As the real estate expert on HGTV’s Designed to Sell (Chicago Edition) and the host of HGTV’s Hidden Potential, one of the top-rated shows on the channel, Brandie Malay has managed to transform an already successful Chicago real estate career with @Properties into a thriving television career. In addition to her regular spots on HGTV, she’s appeared as an expert on The Today Show, CNN and Good Morning America, always with the goal of ensuring home buyers and real estate investors are not only savvy with their purchasing power, but don’t fall into a possible money pit in the process.
Somehow, between her regular jet-setting trips from Chicago to New York, C Magazine managed to catch up with the multi-talented Malay during one of her rare downtimes. We found out that this Columbus native and Reynoldsburg High School graduate may have an address in another C-Town, but she’s still got her eye on her hometown’s “Hidden Potential”.
What specifically drew you to a career in real estate?
When I was a kid, my parents would go to open houses on the weekends for fun and take me with them to see how “other people lived”. I guess I didn’t realize it, but that’s where the real estate seeds were planted! I’ve always been fascinated by real estate and I am a people person, so it seemed to make sense.
What memories do you have of your first listing as well as your first sale?
I was JUST talking about this the other day….my first listing was a single family home a few doors down from where I lived at the time. It was a home that had been re-habbed and was cute; however, it was over-priced and I didn’t know better at the time. It had a spiral staircase going to the lower level which was the only way to access that part of the house. It was the kiss of death. Then when buyers did get downstairs, there was a ferret and a crow waiting for them. No joke! I tried so hard to sell that listing. When they were ready to price their home correctly, they gave the listing to another agent who sold it in a day. I was crushed! But, my first sale was a two-unit apartment building that was also on the same street. I had no idea what I was doing because my company at the time didn’t have a training program. I felt like I had been thrown to the wolves, but fortunately the agent on the selling side was compassionate and helped me through the process as well as some people I worked with.
You started your career out in California, so what made you choose to move to the Chicago market?
I worked for an upstart company that outsourced construction loans for high-end custom built homes and managed them. I learned a ton about home construction and the building process. That being said, this company was bought out by another company in Denver, Colorado. At the time, I didn’t have the desire to stay in Denver, even thought my dad thought it was the biggest mistake ever, and headed back to California. However, after September 11th, it was a personal wake-up call for me and knew I wanted to get back to my Midwestern roots. I still wanted to be in a big city, so I chose Chicago. It is such a fantastic city, so I knew I couldn’t go wrong.
How does a new agent in a new city succeed?
Hard work, hard work and more hard work. I would start at the crack of dawn and be in the office until after midnight day after day. I chased every lead no matter how big or small. Boy, could I tell you some stories! Unfortunately, so many people get into this business thinking that they are going to make a quick buck. Do deals sometimes fall in my lap? Sure. Is that the norm? No. I earn every single penny I make. This is a 24/7 job no matter what. I’ve cleaned up after clients’ dogs. I’ve gone to clients homes to turn off curling irons that were left on. I’ve made beds and cleaned up dirty clothes. I’ve been through clients’ divorces. I do a lot of hand holding. If you can’t handle that side of the business, this is not the place to be.
Is every sale like the first time?
(laughs) No. Every deal is different every time. That’s what’s great about my job! Even now, I still learn something new almost every single day.
How did you get involved with HGTV?
I received a phone call out of the blue about a year and a half ago. The producers said they had seen my picture and resume on the internet. They wanted to know if I had any interest in auditioning for Designed to Sell and, of course, I said yes! It was basically a cattle call, and I honestly thought I was going in to be one of the agents who bring their clients in at the end of the show. I didn’t realize it was for the realtor at the beginning who offers their advice! After a handful of auditions, I did a mock show that was taped and sent to the producers in L.A. Viola, I was chosen.
How did your appearances on the Today Show and CNN first occur?
One of the producers of Designed to Sell used to work for the Today Show. They were looking to do a piece on people who have moved from the West Coast to the Midwest. He knew that was the case with me and thought it would be an interesting twist since I was a realtor. They came to my office and I did a small interview talking about my move and why people do it and how the market comes into play. From that, they continued to ask me to do pieces. They then started flying me out to do live segments with Matt Lauer, Lester Holt and the rest of anchors. CNN came from me doing the Today Show. Kind of a snowball effect!
Have you seen an increase in your business because of this?
Honestly, no, but I do think it does bring more credibility to my business. I don’t want my clients to think that I don’t have time for them now because I do television. I definitely have balance between the two [selling real estate and doing television] and that is important to me.
How do you balance being a realtor with being a “TV celebrity”?
(laughs) I wouldn’t use the word celebrity. It is tough. I do work some ridiculous hours but I also have a business partner at my real estate company and he is fantastic. We work extremely well together. I feel extremely blessed that I am in this situation. It’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole life.
What are some of your suggestions for buying the various types of real estate—residential, investment and commercial?
First and foremost, speak to a lender. Find out exactly what your buying power is currently. Banks and mortgage brokers are no longer giving out loans to anyone with a pulse. Criteria are tighter, interest rates have risen and what you thought you may have been able to afford could have changed. I know that I am a realtor, but I can honestly say choosing to work with a realtor who has been in the business with a good background can make all the difference in the world when buying/selling real estate. Don’t fool yourself that you will save commission when you are the buyer. Many times we have the inside track on properties that are not yet on the market. Also, many more buyers are looking on line first, but what they don’t realize is that many of the sites they are browsing are out of date. If you align yourself with a professional realtor, many of them can set you up on a computer program that will send you listings that meet your criteria on a daily basis. These listings are what I like to call “real time listings”. They are the same listings that we as realtors are able to see on the Multiple Listing Service. Also, realtors who specialize in investment properties can truly help a buyer out in terms of knowing what makes sense financially and what doesn’t. Again, many times we will obtain first-hand information before it goes public, which is a great opportunity for investors, especially on conversions or new construction. You want to get in on the ground floor before the developer raises prices. I just went through this! I told a handful of my clients of a project that was going to be coming on the market and not only did I make a purchase, many others did as well. Pricing went up $10,000 the following week! But as a side note, I don’t work in commercial, I refer that business out.
What are the tricks for a new agent in how to get noticed in a flooded market?
Becoming an agent is unfortunately not that difficult; however, becoming a great agent and staying one is! There really are no tricks other than working hard and keeping your word. Following through on things in this business is huge. Agents these days have to be tech savvy. Work on your marketing and target a specific area. Knock on doors and tell every single person you know that you sell real estate. Organization and time management skills are critical as well. And remember, all you have in this business is your reputation, so make sure it is a good one!
Are there certain things people should know about the current state of the market before deciding to buy or sell?
Yes. First and foremost, the real estate market is cyclical. It goes up, it goes down, similar to the stock market. This is an investment and there is always some level of risk; however, I do think it is still the best investment someone can make.
What real estate trend would you like to see continue? What would you like to see stop?
I’d like to see more builders be environmentally friendly and build more “green” homes and condos. It is a trend that is gaining momentum and I’d like to see continue. A trend I’d like to see stop are a few different things. One being the alarmist stance the press has taken on the state of the real estate market. The media is acting like every single home owner is in financial dire straights. The market is in the process of correcting itself throughout the country.
Another trend I’d like to see stop are discount real estate brokerages. There is a reason that 75% of people who do “For Sale by Owner” end up listing with a full-service brokerage firm. It is a full-time job. Not all buyers can view your place on the evenings and weekends. Many buyers also don’t want to come into direct contact with the sellers. It is a complicated process that holds many facets of responsibility and liability.
The second thing is unrealistic expectations held by sellers. Sellers need to understand that buyers set the market, not them. You can price your house at what ever you want, but it doesn’t mean buyers are willing to pay it. There is a saying in the business “Pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered” and it is so true. Many sellers think they are going to make a killing on their home and, unfortunately, those days are behind us. Hopefully, we will see them again. The best thing sellers can do for themselves is to price their home properly right out of the gate.
Everyone says there are things they notice on a person the first time they meet them, what do you notice about a home or a property?
First, obviously, is the curb appeal. I’ve been in the business long enough to know though that you can’t judge a book by its cover, so once I’m inside, I look at what kind of condition it is in. Is it clean? Have they kept up the maintenance on the property?
How would you describe your dream home?
Funny…I would describe my own home. My husband and I have a 3,800 sq ft one-level condo with a private elevator entrance. We have over 1,600 sq ft of outdoor space and a kitchen to die for. I would, however, like to build the exact same place near Michigan Avenue with killer lake views. Unfortunately, I haven’t won the lottery yet, so it may be some time before that happens! I’d also love a place on a vineyard in California wine country.
Even though you don’t live in Columbus any longer, have you watched how the Columbus market has changed? What stands out to
you the most?
I’m amazed of the growth that has taken place since I left just over 10 years ago. First of all, I love hockey! Having the Blue Jackets come to Columbus was such a huge thing. I was thrilled to see that happen. It brought that area of downtown to a level of life that Columbus hadn’t seen in a long time. Easton was also a huge shot in the arm for Columbus as well. It is one of my favorite places to go when I come to visit. Columbus now has top-notch restaurants, great shopping and a thriving real estate market, which is a great combination for a great city.
Columbus is fast-becoming a condo capital in the downtown area. Since you grew up here and now live in Chicago, what do you think Columbus needs to do to keep those residents downtown?
Continue to build retail. Bring in the coffee shops; bring in the boutiques and fabulous restaurants. Keep the areas clean and safe and make it a desirable place to live. I had a place in German Village when I graduated from college and I absolutely loved it. I could walk to many restaurants. I worked downtown, so it was a breeze going to work.
What makes a house a home?
A house is where you keep your belongings…a home is where you keep your heart.
Do you believe in the art of feng shui assists in how a home is perceived by a new buyer?
I personally have never used feng shui, but I know people who have and believe in it. I believe in presenting your home in the best light possible. That means uber-clean…I mean “eat off the floors” clean, de-clutter, de-personalize and neutralize.
Do you find yourself always answering real estate questions when you meet new people or even from family and friends? If so, how do you deal with it?
Yes, very much so. All of a sudden, I feel like a doctor or a lawyer. Real estate is THE hot topic these days. Everyone wants my opinion on the next hot area/deal and is the bubble bursting, etc. Honestly, I just smile and answer everyone’s questions. I’m flattered people trust my thoughts and opinions. Things could be a lot worse! And to think my teachers always put on my report card that I tended to be “overly communicative” with my fellow classmates. How ironic!
You’ve accomplished so much already, but what are your plans for the future?
I want to see the success of Hidden Potential to continue and grow. I’d also like to develop some of my own ideas for new programs. Eventually, I’d absolutely love to have my own talk show! Maybe Oprah’s interviewing for successors? As long as I’m able to balance these goals with my health and loved ones, all is good in my life.
Designed to Sell airs Monday through Sunday at 8 p.m. and Hidden Potential airs new episodes Mondays at 9:30 p.m. with repeats throughout the week. Check local listings or HGTV.com for exact times.