April 2012

Shaking the Foundations - Bold Real Estate Brokerage Primed For Takeoff

Author: Peter Zink

Rich Neste is a man who doesn’t shy away from a challenge. Even with ten years of Island real estate experience, when Charlene Neste opened the doors of Foundation Realty back in 2007, conventional thinkers probably didn’t see Foundation Realty surviving the crunch. Not only did this family-run company manage to pull through the crisis, it’s built a leading real estate business that dominates web searches for Hilton Head real estate. And after four very long years, Charlene and Rich are finally seeing evidence that the Lowcountry market is turning around. There’s more to getting people off the fence, and we’re seeing a lot more investors actually come in and buy multiple properties with cash on hand. They see there are still opportunities.

An Unconventional Start
Opportunities are exactly why Foundation Realty is where it is today. The origins are somewhat unconventional for a brokerage. Originally from Long Island, the Neste family moved to Hilton Head in 1994. Rich completed college in Florida, and found himself back on the island afterward, working for a local IT company. Buying a small vacation rental company, he and two colleagues managed to build the company’s portfolio to over 100 properties and sell the business in less than two years by utilizing strategic web domain name purchases and good search engine optimization (SEO) strategies. SEO involves strategically designing your website and content in such a way that search engines like Google and Bing want to rank your site at the top when people search for key phrases such as “Hilton Head real estate.”

Neste knew they had something special during their vacation rental project, so they quit their jobs and formed the IT consulting firm Performance Development Corporation (PDC). “We had a great rapport then. To this day, we still talk and strategize and try to brainstorm and think about other ideas,” Neste said. PDC found itself building websites for a variety of companies across the U.S., including vacation rental agencies, wedding planners, and golf resorts. “We never wanted to have our eggs in one basket,” Neste said.

There was one egg, however, where Neste saw further potential. PDS strategically purchased domain names tied to Hilton Head real estate to help with some of their projects, and they saw an opportunity to build on their acquisitions. By owning domain names, including HiltonHeadRentals.com, HiltonHeadRealEstates.com, and HiltonHeadForeclosures.com, Neste knew that he could build a brokerage that catered to people utilizing the web to find island properties. In 2008, amidst the recession, Foundation Realty opened its doors and grew. Neste’s domain names drove traffic and business to Foundation Realty while other companies struggled to generate leads after the crash. “We knew that if we built it, people would come,” he said.

Data-Driven Growth
The Nestes found themselves with an unusual problem at that time. “It got to the point where we would get leads and we didn’t have many agents. And it just got to where we had to start getting more people to handle it. It wasn’t a bad thing, for sure,” said Rich.

Today Foundation Realty has about a dozen agents with a breadth of qualifications. BIC Charlene Neste ensures that every agent she hires is qualified to handle short sales and foreclosures, which has been crucial in this market. “All of our agents are short sale and foreclosure certified; I made that a requirement for all of them because the majority of transactions out there are still dealing with distressed sellers. So it’s important to know that we’re doing everything right on our end so deals don’t fall apart,” she said.

While their highly trained agents have been critical to Foundation’s growth, Charlene and Rich haven’t forgotten the company’s Internet-driven roots that established them in the first place. Foundation offers several innovative technical features to help sellers and buyers alike. For sellers, Foundation Realty offers a detailed feedback system for showing agents who walk through a home with potential buyers. The feedback derived from multiple showings can often mean the difference between a house selling or not in this market. “It’s a great feature. It asks specific questions like what it would take to get an offer, positive features of the property, and other sorts of things that give a homeowner feedback right away,” Neste said.

Sellers also have the ability to see how many times their property has been viewed online and how long viewers are spending on their page. Low views online could indicate a price point that is out of line with the market, and brief time spent on the property web page could indicate problems with the pictures or content of the listing. All of this feedback is critical for sellers to know if they expect to sell their house in a buyer’s market. And for buyers, Foundation Realty was the first brokerage in the area to offer a mobile version of their websites for people to browse properties.

On The Upswing
With the vast array of data at his fingertips and the years he’s spent growing in a downturn, Neste is seeing some very positive signs in the real estate market recently. His office has seen an uptick in transactions—not only pending transactions, but closed ones as well. “It seems like the banks are starting to lend money again, which is great. The short sale situation is getting better; we’re starting to get quicker responses. There’s an enormous amount of money that’s being pumped into some of our resorts, we have some big name brands coming to the island, and there are some great infrastructure improvements going on in Bluffton. There are fewer foreclosures now than when we started our brokerage,” Neste said.

For all these reasons and more, he is very optimistic about the future. With web traffic up 25 percent over last year, Neste’s proof of a recovery is rooted in numbers, not fairy tales. So if you’re ready to jump back into the market, you can do a lot worse than giving Charlene or Rich Neste and their agents at Foundation Realty a call.

Call Foundation Realty at (843) 686-4002 or visit their website at
www.hiltonheadrealestates.com. Offices are located at
22 Folly Field Road inside the Sandcastle Plaza behind Carrabba’s.

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