Lisa Schade

Broker, BS, CDPE, SFR

Meet Barbara Corcoran

By Barbara Pronin


The Shark Tank Investor Who Cut Her Teeth in Real Estate Shares Her Frank, Feisty, and Homespun Formula for Success in Business and Life

You’ve seen her on TVs ‘Shark Tank’ – the savvy, short-haired blonde investor in her signature power dress and pearls, buying into novice companies over the past five seasons and turning more than a few of their innovative entrepreneurs into almost-instant millionaires. 

But it might surprise you to know how Barbara Corcoran came by her own fortune. 

The New Jersey-born ‘Shark Tank’ investor got straight D’s in college and held 20 low-end jobs by the time she was 23. Then she borrowed $1,000 from her boyfriend, quit her waitressing gig, and started a small real estate company in New York City. 

“Success was a question of charisma and drive,” Corcoran said in a recent interview. “That’s the key to great salesmanship and the key to any great business.” 

Over the next 25 years, Corcoran parlayed that $1,000 loan into a $5 billion dollar business empire, pulling herself up by her well-worn bootstraps to become one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the country.

She sold her real estate company, the Corcoran Group, some 12 years ago for a reported $66 million. Today, in addition to trolling the ‘Shark Tank’ for would-be entrepreneurs, she criss-crosses the country as a sought after motivational speaker, columnist, and business consultant, and has authored a handful of best-selling books imparting her wit and wisdom, including one – If You Don't Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails– that clearly showcases her outspoken, practical approach to making it big in business.

We asked her what she believes consumers – and real estate professionals – need to do to succeed in today’s market. 

“The fact is that brokers in the top 10 percent of the market produce 90 percent of the business,” Corcoran said. “So it behooves consumers to choose a top-notch, experienced agent to represent them, and agents need to do what it takes to become – and/or be readily perceived as – a market leader.”

That means using every shred of your energy, know-how, and enthusiasm to convince your clients you can do the best possible job for them, she said. 

“For example, since the vast majority of today’s buyers and sellers begin their search online, it’s crucial that agents show every listing in its most favorable light on the most widely used and powerful consumer websites.” 

First, she advised, help the homeowner understand how important it is to clean out the clutter.

“Some sellers need to put a third of their belongings in storage before the first prospect walks in,” she said.

Next, do whatever it takes to let the most light possible into the house. 

“Lots of good light is one of the most important reasons buyers fixate on a home,” she said. 

Finally, she advised, get a good photographer with a good camera, who can highlight the home’s best features – including all that light. 

“Post the best of those photos and the best-written descriptions on the websites consumers go to most. An irresistible showcase on a powerful website is like having an open house every day of the week. That’s what attracts the most buyers.” 

Brokers, Corcoran pointed out, are continually asked by today’s consumer, ‘is this is the right time to buy or sell?’ A smart broker will help the client understand there is no better time than right now.

“Consumers may need some help to realize that whatever will make them happiest in life is what makes this the right time to buy or sell,” she said. “If you want a better school district or a bigger backyard, if you’re ready to downsize, or you want to live closer to the grandchildren –or if you’re ready to settle down, stop paying rent, and start building a nest for your growing family, then this is the right time to make the move no matter the state of the market.”

Ultimately, she reasoned, if you don’t get top dollar for your home, you will likely not pay top price for the home you buy either – and if you buy when the market is on the rise, you would probably have to pay more for the same house later.

“It all evens out in the end, so it really doesn’t pay to wait,” she said. “A home should be considered not like a securities investment, but as the place you want to raise your family, have fun, and enjoy life. That’s really the Big Kahuna, isn’t it? That should be the message to consumers.”

At the same time, because real estate is such a local business, Corcoran advises consumers who worry about home prices to consult the Rebound Report on Homes.com to see where their town sits in terms of current home value. How far was the fall in prices from the high? How much has the market come back up – and how much room is left before it equals the high? 

“In today’s environment of rising prices and multiple bids, the Rebound Report is a great resource to help you determine how much to bid for the property you want, or how to price your home,” Corcoran said.

But if the time to buy is almost certainly now, what are the questions buyers really should be asking?

“The most important thing to ask,” Corcoran said, “is how much will you enjoy living in this particular home? Go back and visit it at different times of the day. Get a feel for the neighborhood. Is it quiet at 9 p.m. on a Friday night, or is there a garage band practicing down the street – or a basketball game – ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom – going on directly behind the house? Check the school drop-off and pick-up point. How well-behaved are the kids – and the parents? Can you visualize yourself fitting into the neighborhood and being happy in that environment?”

Even the best house on the best street in the best area of town, she pointed out, can have loud neighbors or other annoyances you might not have known about unless you’ve made a few surprise visits at odd times of the day or night.

We asked Corcoran, whose own sales career focused on high-end properties in Manhattan, the Hamptons, and South Florida, which market segments she thinks might yield the biggest payoff as the current real estate recovery progresses.

“Almost anywhere, single family homes do better than condos or town homes,” she noted. “They lead the market into recovery and are the last ones to dip down – and high end homes tend to keep their value longer and more consistently.”

What about new construction?

“Generally, you will do well buying new construction,” she said. “But I do offer a suggestion. It may not always be true, but in most cases, buying into the last phase of a development, when there is no more land for the developer to develop, is smartest – because based on feedback from the earliest buyers, the houses that are built later will probably have the cool colors, the trendiest features, and the latest and greatest gadgets people want – which will only serve to make the house you bought earlier begin to look old and tired.”

How can agents connect most successfully with this and future generations of home buyers and sellers?

“Successful agents know there are a couple of old faithful rules that are more important today than they ever were,” Corcoran said. “Be responsive. Be mobile, but be face-to-face. Know your stuff and tell it like it is, with energy, enthusiasm, and your eye on the best outcome for the client.”

In the end, agents and consumers need to trust their instincts and their kitchen-table smarts, said the outspoken shark, who maintains that is exactly what she does when deciding which hopeful entrepreneurs she will choose to bankroll and mentor.

“I’m doing the same thing now on “Shark Tank” that I was doing all those years in real estate,” Corcoran said. “It’s always all about people. You can reinvent a house and you can reinvent a business, but those well-honed people-to-people skills are the best indicator of success.” 

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2013. All rights reserved.

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