Cassandra is a co-founder of the women-lead, Altmann-Ayala Realty Team. Cassandra Altmann and the Altmann-Ayala Realty team provide comprehensive real estate service and support for both buyers and sellers. As full-time realtors, they’re committed to upholding the fiduciary standard for each of their clients and empowering them to make the best real estate decisions possible. Their team has found its home with Big Block Realty.
Cassandra loves creating a win-win, where both her clients and a group of people on the other side of the transaction come together with a solution that supports both sides. It’s really a great feeling for her. She’s definitely a team player so her approach is to understand the needs of her clients and do the work to help connect them with their goals.
Cassandra has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature from the University of California, Irvine. Cassandra also has an extensive background in freelance writing.
Meet Cassandra Altmann – Our Featured Local Leader!
So tell us more about your passion for writing
It’s totally a passion of mine. Writing is something that had done professionally for several years. I made my way back because real estate was certainly taking a big piece of my professional life and I decided that I wanted to do more creative writing in my free time. It’s something that I really love.
It’s come in handy for real estate as well just in terms of thinking about how we communicate and being able to make sure that we’re using language that is very clear for people that aren’t necessarily in the industry. That’s something that I think has helped me as far as the real estate side of things.
Are there a couple of tips you can maybe give about writing?
I think it’s like a muscle. It does atrophy if you haven’t used it in a while. At the beginning of quarantine, a lot of people were kind of like seeking out ways to kind of mentally refresh and kind of work through some of their emotions. I honestly think that if anybody shies away from that to maybe reengage in some journaling. For me, I tried to do what is called morning pages to get it out there, so that you can kind of feel a little bit of weight off of you to kind of move forward with your day.
It helps as far as building up that muscle if you want to kind of build a discipline to start writing. Whether it’s in more of a freelance writing arena or if you just want to do it something more creative too. I think that it helps kind of give you an opportunity to really communicate with yourself and convey what you’re feeling and how you process what’s going on around you.
Were you born and raised in San Diego? Or were you born elsewhere and move to San Diego?
I actually am in fact, born and raised here in San Diego. I feel like I meet more and more people that share that background with me. But growing up, I think that for a while there, I was kind of an anomaly. A lot of people moved to San Diego from different states or even different countries. We have such a wide pool of backgrounds and just diversity here in San Diego. You get a lot of people that have immigrated here from wherever or have moved again from other states.
I’ve met a lot of different people while growing up here, but I’ve been very fortunate to be able to stay because it is a luxury market. Even in the middle market. Sometimes it feels like a luxury market compared to the home prices in Middle America. It’s an expensive place to live but I think I’m very lucky and fortunate to have been able to be born here and raised here and own my business here.
Do you live and work in the same area? Or do you live in one area and work in others?
Because I grew up here, and there’s certainly a lot of agents that they kind of coined themselves as neighborhood or community agents. They kind of focus in on maybe a few areas. I think because I grew up here and I know so many people. Whether it was through just social circles or even professional circles, I’ve gone literally all over the county.
Usually, I kind of express it as like, “Oh, we’ll go all the way down from San Ysidro, all the way up to Oceanside, where you’re essentially up against Camp Pendleton.” There are a couple of pocket areas that if I have clients that reach out to me and feel like they are going to go that route, sometimes we do refer them out depending on what their needs are. But for the most part, Luisa and I, my business partner, we handle the whole county. We go into Riverside County too.
In terms of you and your business partner and your team, what would you say that you’re really good at?
We’re really good at educating our clients through the process and kind of being the calm in the storm. One thing that a lot of clients, whether they’re buyers or sellers, take for granted, is the emotional and human aspect of the process. Of course, that’s minimized if it’s an investment but even then because there are so many humans and people that are part of this process that have opinions about how this process is going to go. It can get more emotional than people expect. So, helping them understand what their focus should be at each stage is, I think one of the things that we’re really good at.
One of the areas that we also specialize in is working with first-time homebuyers and VA buyers. So, that could be active duty or veteran homebuyers, and educating them on what their options are. A lot of times, they’re going at this from scratch. You don’t know a whole heck of a lot about the process at all. So, kind of baby stepping through all of those things is something that we really pride ourselves in.
What would you say your clients really rave about when it comes to your services?
Well, I think that’s it. I think that Luisa and I have a really good combination of personalities. We’re definitely different but we work very similarly. Out of the two of us, I think I’m the one that makes sure to be very concise and that we go directly. So “this is the information that we have”, and “these are our options”. I tend not to sugarcoat.
Luisa is right there for the warm hug and to really validate feelings. I think that because you’ve got two people that are really good at understanding what their strengths are, our clients feel very supported through it. So, come what may, be it a super smooth transaction, or one that’s got some wrenches thrown into it. You’ve got to ensure that your clients don’t feel like they’re alone through the process. They really have somebody that’s in the trenches with them. And that is not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get dirty a little bit to make it happen.
Nobody wants to feel like they’re like treading water in the ocean alone. You want to be on a life raft together with a few people and making sure you’re back to shore.
In terms of your business, can you give us a little bit of an idea of what your current volume is?
We run our business as more of a boutique team. We’re not this grandiose team. So, we do make sure that we kind of tailor how many people we’re working with at a time. And generally, we’re kind of at five to 10 active clients, whether those are buyers or sellers. They could be at any spectrum of the stage, but that they’re committed to working with us is kind of what we kind of use as, “Okay, they’re active.” We have to actively participate in their process, wherever they may be to help them take the steps necessary in order to either take them to homeownership. Or it could be that they want to leverage their investment and sell their piece of real estate. That’s about how we manage on an ongoing basis.
As far as what we generally close, we’re probably about 20 a year and that’s at a pretty good range as far as price point. Our median last year, I think was closer to $650,000, which is pretty close to our median this year. Probably in the past two years, we’ve been working with about 25% sellers, and then 75% homebuyers. That’s where the market is going. But previous years are more of an even 50/50 split than that.
Can you give us an idea of how production has changed over time for you and your team?
It’s definitely become more stable. I think the leads or how we get our clients have certainly changed. Part of being in the business long enough is that you get repeat business. And that’s awesome because it validates your process, it validates that you’re doing something right and that they come back for more.
Something that we don’t take for granted is that even though we have those repeat clients now, and that they also refer and recommend to us is that each transaction is like a lesson for even us. We have to have a takeaway. We try to find as many takeaways as we can to kind of fine-tune what we do as agents and provide a service. As it’s changed, essentially, the stability is there. We’re starting to see that. I’ve been in the industry for just over eight years. Luisa is closer to six years. So, right now, this is the time where we really feel like, “Okay. Okay. We’re full-bodied real estate agents at this point.” We’ve fine-tuned how we worked as a team as well through all that.
Can you give us an idea how many repeat buyers and sellers you have versus new business?
Since the pandemic, it’s been a huge increase of, not just repeat business but referrals from our past clients. I would almost say probably 75% are right now are coming through that pipeline, and then probably another 10%, or really, it’s 25% is actually referrals from other professionals. So, whether they be agents out of state or lenders or insurance agents that we’ve built relationships with, we’ve gotten a lot of contacts that way as well.
What about advertising? Where does that come into play for your business?
We tried to be as green as possible and we try to shy away a little bit from doing too much direct mailing, although we do use it. We use it in more of a personable way, I think – when we deal with our listings. But also, for our buyers, if we’re trying to target an area, we’re not afraid to canvass something with a direct mailer. But a lot of our advertising is social media-based and internet-based. We don’t do anything where we are building in advertising. We did try going into Zillow and be like, “I’m going to buy leads” but we realized that really wasn’t how we wanted to obtain clients. There’s just a little bit of a disconnect as far as the relationship building.
And for us, it’s really important that our clients trust us. We want to kind of build a relationship with our clients because that helps through the whole process. So, if it’s not us, that’s okay! Everybody has that person they’re going to gel with. I think that that’s really important. Understanding who our clients are and who value our service was really part of our journey to get where we are right now. For advertising, we don’t invest in anything like that, where we’re trying to capture leads out from just filling out a generic form.
In terms of relationship building, is there any other way you create relationships, build relationships with potential clients?
Well, pre-pandemic, we would certainly meet with them. We still have done that now. We do what we call our virtual home buyer guidance, consultation. The people that participate, they’re not obligated to work with us. But it’s basically to give people who have never purchased or it’s been a while or they’re not familiar with this market, the building blocks to know what the steps. It’s also an opportunity for them to get a better overview of what the process is here in San Diego. And then, of course, we incorporate how we work as a team to start understanding “okay, is this a team that would be best to support my goals?”
They have the opportunity to ask us questions about how we do our business, about our process, about ourselves. That’s kind of our first start with a homebuyer is to have that conversation. And to really test whether or not this is something that we can kind of take it to the next stage, where we get into the nitty-gritty of what they need to do on the financial side of things. We also find out what their needs are as far as a home search.
For our sellers, we do something similar. We have our listing appointments still and we’re not afraid to ask if they feel whether or not we’re the right fit for them. That’s something that’s important to us. So, if they don’t feel that way, we want to know. And it’s okay if they don’t. If they don’t feel that, then it’s all good. But to open those lines of communication is really important to us.
How many relationships would you say you’re currently building?
It just kind of keeps stacking up. There are certain people that I follow up with, on a weekly basis. Then there are certain people that we’ll follow up with maybe once a month. Right now, I think that so many people feel overwhelmed by everything that is going on. So, when I send a message or I make a phone call, I want to make sure that they understand I’m not calling them because I just want to sell them something or get something from them. So it’s like, “No, really. How are you doing?” It provides another opportunity to educate too. A lot of people that we’re working with have their own preconception of what the market is doing right now. So, taking the moment to actually educating those people about what the reality is right now with prices or interest rates or what have you.
If we’ve got about five to 10 actives, I would say I talk to or at least check in with double that on a monthly basis. That would be an addition to our active group, just to see what’s going on. For past clients, it’s about making sure everything’s okay at home. You find out so many things about these people’s lives that you can imagine that they might be a little stressed out right now. They’ve got so and so home with them probably. It’s more of those gentle touches right now. Nobody needs the force of hand at all right now. If I could give everybody massages, just send them to a spa getaway right now, I would! But there’s also a lot of positive things and sometimes it’s hard to see that if you’ve kind of carrying a lot of stress with you.
Just to share a couple of takeaways from right now. I feel this is a really good opportunity to reprioritize. Of course, not everybody has this as an option but I just think, “Okay. Well, now we need to look at what our bodies need, what our families need, and remind ourselves that these are the reasons why we live.” It’s not just to work and to kind of be on the hamster wheel and what have you.
Now, granted, there’s plenty of people that are struggling and would be like, “Please give me a paycheck or an opportunity for one.” But even in those cases, because of that even more so, those people also need to be able to take care of themselves, to feel safe, and to feel healthy. If, as a whole, we can think about ways to improve that for the general populace. I think that that would be really to use this time. I mean, there’s a lot that needs to be fixed. But if people can just realize, “Okay, maybe the plus side right now is that I get to focus on my health a little bit more than I have in the past.”
The moment of being able to reflect on it. Even if it’s to say, “All right. Now, sucks.” Often, we don’t even give ourselves the time to reflect on how we feel about a situation. That’s a positive thing to think about is that you have a little more room and time to be able to acknowledge your feelings.
Would you say that you’re involved in the community in anyway?
Yeah. Luisa, my business partner is amazing. She’s been a very busy girl this year. Even with the pandemic, with her presidency with NAHREP, which is the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals. She’s the president of the San Diego chapter. She’s been really involved and they’ve been rolling out a lot of online events, virtual events, since they can’t do their regular in person obviously.
I try not to take on too many responsibilities in supporting her by giving her a little extra time to focus on the other things she needs to do. But we also were involved in general community involvement. We recently did a beach cleanup with a group. I’m actually involved in a maintenance department advisory board here in my community in Logan Heights. And so, we’re just looking for opportunities.
We’ve actually been talking a lot about what we want to do next year when her presidency is over and how we want to be involved. We might do something together. We might do something separate. But another thing that we try to do, which isn’t really an activity, but we’re thinking about trying to put our money where our mouth is at least. Giving back and donate through our commission and make sure that we donate to either community organizations or causes that really speak to us and our clients.
One of the things that Luisa and I talked about when we formed our team was, they always ask you when you get your real estate license to figure out why you’re doing this. Some people they’re just like, “I really love working with Homebuyers. To hand over the key, that’s like everything, right?” Now, this is a really amazing moment! But when we talked it out, I think it probably evolved over a couple of conversations. One of the things was just creating a positive impact. How much impact can we generate and what can we be involved with?
That’s something that is really kind of keeping us awake and alert every morning to be like, “Okay, we are going to work hard because we can do something with that. We can be involved in our communities and we can donate our time, or we can donate money and help be part of progress and change.”
What are your goals moving forward?
Well, just to kind of give a little bit of an idea of where we’re at now. Luisa and I work as a two-person team. It’s just us two. We work differently in that we don’t separate out the responsibilities. The benefit that clients have with working with us is that whether I’m busy or she’s busy, usually the other person is not. And no one person has to make a decision. They can make sure that whoever they talk to, whether it’s Luisa or I that that person can support their decision making and take them to the next step.
So, there’s less time wasted through the process. I think moving forward, and we’d really like to scale that. One of the big ways that we previously used to generate clients for open houses, especially for me, I have always found open houses a really great way to connect with people. But we don’t have that right now. So, part of what we’re doing right now is just really kind of keeping those relationships that we’ve built going and kind of rolling that out and fleshing that out. We’re doing it very organically and I think at a good pace, so that it doesn’t become overwhelming to us. And so that we continue to provide the same quality of service to everyone that we work with. That’s really important to us. That’s why we’ve tried to manage how many people we work with at a time.
But we do want to grow that so that we can make that bigger impact. We’ve kicked around the idea of having a third person but I still think that that’s a couple of years out before we would seriously consider adding another person to our team. I think we’d more likely consider bringing on an assistant to maybe take on some of the responsibilities that we don’t necessarily need to be a part of in order to maintain those relationships. That would probably be more realistic piece at this point.
Is there anything you would say you need to start doing in order to make your vision a reality?
I think we really are doing it already. We’re staying in touch with the people that we care about and the ones we know who are going through changes and challenges. Just letting people know that we’re here for support and to be a genuine listening ear. I think that that’s the biggest part right now is just to continue to listen when we’re interacting and starting to build those relationships.
It’s interesting because you come in contact with fewer people right now. But at the same time, when you do or when you’re picking up the phone or you’re doing a text message, there’s just a little bit more weight to it all. And so, it’s almost a little bit more precious. Maybe we considered it before. So, I think that honoring that and listening. Just giving support in whatever way we can right now, I think is really important because when things do start opening up or changing, people will remember and want to be part of the impact that we want to be a part of as well.
Can you give realtors any tips on just how to better listen to clients and really connect with what they’re saying?
I’m certainly guilty of this too. Oftentimes, as real estate agents, we want to be the people that fix things and calm things down. Sometimes, there’s almost a pound thing that happens, whether it’s in a conversation or even body language. You’ve got to just pause when someone’s speaking, even after they speak, and not be afraid to not know how to properly respond.
I think that people respect being heard and then and whether you need to process that a little bit longer in order to provide a more productive response, I think it’s beneficial. And then you really do start building that relationship because you’ve shown your own vulnerability with them, where there might be a moment where they need you and you go like, “That is tough.” You acknowledge it. But also, don’t make the decisions for your clients. Just don’t do that. Don’t be so ready to fix a problem that you want to make the decisions yourself because that will get you in trouble for sure.
My advice is just don’t be afraid to take the pause and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable in front of your clients because that helps build that relationship and trust. It helps build trust 100% because they know that when you do speak that you’re not going to be doing it without thought or without their best interest in mind.
Are there any other challenges in your business that you’re currently facing that you’re looking to find a solution for? What are some of the problems that you’re currently facing?
Well, I mean, as much as referral and repeat business is like the cream of the crop, those are gem clients anyway. It is more challenging now, getting in front of people without being able to host open houses. I tend to really shy away from doing Zoom meetings aside from our consultations and workshops. But that is one way that we do meet new people.
A lot of times the way that we meet new people are through our network. It could be through lenders or other agents that we have relationships with. But that is a challenge, to kind of keep the new relationship building pipeline healthy. And we’re always looking for new ways to do that right now. I think that it’s a realistic focus for right now for us to kind of look at opportunities of how we get in front of potential clients that will appreciate our service and feel they want to build that relationship. So, that’s probably the trickiest one right now, just because we do want to keep everyone safe as well.
Lightning Round Questions
Do you use Zillow, realtor.com, and homes.com?
Do you use Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn or Google ads?
Yes for Facebook and Instagram, no for LinkedIn and Google.
What about retargeting or paying a digital marketer?
Yes to both.
How about advertising on bus benches, grocery carts, or any other type of display advertising?
What about blogs?
Yes. It’s hard to be consistent, though, for your own business, I have to say.
Where can people find your blog?
Right there on our website, actually.
What about video content?
How about an email newsletter?
How active would you say you are in social media?
That’s probably one of the places that were the most active. I would say Instagram the most. We talk to a lot of clients or potential clients through Instagram as well. I find that has happened, especially as more millennials are coming to the table. Facebook, we’re active on but I wouldn’t say it’s the focus.
Where would people find you? What’s your Instagram handle?
My Instagram handle is just my name. It’s @CassandraAltmann. So, Altmann is two Ns at the end. Everybody forgets that. And then for Facebook, you can find the Altmann-Ayala Realty Team if you just type that.
In terms of following up with your database, do you do things like pop by?
Sometimes. Actually, what we’ll do is we’ll do like home anniversary reminder type things where we either do like a mailer. Right now, we plan to do more mailers just because we want to be friends without everybody’s boundaries when it comes to just kind of like a friendly touch. Before, yes, we would do a lot more little pop by touches. Now we don’t do so much.
We have dropped something off, but then I’m always like, “Well, I don’t know. It’s hot right now in the summer. I don’t want things like if it’s perishable or something like that, getting all hot in the sun on the porch.
What about things like client appreciation parties?
No parties although Luisa would be happy to do it! She’s such a great party planner and planner in general. She loves to organize anything like that so she’s amazing. But we have not done anything like that. We have done housewarming parties though. So, at closing, we have done that. If a client’s game and they’re going to do a housewarming, we usually participate in some way.
Not right now, but generally speaking.
What about cold calling? If no, why not?
No. In my previous, I always call my previous life, I used to be a headhunter recruiter. I also worked as an admissions advisor. I have a lot of experience with cold calling and warm calls. But cold calling, I can’t stand it when somebody calls me and a cold call. I will treat people the way that I would prefer to be treated. Out of principle, it might be to my detriment, I get that, but no.
What about prospecting FSBO, expireds, and REOs?
Yes, I tend to do that a little bit more in my neighborhood just because it’s a little bit more visible. I feel like I can come at people from like, “Oh, I’m your neighbor.” So, we have done a little bit of that. Right now, we’re not really doing that pack of a ton unless we’re just doing a friendly letter.
For anybody who wants to become the local market expert or the go-to realtor, what advice do you have for them?
I think one of the things is that you have to listen. You have to listen and be engaged with your community, whatever your market is that you want to be a leader in. I think that you’ve got to plug yourself in, whether that’s being involved in the community in some facet. But also understand that you’re there to learn and that you’re there to listen and to be a worker bee. And being the worker bee will take you to become the leader. A leader as far as your guidance in the market because you’re willing to listen and be vulnerable in front of your constituents and your potential clients and know that those people are going to build that trust in you.
I think that you got to be a worker bee before you can be a leader. And even when you’re a leader, you got to be a worker bee.
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