They say that family is the heart of the home. And for MJ Peterson Real Estate, a family business serving the Western New York region for over 91 years, that certainly rings true.
In the early 1930s, following the Great Depression, Marvin Peterson and his family moved from Detroit to Buffalo and started building houses. What began as a simple home-building venture ultimately became one of the most successful real estate companies in Western New York. With Victor (Pete) Peterson III being the current owner, four generations later, the Peterson family still owns and operates the business they started many years ago.
For over 91 years, MJ Peterson Real Estate has been serving the Western New York region. The company saw a huge expansion and achieved substantial growth during that time. Today, MJ Peterson has eight office locations and over 200 agents. They have over 3,300 units for rent — including apartments, condos and houses — along with residential properties, commercial properties and new construction for sale.
"With the Peterson family, we really take people all the way — from getting college kids into their first rental, to their first condo, to their first home, to their golden years home, and then downsizing," says Bret Llewellyn, General Manager at MJ Peterson.
What Makes Them Special
"At MJ Peterson, we do more than list and sell houses...we make our client's dreams come true," says Pete Peterson.
Since the company was founded, MJ Peterson has built more than 6,000 single-family homes. They developed some of Buffalo's oldest neighborhoods and have contributed to HUD-sponsored moderate and low-income housing developments. Following World War II, MJ Peterson built starter homes in Tonawanda and Amherst. They also built luxury condominiums, family and senior housing developments and commercial properties, such as office buildings and retail shopping centers.
MJ Peterson's efforts were recently recognized by community organization Buffalo Business First with a 2021 Family Business Award. The honor highlights "multi-generational and family businesses in Western New York for overall excellence, innovation, ethics, philanthropy and strength of the region."
Unlike most other real estate companies in the region, the work at MJ Peterson doesn't start and end with renting and selling properties. The organization's long list of services includes new home construction, property management, domestic and international relocation services, land development, lease option and trade-in programs, property appraisals and mortgage placement.
Partnering With the Community
MJ Peterson offers so many services because of their incredible partnerships, one of which is with Premium Mortgage. MJ Peterson strives to work alongside their clients to help them move forward. In cases where people have been renting for two or three years to save up for a home, MJ Peterson will pair them up with Premium Mortgage to assist them with credit counseling and help prepare them to buy. Once they are ready, the company will release them from their lease and automatically pair them with an agent to help them find the perfect property to buy. This partnership is not only useful and educational for clients, but agents appreciate it as well.
"I think that's a good model. It keeps our tenants engaged in the process of homeownership versus renting," says Terri Campbell, Branch Manager at MJ Peterson. "It gets them some credit counseling with our mortgage partner, and it keeps some of our agents on their toes."
For MJ Peterson's unique building division, they work with local builders. They have been partnering with Chris Tucker of Tucker Homes for over 30 years and have since added several other builders. According to Campbell, the building division has made a huge impact on the company's growth, considering "if you've got the land, you've got the listing." This is especially important in the current market, where inventory is particularly low. At the moment, they have about 250 lots in Lancaster, NY.
MJ Peterson has also established an effective partnership with Robitaille Real Estate, which was acquired in 2018 to form MJ Peterson – Robitaille Relocation LLC. That same year, Mike Robitaille, former NHL defenseman for the Buffalo Sabres, signed on as VP of Public Relations.
Thriving in the Digital Age
It's no secret that technology has changed the way we do just about everything in our lives, and selling and buying real estate is no exception. What was once accomplished through direct contact or putting an ad in the local newspaper is done almost completely digitally now. With websites, social media, email and third-party real estate apps like Zillow and Redfin, there's nothing you can't accomplish with the touch of a button.
"If you're going to survive, it's got to be in the social media aspect. It's got to be in the IT at this point," says Llewellyn.
At MJ Peterson, the staff understands the importance of adapting to the digital age, that the days of print ads and yard signs are behind us. The company recently hired its first-ever Social Media Director and has a skilled IT Director on staff, Bill Trautman. Bill is there to help the agents at MJ Peterson with all of their technological needs, whether that be with DeltaNET® or something else.
"Now that we have the internet and the wonderful opportunities that we have through programs like DeltaNET, it's a no-brainer," says Campbell. "And sometimes I think that teaching old dogs new tricks is difficult, but I will tell you that Bill Trautman in our IT department will sit one-on-one with any agent in the company and get them up to speed."
Finding the Right Agents
There is a lot to consider when it comes to finding the right agents. For instance, some recruiters look for industry experience, while others have no problem hiring someone new to the real estate game as long as they fit in with the company culture.
For MJ Peterson, it's the latter. When hiring a new agent, they consider qualities like community involvement and likeability. Whether they have experience in the business or not isn't the issue; it's whether they have the skills and the right personality for the job.
"I like recruiting people from other aspects of business in this town, and two of the very successful, rising stars in one of our offices that we were able to recruit, one is an attorney who works in the trust department at the local bank," says Campbell. "The other was a branch manager of a bank for 20 years and then was an office assistant in a legal firm. These are the people you want. These are people who get business in town. They know a lot of people, and this is a great opportunity for them."
When recruiting new agents, they also seek out those who exemplify true passion and motivation. They believe this is particularly important in an industry like real estate, where you won't necessarily have instant success, and people tend to weave in and out.
"I really like to go ahead and start out with an agent that's been in the market a year or two who is doing that $1 million, $2 million, $3 million, because taking somebody from that $2 million to $4 million or $6 million with the right tools is much easier," Llewellyn remarks. "And it's like we want to go ahead and know that they have the motivation and they have a passion for this because nine out of 10 new agents are gone after year two because they don't want to pay their dues, because they only sold two houses."
Training New Hires
Once an agent is welcomed aboard, the training process begins. At MJ Peterson, they have a comprehensive program that allows new hires to quickly and effectively get up-to-date with the industry and the company processes. MJ Peterson has a "Leap into Success" program, which is a five-week course. During this program, participants have the opportunity to listen to various speakers on different subjects.
For new agents, training also includes learning the technology and setting up their custom website, customer database and digital marketing campaigns through DeltaNET. Overall, the training process is meant to cater to each agent's individual needs. At MJ Peterson, they believe that this is the best approach, considering every agent is different and has a unique set of skills and experience.
Once an agent completes the onboarding process, the training doesn't end there. MJ Peterson offers continuing education courses throughout the year. One of their favorite events is the Breakfast of Champions, a Q&A series with the more experienced agents where they discuss topics like luxury living and how to survive tax season over coffee and pancakes.
Maintaining a Family Culture
"We remain committed to never lose[ing] sight that our business is people," states Pete Peterson.
MJ Peterson may have grown quite a bit since its early days, but that doesn't mean it doesn't strive to maintain the same family culture that the company was founded on. Pete Peterson prioritizes instilling the same values in his current staff that his family had when they first arrived in Buffalo and began building houses. One way that Peterson does this is by having an open-door policy that allows agents to stop in at any time. Whether they want him to attend their event, give his two cents or answer a question, he's always there.
"If anybody ever needs anything, Pete's always available. His door's always open. He'll address whatever your concerns are and make sure he takes care of you," says Trautman. "So that's one of the good things about coming to a family company, and that's why I'm here. I've seen both sides, family companies, and I've seen corporations where the family company is far better because you're out one-on-one with the owners, and it's a first-name basis."
Being located in a smaller city like Buffalo also helps MJ Peterson maintain that family feel. Having a more tight-knit community enables them to use a community-oriented approach and achieve a sense of trust and community among agents and staff.
Addressing the Issues
Shortage of inventory. Inflation. Interest rate hikes. These are just a few of the issues that may come up when working in real estate. That said, it's important always to stay ahead of the curve.
For MJ Peterson, that means a lot of things. First, during a time like this, when inventory is low, they can rely on their rental properties to keep things moving. They have more rentals than just about anyone in Western New York, and they are close to the University of Buffalo, meaning young adults are constantly moving to the area looking to rent. Their building division also helps prevent a shortage of inventory from becoming a problem because if you build houses, you will always have houses to sell.
When it comes to navigating issues like interest rates and inflation, it helps to ensure that clients are educated and prepared financially. Hence, they're ready to buy in any climate. That's why MJ Peterson's partnership with Premium Mortgage is so essential. These partners will come to their offices, sit down with a client and work out a path for homeownership that works for them. So, when the time comes, whenever that may be, the client has what they need to buy, and the agent can make a sale.
Another way they keep momentum is by making sure they are placing their offices in the right locations and that those communities continue to thrive. MJ Peterson recognizes the importance of seeking out clients in areas with profitable, growing businesses. For example, in Buffalo, there is an M&T Bank that is currently hiring over 2,000 new employees. This growth has paved the way for a surge of new homebuyers to settle in the area. MJ Peterson is also centrally located in Amherst, which happens to be the second-largest city in Western New York, providing them with a vast pool of potential clients and businesses.
"They're Here Because of Delta"
MJ Peterson believes that working with Delta Media Group® has had a huge impact on the success of their company. They feel that Delta is why so many agents want to work there and why they stick around.
"I've talked to so many agents that [have said] they're here because of Delta," Trautman says. "They don't have the technology anywhere else. And then once they see everything that Delta has to offer, they love it."
One of the main reasons they love Delta is its impact on recruitment. This is largely due to Delta's patent-pending SEO, which puts agents on the map.
"Google your name and then google your competitor's name and see where you land in the search results. Every time we're in the top two," says Trautman.
Another game-changer provided by Delta is how simple it is to find sales leads. At MJ Peterson, they have found that over 50% of their leads are generated through Delta. They have also noticed that Delta is particularly beneficial for new agents when finding their first leads, enabling them to hit the ground running.
The staff at MJ Peterson is also very fond of the digital marketing tools Delta offers, such as blog posts, email campaigns and electronic postcards. They've found that these resources assist them both with finding new clients and retaining current ones.
Where Are They Going?
Over the past three years since using Delta, MJ Peterson has brought in over $140 million in new agent business. And in the past three months alone, $45 million. They feel confident that with Delta, they can continue to grow even more.
"We're planting seeds out there. We're growing them. We're going ahead and watering them," says Llewellyn.
The company plans to expand to have nine or 10 offices in the near future. However, they plan to stay local. Their ultimate goal is to become the person to go to in Western New York, not to extend to places like Syracuse or New York City that have completely different markets.
Over the past 91 years, MJ Peterson has come a long way. The previously small family construction business is now one of the top real estate organizations in the region. It has so much more than just building and selling homes to offer. It's an organization that people in the community want to work for and work with. But despite seeing tremendous growth, MJ Peterson's original vision remains the same: to build strong neighborhoods based on family values.
When it comes to "Technology Adoption Rates," I have seen a plethora of articles from technology vendors as to what should be expected from brokers/owners. Some vendors in the marketplace boast an eye-popping 90%+ agent adoption rate for using technology tools. Other vendors settle for adoption rates as low as the 30% mark. After years of analyzing trends and data from brokerages utilizing the DeltaNET® tools, I believe that I can share what should be the honest, realistic answer.
First and foremost, we must address what the definition of "adoption" is. In the context of technology adoption, the definition provided by Merriam-Webster is "the act or process of beginning to use something new or different." The reason I bring up this definition is because you will find an abundance of varying opinions when it comes to technology vendors advertising their adoption rates. I am choosing to follow the worldwide accepted definition of adoption for this article.
I have found throughout my tenure educating real estate professionals that the word "training" has quite a strong negative connotation. Nobody wants to sit through another 2-plus hour training course detailing the latest technology being deployed by their brokerage. The fact of the matter is that real estate agents endured a bevy of technology rollouts over the last 20 years, all of them driven by dozens of factors. Asking your agents to sit through another new technology class to learn something new is an uphill battle. Our philosophy at Delta Media Group® is that technology needs to be intuitive, and it needs to work for you. The question isn't "How do I use this technology?" but "What does this technology do?"
Inside the DeltaNET® 6 CRM, which is the underlying technology I will share adoption numbers for, we've focused on innovating how agents think about technology tools. Most CRM trainings focus on the step-by-step process of conducting various aspects of the platform: Click CRM, select customers, select add new customer. Within the DeltaNET 6 CRM, that 3-step process is accomplished simply through our patent-pending "Quick Actions." Rather than the agent needing to know HOW to add a customer to the system, they can simply type into the quick actions bar "Add Customer," which will bring that feature directly onto the page they are working from. It transforms our training from a "Here's how you do
The other differentiator I wanted to share before I dig into our true adoption numbers is that our CRM is not a simple "what you see is what you get" solution. We designed our entire intranet platform to be customizable for each unique brand and brokerage partnering with us. That means if you want to "white-label" the DeltaNET to look and feel more like an internal tool developed by your organization rather than an out-of-the-box third-party CRM, that is possible. As just one example, one of our partners, Coldwell Banker Real Estate Group, based near the Chicago region, launched the DeltaNET as the "Galaxy" platform. Their agents don't just have the DeltaNET CRM; they have a version called the "Star CRM." This type of customization encourages agents to utilize the unique tools provided by their brokerage as they won't find that same experience elsewhere.
So what is a realistic and accurate adoption rate for new technology being implemented throughout a brokerage? In my experience, the vast majority of brokerages follow what I call the "30-30-30 rule." 30% of agents are begging for new tech and tools to use. They are usually a part of the younger crowd and are the people who should become your champions of tech, pushing how amazing it is through the rest of your organization. This is the group that should be primarily involved in the decision-making of any new tools you are looking to bring into your suite of services.
The second 30% of users are what I call the inbetweeners. They could really go either way. Any adoption/training strategy should focus on getting as many of this group on board as possible. They are the career real estate professionals who fall right in line with NAR's standards for a real estate agent. They do a healthy number of annual deals and are committed and focused on improving their careers. Your job as a leader should be focused on getting this core group of users excited about your tech tools, as they are the crowd that focused training strategies will really resonate with.
The final 30% of users are the group that you are better off leaving to their own devices. Even as I write this, it sounds harsh. Still, any professional in a leadership position within a brokerage understands that the reality of running a real estate company means you will have a group of agents that just will not use the technology or marketing services offered by your firm. This group of agents is primarily made up of those holding a real estate license more as a hobby than as their career. They may have a handful of transactions each year, but they are not really focused on growing their own business. Being an agent is a post-retirement career or a second job for many in this group, so taking time out of their day to learn a new technology tool just isn't appealing. You likely won't ever get them to engage.
That last observation is not in any way meant to be disparaging to those agents or to display a defeatist attitude. I believe in business there is no better way to convey an open and honest conversation than by trusting the data and having a dialogue about what it shows. Logical thinking often wins out on emotion in the realm of business.
Something that I often hear in my "30-30-30 rule" conversations is a question regarding the remaining 10% I haven't already discussed. What I've found is that the remaining 10% of agents typically fit into one of those three categories I mentioned above, but where they fit changes based on the culture of the brokerage. Many smaller boutique brokerages have a stronger technology adoption rate because they have technology spread within the company's DNA. It's a part of their recruiting efforts. Many legacy independent organizations have a lower adoption rate because the top producing agents in the organization have been using a strategy that has worked in their business for 30-plus years, pre-dating the modern tech trends.
So what is the healthy and realistic adoption rate for a new technology offering within a real estate brokerage? Our data shows that 60% is the magic number you want to push your team to achieve. If you can get 60% of your agents logging into your technology platform and taking advantage of the services you provide, then that's a win. Many CRM's on the market have key automations built in that can help all agents capture more business, but we believe automation should be defined as "the process of using something new." Our automated technologies, such as automated newsletters like our My Customer For Life campaign, automatically-generated social media posts, automated task lists driven by agents' clients, and more, all qualify as something new.
I'll conclude with some real data from one of our brokerage partners that has been using our technology within their organization for the last three years. This firm has more than 600 agents in its company and ranked in the top 150 brokerages within the RealTrends Top 500.
In the seven days before this article was written, 455 out of 653 agents logged into the platform and performed CRM-related actions (70% of total users). In the previous four weeks, 567 of their 653 active agent accounts logged in and interacted with the technology tools within DeltaNET 6. That is 86% of agents regularly engaging every month with their brokerage-provided CRM/lead generation system. Do you see those types of numbers within your toolset? If not, please consider reaching out to me for a consultation.
Growth is a good thing. The platform you want to be running your business on is the one that is regularly growing and evolving better to suit the market and the needs of its users. After all, real estate is a competitive game, so it's important to have the best tools to give you a leg up on the competition.
Growth isn't always easy, though. With new functionality comes new things to learn, and we all have limited time. I don't have any big secrets that will take away all the challenges out of staying up to date on a platform that is always growing, but I do have a few suggestions that I hope will make your life a little easier when it comes to running your business on one.
Just like your old high school basketball coach used to say, focus on the fundamentals. Ok, I've never had a basketball coach, but you get the idea. There are certain fundamentals that need to remain the same for a feature or function to be what it is. For example, an email campaign system is built around creating a series of emails, setting a date for those emails to go out, and then defining the customers to which those emails will be sent. Whatever else it does, it will always do those things. If it didn't, it would be something entirely different. Therefore, when learning or training on the Campaigns and Action Plans system in the DeltaNET™, make that your focus. Then, regardless of what else is added to it, you'll always be able to use it for its core function.
Also, as we add things, you'll only be learning how those things relate to that core function. You don't need to relearn the whole thing from scratch simply because you can now use it to send a text message instead of an email. You just need to learn that a single deviation in the process you were already familiar with will result in a text message being sent instead of an email. This same concept works for just about everything in the DeltaNET™.
Our Social Connector functionality would be another excellent example of this. We're constantly making improvements to that system. Trust me, I'm the one remaking the training videos each time. However, every change has just been built onto the core functionality of that system. Fundamentally, you connect this system to your social media account; it watches for some event to take place, then it creates a post on your social media page about that event. For example, if you link up your Facebook page and turn the "new listing" posts on, the system will post it to your Facebook page every time you get a new listing. Every other part of it is some extension of that — either posting to different social media platforms or settings related to how often it posts, what the post looks like, what kind of events will trigger it. As long as you keep the fundamentals in mind, every addition becomes much easier to follow.
Next, keep in mind that not every update is something that requires new training. When we update existing functionality in the DeltaNET™, we're always doing our best to add it in a way that makes the system easier to use, not harder. For example, adding a new customer to the system used to involve a "wizard" that required around eight steps to complete. We changed that to make it a single, intuitive step that was kicked off by the same Add Customer button. There was no training required there. It was as if we changed it to be what it always should have been, and, in doing so, we saw that users took to it without any new instruction whatsoever.
Another thing that I find makes it easier to work with a growing platform is staying up to date with the changes. This is especially important for new functionality. You can work through and adopt updates to the existing functionality with the concepts we've been over, but when it comes to new stuff, the best thing you can do is stay on top of it. It's easy to get a notification on some new features and file it away for later, but you don't want to let them build up on you. Usually, it only takes a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the new functionality because, as I mentioned earlier, we do our best to make it easy to use.
Nevertheless, if you let a dozen new features build up on you and then try to learn them all at once, it's a much more daunting task. The biggest problem here is that you either find yourself frustrated by all you need to learn or find yourself not using the new functionality. You certainly don't want to be left in the dark on some functionality that can simplify running your business. It might seem like more work upfront to go over each new thing as it's released, but you'll thank yourself in the long run.
In my typical fashion, I've left the most important advice for last. You need to do your best not to get frustrated. In general, technology seems to have this unique way of frustrating people like nothing else I've ever seen. I don't know if it's because the machine really does seem to have a mind of its own (I promise that it doesn't. At least not yet.), or that we know, deep down, it's generally our fault that it's not doing what we expect it to, but the fact remains. Computers drive people crazy. When the machine isn't cooperating, whether it be the DeltaNET™, your new iPhone, or your car stereo, take a moment to take a deep breath and remind yourself that the machine doesn't hate you. Even if it is a little temperamental. Also, at least at far as the DeltaNET™ is concerned, remember that we're here to help you. I'm not sure we can help you with your car stereo, though. You might need to check with the dealer on that one.
In this episode of Tech Tuesday, Harley Wolfarth demonstrates the various ways to manage your sold listings in the DeltaNET!
Selling is an art that is just beyond me. Ask me to sell an old car on Craigslist and watch me go pale; it's embarrassing. Probably one reason I'm don't sell homes for a living. However, I do know about the tools and technology involved in helping sales associates succeed in the real estate business.
There's a lot of nuance and expertise involved when it comes to listing, marketing, and ultimately selling a home. As a real estate professional, your goal is to do everything you can to sell your clients' homes with the fewest headaches along the way.
I'm not telling you anything you don't already know when I say that, as a listing agent, every closing starts with getting the listing. Fortunately, I can tell you about several tools available to you within the DeltaNET 6 platform that covers all the bases of the selling process to get that next listing and set you well on your way to getting that next closing.