Marc Fleisher, the Washington area's top residential real estate agent, is walking around a house in Bethesda, making a list of what needs to be done before the property goes on the market.
Shampoo the carpeting.
Power-wash the deck.
Fleisher's cellular phone rings. He listens for a minute.
Fix up the yard.
"Take a deep breath," he finally says to the caller. "To react just to the personality will only make things worse. Accept him for what he is and look to closure on this deal."
His voice is calm, his manner soothing, but there's no question that Marc Fleisher is a man in motion. He's on the phone but working on a list. As a favor to a staff member, he'll take a package to FedEx, give it to the clerk and ask when it'll get to its destination, all the while carrying on a phone conversation. He's got five or six deals going at any one time.
And his five-things-at-once approach seems to work.
Last year Fleisher, who works with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., sold $80 million worth of real estate, far more than any other agent in the Washington area. His closest competitor was Suzanne Goldstein, also with Long & Foster, who sold $50 million worth. This year Fleisher is shooting for $100 million. He also was No. 2 in the region in the number of transactions.
Because Fleisher is the top guy--and by a long shot--we followed him around one recent Monday just to see him in action. The way he handles his day, juggling deals and keeping several negotiations going at once, is not so different from the way other real estate agents operate. It's just more so. Here is what we saw:
He's talking on the phone (of course) when a reporter arrives at his sprawling Bethesda house with its big driveway, golf-course-quality lawn and private tennis court.
He carries on talking, but motions to the reporter to sit in a chair among the carpet samples and all types of house magazines on the floor of his home office.
"You should keep this thing hush-hush," he tells the caller. "You're misreading how many people are out there to buy this property." Translation: You're going to lose this deal if you blab. There are people out there who would jump at it if they only knew about it.
"I just got a contract on a $1 million-plus house in Potomac," he says, his hand covering the receiver.
Fleisher, a young 50 and a devoted tennis player, describes himself as a Type A personality who loves meeting people and putting deals together. He's an optimist who believes in looking ahead rather than dwelling on the past.
Fleisher was born in Canada and grew up in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. He came to Washington to go to American University in 1966 and never left. He and his wife, Karen, own no other houses besides their Bethesda pad, which sits on the edge of the Potomac River. They take their daughter and three sons, ages 9 to 15, on several vacations a year, mostly abroad.
Fleisher attributes his success to sheer hard work and a love of the job. He estimates that he works a seven-day week totaling 70 hours. "I am the hardest-working agent out there in terms of the time, effort and commitment I put in to my clients," he boasts. "I also just love making deals."
Fleisher's listings are expensive houses in the District, Potomac and Bethesda, although he also sells condominiums in the $100,000 range. The price of his average sale is $525,000, which would put it far above the $222,197 average price for a house in Montgomery County, for example.
Fleisher drives around Northwest Washington and Montgomery County in his black Infiniti Q45 with gray leather seats, sometimes talking on two phones at once. He has a car phone and a cell phone, both of which ring regularly.
Even though he has a staff of six people, including his wife, Fleisher goes on every listing appointment himself. He also negotiates 95 percent of the sales contracts on his listings and goes to almost every house to research the fact sheets about the properties.
He charges his sellers 3 percent and 6 percent of the sales price, depending on the deal. Three percent of $80 million in real estate he sold is $2.4 million; 6 percent is $4.8 million. He has to pay salaries to his staff and a set amount to Long & Foster for his office, but even subtracting the expenses, Fleisher makes a lot of money. And he has been selling real estate in the Washington area for more than two decades.
"The clients want my services, that's why they come to me," Fleisher said. "Their expectation is that I will work with them."
Fleisher drops by a house in the River Falls area that he plans to list Friday in the Washington area multiple-listing service. The MLS is the computer database shared by all local real estate agents and lists all the houses for sale being handled by cooperating agents.
He does a 20-minute spin through the house to get the details, such as the number of bedrooms and the type of heating. The information will be used in a fact sheet his wife will write up.
"This is a family neighborhood where houses go anywhere from $550,000 to a million dollars," he said. "This house will be priced in the upper sevens somewhere."
He takes notes.
Gourmet country kitchen with cherry cabinetry.
Large center island.
The house, which is in the coveted Walt Whitman High School district, has a family room, a formal living room and dining room, a library, a solarium and a screened-in porch, all on the first floor.
"This will be easy to sell," he says as he scrawls in his pad. Why? "It's a spectacular family neighborhood. It's a larger home that backs onto parkland. And it has extra rooms on the first floor."
On the second floor, dirty laundry is piled near the bedrooms. "The house won't show like this," he says. "It'll be all decluttered."
Will he put the large room sizes on the fact sheet? No. "It's better to get a potential customer to call and ask me the room sizes," he says. "Then I can get into a conversation with them."
Finished, Fleisher gets back into his car and immediately starts dialing his car phone. The cell phone then rings. For a moment, he is on two phones.
He goes to see a woman who wants to dump her present agent for Fleisher. He's a few minutes late and apologizes. Her $800,000-plus house in Potomac has been on the market for more than two months and only a handful of people have been by. She has called Fleisher to ask his help.
Fleisher is blunt, but tactful. "It's a beautiful home, and I'd be very interested in handling it," he said. "But it's missing certain ingredients that say $800,000." Like what? He mentions her kitchen cabinetry and some of the flooring. He says he thinks "$795,000 is the way to go.
"It should be priced under $800,000 to get some traffic through here," he tells her. "It's getting to the slow time of the year, July and August."
Fleisher says pricing is 80 percent of the marketing of a house. Sellers are the ones who price their houses, with an agent's suggestion. But sometimes sellers don't listen, and price it too high, Fleisher says. When a house sits on the market too long it gets stale and becomes even harder to move. He says he'll take the listing if the woman takes his advice on the sales price.
Fleisher tells the woman that "5 [percent] to 7 percent of the agents are doing 95 percent of the business" in the Washington area. Greg Milward, chief executive of the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors, said that number "may be a little high, but there's no doubt that a small percentage of agents do the bulk of the business."
In fact, the owner of the Potomac house says she called Fleisher because, "I've seen his name around here a lot."
There are about 13,500 real estate agents working in the Washington area. That number is up slightly from last year because of the area's hot real estate market, analysts say. But the number of agents has decreased dramatically over the last decade. Why? Milward cites the rising cost of doing business, the more competitive real estate environment and the greater use of technology limiting the number of people choosing the field.
Fleisher swings by his cluttered office, which is in Long & Foster's Friendship Heights office on Wisconsin Avenue NW, to pick up a package he needs to send and to check on the progress of other deals.
Fleisher pays Long & Foster a monthly set amount for office space and for the right to work under the Long & Foster logo. Neither Fleisher nor Long & Foster would disclose the amount. The company, the Washington area's largest real estate brokerage, makes separate deals with each agent. Agents either pay the company a commission based on their sales or a set amount like Fleisher.
"I've got a buyer for the $1.2 million house," he tells his wife as he walks in the office. "They'll buy it if it has a Viking range. I have to call the builder." He hands her the paperwork for the fact sheet on the River Falls home.
He picks up two contracts that he needs to present to owners on other deals while driving to more appointments. Then he's out the door.
Fleisher makes a call on his way to the FedEx office and talks on his cell phone while he drives and parks. He also talks on the phone while he's handing the package to the clerk. And he's still on the same call as he pulls out of the parking space.
He arrives at a house in Bethesda that has been rented for five years. The owner is in California and has asked Fleisher to get the place ready to be sold. This is the house that needs the deck power-washed, the carpet shampooed and the garden spruced up. Fleisher takes a quick look around.
His phone rings. It's a distressed seller who needs comforting. He's ready to pull out of the deal because his buyer is making too many demands.
Fleisher calms him down, a counselor as well as an agent.
"Marc is a very unusual person, it's his temperament," said Ricki Gerger, the manager of the Long & Foster office he works out of. "He's very easygoing and doesn't get stressed. There's not the same emotional reaction that we see with other agents."
Another caller, with a house on the market for $2 million, asks Fleisher to be his agent, again trying to dump his current agent. Again, Fleisher tells the caller that his house price is simply too high.
The house price should be $1.5 million, he says, but it's as if these sellers believe that Fleisher can magically sell a house at any price. That's just not true, and Fleisher patiently explains why.
"It's too expensive to be a tear-down or a major renovation," he says. "You have to remember that renovation costs have changed dramatically. A year ago, it would've been $250,000. Now it's $350,000."
In both cases, Fleisher knows the agents involved and says nothing derogatory about either. He prides himself on keeping friends in the industry, rather than alienating people. And his approach seems to work.
"I have nothing but good things to say about Marc Fleisher," says Suzanne Goldstein, his closest competitor. "And that's rare in this business. He's just a very nice guy. And ethical too."
Fleisher stops by the Sutton Place Gourmet on New Mexico Avenue NW for a sandwich and a bag of chips. He gobbles them down in his car, talking on the phone. He chews while the callers talk.
He goes to check out a house that recently was put on the market in Bethesda. It's next to a house he is about to list and basically is the same design, but with a few minor changes. He wants to compare the two houses before he suggests a price to his buyer. He runs in, looks around and then decides the house he will list should be priced $10,000 less because it lacks a few improvements and has less curb appeal than the other property.
He arrives at a settlement in Rockville, having talked on the phone the whole way there. Looking over the papers, he notices that the commission fee is wrong--it's too high in his favor. He points it out. Just for a reporter's benefit? He says no.
"I take what I do very ethically and very professionally," he said. "This business is all based on personal referrals and recommendations."
While at the settlement, his son Travis, 9, calls to ask for a ride home from an after-school school. Fleisher, who still has settlement duties to tend to, tells Travis to call his mom on her cell phone.
Despite a seven-day work week, Fleisher structures much of his life around his family. He coaches some of his sons' teams and also takes time off during the day to drive a car pool or go to games. When work slows, he sometimes leaves early to play tennis with his wife on their backyard court. And many a night, too, finds him at work.
His staff--"the best in the business"--gives him the time to deal exclusively with the public. "I deal with the buyers and sellers exclusively," he said. "If I had to spend my time meeting with repair people, dropping off lock boxes, et cetera, it would be impossible for me to make any deals."
The settlement takes much longer than scheduled since the agent representing the buyers comes almost an hour late.
He's back at his Friendship Heights office for a meeting with a builder. (See accompanying story). Fleisher works with many builders, even in the design stage, which some agents say is one of the main reasons for his success.
At about 6:45, his office phone rings. It's his wife calling to remind him they have a tennis game and then dinner at a Bethesda restaurant. The couple want to take advantage of the fact that Fleisher doesn't have any late-night negotiations planned--or any late-night holding of sellers' hands.
"I have to go now," Fleisher says, straightening the papers on his desk and mumbling to himself about what he has to do the next day. "I promised my wife we'd play tonight."
CAPTION: Marc Fleisher, right, and Chris Papandopoulos, president of Architectural Construction Technology, discuss ways to repair a house Fleisher is preparing to list.
CAPTION: Marc Fleisher, left, who works with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., is on the go most of the day, as shown by the appointment board, above, at his Friendship Heights office. Below, Fleisher confers with Chris Papandopoulos about fixing up some properties before they are put on the market.