On this episode of The Neighborhood Realtor, Matt Muscat sits down, face-to-face, with Mark Brace, a well-known and legendary real estate agent in Grand Rapids, MI.
Mark built his business from nothing—literally. He had no special connections, no support, and no referrals. He learned how to hustle, and he learned quickly, since 2006 marked the beginning of his career in real estate. Mark built an admirable business despite the market conditions of the recession. It was the mindset that got Mark through; half of all realtors left the business during the recession because of fear, but Mark saw it as an opportunity.
Today, Mark’s business closes $125m in deals each year with a team of seven agents.
Of all the skills that Mark has improved and mastered over the years, mindset is the number one skill he attributes to his success. Your mindset, not your skill or luck, can be contagious, and benefit (or attract!) clients. When interest rates are high, you become the Realtor who’s happy they’re not any higher. When home values are down 15%, you’re grateful they’re not down 25%. When everyone says it’s a bad time to buy, you see the opportunity and help your clients win—and win big. You’re not just offering a product or service, but instead, you’re giving your clients hope & a good mood.
Mark is a believer in the law of attraction—genuine salesmen attract genuine clients, and sour marketing will attract sour clients. Trust your gut and trust your intuition to make the best decisions to build the best business possible, and always rely on your coach (get one, if you don’t already) for leadership advice & long-term strategy.
Mark has moved his personal business further into the luxury market over the past several years and continues to expand his business, team, and abilities. He may be considered successful now, but there’s a long road ahead! Built all on a foundation inspired by a recession.
The Neighborhood Realtor is proudly sponsored by Treadstone Funding and Neighborhood Loans. For more tangible tips in real estate marketing, check out Matt's book, The Tangible Action Guide for Real Estate Marketing available on Amazon.
Matt M. Hey, everybody. Thank you for tuning in. Just a reminder, we are now the Neighborhood Realtor podcast. We switched away from marketing other markets, same great content, new great title. Today's a little weird. Instead of being over in Zoom land, I am sitting face to face. Bad breath in everything. My not his with a friend and one of the best real estate agents I've had the privilege of working with, but also learning from.
Matt M. So today I'm here with Mark Brace, realtor, team leader in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Welcome, Mark.
Mark B. How's it going, Matt?
Matt M. Yeah, usually when I'm sitting with Mark, usually there's wine, pretty women, mainly our wives. But so this is a little different. We're in a basement with no windows, but I think it's still going to be very fun. And we're drinking from a red solo cup, but it is water, so a little bit different than usual. But Mark, I feel like I've known you for forever, but not everyone out there knows you.
Matt M. So tell everyone, how long have you been in the real estate business and what was your production in 2021?
Mark B. Yeah. Thanks for the great introduction, Matt. So I have been in the real estate business. I've been licensed, she's 24. I got serious in residential in 2006. Those of you that aren't in Michigan, that's when the market went bad in Michigan.
Matt M. So you got serious because you had to know.
Mark B. Actually, I got serious the month before the market turn. So I got serious at the top of the market in 2006. I was like, Hey, I'm going to residential in May of 26 and then June was the top. And so basically my first six, you know, five years, we're in a down market.
Matt M. Well, I mean, that's like this is not where I thought the podcast was going to go today. But let's talk about today. Right? So I started in 2010 and almost it was about it was a down market. But every single day since 2010 until about a month and a half ago, the market went up by a percentage. And I don't think the entire world market went up just because I got into real estate, although I like to hope that that was something to do with it.
Matt M. But in all reality, I think a lot of people listening to the show have never experienced it on the market, or maybe only the tail end of the last one. So you got into it and then the market went terrible. What kinds of things did you figure out that you're still doing today? I mean, that's that's huge. If you can make it in that market, you can make it in any market, including whatever the hell is going on outside right now.
Mark B. You know, it's so hard to remember because it was a long time ago, but I just remember that you just needed to be you just needed to have a really strong mental frame because it was really easy to let outside influences control your thoughts.
Matt M. Like the media.
Mark B. Yeah, just all outside influences. And so over half of the realtors in our area got out of the business. And I just kept telling myself, Hey, that's good. That's a blessing. You know, there's going to be more business for me, etc., etc.. And, you know, first serious year in real estate, I did six open houses a weekend. You know, I hustled, hustled, hustled.
Mark B. And I just I was surrounded by some amazing mentors. I think that's something that a lot of people overlook as well, is how important it is to have a mentor. I think everyone just says, hey, I'm just going to get some training in coaching. But, you know, actually having somebody that takes you under their wing shows you how to, you know, takes you out on listing appointments and shows you how to handle clients and helps you work through all the tough situations is phenomenal.
Mark B. So yeah, that first year I sold 1.7 million in homes.
Matt M. In one day.
Mark B. No, no. First year of.
Matt M. My phrase of the past. Not today.
Mark B. Yeah. So I was I was like, oh, man, I'm the king of the world. I sold 12 homes on open houses. I started at ground zero. Friends, family. Nobody gave me any referrals. I had to hustle to get everything. And, you know, there was absolutely no silver spoon anywhere, any connections, anything. And, you know, last year with a team of seven agents, we did 125 million.
Matt M. So just to like slow it down for a second, you went from 1.5 million in your first year in a strange market to over $120 million in sales. I mean, those are some serious awesome numbers and fervor. And out there, like I think most of, you know, here in Michigan, our average price points are not that high. Like you're working with everything from $100,000 homes, upwards of two or $3 million homes, but the vast majority that's probably in that like, what, 3 to $700000 range.
Mark B. Our team was a little over 400 was our average sales price. But yeah, you know, we sold I think it was 15 or 16 million plus properties in Grand Rapids and it's been quite a journey, I think probably around 2039 was when I started having some big fundamental shifts where I started to stop concentrating so much on tactical real estate and.
Matt M. What does that mean? Mark Like what is tactical real estate?
Mark B. Tactical real estate is like what to say when scripts are, you know, how to hold open houses, how to do your listing presentations. I started focusing mainly on mindset at that time and back in 2014 I was, you know, probably a term that wasn't used very much. I feel like it's overused now, you know, when there are a couple couple quotes come to mind, I think I think it was Tony Robbins.
Mark B. I could be wrong. But he said success is 20% skill or natural ability. 20% is success is coaching in mentorship up and 60% is success is mindset. And so I kind of decided, hey, you know, I'm going to spend some time working on that. I, Jim Rohn said, and I believe it's Tyrone. I could get all these people wrong.
Mark B. But Jim Rohn said, If you focus on your your job, you'll make a living. But if you focus on yourself, you'll make a fortune.
Matt M. I love that one. I think there's a couple of nuggets there to unpack. So the first one for anyone looking for the write this down moment. If you can't come up with immediately the name of who your mentor is in this business, you don't have one. It's hugely important. Almost every top producing agent we've had on this show said at some point in their career they had a mentor they started with.
Matt M. And that mentor can change based on what you're looking for and what your needs are and what you're trying to learn. But if you can't isolate who that name is in your life, you need to go find one today. The second thing is, is your mindset and positivity. 2014, when you decided to focus on mindset, it was interesting because there is so much negativity out there from the past five years and then it was actually a pretty calm time.
Matt M. Yeah, when we look at today's market reading all kinds of negative, negative ideas from the media, oh, it's a terrible time to buy a house. Interest rates are up. Well, they're still lower than they were for the majority of human history. But yes, they are higher than they were last year. Oh, the market's crashing because home prices only went up 12% since last year, not 30%.
Matt M. I mean, they were chuckling here, but this is the stuff that we're seeing out there. And when I talk to when I talk to realtors, I can I can feel their genuine concern. The problem is that when those same realtors are talking to their customers, if they're not exuding confidence and positivity, their customers aren't getting that either. And that's going to hurt all of us in the long run.
Matt M. Like, I think positive needs to be the lesson of the of the year right now. In order for the market to to not do bad things, we all need to tell people the wonderful ways they can use real estate to work for them in their family.
Mark B. Yeah, I mean, I agree. I think probably the biggest problem of what's happening this year in our market is that fear is getting main lined into us just like an IV drip. It doesn't matter where you turn world politics, you know, US politics, real estate, finance, stock market, whatever, it's just mainline fear just right in your arm. And I mean, obviously, the way to combat that is to know your stuff in real estate.
Mark B. Specifically, don't get your news from the news, be the news. And I think part of the epidemic in the real estate world is, is a lot of people don't know their stuff or know how to know their stuff. So they just repeat what they hear. And, you know, if you do the numbers and the statistics in your market, you know, you'll be able to see like how many homes really are we down from last year, which happens to be the best real estate market Earth has ever seen.
Mark B. So we really only had one direction to go. So it's not a sensational headline, you know, when we're down, when the intensity is just a little less than it was, like how much last is it? 5%.
Matt M. What isn't great. That's a different word, right? Like the word is not downturn. The word is deceleration. Acceleration is the rate of change. And right now we actually have a really positive thing going in the market. It's just going in a different pace than it was before. And it's going for a different, you know, sometimes a different set of people.
Matt M. But we're we're in control of that when we talk about we, you know, every realtor should be every lender should be reaching out to their clients more, but they don't do it because they don't know what to say. Mark, you just answer the question. The topic, the conversation is the market. It's showing your local knowledge. And those numbers change every day.
Matt M. There's always another listing in the market that you're hitting. There's always another sale, another cop, another something. Something else is happening. And it might be, it might be, you know, oh, hey, your clients are buying a house off XYZ street. And you, because you're the expert, know what four or five businesses are about to move into town. What is that going to do to home values?
Matt M. What products are happening? What are getting what's getting canceled, what's happening? Those are the kinds of updates it's okay to call your clients with just to reach out. They're going to appreciate it. And then, by the way, you can ask them what else do they need to do? They need a referral to an X, Y or Z. You as the realtor, the community expert to have that referral just makes it a great, great time.
Matt M. So of that 120 million, where is most of that coming from?
Mark B. Yeah. So the majority of our teams business was about 63% last year was all past client in referral business. We care about our clients, you know, they can feel it and they know we care. And you know, oftentimes when we're in properties that, you know, may be bad, we're like, hey, you know, I don't really think this is a good one for you to buy.
Mark B. I will tell them that. And sometimes I'll still sell them the property. But my conscience is clear because I said I don't think it's a.
Matt M. Property owner builds trust and keeps people coming back to you. Yeah, I think especially like I'll see realtors that are that do showings and like with a younger buyer and their parents come through and every parent just assumes that the realtor is just there to sell something, right? Like every parent thinks like, oh, every realtor is just there to make a commission off my kid and they just want to sell the house.
Matt M. So it's almost like a disarming thing when you come through and say, this isn't going to be the house for you, you catch them completely off guard and then all of a sudden it's trust moving forward. Because then when you say this is the house, yeah. And you've already taken the time to understand their lifestyle, where are they working?
Matt M. What are they into? What's important to them? They're going to you're going to understand what to sell them, what to show them, and what not to show them, which protects your time. Yeah, but also it builds trust and I love that.
Mark B. Wow. I mean, it's, it's not like a hard concept. You just care about your people. If you care about your people, you're just going to be honest.
Matt M. It's also about, you know, it takes like I think for a lot of people out there, they're going to say like, oh, it's easy for a realtor doing $120 million a year to tell clients. No, but a lot of people out there who've done less deals, it can be hard for them to tell them like this, you shouldn't buy this house because they're counting on that paycheck.
Matt M. But it's making sure that you don't seem desperate to the client because desperation stinks. And although a lot of us do need that do need that check right now, it's important to think, okay, how am I going about getting this? And how is that going to affect the future, my future relationship with this customer?
Mark B. Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Matt M. So couple a couple other questions. I know one thing that you do really well that that I don't see from a lot of team leaders with numbers like yours, you primarily work with your own sphere and your own past clients. When a customer comes to you and they're a personal referral or your past client, you don't pass them on.
Matt M. And I mean, obviously, if you're sick, you're on vacation doing something, you know, someone else might help them with with showing me. But primarily you work with your people and I've heard really great things in our community about that. How have you managed to do that with members like you do? Because obviously time is time is money.
Mark B. It's clear that I love what I do and I love helping people. So because I got to where I am now, because I was a good realtor, doesn't necessarily mean that's going to translate perfectly into being a great team leader. And if I made all of my time leading my team, you know, if that's going to translate as well.
Mark B. So I love what I do. I know that it's contrary to what every business coach out there says. So I just I like to be in the market. I like to know what's happening. I like to know all of the inventory, you know, especially in the luxury market. You know, I've been in all the ones that are for sale, so I know which ones smell like happy and why that one didn't sell and why that one sold for more.
Mark B. It keeps me as a strong edge when I'm out listing because I know all the other properties. It's not that I just like saw them on the MLS.
Matt M. Well, me, I think that's a that's a huge point. Like as you're growing and scaling, it's okay to still do the work because if you don't, it's going to be harder to help your team with that. When your brand new agent who has, you know, her or his first year in the business when they have a problem. If you've been out of production for five years, how would you how would you help them with it?
Matt M. Right. It would be a challenging place. So I think the big lesson for everyone out there is as you're scaling up, make sure to keep time in the business that you originally excelled at and loved. Unless you hate the business, then, then replace yourself and and just make less money and figure it out.
Mark B. Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, I. Yeah, and I obviously love what I do, but I have to give kudos to my team and my staff. They are all phenomenal. I would definitely not be where I am today without the support of my office and my agents.
Matt M. And so that support from your office and your agents, it didn't happen because you posted a random ad online and you hired the first person that came you. I mean, I think you have to give yourself more credit, like you have a pretty specific process for hiring, not hiring, and then for how you're going to work with someone once they're on their team, on your team.
Matt M. Walk us through what that was.
Mark B. Yeah, sure. So again, this is probably going to the opposite of everything you hear from any coach ever.
Matt M. Which is okay. Right. We've had a lot of coaches on the show and they've given their opinion. Now I want to hear yours so I.
Mark B. I mean, maybe it's partly because I'm a contrarian by nature where if everyone says Do X, I'm going to do Y. But so from a hiring process, I go through a rigorous process anywhere from like 3 to 5 steps. You know, the personality assessments, just one where we have them do that and we evaluate it, which everyone's probably familiar with that by now.
Mark B. But so I've through the years and experience or wisdom, have kind of figured out what personality is I feel are going to fit well in a team and going to work well as a team. And not only do I look at the personality, but I evaluate if there are a positive individual or if they're negative, if they're, you know, if their verbiage is empowering or disempowering, you know.
Mark B. So there's a lot of different things that I work through. And then, you know, normally I'll have my wife meet with the prospective agent because I want female intuition and I trust her greatly with that too. So, you know, we kind of go through that process and then the the reward of taking a lot of time to hire.
Mark B. And somewhere between five and 20 people I interview before I hire someone is, you know, I don't want people that I have to micromanage. And I know a lot of the coaches are like, you know, you have to manage your people. You have to inspect what you expect. And, you know, you have to have accountability, accountability, accountability. D Well, you know, I mean, I get that and I, you know, but I would rather just hire people that I don't have to worry about that.
Matt M. You assume that they are doing the right thing every time you want to assume that they know how to do things and that they're getting it done when you're not around.
Mark B. Yeah, I mean, I feel like if you have to do that, you did a bad job hiring. That's just my personal take on that. If they're not there to work and make money and do everything with the the best intent and you have to push them in for some and hold them accountable. It's a job for them and it's not a, you know, a career or a passion or, you know, they're not you know, they don't have a wife or whatever.
Mark B. So I would say, you know, spend an immense amount of time evaluating people before you hire them. I know that that is probably one thing I do way better than a lot of my peers.
Matt M. That's awesome. So I know the other thing. You do a really good job. It is really, really loving on your past. Clients can give us some examples of some of the events that you've done for past clients as well as like some of the ways that you touch them. And I know you don't do a lot of automated crap and that's what I like because, you know, so many agents say they want to be in luxury, they want to be in a certain niche.
Matt M. But then you ask about the marketing. It's like, Oh, why send out an email campaign? And I'm on a national magazine that my face is on the back of it. And I think, like, you know, as someone who aspires to one day be buying more luxury properties, that wouldn't do it for me. So how are you? How are you?
Matt M. Respectful. Marketing your clients?
Mark B. You know, again, I'm just going to be contrary to a lot of the coaches in a lot of things here. And and I mean that respectfully. And then, you know, there's a lot of good ideas out there, but I always try to put myself in the role of the consumer. You know, is this is that something that I would like like if would I like a newsletter?
Mark B. No, I've never liked a newsletter in my life. In fact, if I see that it's a newsletter, it hits the trash. Before I get to the letter E in news.
Matt M. And you might have just you may also subscribe.
Mark B. And and I didn't even know who sent it to me because I don't care like it's trash. So I always kind of just always, you know, what is it? Is it something that's going to would irritate me as a consumer? And if it is, then I don't do it. So again, I'm opposite. I'm like everything where it's like, hey, have people sign up to look at pictures or have people to register to to get more information?
Mark B. And I'm like, if I get on a website and there's a registration page pops up, I just say, Hey, I'm on the wrong website. I got to find another one.
Matt M. And with the Internet, you'll always find what you want for free somewhere.
Mark B. And so I, you know, forcing people to register for anything and then and then follow this up and, and then pester them by calling and emailing when all they wanted to do was look at some pictures. And they may not even be a buyer or seller.
Matt M. Well, you don't think the million dollar buyers and sellers want to talk to the Issei you hired in another country? I'm kidding. I'm not. I'm not. I'm just teasing. But in general, I think the lesson here and by the way, I'm not saying that those strategies we're not saying that those strategies are wrong. We're just saying that that's not what Mark has done to get there.
Matt M. I think the the litmus test that every agent out there should apply to their business is to simply take all of the marketing and client communication that you're doing, write it down and answer this one question. Would this annoy me? I think we could all agree that if you think that the marketing is annoying and it annoys you, you shouldn't hit your clients with that.
Matt M. Yeah. Yeah. And it keeps it pretty easy. So, Mark, I know we could talk all day, but give me one more item, something you're doing that that's worked where you got your last deal from, something awesome happening out there. And then we're going to let everyone else go close their million dollars in listings.
Mark B. My last deal is just actually a trainer at my gym and I sold a piece of land a couple of hours away from Grand Rapids.
Matt M. We think the big thing is the real deal came from what you do in your normal life. Correct. Big, big, easy takeaway for everyone. We're all going to a gym. We're all going to spend our money in different places. If you are a salesperson out there, really in any in any industry, to simply look at the places that you spend your time every single day, the places you spend your money every single day and think, Do these people know what I do for a living?
Matt M. Do the people that I support know how they could support me? And number two, and this is the critical one that I think you've you've done a good job with. If you got that deal from him, do do they know that you're competent and what you do? And are they comfortable going to you for help when they need it?
Matt M. If you can answer yes for those, you will get business simply from being out and about your community. And I absolutely love that that works for you. But it's also it's not rocket science.
Mark B. No, it's not. There's an I you know, I don't know if I said this earlier in our talk or whatever, but I just I know that everyone you know, I just I've always kind of that elusive, like, hey, what's the one thing I need to do that's going to make you successful? And it's it's not one thing. It's probably the culmination of, like, 50 things or more.
Mark B. And then you know, things drop off the list. I mean, things I was doing four or five years ago don't work today. And I've had many lead sources that have, you know, gone away, you know, back in 2008 to 2010, like I did some local bank foreclosure accounts and those dried up and went away, you know. And so there's always things that are changing.
Mark B. So, I mean, things that work today are probably not going to work a year or two from now. So there's always been like kind of educating yourself on, you know, trying to stay in front of some technology. But, you know, in the end it's all about the customer, it's all about the consumer. So, you know, just making sure that people know you're good at what you do.
Mark B. They know that you care. Like if if people know you care, that's half the battle. That's half the battle. And, you know, with sellers, they want to know that, you know what you're doing. They want to know you've got a proven system. They want to know your track record, and they want to know that you're going to get it done and you're going to get them the most money.
Mark B. So, I mean, it's a little bit to different spectrums, but I would say that, you know, when you work on yourself, on the inside, when you work on fixing you and, you know, doing Tony Robbins and things like that, where you don't you're not leaning into them, you're not selling. You're just a good person and you're positive. And people want to be around people that are positive.
Mark B. Like if you show up in the realtors, like, Hey, how are you doing? And the realtor is like, Wow, I'm really excited. Like, they're going to be like, Oh boy.
Matt M. It's already. It's already. The conversation's already over.
Mark B. Yeah. Like we got, we got to work on a few things here.
Matt M. So there's some law of attraction type stuff. And I think we're all coming into every showing and coming in every last moment from something else in our life, in a different mood. But we have to turn it up and we have to do like a one minute mental check before we go into a meeting, just to make sure we're casting the right light on, on our clients.
Mark B. Yeah. And I just I always try to be like, you know, there's some talk about there about being authentic and genuine, but I'm just me. So, you know, I just, you know, I'm unapologetic. You know, sometimes I'll say things that people don't want to hear and but it's something they need to hear. And I'll make fun of myself for something that happened 10 minutes ago.
Mark B. Yeah.
Matt M. Well, I'm sure there's a lot of other realtors out there in the country and podcast land who are also a little bit contrarian, who vibed with your sense of humor. If they wanted to send you a referral, how would they get a hold of you?
Mark B. Oh yeah. I didn't even think that was part of this, but that's cool.
Matt M. Added bonus.
Mark B. Yeah. So I mean, we were generally the Grand Rapids, Michigan and Western Michigan environment and you can actually just think of me as a michigan referral source. If you have anybody come to Michigan, I can help place you with an agent anywhere in the state, but a good way to reach me. Email is Mark at Brace Homes Ecom and that's BRACA.
Mark B. Oh, Amazon.com. That's probably the best way to get a hold of me.
Matt M. And if you want to get his attention on something, if you need to pick his brain, send him some really great ski stuff.
Mark B. He's an avid.
Matt M. Skier. You just might jumped out of a helicopter with skis on. You didn't die. So that's that's awesome. But aside from seeing, is there any other secrets of your heart if they want to get your attention?
Mark B. Yeah. No, I love skiing. I've, you know, ski raced in college and have a ski racing pedigree and anything that has snow on it. I love skiing. It doesn't need a chairlift. The you know, there's you know, I just and that's another thing to hear. I'll just leave it. I'm sorry. I know you keep telling him stuff, but I you know, I'm just I just want to stay active.
Mark B. I just want to be a good human, good, positive person. So I am on a softball team and I'm on a kickball team and I used to do volleyball and dodgeball and all these things exist. And, you know, when you're just going out and having fun, you're you're a better person because you're having fun and it's contagious. When you're a better person, like it bleeds into every area of your life.
Mark B. So I would just say, go out, do stuff, do stuff that you love, whatever it is. And you know, when people when you are happier from doing stuff that you love, people are going to see that and they're going to want to be around you. And the more they're going want to be around you, the more they're going to want to send you business, the more business they send you, the more repeat referral client business, etc., etc. It snowballs.
Matt M. The Law of Attraction works. Yeah. Awesome. Well, Mark, thank you so much for joining us on the show today and everyone out there will look forward to our next episode.
Mark B. Thanks again, Matt.