Stepping through the door at Chase International in South Lake Tahoe, my eyes went right to Larry Finkel. He leaned over the front desk, eyeing the computer screen. Next to him sat his office administrator, fingers above the keyboard, ready to make changes.
“Hi, Larry,” I said, walking up to them. He looked up and smiled.
“Hey, you made it,” he said. “Go on into the back. We’re about to start the meeting.”
I continued down the hall into a large room lined with desks. Agents trickled in for the weekly office meeting. Some worked at their desks, while others pulled up chairs, chatting, laughing, helping themselves to fresh glazed donuts. Larry walked in with a pile of handouts and warm hellos for each and every agent there.
A Distinguished Career
Larry has been leading the South Lake Tahoe office since 2007, growing it into the number one office in closed transactions and closed sales volume per MLS data since 2009.
During his 42 years in real estate, he has served twice as President of the South Lake Tahoe Board of Realtors, was named Realtor of the Year three times, and has received the Distinguished Service Award from the association several times, not to mention awards for his production in real estate.
Despite his many successes, Larry has an almost teddy bear quality about him—warm and friendly, totally huggable. But he also radiates inner strength. Clearly a man of principle, he’s the kind of guy who makes sure the details are correct and that the job is done right.
Getting Into Real Estate
Larry came to California in 1967 from Lynn, Massachusetts, to attend college. After graduating from the University of Southern California, he spent several years working in downtown Los Angeles as a financial analyst in the apparel industry.
One weekend in 1976, he and his wife took a little trip up to Tahoe. They fell in love with the area and moved to South Lake Tahoe that very same year.
Larry found work as a financial analyst at one of the casinos. But real estate was doing well, and having already obtained a real estate license in 1973, he decided to give it a go.
Soon he was making more money part-time in real estate than he was full-time at the casino. So he quit his job and dove full-time into the profession.
Standing in front of a room full of agents, Larry called the meeting to order. He introduced two new agents, then announced the winner of the “We Rise by Lifting Others” award. This honor is passed from one agent to another who has been particularly helpful to their fellow agent that month.
Moving into Management
For the first five years of his career, Larry worked at a small brokerage. Then he joined a colleague at a large franchise office, where he ended up helping a lot of agents on the side.
“I was always the one that people came to,” said Larry. “And in 1995, another franchise broker took me to a great lunch at McDonald’s and said, ‘How would you like to get paid for what you do for free?’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s a different concept.’”
Larry said yes to this new opportunity and went to work as the brokerage sales manager. Together, he and his colleague built the company up into a very successful office.
Chase purchased the office in 2007. After a successful, one-year transition period, the other broker decided to go back into sales, so Larry became the managing broker. He’s been running the South Lake Tahoe office for Chase International ever since.
“You know, when we started in 2007,” said Larry, “I think we were the number four or five office in town. In 2009, we became the number one office in town in sales and closed escrow units. We’ve been number one for 12 years, almost triple our nearest competitor.”
Larry’s Secret Sauce
So how does one stay on top for so long?
Larry’s answer is simple. He says his number one job is to retain agents, and he succeeds by creating a family atmosphere of trust and support, where everybody gets along.
“The agents in this office collaborate and cooperate,” said Larry. “We all work together, and I have a great group of agents. Many of the top agents in our MLS work out of Chase. So we’re very successful, and it’s a nice atmosphere to work in.”
After 40+ years in the business, Larry knows how to serve his agents as their broker. He sees the top three requirements as availability, support and training.
“I’m available,” said Larry. “When you call me on the phone you might get my voicemail every so often, but I’ll call you right back, because that’s an important call, especially if it’s an agent.”
Larry’s seen just about everything in this business, so when challenges arise, he can usually figure out a solution.
“I’m very, very good at problem-solving,” said Larry. “And my door is always open.”
The Right Stuff
Larry is selective about who he hires, bringing on only 5-7 agents per year. When it comes to deciding who might be a good fit, he examines the whole picture.
“If they’re an experienced agent, I’m looking to make sure they have the same values as the rest of the office,” said Larry. “They have to fit. But the majority of the people that I’ve trained are new agents. And I’m proud to say most of those new agents have done well.”
Of paramount importance, any new addition needs to be trustworthy and have a positive outlook.
“My attitude is the glass is always half-full,” said Larry. “Sure, sometimes I have to reinforce the half-full versus half-empty concept around the office. But positive reinforcement is a key to being a good leader and a manager.”
Larry also evaluates agent attitudes about money to gauge cultural fit.
“An agent can never think of the money,” said Larry. “Money is always secondary. If you’re thinking of money first, you’re looking very short-term. I’m looking for agents that want a career in real estate. If they’re just looking for a fast buck, I’m not interested.”
Larry is always on the lookout for agents whose primary concern is the client.
“Just as I, as a manager, put the agent first,” said Larry. “I’m looking for the agent that will put the client first—who looks out for their needs, protects them, and does what needs to be done to help them achieve whatever the goals they have.”
Grooming for Success
Larry enjoys mentoring his agents. He likes getting them right out of real estate school and teaching them all aspects of the business, with role-play a central part of his methodology.
“I’ll pretend to be their client,” said Larry. “I have five different scenarios, and they’ll write up offers, and we’ll go over them. I never want an agent to be at the point where they’re showing property, and they get somebody who wants to write an offer and they go, ‘Yikes, how do I write an offer?’”
Larry wants his agents to be excited about writing offers and have the confidence to know how to properly structure them.
He also stresses that it’s important for agents to know their product. So he encourages them to go on multiple listing tours, attend office meetings, stay in the office, and soak up everything they hear.
“I help them obtain market knowledge,” said Larry. “Because I’m one of the only managers who goes on tour virtually every week, I know what’s going on in the market. I don’t just sit behind my desk. I see a lot of listings that we take. Agents often run the properties by me first to get my idea of value. And I’m usually pretty close on what it is.”
With new agents, he’ll go into properties with them, walk them through, and tell them what to look for. He’ll also suggest the most cost-effective ways to improve each property to get the best price, so that they can advise the client.
“I tell my agents that you want to become your client’s trusted advisor,” said Larry. “You want to be the source of knowledge, the source of information. If you can do that, you’ll get that client.”
Larry continued the office meeting by summarizing the latest market statistics, sharing news from the board of Realtors, and leading a discussion about the effects of the recently passed Measure T. He also reminded about the upcoming contracts class at the office.
A contracts expert, Larry teaches all the California contracts classes for Chase. He meticulously keeps abreast of changes, critical for keeping agents and clients out of trouble.
“I’m very knowledgeable about the contracts,” said Larry. “And in California we have so many forms that go with our contracts. You need to know what form goes with what contract, and I’m familiar with all of it. So I can guide my agents with confidence.”
Knowing how to create proper verbiage is critical for clarity, so that terms aren’t open to question. So when agents ask Larry how to best word a clause, he’s very good at coming up with crystal clear phrasing.
“Nothing is worse than getting an offer from another agent and having to make a 10-point counteroffer to clean up a poorly written contract,” said Larry. “It’s very frustrating. And I’m very proud of the fact that, when my agents write an offer, the only thing the other side needs to do is to counter the points. They don’t need to clean up a sloppy contract.”
Larry is also proud of the fact that other professionals in the community like to work with his agents because they’re properly trained.
“Chase agents follow through,” said Larry. “I can’t remember the last time I got a complaint from another agent that our side wasn’t doing their part, because our agents do it right. And they have good ethics, which is most important.”
What really stands out about Larry is his personal touch. He’s present, he cares, he wants to help. But he won’t coddle—he’ll dole out the tough love too, when needed.
Larry tells his agents that they can’t just sit at their desks, waiting for someone to walk in or for the phone to ring. If they do, it’s going to be a long, cold winter.
“Agents have to bring desire,” said Larry. “They have to bring the passion and put in the hours. Sure, you can get lucky. You can get a call. You might get a good sale. But generally it doesn’t come to you. You need to go out and get it.”
In Larry’s office, the training never stops. More than a mentor, he’s like a personal coach, developing his players into the very best they can be.
“I like to groom the agents,” said Larry. “Especially when they’re new, I can groom them and mold them into an agent that they can look into the mirror and be proud of.”
Once Larry’s old office transitioned to the Chase brand, he definitely noticed a difference in perception in the marketplace.
“At Chase,” said Larry, “our brand and our image set us apart. When you see us in the magazines, we have a few different formats for agents to use. But they’re crisp and clean and professional. It looks like we dominate, which we do. Readers see all these people from Chase, and it’s not everybody doing their own thing. We’re one company. One heart. The brand and the image are paramount. ”
Larry has been pleased with the support he receives from Chase International over the years, especially when it comes to marketing and technology.
“We have so many great marketing tools at Chase,” said Larry. “Digital postcards, email newsletters, print collateral and advanced technology like our client relationship management system. It’s a lot easier now to keep in touch with people than it used to be, because we have all the systems in place.”
When Larry’s agents go on listing presentations, they’re backed by the tools, technology and training that Chase offers, not to mention decades of success in the region. It’s a powerful punch, all designed to deliver exceptional service to clients.
Agents in Larry’s area don’t change brokerages very often. When they do, it’s usually because something happened where they’re at. They might not be getting the attention or the support they need. Maybe they’re not getting the training, or maybe they got into it with somebody at the other office.
“We can actually improve an agent’s business,” said Larry. “Even if they’re happy where they’re at, we can help them go to the next level. With the technology and training that we offer, we can provide an extra push to elevate their business, which can bring happiness.”
Having offices all around the lake and in the valleys, too, is definitely an advantage. Larry often reminds agents that they’re welcome in any Chase office.
“Wherever you go you have a conference room to use,” said Larry. “You have a place to meet a client. So that’s a bonus if they’re licensed in both California and Nevada. They can go to Zephyr Cove, Tahoe City, Incline, Reno, Carson Valley—we cover the entire region.
“And that’s a big plus to be able to walk into another office, and every other manager is like myself. You need some help? Whatever you need, we’re available to you.”
Winding down the meeting, Larry talked about the upcoming Ninja sales training, community projects that the office is involved with, and that month’s agent action plan produced by Chase’s in-house marketing department. He also discussed potential pitfalls and necessary disclosures related to pocket listings and coming soon property promotions.
The Spirit of Chase
“Chase is a good, supportive organization,” said Larry. “It’s very progressive, not reactive.”
It’s a company with heart, and Larry sees this in the story of how Chase got through the difficult times during the downturn, when a lot of brokers went under.
“Things were tough in 2008,” said Larry, “and yet, we still had the vision to see what was coming and push through it. Shari never stopped investing back into the company. I remember those years. Without Shari there’d be no Chase.”
The company supports agents in providing extraordinary service to clients. Yes, it’s a business that makes money, but it constantly reinvests for the benefit of the agents, the employees, its local communities and even the world through its global initiative.
“Shari started the Hela Bima Foundation,” said Larry, “which supports over 1000 traditional rice farms in Sri Lanka.”
These farmers grow 2000 year-old pure, whole grain rice, without the use of chemicals or harmful fertilizers. The foundation empowers farmers, their families, children and villages to live healthy lives using the wisdom of their ancestors.
“It’s all part of being heart-centered,” said Larry. “Chase is more than real estate. When I use the word family, I mean it. I care about my agents. Chase cares about the agents. And Chase cares about me.”
Larry says that sometimes he’s a psychologist as much as a real estate broker. But he’ll take a genuine interest, listen, and give hugs if agents need them. They seem to appreciate that.
“Our agents aren’t just a number on the bottom line,” said Larry. “They’re people, and we care about them.”
And isn’t that what matters most?
Larry is looking for a few good agents to join his team. If you want to uplevel your business while living a life you love, please reach out.