“In those early years, I understood that I needed to look to the examples of other professions to push the frontiers of professionalism in the real estate industry.”
It was September 1981; mortgage rates hovered around 17-18 percent, existing home sales dropped by as much as 50 percent, new home sales and building permits fell similarly and housing affordability dropped to an all-time low of 62. With this less than auspicious backdrop, Princeton University and Harvard Business School graduate Barry Berg entered the world of Minnesota real estate.
“People were fleeing the business, not entering it,” he said. “But I understood finance backward and forward and I figured, if I can make this work now, I can sure make it work later.”
More than three decades later, those words sound prophetic. Not only did Berg make it through those challenging early days, but went on to build one of the most dynamic and highly respected real estate teams in the state. Today, the Barry Berg Group of Coldwell Banker Burnet is synonymous with first class, high quality service and representation.
“In those early years, I understood that I needed to look to the examples of other professions to push the frontiers of professionalism in the real estate industry,” Berg said. “And, even though the real estate industry has advanced by leaps and bounds over the past 30-plus years, my team and I still subscribe to the belief that we need to do our best to lead the pack; lead by example and to try to identify how to operate as professionally and ethically as possible.”
Over the years, the Barry Berg Group has gone through various transformations, some by choice and some by necessity in response to market fluctuations and vicissitudes. One of the most significant of these came in 2005 when Berg welcomed fellow Harvard alumnus Chad Larsen as his business partner. With an impressive and comprehensive background in marketing and business development, Larsen also came with a strong recommendation from someone Berg had long respected, branch vice president, Matt Baker.
“At that time we were doing a tremendous amount of condo development,” Berg said. “I was heavily involved in every aspect, from conception to market launch, which required a minimum of 60 hours a week. And I still had my residential business.
“I was concerned as to how I was going to continue to serve my clients, and realized I really needed a business partner,” Berg continued. “Chad was joining the office about that time and, while I had only limited interactions with him, I couldn’t help but recognize that certain something that seems to mark a winner. So, I asked Matt.”
According to Berg, his instincts regarding this potential new business partner were validated when Matt Baker described Larsen as the complete package.
According to both men, the partnership has been an unequivocal success and together they have built a team of professionals who share their vision, dedication and drive.
“Barry and I have been involved in more than 450 transactions and the team probably closer to 550,” Larsen said. “And even though many people might think one transaction is pretty much the same as the next, I don’t subscribe to that belief. Each transaction is different, just as every client is different, and we try to learn from each issue that arises. The more we know, the more we grow, and the better we can serve our clients. It’s an accumulative effect, because each new client benefits from the experience and knowledge we’ve derived from hundreds of transactions.
“It’s not just the number,” Larsen continued, “it’s the perspective and maturity that comes with all that experience. This extends to all of our team members. Cat Yahrmatter, our marketing manager, handles all the preparation and coordination of our marketing materials, coordinating photography, our website, brochures – the works! Our client services manager Deb Shafer has dealt with hundreds of closings and all the various issues that can arise, which has certainly honed her skills.
“Both of our other associates are real estate attorneys, Rebecca Krasno Peterson and Paul Kaminski, so they start so many levels above the competence and perspective of your typical real estate agent. There’s just a balance and wisdom that their clients benefit from tremendously.”
Within the Twin Cities’ real estate community, the name Barry Berg Group is most closely associated with luxury, multimillion- dollar properties. While this perception is valid, it makes some sellers reluctant to list for fear of not being expensive enough to matter. Not true, according to Berg.
“It makes no difference how many listings we have or what the price of that property might be,” he said. “As far as any one of our sellers is concerned, there’s only one that’s important – their home. We treat everyone equitably.”
Recent seller Susan Wheeler Goodnow confirmed. The listing was fraught with challenges right from the outset, recent open enrollment policies for the Edina School District being among the most difficult. But according to Goodnow, Berg and his team were not just by her side throughout the entire process, they went above and beyond.
“After more than 40 showings we had three solid offers,” explained Goodnow, “and were finally feeling the relief that a closing was in sight. Then, after the worst rainy season in recent history, our sump pump burst flooding our basement with 5,000 gallons of water.”
This happened on a Thursday evening. By 7:30 a.m. on Friday, Berg had an entire team deployed to the Goodnow home and was busy calmly explaining to the potential buyers that this incident was nothing more calamitous than an overflowing dishwasher.
“We were just astounded at the topshelf treatment we received, not only from Barry but his entire team,” said Goodnow. “Everything from the seven-hour photo shoot to getting text messages at 10 o’clock at night made us feel like we were their most important client. So, we were quite shocked, when after the sale we realized we were the third lowest priced property in his listings! Never in a million years would we have guessed we were anything other than his most important clients!”
Berg and Larsen describe themselves as very bullish with regard to their team and the future. Having not just weathered the storms of past market downturns, but rather continued to grow and thrive, the Barry Berg Group has reason to anticipate a bright future. As of May 2014, the team had already achieved the same production level as they had for all of 2013.
“It’s very easy, particularly when things are going well, to just keep doing what you’re doing,” Berg said. “However, that’s not really good business. We’ve always tried to be somewhat self-aware and make sure we’re doing everything we can to build the leaders we want, and take the wonderful family that is our team to new heights. We want to do everything we can to elevate them and give them an opportunity to grow and thereby offer our clients the best possible service.”
To this end, Berg and Larsen took a number of days away from the office and daily demands to write down their thoughts, plans, ideas and concerns for the future. Now, in the final quarter of 2014, they are pooling these notes and creating a plan of action for the upcoming year.
“We’re trying to thoughtfully and conscientiously review the best opportunities for growth in the broadest sense of the word,” Berg said. “How do we support that growth? How do we ensure our ability to provide solid counsel, advice and marketing support?
“My perspective naturally has changed over the years,” Berg continued. “Now, after 33 years, I’m looking at the opportunities I have to ensure I leave behind a legacy I’m proud of. I want to make certain that we truly are building the finest, best quality team for our clients and the generations of clients to follow.”