A veteran REALTOR® of more than 35 years and an active industry advocate, Charlie Oppler has a unique vantage point: he lives and breathes the business from both the grass-roots and big-picture level. As COO of Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty, Oppler and his partner—CEO Randy Lyn Ketive—have taken a back-to-basics philosophy and a strong commitment to agent support to bring their firm to iconic status in Northern New Jersey’s luxury arena. Meanwhile, Oppler found time to serve on and chair dozens of committees at the local, state and national level, including his recent role as 2017 REALTOR® Party Director for the National Association of REALTORS®. Here, Oppler shares how he’s managed to grow a firm while supporting the good of the industry as a whole.
Maria Patterson: Tell us a little bit about your path in real estate, Charlie.
Charlie Oppler: I began my professional career after graduating The College of New Jersey in 1980. I worked for the March of Dimes and recruited Joe Murphy (Murphy Realty Better Homes and Gardens) and Dick Schlott to co-chair a charity event. They both accepted, and by Nov. 1, 1981, I went to work for Joe Murphy in the Saddle River. I left Murphy in November 1984 and went to manage for Schlott, REALTORS® in December. I worked for Dick Schlott until May 1989 and then went back to Murphy as a manager of the Fort Lee office until December 1991.
In January 1992, Randy Lyn Ketive and I became partners, and we began building our company. She had one office in Fort Lee with about eight agents. We affiliated with Sotheby’s International Realty in 2009, after being an independent (Classic Realty Group) for 17 years. We just celebrated our 25th anniversary as partners.
MP: How many offices and agents does the firm have today?
CO: We currently have 12 offices with about 630 agents and 40 employees.
MP: How has being part of the Sotheby’s brand played a role in your success and growth over the years?
CO: The biggest reason why being part of Sotheby’s has contributed to our growth is that it creates market credibility and presence. We’re in a vibrant bedroom community of New York City, and it’s a lot easier for somebody to look to our brand than an independent. That said, while being part of Sotheby’s International Realty has played a part in our growth because of the reputation of the brand, it still comes down to the local operation, which is true for any franchisee.
Randy Lyn Ketive: The fact that we’ve been consistent—and in the market for so long—allowed us to grow our company. The international presence of Sotheby’s is also an important factor when marketing a property.
MP: How do you differentiate your firm in the market?
CO: Our company is the premier luxury brand throughout Northern New Jersey. We have had the highest average price in New Jersey for the past seven years, and we’re consistently No. 1, 2 or 3 in most markets. We’re ranked No. 1 in many individual markets and are highly ranked in others.
RLK: We’re always focused on quality agents versus quantity. Your reputation is everything in this business and being able to manage and coach agents is extremely important.
MP: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the luxury market over the years, and how have you adapted the firm to stay successful?
CO: One of the biggest changes I’ve seen is the growth of major cities and the luxury market within those cities. Also, on the waterfront, there’s an increase in multi-dwelling high-rise condos. The second biggest change is the increase in the number of buyers coming from international referrals and connections. That said, even with the advent of international buyers, the majority of our buyers are still local; 70-80 percent of our million-dollar-plus buyers are already in Northern New Jersey. A lot of people in the Tri-State Area have roots here.
MP: How would you describe your growth strategy in recent years?
CO: Our growth strategy is both strategic and opportunistic. We have a marketplace that’s truly like a sixth borough to Manhattan. My experience working with two larger brokers, Schlott, REALTORS® and Murphy Realty Better Homes and Gardens in the 1980s, gave me a unique perspective on larger brokerages early on. We’re still looking at growth markets such as Jersey City, Morris and Essex Counties, especially where the downtown areas are still vital to the community.
MP: What impact do you think the recent tax legislation will have on your marketplace?
CO: I think it’s going to have an impact on people really analyzing what they’re getting for their tax dollars. I don’t think many people itemized and capitalized on tax advantages in the past. Buyers will be more cautious and speak to their accountants and have them involved in the decision-making process. As they go forward, they will look at home-buying from a tax standpoint, which is something we haven’t experienced before. Most people have bought based on emotions. Now, more people are going to need to get a feel for what their costs are really going to be. We haven’t seen that in the past, but we’re going to see it in the future. People will take a longer time to make a decision, but the basic factors remain the same for buyers: location, schools, proximity to work and lifestyle.
MP: How are you planning to educate your agents and your consumers accordingly?
CO: We’re educating agents by giving them some talking points, but we’re instructing them to tell consumers to consult with their accountants and financial advisors before making a decision, and not to rely on what the salesperson tells them or anything else they hear. People should get their own counsel because everyone’s situation is different.
The tax bill is so new that 2019 will be a better gauge. Everyone is going to do what they’ve always done until it affects them in their pocketbook. And it will take a year before we know that.
MP: Do you think this will be a boon to the economy as the bill purports?
CO: If corporations spend more money and create more jobs, that could create more homebuyers. Or, will corporations make more money and not spend it? In theory, there could be growth in the economy. I’d love for there to be more buyers, but I don’t know if the tax cuts will create more buyers, and subsequently, I don’t know how that will translate to real estate transactions.
MP: What most attracts agents to your firm, and why do they stay?
CO: We have some of the best agents in the marketplace. The Sotheby’s International Realty brand and our attention to detail are well respected by consumers and agents in our market. We’re still focused on quality agents versus quantity, and that includes giving them the most support possible. Many of our agents have been with us for 10, 15 and 20 years plus.
MP: What are you doing to recruit and retain agents—and to bring in that next generation of agents?
CO: We’re much more about selection. We’ve told our managers that it’s not about having the most agents; we want to try and have the best agents. We’re not worrying about competing with some of the other companies in the market in terms of the number of agents. We think it’s more about selecting versus recruiting. In terms of retention, we provide the most services for our agents. We make sure we have a staff ratio that’s commensurate with providing top-notch service to our group. We have tech support, marketing support, digital media, relocation, graphic artists—we do everything for our agents so they can concentrate on representing clients to buy and sell real estate. We try and take on all the legwork in terms of personal promotion. We’re a little different in that area because we don’t think all agents are qualified to do that. If we can provide that service instead for free or at a minimal cost, they’re thrilled.
MP: What advice do you have for new agents entering today’s real estate market?
CO: I would tell them the agents who have made the most money and been the most successful are those who have worked the hardest and worked their sphere of influence. This is still a people business—a trusted advisor business. And yes, consumers can get information from online sources, but they still want someone with them to make the decision. They still want to vet the process. It’s important for agents to know that this is still a personal communication business, and that the telephone is not the enemy—it’s a friend. Sitting and having coffee with someone is not a bad thing. It’s not a waste of time to sit with someone face-to-face and read their emotions and actions. Seventy percent of this business is done with referral and sphere of influence, so that’s my advice to new agents and agents who have struggled. Use technology as a tool, not a crutch.
MP: Please describe your firm’s culture and leadership philosophy.
CO: Our culture is one of class and community. Our agents are true leaders in their communities and involved in so many organizations. Our leadership is one of respect and appreciation; we also ask our agents and managers to be involved in their respective REALTOR® Boards on a local level, and many are involved in state and national REALTOR® roles, as well.
MP: What is your approach to coaching and training?
RLK: We’re focused on providing as much training and support as possible. We have regularly scheduled classes and receive tremendous support from Sotheby’s International Realty corporate with field representation. The agents love the brand and culture and want to stay abreast of all the changes.
MP: What’s your strategy for effectively marketing the firm and best serving the needs of prospects and clients?
CO: We’re creative and supportive, and we’re constantly trying to make sure our customers and clients are aware of all we’re doing to support them. Utilizing technology and photography, along with reaching the international culture of the metropolitan area, is essential to our success.
MP: How do you stay ahead of the curve on technology, online marketing and social media?
CO: By attending as many different seminars across the country and locally as possible, in addition to watching some of the companies across the country. This allows us to be adaptive, and, many times, on the forefront of our marketplace.
RLK: In addition, our support staff is very engaged with our agents, at their offices, helping with their day-to-day business, including social media and online marketing.
MP: What’s on deck for the future of the firm?
CO: The future is bright for our firm! There are so many strong markets where we can make a greater impact in gaining marketshare and adding more quality agents. Our proximity to New York City, as well as the corporate strength in New Jersey, especially in the technology and pharma fields, gives us a strong base to build off. In addition, we can always be better at our core business. We have an opportunity to reach $ 2 billion in sales in 2018, and there are days I feel we haven’t even scratched the surface. It’s exciting and fun to work with so many talented agents and staff in the greatest business in the world.
For more information, please visit www.prominentproperties.com.