If you look up “anomaly” in the dictionary, I’m quite positive you’ll find Sarah Schnell Jones in the description, as she does things so much differently than any other broker I have come across in my 12 years on the job.
Over the past few months, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of spending time with Sarah, broker/owner of Bamboo Realty in Houston, TX, at a few real estate technology events and subsequent dinners—breaking bread and enjoying a chilled glass of sake over the most delightful conversations. During these occasions, I quickly discovered just how extraordinary she truly is, both as an individual and as a business owner, and I felt the need to share her story.
Sarah was an obvious choice for our “A Day In The Life” story this month. Her bold business sense and moxie—along with what can only be described as utter allegiance in building a remarkably well-trained, tactical, systematic team—needed to be shared and devoured by her peers.
So grab a glass of vino, have a seat, and prepare yourself to be introduced to a whole new way of being business-savvy.
Suzanne: Walk us through a typical day in your life. What time do you start your day and what does it consist of?
Sarah: During the week I’m up at 5:15 a.m. and start my day with a Bikram hot yoga class at 6 a.m.. I’m not much of a morning person, so yawning and stretching on a yoga mat is about all I can do at that hour. I typically make my way to the office by 9 a.m. and that’s where I enjoy my first coffee of the day and get started with work. Beyond my morning routine, I rarely live the same day but have found cadence instead in a weekly routine.
Mondays I reserve for working with my personal clients, including setting up showings or closings for the week, working through contract-to-close milestones, and marketing to my past clients and circle of influence. On this day I will also set up coffee and lunch appointments with clients and agents to help fill in my week.
Tuesdays are reserved for meetings. For any meetings scheduled in advance, I try and stack them on Tuesdays. I find this helps me accomplish more versus have one meeting every day of the week. On any given Tuesday I will have four to eight meetings with vendors, partners or potential partners.
Wednesdays I spend the most time working directly with my agents face to face. They know they can find me in the office and ready to help on Wednesdays. We have our monthly meeting on the first Wednesday of the month, and I host “Workshop With Sarah Wednesdays” once a month. The workshops are working meetings where agents come to learn and work on a specific project that they complete during the time allocated. Sample workshops include setting up a bio and agent ratings on HAR.com [Houston Association of Realtors], and another recent one was a refresher of how to develop a CMA.
Thursdays are my closing day and flex day. The only thing I will book in advance for a Thursday is a closing. Generally speaking I find Thursday is a really great day for clients, lenders and escrow officers to close. Other than that my day is left open for last-minute showings or meetings. One of the reasons I love having this “flex” day is that if someone needs to meet urgently, I know there is always space on my calendar. With this approach I rarely (almost never) have to move or cancel appointments or meetings.
Fridays are generally project oriented days. I tend to reserve the entire day to work on longer running projects. For example, we’re in the middle of a website redesign, so I may spend all of Friday working with our marketing director or Web developer. The one “ritual” I have for Fridays is that I love having breakfast with an agent or a few agents. Breakfast during the week seems like an indulgent treat and it’s also a great time to catch up on everyone’s activities for the week.
Saturdays I work half days and only if I have client showings. I’m available to show between 9 and 1, and then after that I’m ready to start my weekend!
Sundays are reserved for my husband, and I spend the entire day with him and our Labradors, Abby and Barley.
Suzanne: What does your morning routine look like when it comes to media consumption?
Sarah: Before I walk out the door for yoga, I do look at my email for any client-related emails. I’ll answer client emails at the crack of dawn but other than that, everyone waits until 8:30 or 9 when I get to the office. While I’m sipping that first coffee of the day, I check in on Yammer, which we use as our company intranet. I’ll also browse Facebook to see how everyone is doing.
Twitter is my only source for news. I don’t watch any news on TV and while I used to read CNN, I don’t anymore. I rely on Twitter for local news, market related news, industry news, etc. I can ingest a lot of news in a very short period of time and it’s a huge timesaver.
Suzanne: What is your phone / tablet / laptop / desktop of choice?
Sarah: I have an iPhone 5, an iPad mini, an ASUS Zenbook (for traveling), and an HP all-in-one 27” touchscreen for the office. I love having the big screen because I can have multiple things open at the same time and see all of them.
Suzanne: Tell us what apps you can’t live without and why?
Sarah: I can’t live without NuOffer, a mobile offer writing app for iPad where you can write an offer in five minutes. It makes the contract writing process fun instead of tedious and time consuming. I also love HAR.com, DocuSign, Dropbox, Slydial and Refresh. Slydial is a favorite time saver as it allows you to call someone and reach their voicemail directly without their phone ringing. This is a great option when you want to communicate a message quickly but don’t have time for a phone call that could lead to a very long conversation. Refresh is an awesome app that helps prep you for a meeting. If you have a meeting on the calendar, the app will automatically provide you with a dossier on the person you are meeting, including notes taken from their social media networks. It’s great.
Suzanne: Tools you can’t live without?
Sarah: That would be my iPhone. I can slay a dragon with an iPhone.
Suzanne: What is your average number of meetings per day?
Sarah: On Tuesdays I will have four to eight meetings with vendors, partners or potential partners. Other than that, I limit my meetings to coffee or lunch appointments with agents and clients and average one to two of those every day. I love meeting with people over coffee or lunch because it gets me out of the office, and generally you can get to know people better when you are sharing a meal versus in an office.
Suzanne: How active are you on social sites?
Sarah: As far as status updates go, I will post three to five a week on Facebook or Twitter. Really, though, the majority of my posting is conversational, where I read about other people and respond to their posts.
Suzanne: How many emails do you send and receive per day?
Sarah: Oh, good grief. I receive up to 200 emails a day but respond to far fewer. I would say between 75 and 100 emails sent out every day.
Suzanne: What time does your typical day end?
Sarah: Generally, I wrap up at 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Fridays I wrap up by 6 p.m. and then Saturdays I work a half day.
Suzanne: Let’s get to know your unique business. What can you tell us about your market?
Sarah: Bamboo has a niche strategy. We specialize in properties for lease and first-time home-buyer services. We have an office in Houston and Dallas, and will be opening a Denver office this summer. For me, personally, I live and work in Houston.
Suzanne: Why do you love living there?
Sarah: I love Houston. I’ve been here for about five-and-a-half years. My favorite part about the city is the diversity. Last year, Houston surpassed New York as the most diverse city in the country, and people are relocating here in droves from all over the world. You can find a little of everything in Houston. A good example is the food—you can find Ethiopian, dim sum, Cajun, German, Vietnamese and Tex-Mex all within a short drive. The food is amazing, as made evident by what I call the “Houston 15.” It’s like the Freshman 15 where everyone finds themselves with a tighter waistband after their first few months here. What can I say, we all eat out a lot.
One thing I love about working in Houston is having the Houston Association of Realtors (HAR) for my local Association. The HAR leadership team, often recognized among the most influential in the country, has crafted a unique vision, and I don’t take for granted that we have tools and resources that agents in other markets don’t have access to. They have one of the best consumer-facing websites in the country, a robust agent review platform, industry-leading technology for agents, and awesome educational opportunities. I’m running for the HAR Board of Directors for 2015 and if things go well, I’ll have the opportunity to work to serve agents throughout the city.
Suzanne: How many transactions do you anticipate closing this year?
Sarah: As a broker/owner, most of my time is spent working with the agents on their transactions or in business development activities. However, I do take a few clients at a time, all of whom are past clients or personal contacts. This year I will do between 20 and 24 transactions.
Suzanne: What made you choose a career in real estate?
Sarah: Real estate was an accident in some ways. I was previously in consulting for six years and loved it but reached a point of serious burnout with the travel. Right around that time my husband and I were looking for a new place, and the agent that helped us suggested I consider real estate as an option. Since his work looked like a lot more fun than the burnout I was experiencing, I decided to walk away from corporate American and dive into real estate. That was in 2008 and I haven’t looked back since.
What I really love about real estate is that your job is what you make it out to be. You can be a listing agent or a buyer’s rep, you can choose residential or commercial, and if you don’t want to be an agent there are many other roles within the industry. There are niche opportunities everywhere you look. What do you want real estate to look like for you? Go out and build it. It’s very unique.
Suzanne: What is the biggest challenge the real estate industry faces today?
Sarah: Gosh, what a loaded question. I think one of the biggest issues today is that, increasingly, real estate agents are viewed as a commodity. As a result, both commissions and the level of service provided to clients seem to be on a downward march. However, challenge breeds opportunity, so there are some interesting new business models emerging as a result.
Suzanne: What advice would you give to new agents?
Sarah: I would tell new agents to focus on the people and not the money. If you spend time investing in relationships, then that will lead to success. Also, just as relationships mature over time, so will your real estate business. As for some practical advice to go along with that, invest in a CRM from day one. If you don’t, it will be like starting your career over and over again.
Suzanne: What is your greatest extravagance?
Sarah: Hmmm. I love a great bottle of wine. My perfect day is wine tasting in Sonoma. I have memberships in a half-dozen wine clubs, and I’ll definitely splurge on an amazing bottle when out for dinner.
Suzanne: Which living person do you admire most?
Sarah: I really admire Hillary Rodham Clinton. She has dedicated her life to public service and is a great example of balancing public and private life.
Suzanne: Who inspires you the most?
Sarah: I’m most inspired by the power of the human spirit and the ability to reinvent oneself. I think that is at the heart of the most inspiring stories we hear about.
Suzanne: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Sarah: Gosh, does anyone like taking about achievements? Ummm…. Last year Inman News named me to their list of the Top 100 Most Influential Leaders in Real Estate. That about knocked me over. I was so surprised and humbled to be included. So I’ll name that.
Suzanne: What do you value most in your friends?
Sarah: Authenticity. When someone is real. It’s more than I can explain in words, but I know it when I see it.
Suzanne: Tell us something we don’t already know about you?
Sarah: My husband Brian and I are adopting from Ethiopia and we’re currently on the wait list. That day will be super magical when we get the call that we have been matched with a child.
Click the image above for an interactive look into a day in the life of Sarah Schnell Jones.
Previous “A Day In The Life” articles: