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VOLUME VI: CONVERSATION IN REAL ESTATE (CIRE)Meet Cathy RomanoPodcast Interview by Sam Kulla | Written by Sam Kulla
The Downsizing Queen. That’s the self-proclaimed nickname that Cathy Romano went by in her early days as a Realtor.
“I started out [moving] people from a bigger space,” said Romano, who has lived in Lake Austin for 31 years. “People had these big, old houses. But their kids were gone, and they needed less space.”
Then she did a 180-degree turn on her own moniker during the coronavirus pandemic. Nowadays, she recommends three- and four-bedroom homes.
“I learned quickly that maybe it wasn't so bad to have a bigger house,” she said. “My [original] argument was, ‘Less is more. Let’s become minimalists like our kids.’ But there's something to be said about having privacy in your house and different areas to go to.”
COVID-19 made people spend more time at home, and she found out her clients needed more space to adjust to the demands of pandemic life.
“Kids were moving back [home],” said Romano. “A room had to become an office. [Residents] were working out at home. I had to change my whole niche with the demands of the market. I became the ‘right-sizing’ agent.”
From Stockbroker to RealtorBefore Romano moved to Lake Austin, she also lived in Boca Raton, the French Riviera, Portland and Seattle. And prior to becoming a Realtor in 2016, she was a stockbroker, worked in restaurant and hospitality management, and became a self-published author.
In her current position, Romano sees real estate as “the people’s industry.”
“Each job that I've had has helped me grow in my real estate capacity,” said Romano. “I wear many hats as a Realtor, [including] a therapist. But I like people, and that's key to being a good Realtor. Be a good communicator.”
Romano continued, “I have won clients from other agents because their Realtor never talked to them, never texted them back, never answered their emails. I find that shocking in an industry where communication is so key. I'm a good communicator, and I listen to my clients and know exactly what they want early on.”
Renting Rules in AustinWhile Romano confirms she has never focused much on short-term rentals, she is keen to point out the value of long-term leases in the Austin market. With the current median sale price climbing past $653,000 (over a 12% increase in the last year), it’s easy to see why.
“There are a lot more people that are interested in renting than ever before,” she said. “Either because they can't afford to buy in Austin, or they're just not sure where to buy. There's so many people moving here. I think the long-term rental market is where you want to be.”
It’s not only anecdotal evidence that backs her up, the data agrees. Last year, the number of home sales in Austin fell nearly 14%. While the city has held on to its first-place growth rate in the country, with the population increasing by over 27% since 2010, its rate of home ownership is currently only 45%.
Investor Pressure Turning Buyers to RentersInvestors are a force to be reckoned with in this real estate economy, according to her.
“They're savvy, and they're looking for a deal,” she said. “They're tough because they usually have several things going on at once. [With investors], I don't have the exclusive relationship I like to have with my tenants, or buyers and sellers. I would tell any Realtor starting out [to] make sure you're not wasting your time with a client that might just be getting information from you. [That’s] not to say all investors are like that, but they're doing their homework.”
This year, investors are especially strong competitors against first-time homeowners and other interested home buyers. That has made a larger-than-normal group of callers contact Romano for leasing opportunities.
She estimates her final closing numbers at approximately 15–25 deals annually, with rentals making up a substantial portion of her business.
“I've got six rental leases right now,” said Romano. “And I've got four that already have executed leases on them. The pandemic did not slow down the real estate market. I had a record year last year.”
Rental Readiness: Cover the DetailsAs if she’s not busy enough sifting through rental applications, completing walk-throughs with prospective tenants and working with landlords, she’s a landlord as well. And she has advice for how to navigate new tenants and property upkeep.
“One dog means three dogs,” she said. “I learned that firsthand with our [own] rentals. And it’s the most frustrating thing. Most tenants do not take care of your place as [well as] you want them to. I would tell any landlord [to] pay for the landscaping. Then you know it'll be to your satisfaction. Don't put that on a tenant.”
Although some landlords do luck out and find themselves with garden hobbyists who love watering the plants, Romano isn’t totally convinced.
“There's some great tenants out there, but I'm being realistic,” she said. “I recommend my landlords pick up those costs because they're ultimately going to make your property more valuable. When a tenant moves out, you don’t want to have all this deferred maintenance that [could have been] done in a timely fashion.”
For owners hoping to sweeten their rental or purchase listings even more than having a nice garden, Romano recommended high-tech gadgets such as smart cameras and thermostats.
“Definitely [install] a Ring and a Nest,” said Romano. “The smarter your house can get, the better. People want safety. As Austin's growing, anything you can do to assure a tenant that where they're living is as safe as you can—although we can't guarantee that— certainly helps. And the Nest cuts down on AC bills. That is really crucial because most tenants are paying those.”
If a property still isn’t attracting the interest it should, Romano said it usually comes down to a question of price.
“Within 30 days, if we don't have a taker, they need to be realistic about price,” she said. “The market is going to tell us what properties are worth. When I show a rental property or a home, I need to show the value. I'm really good at finding a range, either in the rental market or the buyers’ market, of what a house should be worth.”
Know the Marketing, Know the Market TooOnce the property is up to par and the price range is fair, then comes exposure.
“There's so many channels,” she said. “[Realtors] need to fit the property with the best place to advertise it. We're using a lot more social media in our industry.”
Romano often highlights certain areas to clients she believes will be happier there as part of her marketing approach, and prides herself on her knowledge of Austin’s nooks and crannies. Sometimes she has a little fun with her marketing campaigns too. She once had a “Where’s Cathy?” ad, an homage to Martin Handford’s popular “Where’s Waldo?” book series.
So Where Is Cathy Romano? Everywhere!“I've had [listings] in almost every neighborhood in Austin, and I'm really familiar with the popular ZIP codes,” she said. “A matchmaker—that's what a Realtor is in my world. I match the person with the area. If I feel like the person is not a good fit, I steer them in another direction. In my whole six years as a Realtor, I've had one client who had buyer's remorse. And it's only because she missed California so badly—[and] Austin is not California.”
Luckily, that client eventually changed her tune once she was able to connect with the walkability of Travis Heights.
“Austin has a great vibe to it, and no matter how crowded we get, we still have the vibe. If we can keep that, then people are going to move here.”
Trust, Hard Work and FunWhile both newer and veteran Realtors know how many roles they must play during the listing process, a client’s trust is not something that can be taught in a class.
“You're getting up close and personal when you get their listing,” said Romano. “You're in their house and you're bringing people in, and [they] have to trust you. People think it's easy money. It's not. It's a lot of work. It's relationship building, and it's marketing. You're defining yourself in a competitive world, and you've got to do something that makes you stand out.”
And Romano is proud to call her clients “friends” by the closing date—whether she’s showing off a downsized home or a “right-sized” home.
“The minute I quit having fun is when I'm leaving this business,” she said, “But right now, it is fun.”
ABOUT CATHY ROMANO:
Cathy Romano is a Realtor working for Compass Real Estate in Austin. She’s lived on the waterfront for 30 years with her family. Cathy obtained designation as a Certified Luxury Home Marketing Specialist from the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing.
During her time with Keller Williams Realty, Inc., she won the Platinum Top 500 Agents Award in 2019 and was the top producer in her class at the KW SW Market Center. Additionally, Cathy was the Bronze Medallion Winner of 2016, Rookie of the Year Runner-Up (2017) and the Gold Medallion Winner of 2018.
Cathy grew up in Seattle, Washington, and is a cum laude graduate of Washington State University with a B.A. in Hotel Administration. Her varied career path, including jobs as a stockbroker and marketing rep, helped shape the Realtor she is now.