Veteran Realtor launches boutique firm

Shelly Sprinkman, 44, is no stranger to the local real estate market, but some might be surprised to know she graduated from Harvard with a degree in psychology.

“I did some counseling with adolescents and some sleep research,” says the West Bend native, but the experience turned out to be “too anti-social” for her personality. When her husband, Trey, a Desert Storm vet, chose to return to Madison to earn his degree, Sprinkman thought she’d pursue a Ph.D. But one day, on a whim, she signed up for a $79 real estate class and was instantly hooked.

After two decades in the business, Sprinkman and her team — including Trey and four others — recently left Restaino & Associates to open Sprinkman Real Estate. To prepare for the move, she met with other Realtors to learn from their challenges and studied successful firms, including one in Austin, Texas. “The Keller Williams model is closest to how we’re modeling our team,” she reports.

After earning her broker’s license, it took her only two weeks to find a suitable downtown office, but her attempts to purchase office furniture didn’t go as smoothly. Her credit card company twice flagged the sudden card activity as fraudulent. 

Sprinkman describes her company as a boutique brokerage house with a different approach to real estate. “Big brokerage firms have a canned website, the same marketing, and they use the same photographer. Nothing stands out,” she says, “and everyone’s working against each other. It’s very competitive.”

Her company has implemented new technologies allowing anyone on the team to promptly respond to a client’s requests. “Buyers are far more sophisticated these days, and we have to react.” With nine out of 10 customers beginning their property searches online, smaller firms, she opines, have more flexibility.

The business has its own photographer on staff; offers free, professional staging consultations; and will soon be able to provide aerial photos of properties thanks to a drone her husband just purchased on Amazon.com. Yes, a drone. “[Trey] is a recreational pilot and is testing the drone in open spaces. We are working on perfecting the technique and would plan to use it as appropriate open spaces allow,” she says.

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They’ve spent about $15,000 thus far on the company website and are close to being 100% paperless. “It’s all cutting edge,” she says. “We’re trying to keep things fresh and innovative.” 

They’ll need all that creative energy in the current real estate market, which favors sellers rather than buyers. “It’s hard to convey to [our buyers] that there’s just no inventory right now. Many of our clients are living in short-term rentals or extended stays until they can get into the homes they want.”

One of the biggest challenges, she admits, is compensation. “I’d rather have fewer people wanting to work hard and all be rewarded. The pot is only so big. To dilute that doesn’t make financial sense.” Still, she’d like to add a few more buyer-agents this year. 

As for that psychology degree, Sprinkman says it comes in handy. “Moving can be very stressful for people.” 

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