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Real Estate

Note: This piece illustrates the importance of the first-person interview. Tom Carroll happened to mention his fishing vacation in Florida. We talked a little about the sort of fishing he did, and look what we hooked! I don’t know how many times what seemed like casual conversation before or after the topic at hand produced something that moved along the topic at hand—an anecdote, a metaphor, occasionally even a punch line. I believe I learned much about the art of conversation as a beat reporter. I would try to charm suspicious secretaries trying to protect their bosses from the nosy reporter. It’s amazing what a little schmooze will do.

Thomas Carroll

Average home sale price:    $388,000
Gross sales last year:           $29.5 million
Number of sides last year: 76

Realtor Credits His Success to Market Positioning        

“At this point I’m not chasing the customers but attracting them. I’ve tried to position myself as a real expert… especially about this market.”

By Randy Heuston

When Thomas Carroll of RE/MAX Partners in Andover, Massachusetts, gets to take a vacation from his frequent million-dollar real estate deals, he heads for Florida and a little tarpon fishing.

The tarpon school there about the middle of May, swimming head to tail, or “daisy chaining,” along the beaches. The trick in catching “silver kings” is positioning. You can’t chase these fish. You have to get ahead of the school, letting the tarpon come to you. Use a calm, delicate cast, let the bait sink down a ways, set the hook firmly, and you’re in for a plenty of action and a whole lot of fun.

Carroll also has had phenomenal action and fun as a Realtor. With gross sales last year of $29.5 million—90 percent of that residential—he’s near the very top among 16,800 agents in the Andover/North Andover market 20 minutes from Boston. While the average house stays on the market there 60 days, Carroll moves his in 28. A whopping 99 percent go for the asking price. He’s a Certified Residential Specialist (CRS), a Certified Buyer Representative (CBR), a Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM), a graduate of the Realtor Institute, a member of the RE/MAX Hall of Fame, and past president and founder of the Northern Massachusetts Commercial Investment Board of Realtors… among other things.

The reason for his success? As with tarpon fishing, the secret is positioning. You get ahead of the school, and let the business come to you. That’s particularly true in the high-end residential market where he excels.

“At this point I’m not chasing the customers but attracting them,” Carroll says. How does he do that? “I’ve tried to position myself as a real expert about business, about investing and especially about this market. We have a very educated market here, and people are looking to deal with somebody who knows what they’re doing.”

One important way to serve customers is to educate them. For example, he may spend the first time out with a buyer simply orienting him or her to the market, showing them the part of town boasting the best resale value, pointing out the top school districts and so forth.

“I’m very upfront. After all, I know where the city dump used to be, and they don’t. Once they realize I know what I’m talking about and I’m honest, a level of trust can develop. I prefer to show them fewer houses but make them the right houses. It’s a process, and it takes time. Success in real estate is about relationships, and relationships are about trust.”

While he’s educating his clients about the market he’s educating himself about their needs. “I’m constantly soliciting feedback. The goal is to match their needs with market opportunities, so you have to ask pertinent questions. The key is to think resale. After all, hopefully you’ll be the one selling the property for them when the time comes. So, you’re interested in meeting their needs today but also those down the road.”

Positioning himself as an expert involves more than offering opinions about which part of town to live in. “Buyers in the high end market want data. I use the Internet to mine tons of data about towns, tax rates, school systems, unemployment rates, country club options, proximity to highways, peak travel times, anything relevant to a buying decision,” he says.

He has invested heavily in his Web site and believes it’s simple, easy to use and loaded with information. “People these days, and especially the affluent, are very Internet-savvy.” They sometimes come to his Web site, absorb his research and are knowledgeable before he meets them.  

Positioning also involves touting his expertise. His Web site URL is “” Besides the Web site, he issues press releases and runs a print ad every week about his success, deals he’s put together, technology he uses, what the CRS designation represents of value to clients and other information that confirms his position as “Andover’s top broker.”

Carroll also credits his success to what he calls a “salesman’s personality.” He’s a gregarious, people-oriented sort of guy. With his flat Massachusetts accent and sense of humor he reminds you of Tom and Ray of “Car Talk” on PBS. “The real estate business can be tough, so you have to make it fun for people.” He loves to find out about them, joke with them, educate them and most of all help them. Finding solutions to meet the needs and enjoying the ride along the way… like “Car Talk.”

In dealing with upscale silver-king clients Carroll’s personal love for investing serves him well. His mother got him interested in investing early in life, and he bought properties during his 12-year stint with a printing company. When the company wanted him to move to Chicago, and his wife didn’t want to go, he went into real estate full-time. “I wish now I had gone into it right out of college.” He still loves the investing part of what he does, preparing for retirement, and “the affluent too are interested in keeping their money working for them.” He helps them be confident their home purchase is, above all, a good investment. 

Sales here is not hard sell but, as in catching tarpon, requires a calm, delicate cast.  
 “You have to be more discreet. Never discuss people’s business with anyone but those you’re dealing with. Some of the wealthy buyers don’t want the sellers to know who they are. For another thing, they usually don’t have time to march around town identifying houses. You do your homework, and present them with clear options.”

The end result of Carroll’s approach is a growing body of referrals. His clients daisy-chain, passing along anecdotes of what Tom Carroll has done for them. He appreciates the sales training he has received—he’s a big Brian Buffini fan—and he’s working on ways (like a newsletter) to grow his referral base even larger.

And his business just keeps growing. He recently hired two full-time brokers and an assistant to handle the burgeoning load. “If you’re too busy, you can’t provide customers the service they deserve.”

Carroll sees service as the key ingredient once the market levels off, which he believes as inevitable. “We’ve been in this boom market for a decade, but consumer debt continues to rise and interest rates will as well. Ultimately the real estate market can only grow as wages grow.”

Service, education and expertise will be the Realtor’s capital in the new level-market world. Carroll’s advice for your future? “You have to attract at the level you’re at. Whatever your personality traits and people skills, you have to know your market. If you do and people realize it, the word will get around and you’ll do fine.”

Position yourself ahead of the school, and the fish will come to you.






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