Building urban community: Living Room Realtors


0313 FOB GamePlan LivingRoomRealtorsOn a recent Tuesday morning, the Southeast Portland office of Living Room Realtors feels more like a Pearl District art gallery than, well, a real estate company. About 30 people are milling about a warehouse-style space featuring an open-cubicle environment, exposed brick walls and a collage series made of recycled packaging labels resembling brightly colored flowers.

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BY LINDA BAKER

0313 FOB GamePlan LivingRoomRealtors
Jenelle Isaacson oversees Living Room Realtors an expanding real estate agency in Portland.
// Photo by Sierra Breshears

On a recent Tuesday morning, the Southeast Portland office of Living Room Realtors feels more like a Pearl District art gallery than, well, a real estate company. About 30 people are milling about a warehouse-style space featuring an open-cubicle environment, exposed brick walls and a collage series made of recycled packaging labels resembling brightly colored flowers.

The agency’s energetic vibe is more than skin deep, says Living Room’s owner, Jenelle Isaacson. “We are a stylish, optimistic, forward-looking company,” she says. Dressed in an elegant black pantsuit and boasting a mane of red hair, 36-year-old Isaacson presides over a fast-growing agency that almost tripled its sales volume last year.

The 5-year-old company is also turning real estate conventions on their head, eschewing traditional sales strategies that focus on high-performing agents in favor of triple-bottom-line business practices. Creative marketing revolves around people living and working in Portland’s signature neighborhoods.

At Living Room, there are no flyers featuring agents’ mugshots, Isaacson says. Nor do realtors participate in the Million Dollar Club, an industry tradition advertising how much money agents make. “No other profession does that,” says Isaacson. “It’s embarrassing.” Instead, Living Room’s culture, marketing and growth strategies revolve around a clear mission: “to develop vibrant communities.”

A longtime realtor and single mother of two young children, Isaacson founded Living Room in part because she wanted a more family-friendly work environment. She also wanted to create an agency that made sustainability a priority. At Living Room, all agents are Energy Trust-certified, biking is a preferred mode of transportation, and Isaacson is working to get the company certified as a B Corp, signifying social and environmentally responsible practices.

Carving out a visible neighborhood presence is the “third leg” of the Living Room stool, Isaacson says. Even as many agencies go virtual, Isaacson sought a tangible way to deepen her referral network. “I thought if we had a brick-and-mortar storefront, people would identify us as the neighborhood experts. I wanted that community presence.”

In 2011 Living Room’s sales volume was about $59 million; in 2012 that number jumped to about $167 million. There are 45 agents working for the company, up from 21 in 2012. That growth trajectory, of course, is due in part to the improving housing market, especially in the urban core neighborhoods serviced by Living Room. But the company’s collaborative environment also has an impact on the bottom line, Isaacson says. Working in real estate can be a lonely enterprise, with long hours and little sense of community. But at Living Room there are no private offices, agents share information freely, and weekly meetings are devoted to figuring out how agents can “best service clients as a team.”

 


Before coming to Living Room, the agency’s top producer consistently did $9 million a year, Isaacson says. “Now she’s doing close to $20 million.”

 

In keeping with its community-centered approach, the Living Room website has a blog format featuring stories from each agent about their clients. The company has also taken a storytelling approach to marketing individual homes. This past January, the company partnered with a local supper club to host a dinner at a West Hills home designed for entertaining. In October 2011, Living Room transformed another home into a museum with curated art and furniture. “Rather than put it on a flyer, we did something that was great for the artists, great for furniture makers,” says Isaacson, noting the home sold the first day to art dealers from Minneapolis.

Today Isaacson is forging ahead, aiming to put down even deeper roots in Portland neighborhoods. This past fall, she bought a 7,000-square-foot warehouse on Northeast Alberta that she is renovating into three retail storefronts and a new 3,000-square-foot office for Living Room, which will vacate its current office across the street. Living Room’s Southeast Portland location, which Isaacson leases, opened in 2012.

Isaacson is also adding client services, such as hosting workshops on first-time home buying for women and building accessory dwelling units. A modern-design aficionado, she is also an outspoken advocate for small, green and alternatively designed houses.

Collectively, these initiatives anchor a real estate agency that reflects the Portland ethos: hip, urban and neighborhood-oriented. That ethos is a reflection of Isaacson, a glass/textiles artist and former lead guitar player for a girls’ punk band — who also has a knack for sales and customer service.

“I struggled for a long time, as an artist and musician, that I’m a realtor,” says Isaacson. “It just wasn’t cool. Then I owned it. This is what I do and I’m going to do it well. I put great people in neighborhoods and help the community thrive.”




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