Real Estate Agents of the Month Quintet Of Experts

Quintet of Experts

By Susan Cushing

It’s not unusual for agents, for one reason or another, to change brokerages over the course of their career. Typically, this is a decision made early-on, while he or she is still building their business and exploring their options; although it’s not unheard of for more experienced professionals to also make a switch. What is somewhat unusual, is when five very successful, highly-respected, veteran REALTORS® all choose to make such a move, and all to the same new office.

Over the last 14 months, in what could be dubbed a “mini migration,” five preeminent real estate professionals made just such a momentous decision, each choosing to re-hang their well-worn licenses in the offices of RE/MAX Advantage Plus.

Steve Westmark, Dan Plowman, Katherine(Kat) Kitt, Joel Hentges, and Kathleen Cantazaro are all seasoned professionals with decades of experience, impressive track records and strikingly similar geographical and vocational backgrounds, and they’ve all found a new home at RE/MAX Advantage Plus.

THE RIGHT PLACE TO CALL HOME

Founded by Eric Malmberg in 2002, RE/MAX Advantage Plus fairly exploded onto the local real estate scene, a virtual overnight success beginning with their flagship office in Lakeville, MN. Establishing themselves as an innovative technology leader, forward-thinking with a reputation for taking a personal interest in the success of every associate, the brokerage flourished, expanding in less than a decade to more than 17 locations throughout the Twin Cities area. They proved that their popular slogan, “The Right Place to Call Home” is not just a marketing mantra, but a pledge to every agent and client. It also seems to be very apropos as they welcome the newest members of their family of associates that now numbers more than 440 extending across the Twin Cities.

A passionate proponent in the use of any and all available technology, Malmberg has continued to adapt and employ the latest tools and procedures to ensure a robust atmosphere where all associates can thrive. The brokerage has adopted a new and secure Kunversion system (soon to be upgraded to KVCore) which gives potential buyers and sellers a tailored communication experience. The system monitors the activity of visitors, taking note of their interests and allowing the associate to better serve their needs. Additionally, the RE/MAX Design Center offers a marketing program available to all of sales associates free of charge, to assist in the successful marketing of their business and their listings.

It is in this energetic climate that the five new associates have found a new home. It’s obvious too, that they are a welcome addition to the team.

“We are thrilled to welcome these talented and accomplished professionals,” says RE/MAX Advantage Plus Executive Recruiter Katie Conrad. “Each brings a wealth of knowledge and experience and it’s already apparent that they fit in with our culture beautifully.

“We hire to our core values and every one of these polished professionals epitomize exactly what we stand for. They are a tremendous added value to our office.”

It seems the newcomers are equally thrilled to be part of this thriving organization.

“I am impressed with the great thought and technology programs they have along with upgrades,” says Westmark of his new brokerage. “For instance, Kunversion website with automatic house evaluations, property searches and social media boost bulletin. There’s also BombBomb, Cloud CMA and List Pro Hub; it’s obvious they are aware of, and provide, the latest tools that help us better serve our clients.”

And Kathleen Cantazaro seems to agree. “I am sure is where I will be until I retire,” she says “They have the tools and state of the art technology to move their agents fast forward. They are available, and genuinely have made the transition as easy and stress free as possible. I am confident this will be my final move, and I will leave my team in good hands.”

Plowman describes his reasons for the move this way: “My deciding to go with RE/MAX Advantage Plus had to do with the positive reputation that Eric Malmberg has in the industry, the number of great agents I’ve worked with over the years that are with RE/MAX Advantage Plus and the convenient Minnetonka location.”

With a brand as big and internationally respected as RE/MAX, it’s easy to appreciate the myriad ways Marketing Director Melissa Sletto has been able to extend this advantage further building the stellar reputation and helping each associate develop their business.

“We work with each associate on a very individualized basis and help them build their own business while continuing to expand our presence in the market,” says Sletto. “Like Katie, I feel very excited to have these wonderful people as part of our group. Each one has his or her own style, personality and of course, a wealth of knowledge to share.”

Each of the five has a unique path that has led them to RE/MAX Advantage Plus.

STEVE WESTMARK

“I have a 40-point marketing plan for my sellers that helps ensure a streamlined process and a maximized sale,” says veteran REALTOR® Steve Westmark. “I listen to what is working in the current market and then implement the best to create a personalized marketing plan for each seller. By utilizing the latest and most effective programs such as Matterport, Bomb- Bomb, Boosts to Social Media and Voice Pad combined with Smart Phone apps and relevant ‘old-school’ techniques, I can create a marketing campaign appropriate and somewhat unique for each situation.”

With an impressive real estate career than spans more than 44 years, Westmark has earned a reputation for conscientious attention to detail, up-to-the minute knowledge of current market trends and a genuinely warm and gracious personality that translates into customer service second to none. His years of experience and accrued knowledge serve as a dynamic base from which he confidently evaluates each client’s situation, property and goals before presenting a meticulously designed marketing plan.

For his buyers, this same expertise ensures that they are not only afforded the opportunity to view and consider the properties most closely matching their ideal, but once they’ve found “the one”, Westmark can be depended upon to negotiate the best price, terms and timetable.

“I believe one of the best things I can do for my customers and clients is to have a large knowledge base to help them with the real estate transaction,” he says. “Certainly, there’s always the potential for problems or challenges in any transaction, however, by staying abreast of market conditions, continuing education classes and just staying up-to-date on anything relating to our industry, I feel confident that I either have the answer or know the person who does.”

It’s unusual for any transaction to proceed from start to finish without any small “bump” or issue. Life is full of surprises and they aren’t always happy ones. As Westmark indicates, education and preparation are two sure-fire ways to navigate complications or unexpected issues.

“One of my strengths is problem solving,” he says. “I like helping people and bringing solutions to these situations gives me great satisfaction.”

Westmark and his wife Maggie Gardner, a medical product manager for Coloplast, have four grown children and four granddaughters, “We love spending time with those little girls and spoiling them like good grandparents should,” he says with a grin.

He and Maggie also enjoy motorcycling, golfing and, like all good Minnesotans, boating and snowmobiling. “We love traveling,” says Westmark, “And, Maggie and I have our bucket list of places we want to visit. We’ve been trying to make it to about two every year.”

Given his years of experience and solid reputation, Westmark is frequently approached by younger agents or those just entering the industry. Naturally, they are interested in any advice he might offer.

“Real estate sales are not a sprint,” he offers wisely, “it is a marathon! Work for the triple win-attitude and perseverance!”

Westmark’s Designations: Certified Residential Specialist (CRS), Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager (CRB), Accredited Buyer Representative (ABR), GREEN, ePRO, Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES), CDPE, CIAS.

DAN PLOWMAN

Dan Plowman was still in high school when he first explored the idea of going into real estate. “During my senior year at Minnetonka High School I met with Don Streeter, past president of MAAR and owner of Streeter Andrs, about the possibility of selling real estate,” he says. “I liked the idea of being self-employed and being able to regulate my earnings and schedule. Prior to getting my real estate license, I had my own landscaping business. Also, my brother was in real estate and he was very encouraging.”

Over the past 35 years, Plowman has built an impressive and very successful real estate business as well as a reputation for honesty, hard work and a sincere interest in his clients. As with most new ventures, the first couple of years were tough; long hours and lots of hard work. But it all paid off.

“By my second year in the business things started to click,” he says, “and I felt like I was in a career I could really enjoy. My name was getting out there and sales were coming in. I discovered that folks just liked talking real estate. I was discovering that there wasn’t some magical formula, all I had to do was be myself and treat people the way I would want to be treated. Over the years that’s never changed, I’ve always put my client’s needs over my own.

“There have been numerous occasions when, after consulting with a client it was apparent that, for whatever reason, the timing wasn’t right for them,” he continues. “I’ve never tried to push a sale, it has to be the right thing for my client, I’m always looking out for their best interest. I’ve found that in those instances, when the time was right they came back to me.”

Now that he’s something of a veteran in the industry, newcomers frequently ask him for advice. “Perhaps the best advice I can give is simply to be honest,” he says. “The ‘Golden Rule’ sums it up best. ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.’”

It’s a theme that is consistent through all aspects of his life. He generously and enthusiastically gives of himself to many non-profit organizations, particularly those that help young people.

“I am involved with Youth Investment Foundation (dealing with kids in the suburbs who are struggling with poor choices and or family issues) and Minnesota Teen & Adult Challenge (located in Minneapolis dealing with similar issues),” says Plowman. “I also assist with the Minnesota NflAlumni raising funds for many local charities, and have been very active with my church for the past 40 years.”

Married for 34 years, he and his wife have three grown children, two of whom live close by while the third resides in Boston. But if you want to see his face light up, just ask about the three little ladies in his life.

“We have three incredible granddaughters,” he says, fairly bursting with pride. “They definitely have grandpa wrapped around their little fingers. They bring so much joy and delight to my life.”

Though passionately dedicated to his clients, Plowman is careful to maintain a healthy balance in his life. “I make it a priority to balance family and work,” he says. “I’ve never sacrificed quality time to chase the almighty dollar. Maybe I’ll never be the biggest producer in town. I do however, work hard and do a great job for my clients.”

Plowman’s Designations: Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) and Graduate of the Realtor Institute (GRI).

KAT KITT

“As a buyer representative, I make it my business to understand what is important to my buyers and their families,” says Kat Kitt. “Real estate is not about just buying a home, but rather the investment into a lifestyle and a community that will support my clients and their family as they grow.

“As a seller representative, I provide all the tools needed to maximize the return on what is likely the biggest investment of their life,” she continues. “The home will have all of the exposure it needs for it to sell quickly and for the maximum dollar value.”

A 40-year resident of the Lake Minnetonka area with more than a dozen years as a successful REALTOR®, Kitt considers herself an expert of this highly-desirable area, as well as the surrounding lakeside communities and the southwest suburbs.

“The majority of my experience has been within the residential sales market with an exceptional understanding and involvement with homes in this very appealing area,” she says. “I make it my business to completely understand my client’s situation and what matters most to them and their families. Having a first-hand, longstanding knowledge of and appreciation for this area is a distinct advantage.”

As proficient as she is with the tasks of listing, marketing, locating desirable properties to purchase and negotiating the best price for her buyers, these represent only a fraction of the services Kitt provides. With a warm and ingratiating personality, Kitt bonds with her clients, developing relationships that often blossom into life-long friendships.

Because she never perceives these as simply “transactions” but rather, helping and guiding a friend through the complexities of real estate, Kitt says once the house is bought or sold her work is just beginning.

“My job does not end when the transaction is complete,” she says. “I make it a point to stay in touch with my clients and always remain a valuable resource. I am committed to adding value during the transaction and in the months and years in between. My 10 years as a member of “BNI” Business Networking International, have cultivated a high level of resources through building business relationships that I share with clients.”

Though it’s virtually impossible to draw a definitive line between work and personal time, due to both her passion for her work and drive to provide only the most exceptional customer service, Kitt does enjoy activities that help burn off her seemingly inexhaustible energy.

“Outside of work I am very passionate about maintaining excellent health and fitness,” she says. “I enjoy working out, boating/sailing, hiking and golf. My favorite, when I have time off, is traveling and discovering new and exciting places to visit with friends and family. I enjoy the flexibility and variety of each day in real estate, creating and maintaining relationships with past clients and the opportunity for new relationships.”

She also gives generously of her time, volunteering at such organizations as the Minnetonka Yacht Club Sailing Regatta’s and as an avid member of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, where she severs on the board of directors.

Kitt’s Designations: Residential Real Estate Specialist, CLHMS, CNS, ABR, REBAC

KATHLEEN CANTAZARO

“It’s been many happy years filled with challenges and new changes in the industry every year,” is how Kathleen Cantazaro describes her life in real estate. “It’s enabled me to work at a job I love, helping people with all their real estate needs and creating long-lasting relationships.”

Long before she ever considered turning it into a career, Cantazaro was already honing her skills. As newlyweds, she and her husband purchased their first home in 1973. Five years later, with their first child on the way, they decided they needed a larger home.

“We found a house in Minnetonka,” she says. “To save money, we decided to try to sell our existing home ourselves. We fielded several offers and completed the final transaction with the help of an attorney. We did the same thing when we moved to our second home in Minnetonka.”

Family is a top priority for Cantazaro, which now includes not only her two grown daughters, but precious grandchildren as well. She says that over the years she’s learned how to find a happy balance between family time and her clients, but admits that the fiexibility of being a REALTOR ® as opposed to a traditional nine to five job, has made this much easier.

“It’s a process to try to find a happy medium between my clients and my family,” she says, “but it is possible, and I have always tried to have family come first. There have to be boundaries set to successfully maintain both.”

According to her clients and colleagues, Cantazaro has seemingly infinite patience and a deep empathy for what her clients are experiencing. “I tell them we will look at as many houses as they need to until they walk in and ‘love it’,” she says. “It’s the largest purchase they will likely ever make, and should be chosen carefully. It’s a process full of emotion and communication is key with all parties involved.

“I always assure them that together, we will find the perfect home for them, and let them know that there’s isn’t a clock ticking in the background,” she adds. “I do everything I can to let them know I truly care about them and to do my part to make it a comfortable and exciting experience.”

Although friends would describe her personality as easy-going, Cantazaro takes her role very seriously. “Whether they are buying or selling, they have chosen you to be their REALTOR® and that’s something I don’t take lightly,” she says. “They have placed their trust in me and I won’t let them down. Here again, communication is paramount. I realize that some people, caught up in the excitement of the purchase, seem to feel that I should be available 24/7, but if I communicate clearly and do my best to respond to them as quickly as possible their expectations become a little more realistic.”

With a passion and enthusiasm that is apparent, Cantazaro’s feeling about her work can probably be best summed up in the following comment: “Every day is new and exciting,” she says, “and I’ve never felt like it was a job.”

Cantazaro’s designations: Broker, Certified Residential Specials (CRS) and SRES.

JOEL HENTGES

“This has really been my only career,” says Joel Hentges. “I left college in 1979, passed the test and started working at Edina Realty in August of that year. I spent most of my career at Counselor Realty and just recently joined REMAX Advantage Plus to finish out the balance of my career for the next 10 years or so.

“I was a bartender in college so that was a good training ground for my people skills or lack thereof on occasion,” he adds with a smile.

It was while in college that Hentges first became interested in real estate. He began by helping out a friend who was an agent in St. Cloud and found the work compatible with his skills and personality.

“I was helping my friend work on his St. Cloud rentals,” he says. “Also, one of my uncles was an agent in the Brainerd lakes area, so I had the opportunity to see what the business was all about. Both of them encouraged me to get into real estate. As my interest grew, Dave Moore at Edina Realty explained how to get my license and offered some suggestions as to how to get started.”

Actually, Hentges says he was very fortunate to have many people who served as mentors at various stages of his early career. “When I started, Jeff Martineau was very helpful. He’s still very active with Coldwell Banker and we remain good friends. There were others too. They all helped me in various ways and at different stages as I was building my business. I feel very lucky.”

Thirty-eight years later, Hentges has built a very successful business in his own personal style.

“There are a few things that I do that are uniquely my own,” he says. “For instance, I’ve discovered tremendous success working a small area where I have lived most of my life. The obvious advantage is my level of knowledge; I have an intimate awareness of everything going on.

“Another thing, I’ve always made a point of having all of my listings pre-inspected to avoid any ‘surprises’,” he adds. “Forewarned is forearmed. This way, the homeowners have an option to either make the repairs or disclose the issues up front.”

Despite the big push for all things digital, Hentges still believes in “old-school” marketing and has the results to back him up. “I still do a lot of direct-mail and, about five times a year I send out a custom newspaper to seven thousand homes in the area. Everyone is chasing the latest tech idea, but most of my clients are 50 years or older and they feel comfortable reading something they can hold in their hands.”

Ultimately, Hentges champions the idea that real estate is, and always will be a “people business”.

“Contact make contracts,” he says “This is a people business and you have to have a lot of personal contact to make a go of it. Stop walking around like a zombie looking at your phone and please return phone calls when asked too.”

Hentges’ Designations: Certified Residential Specialist (CRS).

Looking toward the future, Westmark, Plowman, Kitt, Hentges and Cantazaro have all expressed an optimistic prognosis for not only their own business but for the RE/MAX Advantage Plus team as a whole. For most of them, this is part two in a very long and successful career, so the fact that they have chosen to make the move at this time is an indication of the stellar reputation and high standards synonymous with this fine brokerage.


RE/MAX Advantage Plus (952) 226-7700 www.TheRealEstateAdvantage.com