Building urban community: Living Room Realtors

Building urban community: Living Room Realtors

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BY LINDA BAKER

0313 FOB GamePlan LivingRoomRealtors
Jenelle Isaacson oversees Living Room Realtors an expanding real estate agency in Portland.
// Photo by Sierra Breshears

On a recent Tuesday morning, the Southeast Portland office of Living Room Realtors feels more like a Pearl District art gallery than, well, a real estate company. About 30 people are milling about a warehouse-style space featuring an open-cubicle environment, exposed brick walls and a collage series made of recycled packaging labels resembling brightly colored flowers.

The agency’s energetic vibe is more than skin deep, says Living Room’s owner, Jenelle Isaacson. “We are a stylish, optimistic, forward-looking company,” she says. Dressed in an elegant black pantsuit and boasting a mane of red hair, 36-year-old Isaacson presides over a fast-growing agency that almost tripled its sales volume last year.

The 5-year-old company is also turning real estate conventions on their head, eschewing traditional sales strategies that focus on high-performing agents in favor of triple-bottom-line business practices. Creative marketing revolves around people living and working in Portland’s signature neighborhoods.

At Living Room, there are no flyers featuring agents’ mugshots, Isaacson says. Nor do realtors participate in the Million Dollar Club, an industry tradition advertising how much money agents make. “No other profession does that,” says Isaacson. “It’s embarrassing.” Instead, Living Room’s culture, marketing and growth strategies revolve around a clear mission: “to develop vibrant communities.”

A longtime realtor and single mother of two young children, Isaacson founded Living Room in part because she wanted a more family-friendly work environment. She also wanted to create an agency that made sustainability a priority. At Living Room, all agents are Energy Trust-certified, biking is a preferred mode of transportation, and Isaacson is working to get the company certified as a B Corp, signifying social and environmentally responsible practices.

Carving out a visible neighborhood presence is the “third leg” of the Living Room stool, Isaacson says. Even as many agencies go virtual, Isaacson sought a tangible way to deepen her referral network. “I thought if we had a brick-and-mortar storefront, people would identify us as the neighborhood experts. I wanted that community presence.”

In 2011 Living Room’s sales volume was about $59 million; in 2012 that number jumped to about $167 million. There are 45 agents working for the company, up from 21 in 2012. That growth trajectory, of course, is due in part to the improving housing market, especially in the urban core neighborhoods serviced by Living Room. But the company’s collaborative environment also has an impact on the bottom line, Isaacson says. Working in real estate can be a lonely enterprise, with long hours and little sense of community. But at Living Room there are no private offices, agents share information freely, and weekly meetings are devoted to figuring out how agents can “best service clients as a team.”