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Top Realtor gets inside heart, mind of the client

February 24, 2002 -Top Realtor gets inside heart, mind of the client
by Macario Juarez Jr.

She doesn't sell houses she thinks are overpriced or won't hold their value.

She doesn't tell clients only what they want to hear.

She doesn't impose herself on people just to get their business.

It's what she doesn't do - as much as what she does do - that has made Robin Sue Kaiserman the area's top-grossing real estate agent for nine years running. Last year alone, she sold $32.8 million in Catalina Foothills luxury homes.

"I can't tell you why I've been able to do this, to be honest," she says. "Other agents work hard. It's just the trust that you build up with people over the years - a trust and confidence."

Building - and maintaining - that trust means sometimes steering a client away from what could be an easy sale.

"You always want to be honest with your people, even if it's going to cost you some money," says Kaiserman, who has sold homes here for almost 16 years.

Her "people" are some of Tucson's wealthiest residents and leading custom-home builders who want to live and do business in the Catalina Foothills.

When they make a move, Kaiserman usually is there to guide them - if not in person, then via the cellphone, from inside her Lincoln Town Car or from what she calls her "downtown Foothills" office at North Swan Road and East Sunrise Drive. Last year alone, she sold 63 houses at an average price of more than $500,000 each - enough to net her a six-figure income and make her something of a celebrity within her industry.

She clearly dominates the local field, selling $4.6 million more than her closest competitor last year. Some of her sales are double-counted if she listed the house and another of her clients bought it. But she estimates that happened only about three times last year.

To sell and sell and sell, she is always accessible, always available.

She's on the cellphone constantly. On the rare occasions when it stops ringing, she gets nervous, wondering what could be wrong.

She plans her vacations so they get her out of town and away from work - but not so far away that her clients can't reach her:

"I won't go to Mexico because my phone won't work, but I'll go to Hawaii."

She gets to know her clients so well that she knows what types of people they like, and sometimes introduces them to each other.

"Everyone is different," she says. "It's fun to figure out who they are."

The day begins

It's 9 o'clock on a Tuesday morning and the troops at Long Realty's Foothills office are out the door. Today Kaiserman and her fellow agents are critiquing eight homes they have for sale, including one of Kaiserman's listings - a $1.48 million home in Ventana Canyon Country Club.

The group spends about five minutes doing a "walk-through" of each home. En route to the next property, they fill out anonymous forms with suggestions to the listing agent on the home's condition and whether it's priced right.

One home, a golf course villa at Ventana Canyon, reminds Kaiserman of a similar house in the same development that she refused to sell to a short-term buyer.

"I convinced the buyer not to buy it because he wouldn't be able to sell it in a couple of years. Based on the economics, it didn't make sense."

Her honesty may cost her a quick sale. But she hopes it wins her loyal clients.

"Sometimes my people don't listen to me," she says, "but I can't help that."

Even competitors respect the way she deals with clients.

"She represents her clients to the utmost and leaves no stone unturned," says Dan Santa Maria of Santa Maria Realty. I certainly would put her in the top five of my favorite people to work with."


By 11:30, the tour is over and Kaiserman heads for lunch. On the way, her cellphone and beeper sit silent for a bit too long. Jittery, she checks in with assistant Susan Kronberger to make sure all is well at the office.

Unlike other agent assistants, Kronberger doesn't sell real estate under Kaiserman, even though Kaiserman would be credited for such sales.

"She is very much in control of her business - very much chairman of the board," Long Realty CEO and President Steve Quinlan says.

Kaiserman explains her strategy: "I want that relationship with the buyer. That's my future client when they go to sell their home."

Soon after her conversation with Kronberger, the communications war between her pager and cellphone resumes.

A seller calls to ask what repairs need to be done to the house.

Another wants to know how the property tour went. Kaiserman explains that it wasn't for the public, just for Long agents.

"It's very stressful for people to sell their home," she says between calls. "It's much more fun to buy a house."

Kaiserman arrives at Vivace, today's lunch choice, not a moment too soon: "Lunch helps me get through the day, emotionally," she says.

The break is a treat, also, because Kaiserman doesn't go to dinner with her husband much due to their demanding work schedules.

Michael Kaiserman, she says, is the "rocket scientist" of the family, spending 23 years at the plant that's now Raytheon.

The two met in the Redondo Beach, Calif., area where Michael was in graduate school. They've been married 33 years. A common bond: Both come from families in the apparel business.

Robin's family had a clothing store in her hometown of Minot, N.D. Michael's family operated one at North Flowing Wells and West Prince roads from 1962 through the mid-1980s. Robin Kaiserman worked there for 10 years before her real estate calling.

It was Michael who encouraged his wife in 1986 to consider real estate, thinking she would enjoy its potential for longer-term interaction with customers.

She enjoys that interaction so much that she can't resist introducing acquaintances she thinks would like each other. Her friendship matchmaking successes include Laura Johnson and Sue McDonnell, wives of two Raytheon employees who didn't know each other until they moved to Tucson from Dallas.

Johnson and her husband were in Tucson looking at homes and having lunch with Kaiserman when the Realtor grabbed her cellphone and dialed McDonnell in Dallas. McDonnell and her husband had already purchased a house from Kaiserman but had not yet moved in.

"I picked up the phone, and she said, 'Hold on a second. I have your new best friend on the line," McDonnell says.

That was in 1999. Today, McDonnell and Johnson live across the street from each other and - true to Kaiserman's prediction - they're best friends.

"She's good at observing and knowing her customers so well, and picking up on the subtleties of our individual needs, that you know working with her you aren't just another client," Johnson says.

Her first sale

A bit of luck and a flat tire landed Kaiserman her first listing and home sale.

It was August 1986, and Kaiserman's first day as an agent at Webster Realty, a local brokerage at the time.

Her boss had asked her to drive to open houses on the West Side to get familiar with the inventory. Kaiserman stopped at a house with a for sale sign in the yard, thinking it was on the list. It wasn't.

"I asked if I could see it anyway," she says.

Kaiserman viewed the property and returned to the car, only to find a flat tire. She walked back to the house to use the telephone.

By the time AAA arrived, Kaiserman was the home's new listing agent. The old listing was expiring that day, and the owner asked Kaiserman if she wanted a crack at selling the property.

She sold the house - and made a long-term client. The seller bought homes, fixed them up and resold them.

"Those people were clients of mine eight times," she says.

That sale was the first of many repeat business relationships that largely have contributed to Kaiserman's success.

"Your future client base is your past client base," she says.

She learned right away she couldn't sell just any home. Tucson was too big and property was too diverse to represent it all. Instead, she has specialized in selling upper-end custom homes in Northeast Side developments such as Ventana Canyon, Skyline Country Club and Tucson Country Club.

"You've got to know your product. I can't go to the East Side and say what a house is worth."

At the same time, Kaiserman has to like the house. And the seller must agree on the price.

She's also particular about the buyers she represents.

"I just take out buyers that are really serious. . . . It always comes down to the buyer's motivation."

Telling it like it is

After lunch, Kaiserman returns to her office and meets with a builder who's putting down earnest money on a Foothills lot.

Though he's already built a home on the same street, he's buying this lot sight unseen, relying on Kaiserman's assessment of the property and its value.

Later, she wheels up to a subdivision east of Skyline Country Club to meet custom-home builder Gene DeVitis, who's thinking of selling the home where he and his wife live.

He works with Kaiserman, he says, because he appreciates her frankness. Today he wants her opinion on what his home might sell for.

"She tells me what she thinks, not what I want to hear," DeVitis says.

And she does.

She doesn't like the pool table (even though the beige felt matches the carpet), because it's the first thing someone sees upon entering. It also masks a great view of a waterfall, a hot tub and a negative-edge pool - designed so that water looks as if it's flowing over the pool's edge.

After her walk-through, Kaiserman gives her market price for the property: $775,000 to $800,000 - about $25,000 higher than DeVitis' estimate.

Business finished, Kaiserman takes time to talk to DeVitis and his wife, Tracy, who are newlyweds.

"The first year of marriage is the hardest," she tells them. "The next 20 are moderately difficult. And after that, it gets easy."

The couple warm to Kaiserman's interest in them and share with her a few wedding pictures.

Family first

Kaiserman tries to contain her workday between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., but it doesn't always happen.

And even when it does, she most often works seven days a week.

Despite her schedule, friends and colleagues marvel at her ability to make time for her family.

"It's nice to see someone who can handle her business and her family," says Judy Lowe, president of Realty Executives of Tucson.

Lowe was Kaiserman's manager when they worked together at Coldwell Banker Success Realty, now Coldwell Banker Success Southwest, between 1988 and 1997.

Kaiserman, she says, "decides what she wants and has the ability to put together a strategy to get there."

Still, Kaiserman is quick to admit that she couldn't have made it this far without the support of her family - especially Michael.

"A lot of spouses don't like their wife to be gone all the time," she says.

That's not a problem in the Kaiserman family.

"When she's bothering us, we tell her to go bother her clients," her husband jokes.

Their secret to a healthy family life, he says, has been to do things together, including vacations.

"We are close to our kids," he says. "They are at the ages now where they like to bring a friend along. They spend time with us, and they have time with their friends as well."

Jeffrey Kaiserman was in the first grade when his mother started selling real estate. He's now 21 and a junior at the University of Arizona, studying communications. His sister, Melissa, is 27 and an elementary school teacher in San Diego.

Both recall spending time during childhood at open houses.

"We would take the cookies and lemonade," Melissa says.

While Jeffrey has considered going into real estate himself, Melissa has never felt drawn to the business. But she knows the secret of her mother's success.

"She generally cares for the people she works with," Melissa says. "It's an honesty thing, and it's genuine."

One last showing

The workday is winding down, and Kaiserman is showing a home she has listed in Catalina Foothills Estates No. 10.

A couple who live in a nearby Catalina Foothills neighborhood called earlier and asked to see it.

The three are joined by the home's owner, Angela Olson. Her company, M&A Realty Renovation, buys and renovates homes, then resells them.

Both Kaiserman and Olson answer questions, including where the property line is and what renovations have been done.

The couple seem impressed but leave uncommitted.

Nonetheless, Olson is confident the home won't be on the market long, partly because of Kaiserman's involvement.

Calling it a day

Kaiserman had planned a light day today, hoping to knock off by 3 or 3:30 p.m.

That was 13 homes and several appointments ago. It's now 6 p.m., and the only home Kaiserman wants to visit is the one she and Michael have lived in for 25 years.

A sharp contrast to the desert palaces she visits every day, Kaiserman's Foothills home is relatively modest. Built in 1965, the burnt adobe home lacks many of the amenities of the homes she lists.

She sometimes is tempted to move up, but a luxury home - the very type of property on which she has built her career - is just not a priority to her.

"It's more important to find happiness in life," she says. "I've found that big, fancy homes don't always make people happy."


Profile / Robin Sue Kaiserman

Age: 55

Occupation: Realtor

R‚sum‚: Webster Realty, 1986-1988; Coldwell Banker Success Realty, 1988-1997; Long Realty, 1997-present.

Personal: Married 33 years to Michael Kaiserman, a Raytheon engineer. Son Jeffrey, 21, is a University of Arizona junior, studying communications. Daughter Melissa, 27, is an elementary school teacher in San Diego.

Contact Star Business reporter Macario Juarez Jr., at 573-4663 or at mjuarez@azstarnet.com.


Copyright 2002 The Arizona Daily Star

Robin Sue Kaiserman

Tucson's #1 Real Estate Agent for 12 years

Office: 520-918-5411
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5683 North Swan Road
Tucson, Arizona 85718

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