TAMPA — On reality shows like “Selling New York” and “Hot Listings Miami,” real estate is all tense decisions — should I buy or not? — and agents in heavy eyeliner, but in the real world, cold callers like Bill Dallas toil from one “No, thank you” to the next.
Dallas, 50, is among a small breed of real estate agents working in the Tampa Bay area’s ultratight housing market, who persuade homeowners to list their homes for sale through old-school cold calls and knocks on doors.
Every morning from 8 to 11, he stares at lists of homeowners on two flat-screen monitors, with a Bluetooth headset clipped to his ear and his shoulders swaying left to right as his automatic dialer rings up three numbers at a time.
“Hello, hello,” he pipes up, breaking away from a reporter when the dialer hits on a live person. “Hi, I was calling about your home on Clark Avenue. Are you the owner?”
With that morsel of success — someone actually picking up the phone — Dallas and his cold-calling brethren embark on a quest to convert names from purchased lists of homeowners into “contacts” and eventually into sales appointments.
“Every ‘no’ is one step closer to a ‘yes,’ ” Dallas said.
The Tampa Bay area is undergoing a baffling housing recovery of contradictory indicators. For example, the median sale price of a single-family home has risen by more than 20 percent over the past year, which is good.
But, 43 percent of local homeowners with a mortgage are underwater by at least 25 percent, a research firm called RealtyTrac recently said.
Meantime, the inventory of homes on the market in Hillsborough County has shrunk from an astronomical 25 months of inventory in early 2008 to just 3.9 months today, Greater Tampa Association of Realtors figures show. Hungry investors are partly the cause.
Especially at a premium are homes and lots for sale in South Tampa, where homebuilders are scrambling to find modest houses for sale, tear them down and rebuild $750,000 custom-built homes.
Helping builders find them are people like Dallas, for whom real estate is all about numbers.
Every conversation with a live human means $20 in income, after dividing his income by contacts made, Dallas says.
Every 100 conversations leads to an appointment.
Dallas is a Philadelphia native and Drexel University alumnus who spent a career selling things, most recently for Honeywell and, before that selling computer gear for a local contract manufacturing firm.
He joined Prudential Tropical Realty in 2007 after the market had already crashed.
“I never wanted to get downsized again, and I don’t want to travel a lot,” Dallas said.
He started in Tropical Realty’s “bullpen” area, where junior agents operate from cubicles, and moved up into an office with a window.
Dallas is analytical, less chatty than many other Realtors, he said, and with a bent toward getting to the point. He also has a pleasant phone demeanor and a tolerance for abrupt hangups by people who don’t fancy a sales call as they’re heading out the door for work.
In sales, it’s important to mimick the emotion of the potential customer, he says. It builds rapport.
So, if a person is chatty, Dallas will be chatty. If the voice on the other end is grumpy, he’ll start off with a “Yeah, I know, another salesman.”
It’s also important to stand upright instead of sitting at a desk, because hand gestures transfer energy over phone lines to a listener, he says.
On a recent weekday afternoon, he showed off his technique for a reporter with some calls into South Tampa neighborhoods.
“Hello, I was calling about a home on Grady Avenue,” he says in a gentle voice as the dialer hits on a live person in South Tampa’s Virginia Park neighborhood.
“Is this the homeowner? Oh, perfect.”
He tells the voice that a family he represents is trying to find a home in South Tampa, but has had no luck.
“Do you know of anyone selling one? No? Have you thought about selling?”
The caller is pleasant, but this call won’t lead to a sale.
“She’s not going to sell anytime soon.” he says to a reporter. “But she was nice. She called me ‘sir.’ She was probably a military wife, because she called me ‘sir.’ ”
Staying motivated is a constant battle. Dallas starts his calls first thing in the morning, because if he waits until the afternoon, he won’t do it at all.
As he stands staring into his monitors, with the din of cars whizzing by on Dale Mabry Highway outside his window, he’s surrounded by little emotional pick-me-ups.
An iPad positioned waist-high at his standup cold-calling station flashes motivational messages and beautiful locales he’d like to visit with his second wife, a flight attendant, and 16-year-old son, who he boasts plays baseball at Plant High School.
Dallas hopes to progress to 40 cold-call conversations per day, but so far averages only 28.
Many real estate agents earn less than $30,000 a year and are lucky to close four home sales a year, he said. But most also rely on word-of-mouth referrals and pay online housing marketplaces such as Zillow.com $400 to $600 a month to show up in customers’ search results.
Dallas spends nothing on outside advertising costs, but does spend $1,000 a month for coaching from a Las Vegas-based real estate sales guru named Mike Ferry.
Dallas isn’t getting rich by most standards, but this year hopes to earn $140,000 and close 38 sales by year’s end. So far, he’s closed on 22.
He jokes about the real estate reality shows that are so prevalent nowadays, and he insists he knows Realtors in the shows’ home markets that far outsell the celebs.
But here in a small, dark office, with rehearsed sales scripts posted on the wall, it seems a million miles from HGTV’s “Property Brothers.”
His eyes darted from a reporter onto his flat-panel monitors when the dialer reached a live person on Bay Vista Avenue. He starts with his typical approach, saying he has a family struggling to find a home in South Tampa, but quickly discovers he’s speaking with a boy whose parents aren’t home.
“On my list of who I count as a contact, ethically I can’t count him as a contact,” Dallas says.