Linda Skolnick’s career as a Westport-based Realtor with Coldwell Banker has generated a number of corporate sales-related honors, including her induction into the International Presidents Elite (top 2 percent), President’s Circle (top 4 percent), the Leading Edge Society (top 5 percent) and the Chairman’s Circle Gold (top 2 percent).
And what is the secret of Skolnick’s success? She responded with a generous laugh followed by a near-whispered admission that there was no secret.
“It really seems so obvious and easy: I return every phone call,” she said. “When you ask me a question, I answer it. There are so many Realtors that I can’t get on the phone — how am I going to make an appointment with them and show their listings if I can’t get them on the phone? If it takes them a day or two to call me back my clients are gone by then.”
Skolnick added that she strived to take customer service to a higher level. “It makes every one of my clients feel like they’re my only client,” she stated. “It makes everyone feel special. I make these crazy good brownies and every year during the holidays I drop them off in the clients’ mailboxes. And kids point out to me in the street or in a store and say, ‘That’s the brownie lady!’ ”
Skolnick came to real estate 26 years ago after she was finishing a maternity leave from her job as a buyer for Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan. Not eager to return to a lengthy commute that would keep her away from her newborn, she recalled the unsatisfactory aspects of her then-recent home purchase in Westport and how her agent was often less than helpful. Skolnick and her husband had to follow-up on their own after visiting the open house that ultimately became their residence. Although she had no experience in real estate sales she felt that she could do well in the profession.
“Years ago, it was one of the few jobs that you could do and still look after your kids and get real income,” she said. “I remember my boss at the time saying, ‘Oh my God, you know how to use a computer. You’re going to be so good.’ ”
But the sales volume and the corporate honors did not come immediately. Skolnick acknowledged that during her first year as a Realtor, “the lady who was bagging my groceries was making more than me.” And she quickly learned that her work did not pause on Fridays at 5 p.m. and resume on Mondays at 9 a.m. “On Sundays my husband would take my kids to the beach and I would have to go to an open house,” she said with a mock grumble.
Skolnick gained a reputation among her clients as the go-to person for information on local vendors, real estate-related questions and even driving directions. She sought to parlay her knowledge base into an online site that she called Go Ask Linda.
“I bought the domain and put in a client password-protected page with all answers,” she said. “I want to be their resource. To me once you buy a house you’re not done.”
Skolnick is dealing with a housing market where supply overwhelms demand.
“The state of Connecticut is tough,” she said. “We have a lot of inventory. In Westport we have 293 active houses and sold 12 in January. Last year we sold 421 houses and 28 condos. We’d like to have six-month inventory and right now we have a 24-month inventory. That’s considerably larger.”
Skolnick is witnessing interest from potential buyers moving from Manhattan and Brooklyn, while Westchester residents are crossing the border in search of financial relief. “The taxes are so much higher in Westchester but it used to not matter because you could write them off,” she said. “But now you can’t following changes to the federal tax law regarding state and local deductions.”
But Skolnick noted that today’s buyers are different from those at the beginning of her career who were looking for large properties and lots of privacy. “Now, they don’t want a lot of land — it costs money to take care of it,” she said. “They want to be near the train and the town. If they can walk someplace, terrific.”
And even though Skolnick still comes across deals that fail to come to fruition, she remains optimistic that her clients will ultimately find their dream home. “Almost every time that a client didn’t get something, they wind up getting something better,” she said.