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Member Highlight: Heather Placer

Building a Commercial-Residential Referral Exchange

by Tracey C. Velt

Working as an appraiser for 20 years was a boon for Heather M. Placer, CCIM, a commercial specialist with Long and Foster Commercial Division in Midlothian, Virg. "It allowed me to get to know the market at a granular level," she says. It also piqued her interest in commercial real estate. “As an appraiser, I specialized in various forms of retail, office, land, multifamily, and specialty use properties. I also performed market commercial rent analysis, marketability and feasibility studies, and various consultation assignments.”

So, it was natural that she switched to commercial sales in 2005. Then, seeing an opportunity to be a local residential brokerage’s commercial sales agent, she earned her license in 2016 and her CCIM designation in 2017. She's spent the last few years networking with residential agents and educating them about the commercial process. "So many residential agents think it is quick money, but it's the opposite. It takes years of experience and knowledge to learn the commercial business and serve your client efficiently," she says. Her work building relationships with residential agents have netted her many sales. "About 90 percent of my business is referrals from residential agents," she says. She says, "I market my services, and part of my strategic plan is reaching residential agents and small businesses.” One recent referral came from a Council member who was working with a widow who owned a building being used as a dry cleaner. "The widow called a local residential agent who referred me. We got it sold. It was a net lease investment, and there were many complexities to the transaction, including environmental since it was being used as a dry cleaner," says Placer.

Strategic Plan

Part of that strategic plan included joining the Women’s Council of REALTORS® three years ago. She’s now president of the Richmond, Virg. Chapter. “Commercial real estate is largely a man’s world. Women's Council is about empowering women, and I like that. The recognition and encouragement that I get from my fellow Council members have made all the difference in my business." When she joined Women's Council, her goal was to expand her network and connect with residential real estate agents. "I wasn't sure what services they could offer a commercial agent. I didn't think the education would apply to me. However, I've since found out that so much of what they do helps me with my business, particularly the leadership training, tax advice and more. It’s helped me grow as a professional,” says Placer.

Networking with Residential Agents

She also loves the networking side of the business. “I’ve never handled a residential sale. I refer all of those out to my network of agents at my company and Women's Council members," she says. In return, she says, "residential agents call me when they have commercial properties that they don't have the expertise to handle. I offer a referral fee." Placer feels so strongly about the residential-commercial referral network, that she offers seminars educating residential agents on basic aspects of commercial real estate, the advantages of referring out business, the pitfalls of handling commercial sales and more. “I discuss how most commercial properties aren’t listed on the MLS. The commercial industry uses CoStar. Many times, residential agents will call me when they are looking for commercial property, and the ones in the MLS don't fit a client's needs,” she says. She’s also building a network with other CCIM designees who are members of Women's Council in hopes that they can meet at national meetings.

Placer notes that residential agents would be wise to connect with a commercial agent. "There's a big opportunity for residential agents to advertise themselves to commercial agents because most of us refer out any residential business," she says. Her advice: "Attend local commercial events and education seminars, sponsor local commercial events with a booth, sit in as a guest for Chamber of Commerce commercial events or business networking groups, like CREW—Commercial Real Estate Women.” She adds, “Put yourself out there. Learn a bit about the commercial industry and how it leads to understanding market forces such as new businesses, which, in turn, increases demand in residential housing.” In turn, she recommends commercial agents do the same. “Get involved in Women's Council and other organizations that offer opportunities to network with residential agents. I believe in helping residential agents. I’ve had many of them come to me for advice on handling a commercial property that is owned by a family member or close friend. I am more than happy to help them.”

And, Placer says, she can’t emphasize enough the support she gets from the Women's Council community. “As I said before, commercial is a male-dominated industry. Now, we’re seeing more women breaking into the commercial world. The relationships and training that Women's Council offers empower us all."

About the Contributor

Tracey C. Velt is an Orlando-based freelance writer and contributing editor for Florida Realtor magazine.