The Real Deal: Realtors – both seasoned and fresh – say what sold them on the field

Erika Nita, Real Estate One, Traverse City

Erika Nita always knew she’d move back to her home state. She also knew she wanted to get into real estate. After leaving her native Petoskey, first for Northwood University and then for the Windy City, she eventually found her way back to Michigan. And to her first love, real estate.

Nita’s father is a retired agent, Donald Wright, who worked in real estate for 35 years. Unbeknownst to him – but not to her – he was secretly prepping her for this career all along.

“I was always going to get into real estate,” said Nita.

She now works for the same company her father did, Real Estate One, though she is part of the Traverse City Randolph Street office while her father was with the company’s Petoskey office.

She also prepped for her real estate career by working in the mortgage industry in Chicago. She then moved into sales before getting married and having a baby. She developed Hashimoto’s disease, in which the body attacks the thyroid gland, and as a result changed to a gluten-free diet. That led to her creating a subscription box business, American Gluten-Free. She selected gluten-free items to mail to her customers; the business eventually grew to over 500 customers per month.

She credits all those business experiences with helping her develop the skills she’s now using. “I was in sales, I was the customer service department for my business,” she said. “I understand this is one of the biggest purchases anyone will make.”

Nita moved back to Michigan in the fall of 2017, got her license in October and joined Real Estate One in November. She continued to run her business until selling it in March of last year; the next month she had her first closing. In her first year in the business, she was involved in 19 transactions with a value of more than $3.6 million.

Nita said she especially enjoys working with those relocating to the area. “It’s a good half of my business,” she said.

She’s also looking to work more with high-end properties. “The million-dollar [homes] interest me,” she said. “I’ll try different tactics – sometimes that is what those homes need.”

At the same time, she relishes helping first-time buyers. “I helped one [client] close on a $60,000 home. It meant the world to him,” she said.

Nita has been active within the community as well, from Special Olympics and Arts for All to the Downtown Traverse City Authority and Women’s Council of Realtors, which she now serves as secretary. “I can see myself doing this forever,” she said.

Robin Vanderkaay, Century 21 Northland, Elk Rapids

Maybe there’s not a direct line between being a dental hygienist and being a Realtor, but Robin Vanderkaay couldn’t wait to make the jump.

“I always looked at real estate as a great [career] investment. I just couldn’t do it when my kids were young,” she said.

So she followed the career path she’d started, earning a degree in dental hygiene from the University of Michigan while raising her family in the Detroit area.

That gave her the time to invest in the area’s swimming scene through work with Detroit Swims and other organizations. Which made sense, since her four sons were all Olympic Trial qualifiers in swimming, one of them (Peter) a three-time Olympian with two gold and two bronze medals.

“I didn’t see it coming,” she said. “We went to three Olympics. It was fun.”

Like so many from downstate, the family was acquainted with the area. Vanderkaay and her husband Mark bought a home five years ago for retirement. “My husband is transitioning [to retirement] now. So I decided to reinvent myself,” she said.

Goodbye dental office, hello real estate. “I finished my first year in March. Now it’s my second year and I’m loving it,” she said.

What’s not to love? Her first deal was a million-dollar waterfront home on Torch Lake. “I did two lakefront homes, one in the woods and one vacant,” she said. “I’d like to triple my sales.”

Vanderkaay said she enjoys being able to communicate her joy with others looking for waterfront property. “We’re on Elk Lake and have a breathtaking view,” she said. “Growing up in the city and subdivisions, seeing house after house, it calms me.”

That’s why she opted for Elk Rapids rather than Traverse City. “I’d like to connect people to this area,” she said. “Elk Rapids isn’t as big a draw but a lot of people want to do what we’re doing. I want to share that.”

Given her love of the water, it’s no surprise that Vanderkaay supports groups like the Elk-Skegemog Lakes Association and Watershed Center of Grand Traverse Bay, as well as Single MOMM, Mott Hospital-Ann Arbor, and Read to a Child. She also maintains contact with Detroit Swims, and hopes to spread that here.

“I still help fundraise there; Peter is still involved,” she said. “I look forward to doing something like that here. It’s amazing how many adults don’t know how to swim.”

Peter Fisher, Coldwell Banker Schmidt Realtors, Glen Arbor

Another Realtor with a family tradition, Peter Fisher is a Leelanau County native who attended Glen Lake Community Schools. After earning a degree in economics from the University of New Hampshire, he moved to Philadelphia and began a career in banking and finance with PNC Capital Markets.

Eventually, however, he and his wife Cassidy (also from Leelanau County) decided they missed home and wanted to return.

“I thought I wanted to be in Chicago. I had applied to an MBA program – but I wanted to be back in northern Michigan,” said Fisher.

That was in 2010. By the end of the year, after living on their savings, Peter knew he had to do something. He considered getting into the brewing business – “I’m a home brewer,” he said, – but his dad intervened.

“My dad said, ‘Get your real estate license and come work with me,’” he said

Growing up, Peter had seen how his dad was able to enjoy a northern Michigan lifestyle as a successful Realtor. But hey, that wasn’t for him. “I said, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ I thought I wanted to live in a city,” he said.

Turns out that wasn’t the case. After moving back, he got into the real estate industry right when the housing industry was bottoming out during the recession. “It was a real fight – 2010 and 2011 were tough times,” Fisher admitted. But he stuck it out.

Eventually he came to see what his father and others saw. “I like the flexibility and the income potential,” he said. “People are always buying and selling homes.

As his dad edged closer to retirement, there were more changes and challenges on the horizon for Fisher. In 2016, he was approached about taking on his dad’s position as sales manager and accepted the position. “I’d been helping my dad for a year, year and a half,” he said.

As such, he oversees the office with five sales associates and is responsible for recruiting.

Since entering real estate in 2010, he has been involved in over 180 transaction sides. They’ve ranged from primary residential to vacation second homes, inland properties to lakefront, as well as vacant property, even commercial sales.

“I’ve also been doing deal-doctoring for transactions on life support – how can you help make it happen,” he said.
In his free time, Fisher has also been active in the community, serving on the board of the Glen Lake Chamber of Commerce and the Glen Arbor BBQ & Brew Festival.

Roger and Tim Schaub, Schaub Team Premier Realty Brokerage, Suttons Bay and Leland

Brothers and business partners Tim (pictured right) and Roger Schaub see real estate as ever-changing and always interesting. “It’s never boring. Every deal is different,” said Tim.

The two brothers have worked together in the business for nearly 18 years, though they only started their own brokerage a year and a half ago. “We always have had relationships. Our clients are now our friends,” said Roger.

Prior to getting into real estate, they worked in technology. “I left that to go into real estate 18 and a half years ago. I brought in [niece] Melanie as the Schaub team, then Tim joined a year later,” said Roger.

The two have since brought on another broker, an agent and a marketing director who is also a licensed agent. The statistics bear out their success: In 2016 the team accounted for 44 transactions, which grew to 67 in 2017. Then, with the formation of their own brokerage, it climbed to 79 in 2018.

They opened their business in the historic depot building in Suttons Bay in January 2018. Less than a year later, they opened another office across the county in Leland.

“I live there; do a lot of business there,” said Tim. “It’s more efficient for me and for our clients.”

The two hope for another strong year in 2019. While the conventional wisdom is that a diminishing inventory of properties for sale means a slowdown in sales, Roger disagrees. He sees buyers as more informed and aware than ever, given the technology-rich atmosphere.

“Buyers are more prepared than ever [with] the world at their fingertips on the web,” he said.

He sees his job as helping sellers make sure they are similarly equipped and with their property ready for sale when it goes on the market. “The approach is to always have the property prepared and staged,” said Roger. “We may take a little more time with staging.”

They also believe the market is more geared toward year-round sales than it used to be. “Yesterday we listed a North Lake Leelanau home, and we’ve got a showing today. We used to wait until the ice was gone,” said Tim.

They go on to extol the virtues of the market in general. “I don’t think there is a cold segment,” said Roger. “A $250,000 home is very good. A $600,000 home on South Lake Leelanau is good. I don’t see one that won’t produce.”