Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 19 August 2011 00:00
In September of last year, when real estate veteran Mara Navaretta disclosed that she was about to open her own brand-new, boutique real estate agency, people were skeptical to say the least: a new business, in this economy? And in real estate, no less? However, after experiencing a year of rapid growth that exceeded even Navaretta’s expectations, Homes by Mara, located in Syosset at 567 Jericho Turnpike, has proved the pessimist contingent wrong in pretty spectacular fashion.
“When people said that I was crazy, I just had enough faith to know that it doesn’t matter if it’s a good time in real estate or not- homes need to sell,” said Navaretta, who credits the agency’s success to her positive attitude, a belief in the power of personal service, and having the opportunity to hire like-minded people. “I believe in home ownership.”
It was the experience of buying her own home that actually turned Navaretta into a realtor; after receiving a B.A. in Psychology from SUNY Stony Brook, she worked as a social worker until 1997. However, after a lukewarm experience with a realtor while purchasing a house, Navaretta thought her skills might be put to better use elsewhere. “I said, ‘boy that realtor didn’t do much- I could do better than that!” she remembered with a laugh.
Apparently she could do better, as she was able to leave social work behind for a successful career at several firms, including RE/Max. At the Syosset RE/Max, where Navaretta said the entrepreneurial spirit appealed to her, she built a team of six realtors (herself included), and enjoyed a dynamic business. However, despite her success, RE/Max Syosset closed its doors in 2007.
After RE/Max, Navaretta worked brief stints at different brokerage houses, but sensed that there was something missing for her. “I felt like I could not service my clients; I felt it was very restrictive,” she said. It soon became clear to Navaretta that to provide the kind of service she felt was her calling card, she would need to once again be her own boss.
Fortunately, just when Navaretta decided that she needed the autonomy from her RE/Max days, the office space formerly occupied by RE/Max— located in the Marshall’s shopping center on Jericho Turnpike— just happened to be available. Taking it as a positive sign, Navaretta rented the space and started out Homes by Mara Realty, called a “boutique” real estate agency, with a dedicated team of six- just like before.
In barely a year, the agency has grown from a staff of six agents to 20, with no sign of slowing down. Navaretta noted however, that it’s not the number of agents that’s important to her, but the quality; she’s already had to turn down 13 agents, because she will only hire people whom she feels share her positive attitude and commitment to honesty.
Furthermore, while she didn’t intend to hire agents who live in the Syosset/Jericho area specifically, many of her new agents happen to be local, meaning that they can share their personal experiences of living in the area with potential homebuyers; another step in the direction of offering personalized service.
Big firms, she explained, often seem to hire too many agents who can hurt their reputation. “A desperate agent is a terrible thing- they forget who they work for,” she said.
Unfortunately, desperate agents can accompany a depressed market; it’s no secret that since the 2008 financial crisis, home values have been down. However, that’s why honesty is especially important now, explained Navaretta; it’s important to be honest with homeowners that their property isn’t worth what it was years ago, because unrealistic expectations lead to homes that sit on the market and won’t sell.
That said, Navaretta explained that the market is comparatively good in this area specifically, thanks to the quality of the schools and other local resources like large and well-maintained beaches, marinas, and parks. “It’s just so easy to sell this area,” she said. The realtor went on to say that a failed school district budget in Syosset, which seemed like a distinct possibility this year, would have a negative impact on the market; homebuyers with young children in particular choose this area due to the services offered by the school district, she said.
Other things that make the agency stand out are its concierge service, with contacts in the junk removal, painting, carpet, and other relevant industries, and the fact that Homes by Mara shares office space with Navaretta’s husband’s law firm, Navaretta & Howard LLP, which has a special focus in real estate law. By having all these services available under one roof, the intent is to provide “one-stop shopping” for those interested in buying or selling a home.
For those considering selling their homes in the near future, Navaretta advises calling a realtor before paying for any repairs or modifications to the house; they can recommend the most cost-effective changes that will result in the best asking price. “Doing the simple things, like painting, taking down the wallpaper, maybe cleaning some rugs- just spending a little bit of money will bring you the big returns,” said Navaretta, going on to say that she does sometimes advise clients to do big repair projects before listing a house, particularly if a structural problem needs to be fixed.
An issue specific to this area that Homes by Mara often advises people about is underground oil tanks; put in the ground in the ’50s, when most homes in Syosset, Jericho and the surrounding areas were built, the tanks weren’t intended to last this long, and may have rusted or contaminated the soil. Navaretta advises having old oil tanks replaced with fiberglass units, and to have an environmental company test for soil contamination. Speaking of aging structures, it is often cost-effective for houses with aging pools to have repairs done to their pools before listing.
For potential buyers, while Navaretta notes that internet listings have allowed for more educated consumers who often know what they’re looking for, be careful when it comes to information online; websites that provide approximate home values may not match with reality.
Going forward, after such a successful first year, Navaretta says that she’s looking to continue to provide the same service the young agency is becoming known for, and is cautiously optimistic that home values will pick up in the near future. The agency just held its first “Homes by Mara Boat Trip” to Stanford, Connecticut this month, and may host even more agents by the time the second annual trip rolls around in 2012.
Naturally, the agency hopes to increase its name recognition in the community, but there may not be very far to go; signs that used to say “Homes by Mara Realty” now simply say “Homes by Mara,” since the agency found that most people in the neighborhood now know the name, and exactly what it stands for. To find out more about, visit www.homesbymara.com.