Those who have been in real estate for a while know it is filled with ups and downs. There are opportunities and challenges that require adaptability, dedication, and a deep understanding of the market. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, one realtor is not only riding the roller coaster of real estate, but she is doing it with hands in the air. Meet 616 REALTY’s Jennifer LaVallee.
Getting her start
Jennifer LaVallee’s almost two decades in real estate started with an office manager position at Midwest Properties. Armed with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, she was well-prepared. Midwest Properties owner Ed Hood became her mentor, and Jennifer was a sponge. Not only did she learn everything there was about operating a business, but she soaked up all she could from the agent side of real estate as well. In 2006, Ed encouraged her to get a license, and eventually, she became a partner in the business.
Ed taught her a lot of valuable lessons along the way. “He taught me that sometimes it is okay to take a loss. It isn’t always about the money. Ed would pitch in and pay for a well-tank because the sellers couldn’t afford to; he wouldn’t let little things hold up a transaction. I have been known to sacrifice my own pay to get the deal done because, ultimately, I want to make the client happy. If they are happy, they will come back.”
Another essential soft skill that Ed taught her was the importance of personal touches. “He was notorious for handwritten letters and messages to clients. It makes all the difference.”
The bottom of the roller coaster
Jennifer started as an agent in (2007) at the worst possible time. The bottom had fallen out of the market. While it was difficult, she learned a great deal that has served her well. “I have learned you have to shift with the times in the market. It is up and down all the time. There are highs and lows. I expect them. I don’t get scared by them. I know that if I look for opportunities, they will come.”
One way to embrace the downs is to “Stay connected. Even though the market is kind of slow, I am keeping those connections. I volunteer a lot. I am very involved with my kids’ school. I am president of Athletic Booster.” She highlights the value of maintaining these connections, as people may not sell houses yearly, but when they do, they tend to reach out to someone they know, have a connection with, and who they can trust.
Learning from doing
Jennifer has not only helped her clients buy and sell properties, but she has bought and sold a lot of her own real estate as well. She still owns and rents out her first home she purchased over 20 years ago. As her own property manager, she has gained a lot of knowledge that she passes on to her clients. “We have had to totally gut and remodel places. My husband and I have done a majority of the work.” These investment properties help her to spot places with great potential and see the red flags that will likely lead to a money pit.
Why clients love her
“I’m the type of agent who will be there after the transaction. If they need anything or have any questions, I am there.” Ed also taught her that “honesty up front” is the best approach. “I will give my clients my opinion upfront. They can take what they want from it, from my expertise, my knowledge. I am not there to sell them something. I am there to help them make good decisions and find something that fits them and their needs.”
A lifelong member of the Grand Rapids/Comstock Park area community, Jennifer is not only deeply involved in real estate but also in various local organizations. She is a member of the Alpine Township Business Association and the Rental Property Owner Association.
Jennifer is also dedicated to youth in her area, including her two children Alex and Caleb. She is the current Treasurer for a local Boy Scout troop and former Cub Scout master. Additionally, she serves as the current Director of the Comstock Park Youth Wrestling Club.
A passion for First-Time Home Buyers
Jennifer is passionate about working with first-time homebuyers. She understands the excitement, concerns, and confusion that can come with this milestone. Drawing from her own experience of buying her first house at the young age of 20, she is able to guide and educate first-time buyers on what to expect in the home-buying process.
She emphasizes the importance of home inspections, ensuring that her clients understand the significance of critical structural issues versus cosmetic concerns. She encourages her clients to look for homes with good “bones” that have untapped potential for building equity. Her approach is practical and forward-thinking, aiming to help her clients make informed and savvy decisions.
Jennifer also encourages them not to be intimidated by interest rates right now. “I bought my home over 20 years ago at 7%. Homeownership is a solid investment.” She adds, “It gives you the freedom to create a space that you can do whatever you want with it. You can make it their own.”
Advice for sellers
Jennifer’s advice to sellers is, “Always consult with a realtor before you start home projects. They will come in with their buyer’s eyes to tell you what they want, this is what the buyers are going to see. Save yourself money and time. I will give you comps on pricing in the area. You don’t want to put tons of money in a house. That is why you hire us so you can get professional advice. Each market is different, each area is different.”
“Just before Covid, I started with 616 REALTY. Scot is great. He is always available. I came over with a group of coworkers and friends. We still have a bond, and we still occasionally meet. I have been able to mentor a couple of agents at 616. They are both doing great. They offer great classes, and the office staff is wonderful.”
Jennifer is a veteran, so she knows that real estate is a roller coaster of ups and downs. She is ready for anything. When it is down, she deep dives into ways to make it work for her clients like learning the ins and outs of HUD loans in 2007. And when the roller coaster is up, she puts up her hands and enjoys the ride! “I love the part of calling a client up and telling them their offer was accepted. It is such a rush, such a pleasure. Or I love calling up a seller and telling them they have a great offer. It’s fantastic.”