In business, the phrase, “the bigger, the better” doesn’t always apply. Sometimes a company’s competitive advantage lies in its ability to be small so it can be big to its customers. Being small usually means the owner of the company is close to the customers, so there will naturally be a higher propensity for great customer service. And great customer service leads to a VERY high success rate in business.
Elizabeth Convery is the young entrepreneur responsible for VERY Real Estate, a boutique brokerage firm based in Center City Philadelphia. Ms. Convery has taken full advantage of her education and “big” corporate experience in positioning her new company to be an alternative to big company coldness. In the article below, Elizabeth Convery talks about her background and how she’s created a very “small” yet very disruptive business with VERY Real Estate.
CC: Can you please introduce yourself for those who don’t know?
EC: I’m Elizabeth Convery, the founder of Very Real Estate; a boutique Real Estate brokerage firm in the Old City section of Philadelphia. We help our clients, buy, sell and invest in real estate.
CC: What do you mean when you say VERY Real Estate is a boutique real estate firm?
EC: It means small and specialized. We’re small in that we’re a team of three, right now and we’re specialized in that we only focus on the 10 core Center City markets. They’re markets that I’ve either lived in, worked in, or gone out in.
CC: Why is it important to focus on areas that you’re familiar with as opposed to areas on the Main Line that may still be very profitable?
EC: One of the things with real estate is that it’s so personal. Every property is different, even in the same building. Two units could have the same floor plan but have a different heart and soul. So as a real estate professional, it’s important to be a market expert, and by focusing on markets that you know and have lived in, you can be an expert. Of course being a licensed broker in Pennsylvania, I can take a listing from anywhere but it doesn’t behoove me, or my clients to do so.
I’ll have people call me for business in West Chester. Well, that’s an hour outside of Center City so I couldn’t give that listing its proper attention. So part of my business model is based on referrals. I’ll build strategic alliances with other realtors in markets that I’m not an expert in, and then send them business and I would get part of the fee. And this works because—going back to boutique—it’s about individualized service. Just like every property is different, every person is different. The way you would buy a home and the way I would buy a home is very different so it’s about understanding your lifestyle and matching that to a property and the process in doing so.
CC: Let’s rewind a little bit. Can you tell us about your background?
EC: I’m a Philadelphia native originally, and I grew up in New Jersey. I went to St. Joseph’s University for undergrad to study Finance and Economics. I then moved to Rittenhouse Square right out of school. I started working in commercial real estate appraisal because I had a mentor who told me that you can’t do anything in real estate unless you know how to valuate it. It was great advice. I was the youngest person on the team so I got all the jobs that nobody wanted—I started out appraising gas stations. But I traveled all over the country and then moved up to appraising fast food restaurants. By the time I left the company, 18 months later, I was appraising Paradise Island in the Bahamas for a couple hundred million dollars. Afterwards, I moved over to the investment side of the real estate business here in Philadelphia. I worked for a company based out of London called Grosvenor, which is actually the oldest property company in the world.
For me it was about getting as much experience as I could on the corporate side and I was like a sponge. I took on all assignments and really learned from other people and mentors. When I went to grad school, I really started to think about my next step. I was interested in Hospitality so I studied that formerly at Cornell and got a dual degree with Real Estate Finance & Investments even though everything I learned about real estate was on the job. After that I moved to New York and was a broker with Jones Lang LaSalle, selling hotels there. I always had an entrepreneurial vibe but I was never really ready to jump into that pool and then I couldn’t stifle it any more.
CC: Tell me about that moment when you finally decided to go forward with starting VERY Real Estate?
EC: I remember being in New York at the end of 2012 and I was still working for Jones Lang LaSalle and I had started thinking about building a boutique real estate practice here in Philadelphia. And it’s really about your support system. If you’re going to make this leap, you have to believe in yourself but you also have to have the right people behind you who are pushing you forward. So I remember calling my parents and I said to my dad that I really want to do this and I think it’s going to work because there’s nothing as focused on these particular markets. Then one day, after having several conversations, my dad says to me, “I dare you to do it.” And I think that’s all I needed. I asked him did he really think I could do it and he asked me what’s the worst that could happen.
So I started working on a business plan and doing a lot of market research to really come up with a strategy. Then I quit my job in March 2013 and started VERY in October of 2013.
CC: How do you use your hospitality education to differentiate your brokerage firm?
EC: Hospitality is all about client service. It’s about understanding what’s going to make your clients happy. Whether it’s in a hotel and they like a dark chocolate on their pillow or with buying a house and they like for you to call them back within an hour of them calling you, or they only respond to text messages. It’s about having that ability to tailor the service to them and their preference.
One of the things that I do different from other brokers is that I’ll sit down with my clients and I say to them, “I’m going to ask you some probing questions”. And I start to ask them the obvious things like price point, area preference, the number of bedrooms, etc. But then I ask them about the house they currently live in. What do you like about it? What do you not like about it? What attracted you to the area? Is it the cobblestone streets? Is it that you want to be near an art gallery? Is your favorite bar on the corner? Being able to understand their lifestyle and get them thinking about those things really makes it a lot easier when you begin to pull down properties. And I preview all of the properties before my clients ever see them so I can manage their expectations.
CC: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
EC: A really important lesson for entrepreneurs to learn is that you cannot do it all. I know my strong suits and I know the things I need help on. So I surround myself with people who can help me with those things. You’ll find in a lot of cases, people are very excited to help because they see your vision and they want to help you get to the next level. And I think it’s important to ask for help. I hate accounting so if I can outsource that to someone I trust and save time to do things that I’m better at, that’s important. So recognize your strengths and surround yourself with people who compliment you. Another big piece of advice is to not be scared and just dive in the pool. Life is so incredibly short so you should follow your passion.