Red Oak Realty: Putting the Client First – A Winning Strategy for This East Bay Independent

Aug 11, 2018 by

(L to R) Vanessa Bergmark, Owner & CEO; Chris Crane, Director of Operations; Melissa Bush, SVP Sales; Passion Broussard, Sales Manager

Aug18_Red_Oak_Cover_300x420_300dpiFor Vanessa Bergmark, growth was never about bigger, but rather, better. As the owner and CEO of the San Francisco Bay Area’s Red Oak Realty, Bergmark has led the company, which was founded in 1976, from 12th in marketshare to closing in on second without the typical brokerage formula of increasing offices and agent count. Instead, Bergmark turned her focus squarely on the consumer. “Having more agents isn’t what’s best for the consumer,” she explains. “Having agents that have resources that can protect and support the consumer is what matters.” Fresh off a rebranding that’s positioning the company for the future, Bergmark shares her strategy for helping homebuyers and sellers navigate the exceptionally lucrative yet challenging Bay Area real estate market in this exclusive interview.

Maria Patterson: Red Oak Realty has a rich history. Tell us a bit about it.
Vanessa Bergmark: The four founders started the company in 1976 in a garage in Albany, Calif.—just like Apple! Like a lot of companies in the ’70s, we were formed by a group of dissatisfied agents who didn’t feel they were getting the resources they needed, so they went out on their own and started Red Oak. The company has had great retention ever since. Many of the people who were with the company back then are still here today or just recently retired.

MP: When did you come on board?
VB: I joined the firm at the beginning of the downturn in 2007, when REOs were the norm and technology had moved very quickly into the real estate space. I had been running a large franchise and had just adopted my first child. The guys at Red Oak tracked me down and I went from running an office of 200 people to 20 people. Everyone said I was taking a step backwards, but to have the possibility to be home at 6:00 p.m. and not be on a plane all the time…I jumped at the opportunity.

After a year and a half, I took over both the Oakland and Berkeley offices as the general manager, and in 2010, purchased the company from the original four owners. At the time, a lot of people thought I was nuts. This was during the worst downturn in economic history, and, at that point, I had a two-year-old and a six-month-old.

MP: Interesting timing, given the start of the recession. How did you help the firm through it?
VB: I learned about REOs and short sales, got our agents into coaching and training, and moved everyone toward technology. We got off desktops and onto laptops. We moved into paperless transactions and advertising digitally and upping the ante with photography. I changed the operations of the company from a more traditional approach to one that was a bit more tech-savvy and strategic.

MP: So, where does the firm stand today in terms of size and marketshare?
VB: We have two offices and 116 agents and staff combined. We were 12th in marketshare when I bought the company, and now we’re hugging second place.

Red Oak Realty's Executive Team

Red Oak Realty’s Executive Team

MP: How did you achieve such impressive growth without acquiring offices and agents?
VB: We’re not a huge brokerage and our trajectory is not that of most traditional brokerages. We did it not by recruiting a massive amount of agents—we’re at just 100 agents. Rather than putting our efforts into recruiting a lot of agents, we focused on staffing. We hired a great marketing director, beefed up our transaction department and brought on superior legal support. We hired smart agents and focused on their needs. We upped all of our resources so that we could provide more support to agents in order to improve the client experience. We grew our marketing team with people who understood digital marketing and social media and all the things you can do today to advertise a property. For every property we list, there’s a process baked in to support our clients at a very high level.

MP: Why is this strategy of investing within, as opposed to spreading out, particularly important in your area?
VB: In the Bay Area, you might have to write 6-10 offers to get one into contract; properties move within 14 days. Much of the work is done on the front end by staff and agents before a listing even goes public. It’s like a production for a movie—and the seller is the one who benefits. I believed that having multiple offices spread out in multiple territories with multiple agents and multiple managers would be diluting the experience—what we wanted to offer was a distilled experience. So we grew our local market knowledge instead. And it’s worked. We were at $ 250 million in sales when I bought the company and we’re just under $ 1 billion today.

MP: So, how does your strategy of focusing on the agents you have rather than recruiting more agents translate to better service for the consumer…and increased profitability for your firm?
VB: Having more agents isn’t what’s best for the consumer. Having agents that have resources that can protect and support the consumer is what matters. Those resources don’t usually come in the form of another agent; they come in the form of a well-trained, sophisticated support staff on the back end—people who can do all the research and admin work so that the agent can focus on what they do best, which is knowing the market, getting the house prepared and successfully negotiating the transaction. Our model is to run the firm like a serious business. By doing so, our per-person production increased by 30-40 percent. The market changes like the tide; if you’re not full-time servicing several transactions a month, the consumer you’re working for won’t get the best service. Why bring in more agents who won’t do as many transactions per year? Why not support the ones you have instead?

Marketing knowledge is a key component to the brand's continued success.

Marketing knowledge is a key component to the brand’s continued success.

MP: How would you describe your market? What are the greatest challenges?
VB: We’re in the technology hub of the country, so our clientele demands that you’re technologically up to speed. They want to know that you know what you’re talking about when it comes to marketing a house and financing. Our clients are incredibly educated—we’re dealing with everyone from CEOs of tech companies to savvy millennials, and the way they communicate and the speed in which we have to respond is critical. When you’re moving properties within 14 days, marketing, speed and accuracy are of the utmost importance.

MP: How are you best serving the needs of your clientele?
VB: A lot of documents go into the contract here—our agents and staff have to know a lot about disclosures, condition and local ordinances. Rather than constantly outsourcing it, we looked at how the company can internally support the agent and the client by taking this part of the job over.

As opposed to being part of a franchise, we’re deeply ingrained in a specific community. Berkeley, Calif., is unlike anywhere else in the country. There’s a high income and it’s an expensive place to live. It’s also still counterculture and doesn’t respond to elite marketing. If you try to go glitzy to appeal to the 1 percent, it works against you. So the question we ask is, “What am I doing today that will help my buyer and seller?” What am I doing to train and prepare my agents to take care of that person? Will having a lot of inexperienced agents help that consumer? Probably not. We’re hyper-focused on what our sellers need and getting their property exposed and sold.

The company rebrand includes new colors and patterns developed by 1000 Watt Consulting.

The company rebrand includes new colors and patterns developed by 1000 Watt Consulting.

MP: It sounds like you really take a consultative approach with every client…
VB: One of the most important things we do is educate the consumer. It’s so easy to get frustrated in this market. Educating them on what they can afford and showing them the data so that they don’t end up bidding against themselves is critical. We also educate them on financing. We can’t make the low-inventory piece go away; what we can do is help them get started within this ecosystem and not put their home-buying plans on hold for the next six years. We let people know, “Here are the tools you have; don’t go to this neighborhood—we know you love it, but this is what you can spend, so let us introduce you to this alternative where your buying power might be stronger.” From the seller’s perspective, we advise them on many things, such as how much they should put into the house to get the right return.

MP: Tell us about the typical process of working with a seller.
VB: When we first meet with someone, we really hone in on the hyperlocal statistics. Agents are well versed on market data and have access to yearly, quarterly and monthly statistics on every neighborhood that affects us. We take it down to the microscopic level and break it down by house type, by certain features that have high demand, and analyze the impact of that for sellers. That’s what we do on the front end prior to marketing. Then it’s about positioning the property for maximum return. You have to market in the portals and in the local community by word of mouth. Should there be video? A floor plan? How involved does the seller want to get in prep, interior design and landscaping? A lot of buyers don’t have time to do a renovation or put in a garden, so we often provide referrals for that. Then we focus on the best ways to market, set bid dates and create demand on those dates. All of this is done weeks, if not months, in advance by the agent. This is all very thoughtfully prepared in advance in a very methodical way.

MP: Your market is very competitive. How are you setting the company apart?
VB: We just rebranded the company. We looked at how our colors and logo play in the digital world across social media and all the digital portals, as well as print. We needed to make sure we wouldn’t get lost in the volume—that we would stand out online, in a magazine or when you’re simply driving by. We needed to make sure people would pay attention. We wanted to get both higher marketshare and consumer mindshare.

MP: How do you stay innovative in terms of marketing?
VB: I’m always very cautious about saying what the next big thing is, such as video, which can work against a property if it’s used incorrectly. It’s our job to make the property look as best as possible, then price it competitively to the right demographic. On Facebook, you can do a lot of targeted marketing.

We also hired a PR company out of LA, Lion & Orb. Anytime we get a listing, we snap photos and get the story to our PR team who then crafts a great narrative and pitches it out to publications such as Dwell, the Wall Street Journal, Curbed, etc. That’s a huge piece of our marketing with massive reach for the property and a huge benefit to our sellers.

MP: What’s on deck for the future of the firm?
VB: The firm’s focus will be on using our rebranding to have a more powerful national and local reach. We’re looking at growing our marketing team and adding services that will benefit clients. Right now, we’re all about how we serve our clients, not just in one transaction, but during the course of the homeownership experience. It’s all about learning how to stay relevant to your customer and giving them what they need as a busy homeowner. We want to take care of them on an abundant level, not only as a buyer and seller, but as a homeowner, too.

For more information, please visit

Patterson_Maria_60x60Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark

The post Red Oak Realty: Putting the Client First – A Winning Strategy for This East Bay Independent appeared first on RISMedia.


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Winning and Failing at the Lead Game

Nov 1, 2017 by

Winning and failing at the lead game is a question that can be answered a multitude of ways. CLICK HERE to REGISTER for the WEBINAR.

The post Winning and Failing at the Lead Game appeared first on National Real Estate Post.

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Industry Leaders to Speak on ‘Seizing the Day, Winning the Future’ at RISMedia Power Broker Forum during NAR Convention

Oct 29, 2016 by

Today’s real estate market is burgeoning with opportunity. From the promise of the millennial generation to the power of the diversity market, it’s a good time to be in real estate. But the future is also murky. Lingering economic uncertainty and change in Washington stand to stymie our momentum going forward. During RISMedia’s 21st Annual Power Broker Forum next week, a panel of leading brokers will discuss strategies for building and sustaining business no matter what curve balls the market throws us.

RISMedia will host this year’s Power Broker Forum on Friday, Nov. 4 from 1:30-3 p.m. at the Orlando Convention Center, Valencia Room W415A, during the REALTORS® Conference & Expo. The Forum, “Seizing the Day, Winning the Future,” will feature the following industry leaders on the panel:


Featherston_John_85x100John Featherston, President & CEO, RISMedia. Featherston founded RISMedia, Inc. in 1980, which services nearly 400,000 of the residential real estate industry’s most successful agents, brokers and related service professionals through its flagship publication, Real Estate magazine, its leading website,, renowned networking and educational events, social media content, mobile delivery systems, marketing, relationships and partnerships.

Mesa_ReiRei Mesa, President, Florida Real Estate Services; President & CEO, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Realty. Mesa is responsible for managing all aspects of the company including strategic growth, new business development, profit and loss, and acquisitions. He has more than 30 years of experience in the real estate industry and currently serves as a National Association of Realtors® (NAR) Director.


craig_beggins_85x100Craig Beggins, President/CEO, CENTURY 21 Beggins Enterprises. Beggins began selling real estate in 1986, and became a broker after graduating from college. CENTURY 21 Beggins Enterprises was formed in 1991 as Symphony Realty until it affiliated with CENTURY 21 in 1992. Today, the firm has 13 offices with approximately 400 sales associates, and was ranked No. 14 in the world for CENTURY 21; it will approach 3,000 closed transactions in 2016.

robin_dickson_85x100Robin Dickson, Executive Vice President, J. Rockcliff Realtors. J. Rockcliff Realtors is located in the East Bay area of San Francisco with six offices and 500 agents, and a 2015 sales volume of $ 2.9 million. In real estate since the mid-’80s, today, Dickson oversees marketing, advertising, technology, training, staff, etc. for J. Rockcliff, in addition to managing the firm’s Danville office with 135 agents.

marti_hampton_85x100Marti Hampton, Broker/Owner, RE/MAX One Realty. Hampton joined RE/MAX in 1995 as the top agent in North Carolina. In 2000, she purchased her own RE/MAX franchise and became one of the top 10 Teams in the U.S for RE/MAX. Since 2005, The Marti Hampton Team has consistently ranked in the top 5 U.S Teams for RE/MAX, and in 2012, was ranked the Top Team in the U.S. for RE/MAX and No. 3 in the world for RE/MAX.

matt_widdows_85x100Matt Widdows, Founder & CEO, HomeSmart International. After several years in the real estate industry and a previous background in the medical software industry, Widdows founded HomeSmart in 2000 as a technology-forward real estate brokerage in the Metro Phoenix area. Over the next 16 years, Widdows grew the brokerage from two agents to more than 11,000 nationwide, currently operating in 17 states and 55 markets. The firm is on track to reach its goal of 100,000 agents by 2021.

charlie_young_85x100Charlie Young, President & CEO, Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC. Returning to the brand in Sept. 2016, Young first joined Coldwell Banker in 2004. He served as SVP of marketing and was promoted to COO. Under his leadership, Coldwell Banker became the first national real estate brand to use video marketing, a Facebook app and a standalone luxury home website. He joined ERA in 2009, and was soon appointed to president and COO. During his tenure, the brand grew franchise adjusted gross commission income by 43 percent since 2010.

RISMedia’s Power Broker Forum is open to all full-and day-conference attendees.

Power Broker Reception & Dinner

terry_jones_printLater on Friday, RISMedia will host its annual Power Broker Reception & Dinner—an exclusive, invitation-only event honoring the Top 500 brokers in RISMedia’s Annual Power Broker Report & Survey, published the previous April. The event, being held at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando, includes a cocktail reception followed by the dinner and an awards ceremony, and will be capped off by special guest speaker Terry Jones, founder of Travelocity and Kayak. For more information on attending, please contact Randi Vannucchi,

Presented by RISMedia, publisher of Real Estate Magazine, and Platinum Sponsors Quicken Loans and Xome, the 21st Annual Power Broker Reception & Dinner is an annual gathering of real estate’s most powerful individuals. The dinner honors the nation’s leading brokers who ranked among the Top Residential Brokerage Leaders in RISMedia’s Annual Power Broker Report & Survey. The event’s Master Level Sponsors are: Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices; Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate; Buffini & Company; CENTURY 21; Clareity; ERA Real Estate;; National Association of REALTORS®;; RE/MAX. Host Level Sponsors are: American Home Shield; HSA Home Warranty; Leading Real Estate Companies of the World; Pillar To Post Home Inspectors; Real Estate Webmasters; Realtors Property Resource; Wells Fargo Home Mortgage; Zillow Group. Event Level sponsors are: Buyside; David Knox Productions Inc.; Dell; Delta Media Group; HMS Home Warranty; Lone Wolf Real Estate Technologies; MRE – Win Local; National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP); zipLogix.

For more information, visit our event page.


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