Christopher Tello may wear a suit and tie, but after a successful hospitality career, he decided he wasn’t suited for the New York City corporate world. Tello and his wife, Natascha, decided to take what they’d learned about customer service in the hotel business and apply it to real estate – in South Florida.
The Tellos took that leap of faith 13 years ago and started a business in a region where they knew no one. Today, the Tellos operate a mega agent team known as The Tello Team in South Broward County’s Pembroke Pines, Fla. With production of 388 transactions in 2013, the Tellos run one of the top-producing teams with Keller Williams.
“When we came down to Florida, we made a decision that no matter what we did we would do it at a high level to be the best we can be,” says Tello. He explains that he made the move from New York to South Florida to give his two kids a better life. “That meant studying the market,” he explains, “and the dynamics between the cities in South Florida, because there are four or five cities literally one street away from each other.”
The Tellos weren’t strangers to real estate. They were moonlighting as part-time agents in New York before transitioning to South Florida. The duo left a seller’s market to enter a buyer’s market. Two years later, prices rose 40 percent, making South Florida a seller’s market. Two years after that, the market imploded during the home mortgage meltdown and the Tellos started focusing on REOs.
“We opened our market center in mid-October, a week before Hurricane Wilma hit,” Tello says. Hurricane Wilma cut power to 3.2 million Florida homes and businesses—the most severe storm in Broward County in half a century. Despite this major setback and a melting market, the Tellos weathered adversity and exceeded expectations.
Tello has won industry recognition for his success in the face of obstacles. In 2013, REAL Trends and The Wall Street Journal named him to “The Thousand,” which ranks the top real estate professionals and teams in the United States. In June, the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP) ranked him sixth among the top 250 Latino real estate agents in the United States.
“The Hispanic real estate market is large and is growing rapidly,” says Jason Madiedo, NAHREP’s 2014 president. “Since 2010, Latinos have accounted for 56 percent of the total net growth in U.S. owner households, with purchasing power of approximately $1.5 trillion projected next year. These top agents are achieving tremendous success representing buyers and sellers from markets across America, and NAHREP is honored to salute them.”
Beyond Your Expectation Customer Service in Numerous Languages
Coming from the hospitality industry, it’s no surprise that Tello is applying a customer service philosophy to real estate. The Spanish-speaking Tello serves a global clientele with a commitment to excellence. The team’s motto is “beyond your expectation customer service” to a diverse population he calls “a true melting pot.” Living up to its customer service motto meant building a diverse staff. In addition to English, members of the Tello team speak Spanish, German, Tagalog, Hindi, Urdu and Hebrew, so most clients can do business in their native tongue.
“I can spend all day speaking in English, but it may be going in one ear and out the other if the client’s main language is not English,” Tello says. “We need to help our client understand the local market and make well-informed decisions, and that means presenting information in a way they can understand.”
South Florida is a red-hot market for foreign buyers looking for second homes and investment properties. Foreign buyers are responsible for driving Florida’s housing market recovery. According to the National Association of REALTORS®, foreign home buyers made up 7.3 percent of Florida residential sales in 2007. That number climbed to 19 percent by the end of 2012, the most recent data available.
The Challenge to Working in a Diverse Market
Despite the clear opportunities, there are always challenges to working in a diverse market. Tello cites one key obstacle: different ways of doing business. “Every country does business differently,” Tello says. “So we have to explain how the market works in the United States. We have to educate them about contracts or tax implications. We always recommend they consult with an attorney about those issues.”
With so many new airlines flying directly into Miami, Tello sees his business with foreign buyers having strong growth potential. He’s looking to expand into South Florida markets where more foreign buyers are looking to invest, which would mean Fort Lauderdale and Miami. No matter how far or wide they expand – or who they serve – the Tellos continue drawing from their corporate life in New York’s hospitality market.
How to Create "Raving Fans"
The Tello Team firmly believes in providing Ritz Carlton-type service to clients, buyers and sellers. They're trained to:
Answer phone calls within the first three rings
Return voicemails and emails promptly
Put the customer’s needs first – always
“We have a cancellation guarantee that allows clients to cancel our services for any reason if they are not happy with us. We want to provide stellar service from the moment they engage with us to the moment we close. We want to create raving fans.”
Giving Back - Homes for Heroes
As the Tellos see it, part of hospitality means serving the broader community. That’s why they have partnered with Homes for Heroes, a company that affiliates with real estate service providers who offer substantial rebates and discounts to military personnel, firefighters, law enforcement officers and others who serve our communities. As part of the program, real estate agents offer a 25 percent rebate at closing. As the Tello team grows and expands – the Tellos currently have 11 members on staff – its founders remain committed to Keller Williams’ systems and unrivaled hospitality. Without the proper systems, Tello says, the business cannot progress. That means knowing when to reassess and retool as the market shifts.
A Step Back to Make a Massive Leap Forward
“We’re probably going to take two steps back in the business because we’re going to reduce our focus on foreclosures and focus once again on traditional home sales,” Tello says. “I’m OK with that because in order to take a massive leap forward sometimes you have to take a step back. We’re going to remain successful because we stay ahead of the market trends at all times. Now is the time to shift.”