Sales duo shares secrets

Sunday, April 08, 2007

By KATHY JUMPER

Real Estate Editor

Philip Helton and his daughter, Elizabeth, are 38 years apart in age, but that didn't stop them from joining forces to sell $59 million worth of real estate last year.

The pair were ranked the No. 1 real estate sales team in the state for REMAX in 2006; No. 68 out of the 100 top teams in the United States; and No. 98 out of 100 teams worldwide.

"Our business is 24-7," said Helton, 65, of REMAX of Orange Beach, who has sold real estate for 40 years. "I've been pulled off the golf course to show property. That's how committed we are. And that's the only way you could do what we do."

"I'd like to see Dad get more time on the golf course," said Elizabeth, 27, who got her real estate license at 19. "But we're going to be No. 1 again before Dad retires," she added, smiling.

Retirement is not Helton's future, he said. "I'm in good health and enjoy what we're doing," he said. "We work with nice people."

Q: How did you sell so much in a slow market?

A: Philip: "In the fall of 2005, when everybody was singing the blues, I told Elizabeth to meet me at the office. I had been through this type of market before. I showed her how to work with buyers and how to take listings that will sell. You don't want to take any listings unless the people let us list it at the right price."

A: Elizabeth: "We worked off two different things: One was our units that were closing, things we'd worked on for several years, like The Marseilles in Perdido Key. When we began the first Marseilles, we were in a market similar to today's, and it took us two years to sell out. The second phase sold out in a few months, and the final phase, La Belle Maison, we sold in a week and a half. That was at the highlight of the preconstruction Mecca.

"The other thing we did was scope out the best deals. We knew that not all the buyers at The Lighthouse were going to close. Flipping had come to an end. A lot of buyers got into the Lighthouse never anticipating closing on those units. We worked that angle and brought in buyers for those types of developments. And we got our buyers some exceptional deals."

Q: Weren't the Marseilles units selling for more than $1 million?

A: Elizabeth: "Yes. Our number of transactions last year was not as high as some agents, but we had more

higher-priced sales."

Q: How will your sales be this year?

A: Philip: "I'm eternally optimistic. Gradually we'll build up to having a good year and will be where we were last year, maybe a bit less. The high-end buyers are coming back."

A: Elizabeth: "We will find our niche again, just like last year. There's a lot of good opportunity with The Wharf bringing in more people. They are attracting investor companies who are interested in land. And we do have the Go Zone to capitalize on until 2008." The Wharf is a residential, entertainment, retail and marina development on the Intracoastal Waterway in Orange Beach.

Q: How many agents are on your team?

A: Elizabeth: "We couldn't have been ranked No. 1 without John Hilsman and Alison Franklin, who gave us the extra sales. Alison is no longer with us. One of our goals this year is to expand our team."

Q: What advice are you giving your client base?

A: Philip: "With so much inventory down here, I'm telling them now is the time to sell. For people who have made a good profit, sell and reinvest in something else. But don't get greedy."

Q: Sell? When there's 3,000 condo units on the market for sale?

A: Philip: The high-end buyers are still here. They are smart people and waited to see what the best buys were. That's who we're dealing with."

A: Elizabeth: "There can be 10,000 on the market, but the only ones that will be in front of me will be of quality construction and priced correctly."

Q: So the market will come back?

A: Philip: "People are always going to come to the beach. The future I see for down here are the types of buildings that can withstand a Category 5 hurricane. When the storm is over, you won't see everything on the ground. We have the same problems that other coastal markets have. There's the fear of storms factor and high insurance costs."

A: Elizabeth: "If we weren't thriving a little bit, we wouldn't have projects like The Wharf going up. The market is really not as bad as some people think. We have the whitest sand in the world, Caribbean-like water and fantastic weather nine months out of the year. People are coming down here every day."