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Thought Leadership
June 20, 2024

Julian Culton: building a real estate brand

The most pivotal moment in Julian Culton’s real estate career was also his absolute worst.

It was early days, in just his third or fourth transaction. Everything seemed to go fine, or so Julian thought. But after the closing, he received a letter from his supposedly happy client.

“It was a ‘Top 10’ list of all the ways I sucked at my job,” Julian said. It was incredibly hurtful. So bad, in fact, that even a co-worker, a veteran agent, was stunned at the level of malice in the letter. Julian was left shaken and doubtful.

“That was a sea change moment,” he said, recalling the letter. “I realized I need to check in and get continuous feedback from each client at each stage of the transaction. And never assume.”

It seems to have paid off.

Today, Julian is the broker/owner of 501 Realty in Durham, NC. And with 18 spring markets under his belt, Julian still checks in with his clients with one caveat: he doesn’t second guess himself. “I have the confidence,” he said. “I communicate better, but I know the business.”

It’s that business know-how that led Julian to launching 501 Realty. And this strong sense of self combined with a strong sense of service is his guiding principle in finding the right agents to join him.

“My folks have a sense of ownership of the brand, and the way it works for them personally. So they don’t have to go out and create their own thing.”


Speaking of a sense of self, the 501 Realty brand mark stands out. It’s modern and has good roadside recognition in the community. But Julian wonders if that’s enough. He is walking that fine line between building his brokerage brand and helping his agents build their own business as individuals.

“Most owners aren’t interested in promoting the agent brand. I feel like I have a better understanding of what agents want from their company,” he said. “From a visual perspective, how does the logo belong to the agent and the company?”

This sense of belonging is a critical factor in how Julian and his agents build their client list. And in a world of multi-channel marketing, it’s the relationships that matter most.

“Our fancy logo is great,” he said, “And that stuff helps. But when the rubber meets the road, it’s about a handshake and a personal relationship.”

These days, if you are a client of Julian’s, chances are you’ll meet up for a beer. Or go to lunch. And he’ll want to meet your friends. “I figure out who my best clients are. I have lunch with them, I visit them, we hang out. Those are the folks who give me energy, and I want to meet their friends.”

“I figure out who my best clients are. I have lunch with them, I visit them, we hang out. Those are the folks who give me energy, and I want to meet their friends.”

That’s not to say Julian and the agency aren’t using technology to drive their business. While many agents look at new innovations with trepidation and fear, Julian feels the best approach is to embrace it. “We aren’t going to fight change,” he promised. “We are going to adopt it and ride it. We won’t be put out of business by technology.”

In fact, 501 Realty uses some cutting edge technology tools. Several agents use Adwerx for targeted digital advertising. And they’ve invested in Matterport, the 3D imaging platform that creates user-driven walkthroughs. Julian’s reasoning was simple: put the buyer in the driver’s seat.

“Videos and photos aren’t buyer controlled,” he pointed out. “With Matterport, they are able to walk through the house how they want to. They can look up and look down and control their own showing.”

That kind of power makes it clear to Julian that Matterport will be around for a while. But just creating a 3D walkthrough of a house isn’t going to sell it. He wants to make sure the property is at its very best before that ever happens. And to do that, he goes old school and brings in a stager.

“Staging is one of the most important marketing pieces we spend money on,” he shared. “But we don’t stage it ourselves. We’ll share the expense [with the seller] and get it right before anybody walks in the house. There isn’t empirical data that it works, but we can see that the house sells for more money and faster when it’s staged.”

With investments in staging, Matterport and digital advertising, it’s clear Julian is cognizant of that broker/agent balance. For him, finding and keeping good agents is simply good business. And while most agents make it a practice to write thank you notes to their clients, Julian writes thank you notes to his agents, reminding them how great they are and how glad he is that they are at his brokerage. “Gratefulness is a 501 hallmark, and we practice and preach it internally with each other and with our clients. In order to be happy, we have to be grateful first.”

It’s a Top 10 way Julian is a true expert at his job.

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