Marketing Nancy

For Realtor Nancy Jenkins the key to marketing homes

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

Photos: Jeff Clarke

Want an effective course in marketing? Spend an hour with Nancy Jenkins. Yes, that name is familiar. And so’s the face. It’s hard to go anywhere in Chittenden County without seeing it.

One of the owners of Coldwell Banker Realty Mart, with offices at Taft Corners and Essex Junction, Jenkins is, without a doubt, the most visible Realtor in northwestern Vermont and the top-selling Realtor in the state. Last year, she sold 183 houses worth $29 million. For Coldwell Banker, she is ranked sixth out of more than 60,000 agents around the globe in buyer- controlled sales, according to Ronald Noyes, vice president and director of Coldwell Banker Real Estate Corp.

Nancy Jenkins & team

Jenkins (center) of Coldwell Banker Realty Mart uses the team approach for real estate sales. “Having a team means that I’m free to work with buyers and sellers and negotiate,” she says.

It’s no wonder buyers flock to Jenkins. Her creatively aggressive way of marketing is changing the face of the real estate business, here and across the United States. “My joke is that I’m Kleenex,” she quips. “I should be the first name you think of. I have to make sure you know I’m there or I don’t have an opportunity to show you what I can do.” She calls her approach two-pronged: “marketing Nancy and marketing your home.”

“Marketing Nancy” is the innovative part that’s put her on the map. She has cornered the market in display ads on supermarket carts all over the Champlain Valley. All the ordinary avenues of promotion are covered, such as postcards, calendars and newsletters. Her stationery and other promotional sheets feature a full-color photograph of her and one of her taglines: “Strategy + Knowledge (or Experience or Marketing, depending on the focus) = Nancy.” Each year, she rents the Nickelodeon movie theater in downtown Burlington for a private screening of two currently showing movies for all the people on her client-customer newsletter list. Attendees are asked to bring food for the Food Bank or a contribution for their favorite charity. Other newsletter promotions include gift certificates, such as a recent one for a discount at Parima Thai Restaurant, and a soon-to-come spring certificate for the Vermont Wildflower Farm. She sends past customers packets of flower seeds (forget-me-nots, appropriately) and little packets of dirt that carry the message, “If you can’t remember what Vermont soil looks like, here’s your little piece of Vermont.”

Through participation in a group of exemplary salespeople, the Star Power Stars, whose audio tapes and in-person presentations are promoted all over the country by founder Howard Brinton, Jenkins picked up an idea to buy a small moving truck. She made it look like a traveling billboard for her company and offers its use, free of charge, to anyone who’s bought or sold a house and wishes to use it. She also donates its use to charitable organizations she supports. “The person who started the truck is, I think, from Indiana. I got the idea from Eleanor Mallory- Sheets, the top Coldwell Banker salesperson in the country, who’ll sell between $120 million and $130 million this year. And now there’s a guy in Minnesota, Pete Westmark, whose truck looks exactly like mine.”

Among the more expected things she does locally is advertise. They’re not wimpy 2-by- 2-inch dots. They’re 4 inches by 6 inches and feature a prominent photograph of Jenkins in a striking white suit, portfolio in hand, looking friendly, capable, ready to go. Each has a catchy head, for example, “Call Nancy, call a mover, start packing,” and “Every 20.9 hours Nancy closes a home and opens a door.”

“I love statistics,” Jenkins says in her typical, energetic, rapid-fire delivery. “So when I speak to you about your house, I’ll bring you all the statistics about what’s been going on.” She studies local and national trends and demographic curves. “There’s a great resource right next to us. His name is Harry S. Dent Jr., a demographer. He wrote ‘The Great Boom Ahead’ and a new one called ‘The Roaring 2000s.’ He’s talking about the demographics of baby boomers aging through the population and why Vermont is going to have economic prosperity through the year 2008. He also talks about migration waves, to cities first, then the suburbs, which peaked in the 1970s, then the exurbs, which peak out in 2025. So you can figure out where the curve is going. The customized economy is picking up now. He said it was standardized through the 1990s, now it’s a customized economy, the entrepreneurial wave, which is what Vermont is about.” One trend she pooh-poohs is the worry that the World Wide Web is going to replace Realtors. “I think that is ridiculous,” she says, “but it is going to be a service business.”

Service is what she’s about. To make sure that service is optimum, several years ago, she created a backup team to help her. “I was always a bit hyperactive,” she says. “If you’re going to list a house, you want to get somebody who cares. So my whole team is accountable.” Jenkins first hired Judy Raineault to work with her. It was 1992, the year Jenkins decided she needed to greatly increase her home sales in order to be able to cover college expenses for her daughters, Alison, Meredith and Amanda. In ’92, Alison had just started college. “I figured out I’d have to sell 100 houses. I sold 96 that year. Until then, I’d been diddling around with about 65 a year, because it didn’t matter. And then I discovered how to do it.”

“How to do it” meant, among other things, creating a backup team using ideas she got from Star Power Stars founder Brinton, a charismatic speaker on the human potential circuit whose influence Jenkins credits with inspiring her to success. Brinton’s background is in real estate sales, and, since the early ’80s, he has given presentations all over the U.S. “I took all the jobs I did and cloned them so I don’t have to do as much,” Jenkins says. “I’m not the paperwork person, I’m the salesperson. It’s the seagull system of management for me — all that flying paper. So having a team means that I’m free to work with buyers and sellers and negotiate.”

Julie Gohl & Judy Raineault

Julie Gohl (left) and Judy Raineault are two of six specialists on Nancy Jenkins’ team. Gohl, who joined a year ago, is in charge of listings. Raineault handles closings for the company.

The team has evolved since ’92 to a group of six specialists who support Jenkins and each other. Raineault is in charge of closings. “Once you’re under deposit, Judy coordinates your file through to closing,” says Jenkins. It’s especially important right now, she adds, because of “this Bianchi craziness” — the new title law that requires searches to include information on any permits that may have been overlooked. “It’s great for the person who finally buys the house, but it’s throwing regular human beings into disaster!” she exclaims. “Because they’re ready to close, and they find that what they thought they’d bought, they didn’t buy. And Judy’s unbelievable with people who aren’t happy. Day to day she’s right there, pushing the marble uphill with her nose.”

Shortly after hiring Raineault, Jenkins convinced her husband, Bryan Jackson, to quit his job at Summit Finance and join her team. “Bryan coordinates the office, he’s a trouble-shooter for title and mortgage questions,” she says. “He also has his real estate license so he can back us up.” Jackson is also the systems man, in charge of computers.

David Allaire, with the team since 1995, and Cindy Warfield, who joined Jenkins last year, are buyers’ specialists. “So if you call in on my ads, or if you’re a buyer from Connecticut I want to get in to see a house that’s listed with me, David and Cindy make sure you’re taken care of.”

Jenkins says that Julie Gohl, who also joined the team about a year ago, is in charge of listings, “because the poor, unfortunate thing about real estate is that you’d list your house, and the Realtor would disappear.” Gohl stays in touch with sellers about showings, gives feedback on prospective buyers’ comments, tracks the activity and makes sure ads go in on time with all the right information, “pushing forward constantly,” Jenkins adds.

Pat Dowd is a retired man who acts as courier. “He takes pictures of the houses, puts up signs, drops contracts,” says Jenkins. “He once stopped outside the operating room waiting for the doctor to come out and sign a contract. I give you such a magic carpet ride, you don’t have to stop what you’re doing or make any changes in your life to sell your house.” The goal of making things easy has inspired innovative programs, such as the “pre-approved home,” which brings a building inspector in to do a thorough report and allow people to fix things up before listing the house, and half-price, full-blown appraisals to expedite the process in a soft market.

One of the things that makes Jenkins so effective is her genuine empathy for her clients. That’s where she puts her life experience to work. A Rochester, N.Y., native — “I grew up a Kodak child” — Jenkins graduated from Boston University with a degree in elementary education and physical education. “Synchronized swimming was my big sport,” she says, noting that, while she was trained to be a teacher, she never really expected to be on a career path at all, but to be an at-home wife raising her children.

She moved to Vermont from Duxbury, Mass., in 1978 with her first husband and their three young girls. Those early years were tough. “He was a teacher, so we had pretty much no money. We were collecting quarters to pay the electric bill.” So in 1980, Jenkins decided to get a part-time job in real estate to help out. “I had no plans to be a real estate broker,” she says. “I was supposed to be a teacher. I was teaching swimming classes and coaching, part-time, for South Burlington recreation and gymnastics for Williston.” But real estate gave her the flexibility she needed. She worked nights and weekends, when her husband could be home to watch the children, and when she had to work on weekdays, her next-door neighbor baby-sat for Amanda, then only 3.

“Back then, if you sold a million dollars worth of real estate, it was a good job. And you could work oddball hours. Then, in 1984, when I became a single mom raising the girls, it could work because the assistant mom I hired would come after school and stay through. I’d come home, eat dinner or go to games, and then she would stay if I had an evening appointment. I could do a listing presentation at 7 o’clock, whereas now I keep on working until I’m done. Then, I’d just tell somebody I had an appointment. Or if the kids were sick, I could stay home and make calls from there.” By then, she had moved to Williston, where homes were less expensive, but the location was still central enough to make it easy for her to get around. “It was the single mom Realtor program,” she says with a chuckle. She and Jackson were married in 1992.

Nancy Jenkins & Bryan Jackson

For Coldwell Banker, Nancy Jenkins is sixth in the world for buyer-controlled sales, or for bringing the buyer to the table. Husband Bryan Jackson left his job at Summit Finance to join her team.

Jenkins first worked for a short-lived company called Littlefield Real Estate, which had an office at the Radisson Hotel. From that evolved Evergreen, which closed in about 1984. From that grew Realty Mart, which Jenkins created in partnership with Bill Cavanaugh, Bob Smith, Don Marcelino and Michael Gamasch. “I can summarize the company easily,” she says. “The goal of Realty Mart has always been a place where people can be really individual. It’s always been small. It was started in Essex Junction, and now we have a second office in Taft Corners. The people there work full-time. Basically it’s their livelihood. Interestingly, we’ve always had a lot of men.” That’s usual, she explains, because nationally there are a lot more women than men in the business. “So the goal isn’t to be a big powerhouse, but to have a place where people can be individual, which is what I am.”

One of the very individual (and unusual) things Jenkins has done is complete the coursework at Saint Michael’s College for a degree in clinical psychology in the mid ’80s. “I don’t want to be a psychologist, so I didn’t do the practice part, but I did all the course work. My goal was to be able to assist people, to make it a better experience. A lot of people are in bad shape when they’re having to sell or buy a house. Maybe somebody has died or there’s a divorce or they just don’t want to sell the house. And they tell you this in the car as you’re driving around. I’m not a therapist,” she says, “but I think it’s important to be able to help people feel a little better.” The course work has also helped her be able to deal with the real tough cookies she encounters. “How do you deal with a person who’s so aggressive?” she asks. “But they’re really aggressive out of fear. So I do a lot of trying to understand people. My goal isn’t to just sell you a house, but to counsel you through a process.”

It’s probably this aspect of her personality that has encouraged Jenkins’ active participation in community service, as well. Among the organizations she serves is Women Helping Battered Women; she’s “working to get their advertising going.” She’s the buyer-broker for Habitat for Humanity, which means she finds building lots for them and donates the commission back to them; a generous contributor to the United Way; and she funds a scholarship for Champlain Valley Union high school students.

Jenkins has found a way to send out lines of communication in many directions without scattering her energies. She has gained national exposure through the Star Power Stars and her website at www.vt-homes.com, which, last year, produced buyers for homes averaging $264,000, compared to the local MLS average of about $153,000. Brinton’s organization markets her tapes all over the country. “I benefit from people all over the place listening to me as an expert,” she says. “People ask me to speak at different places, elite retreats for bankers, on panels. And I can pick up even broader national coverage, because I’m a national Realtor with national recognition. And people coming to Vermont say, ‘Oh, who should I call? Kleenex!”


Trends in Real Estate

“Tear-downs”

This is when people buy a million-dollar home and tear it down to erect something even bigger. This is happening more in places like Hilton Head rather than in our neck of the woods. But Jenkins says we’ve had one, on Spear Street across from Pinnacle at Spear, and it won’t be long before there are more.

Trend toward bigger homes

In major markets like Connecticut and New York, the 6,000- to 8,000-square-foot home has already had its day. People are now expecting homes 10,000- to 12,000 square feet in size, and Jenkins says we’re right on the edge of that, that it’s coming here soon. She tells about visiting friends in Washington, D.C., who have such a house. “Their kitchen is bigger than most houses,” she says, “and they eat out!”

The market here

Our housing market is definitely heating up, which she says is good news unless you’re a buyer looking for affordable housing. In a hot market, those are really hard to find.

Virginia Lindauer Simmon is a free-lance writer and editor who lives with her cat, Moneypenney, in Colchester, Vt. Her work has appeared in national, regional and local publications.