Biggest mistake: Putting off for yet another year upgrading my Web site.

Looking ahead in 2008:

* Market forecast: This year’s condo market will be much better than 2007. Unit sales will be up 10 to 20%. Appreciation will be up 3%. My sales are already up 25% year to date, to nearly one a day.

* No. 1 goal: To balance my life and not allow my “out time” to be violated (with phone calls, etc.).

* How increase rank: I hired a second scheduler and am making my Web site more visible to search engines.

* Biggest challenge: Balancing my life while still managing a growing business and an expanding staff.

* Blog plan: I’ve hired a college student to manage the creation of a blog-centered Web site by a Silicon Valley company and a freelancer to write daily posts. If I have several new listings in Lakeview, for example, we’ll post a story on a new shop in that neighborhood. When users Google Lakeview, my site will pop up at, or near, the top of search results.

What would you rather be? Nothing. I’m really happy doing what I do and being who I am.

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