By Eric Obernauer New Jersey Herald
NEWTON — For Robert Harford, founder and owner of Harford Real Estate, one of the proudest moments of his career came not from winning any awards or breaking any sales records.
Instead, he said with a big smile, “It was when a big, bearded guy who I’d been working with showed up at a closing with a shirt on that said, ‘Bob Harford — My Home Boy.'”
For Harford, staying connected with the people side of the real estate business isn’t just what he loves most about his work. It’s why he got into the business in the first place.
Having recently celebrated one year in his new office on Trinity Street, Harford is right where he wants to be and says his relationships with his clients — whether they involve repeat customers or first-time homebuyers such as a woman from Cambodia he took under his wings recently — are what make him look forward to getting up for work each day.
“I enjoy staying connected with my clients and have no interest in recruiting people to run that part of the business for me,” Harford said. “I want to remain right in front of the clients myself because that’s what I love to do.”
And to hear him tell it, being independent has allowed him to do all that and more.
“Being independent doesn’t mean you can’t do as good or a better job than the leading chains,” he said. “In fact, it’s just the opposite: Because we’re not a franchise, our overhead and administrative costs are low and we can pass those savings on to our clients.”
But as Harford will tell you, talk is cheap and he believes in putting his money where his mouth is.
So for clients selling a home, Harford does so by taking a reduced commission of 4.5 percent on all sales.
“That’s what our standard rate is without any negotiations,” Harford emphasized. “Elsewhere within the industry, you’ll usually find commissions of at least 6 percent. Occasionally if you’re able to negotiate a really good deal with someone, you might get 5 percent but that’s about as low as you’ll generally find.”
For buyers, Harford goes a step further by offering them a full 20 percent rebate on his already reduced commissions. A little-known state law enacted in 2010 allows him to do that.
“It can be done as an adjustment or a credit at closing, or it can be an actual check — and it’s perfectly legal,” Harford said.
When asked if competitors might object to his undercutting them on value and price, Harford didn’t hesitate with his answer: “I really don’t care if they do or they don’t,” he said.
And if they do mind, “That’s OK. People already have a rotten attitude toward Realtors anyway, and that’s not just me saying it — I remember it being talked about in the classes from when I was studying for my license — but I’m not one of those sharks out there.”
For Harford, changing people’s perceptions isn’t just a matter of offering them a cheaper service but also of going the extra mile in doing so.
For every property he shows, Harford said he begins with photos taken with top-notch equipment and displaying them in a way that commands attention. Harford said he even has a drone he keeps in a closet for this purpose that he sometimes deploys for taking photos.
“Well over 90 percent of buyers start their search online, so every photo has to tell a story,” he said. “It has to hook you in and get you to want to come look at that house.”
Failing to take photos that communicate a story, one that a prospective buyer can envision being part of, is just one of many mistakes Harford said he often sees being made by others in the business.
“I recently saw a house listed on the Internet where they had photos of a toilet,” Harford said. “Do you really think anyone’s going to look at that and say, ‘I want to go see that house so I can look at a toilet?'”
He added: “Too many people as a general rule just don’t see the benefit in having a Realtor help them sell a home or buy a home, so I do my homework with market analysis and all the other tools I can offer to show people the value in the service we provide.”
If the results he touts are any indication, it would appear his customers have taken notice. The growth in his business, he said, has been so brisk that “there have been days where I would work from sunrise to sunset and felt like I barely had time to kiss my wife.”
Faced with these circumstances, Harford’s wife, Shannon, decided last year to study for her real estate license so she, too, could do what he does. Now they work as a team.
Prior to transitioning to real estate, Robert Harford had been a vice president of a manufacturing firm for several years where a big part of his job involved scoping out prospective properties and buying and selling commercial buildings. “I was on the road a lot, on airplanes a lot,” he recalled.
In 2001, he decided it was time for a change so he took his skills and parlayed them into a new career in real estate. Recalling the market crash of 2008, Harford said “I just had to block out all the negativity or I would have crawled into a hole.”
After opening his own independent office in Franklin in 2011, Robert and Shannon Harford moved their office to Newton last year.
In an industry where everything is local, being born in Sussex County — he in Newton, she in Andover Township — and both being raised in Newton has afforded them a distinct advantage when it comes to knowing the vagaries of the local market. Today they own their own home in Wantage and continue to call Sussex County home.
“In Morris County, the real estate market’s on fire — and we’re seeing the same in Essex, Bergen, Hudson and Somerset counties,” said Robert Harford. “It’s only a matter of time before we start seeing some of that up here as well, and I think by this time next year it’s likely we’ll be looking at a significant improvement in Sussex County.”
Specializing in residential real estate, Robert and Shannon Harford work with everyone from first-time buyers looking for a starter home to others looking to trade up, as well as investors who flip homes for a living and are in search of a fixer-upper. They also handle short sales and foreclosures and occasionally commercial real estate, “though I don’t go after it (commercial),” said Robert Harford.
Home is where the heart is for this couple, and for the Harfords, home has always been in Sussex County. And don’t even think about talking retirement to them.
“One of the great things about this business is I can be as old as I want to be and still work in real estate, and I’m happy right where I am,” said Robert Harford.
Harford Real Estate is located at 55 Trinity Street, Newton. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, or by appointment. For more information, call 973-209-9000 or send an email to email@example.com.