Episode 50: Nurturing Authentic Connections with Connie & Bran

 Episode 50: Nurturing Authentic Connections with Connie & Bran

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Hello and welcome to The Thoughtful Realtor podcast. This is a podcast where we share insights, stories, and conversations about all things real estate, running a real estate team here in California, and how we find our way as leaders and business partners.

I'm Connie Chung, one of the founders and partners of Willowmar Real Estate. And for today's episode, I'm bringing in one of our OG Willowmar teammates, Brandea Bunnag. Brandea, who also goes lovingly by Bran, has been with us for almost three years and has been recognized as both a National Association of Realtors 30 under 30 and a California Association of Realtors Rising Star.

And those are just a couple accolades in her real estate career and in her life. And today, we're talking about something so essential to Bran, something she's so intentional about, and that's making connections with clients and the people in her life. So Bran, welcome to the podcast.


Hi, thank you.


We've got so much to talk about, and I'm really looking forward to hearing what you've got to say about connecting and building relationships.

Even thinking about how we connected, it's a fun story. I think I was still on maternity leave, and I actually had my “Out of the Office” email still. And, I really tried to unplug, but something happened where I just happened to check my emails, and I saw your email and just by reading it, we didn't know each other, but I was hooked.

And, can you share more about what that was like, even just sending out a cold email? And I know you did to quite a number of realtors, too.


Every time you talk about this, Connie, I want to go back to my email and be reminded of what I wrote. I don't remember it being that compelling. It's really serendipitous. First of all, when I was thinking about transitioning into real estate, I was very lucky to have thought that Compass was the brokerage that I needed to join.

It was very technology-focused, very innovative, on the forefront, and very prominent in San Francisco. And so, because I thought Compass was the way to go, I didn't even investigate other brokerages. But, I started stalking–on social media–Compass agents, and I just figured that, you know, if they have a good marketing presence, then they are very likely good at marketing their business, and have a good, flourishing business. 

So, whether or not that was misguided, I did a lot of stalking, reached out to a handful of agents who not only had a really great brand presence on social media, but after some additional investigation, felt like they were in alignment with my values and how I thought I wanted to show up as a real estate agent should I have pursued that route.

And you were one of them! And it was just you in a Compass–I think you were in a Compass t-shirt at a large Compass event, and I just spotted you in that photo. And there were probably 30 or 40 agents in that photo, and for some reason, I was drawn to you. 

I started going down a rabbit hole, listened to The Thoughtful Realtor podcast, went onto your website and yeah, just felt like “These people are cool.”

And this was Kenny and Cliff, too. And then, also realizing that we all went to Cal, I really just felt drawn to the team. At the time, I was in the discovery phase, and so when I reached out to you, it was really just like: “I just want to learn. I just want to hear about what it means to be a real estate agent, what your day to day looks like, how it looks to grow a business.”

I didn't have any intentions of joining the team, and it was really just to have a coffee chat about what your life is like. And so, I think the email was, “Hey, I discovered you, and I'm very inspired by what you're doing and just wanted to get to know you better.”

So one thing led to another. I think I had to get through Cliff first. And then once I got through Cliff, I got through Kenny and then once I got through Kenny, I finally interviewed with you. But I was like, “I'm not even interviewing. I don't know why I'm talking to so many people, but this is great.” It was very helpful and insightful. I'll take it.


I love it, I totally forgot about that pathway, but I had all good vibes and just really great intuition of this connection that we had over email and then later on briefly on the phone before we had a more thorough conversation. But yeah, I knew that Kenny and Cliff were gonna give the green light and that I was like, “Yes, let's figure out how to make it work with Brandea.”

And it was fun because we're definitely not the size we were today. And I remember, we threw a lot at your way of like, “Hey, Bran, can you try this out?” Or “what do you think of this?” I had to put a ton of emails and you were so great about being able to hold and channel through all of the different communication and work as a realtor, especially for someone so new.

Can you tell folks a little bit about your journey into real estate, especially being on the newer end? Although, I mean, you're three years in, which in many ways is like 30 years into real estate. But yeah, tell folks how, how you came about and what it's been like for you thus far.


Oh, wow. Where to begin? So, I think–so that I don't need to go into too much detail–it really comes down to: at my most previous role, I was a product manager in tech and just having this feeling of wanting to do more. And, I didn't really know what that meant: “more.” But it was kind of like, “I just want to do more in the direction that I'm supposed to go in.”

And figuring out the direction that I'm supposed to go in was the key. I was really fulfilled in my product management role. I was working for a very mission-driven company. I think it was just that I was too far away from the customer, and that's the feeling that I got at the time. There's only so much that I can do as an employee at a company that– building a product for a customer that: who knows who they are and where they live? 

And the most exciting part of that job was getting on the phone with the customers and really understanding–and it was a credit card debt management app–so really understanding “Where does your debt come from, blah, blah, blah.” Trying to dig into the details so that I could create a solution for them.

That was the thread that I was pulling on: “Okay, it seems like this is what I want to do, but I don't want to be a customer service person.” And so, I kind of just went back to my roots of: where have I found the most fulfillment and where does my time really flow? When do I get into that flow state? 

And it's when I'm working directly with someone, that I'm helping to really elevate them in whatever, solve whatever problems they have, or to get them to that next level or whatever goals they're trying to achieve. So, I started to really just open my mind to opportunities where I would have the chance to do that.

And then, I just was reminded of the fact that real estate has been a part of my family for some time.My half-sister is a top producing realtor for Sotheby's in the South Bay of Los Angeles. And that kind of stems from my father, who owned a hotel and has just been the most amazing entrepreneur.

With those two things combined of: “Oh, real estate is kind of innate, and in the family.” And also just wanting to really focus on a client-facing role that allows me to use my skill sets to help to transform and elevate someone else's life. That's what drew me into real estate.

And I think that all of the roles that I've had–beyond product management, I've had three or four roles prior to that–have really helped to shape the path that I've had as a realtor in the last three years. And I'm very grateful for those roles, and while it took me some time to get to where I am, I think that it was the right time, ultimately.

And I am very happy and grateful that I've come to this moment because I really am so fulfilled. It's just the right fit. And, I know that that's something that's hard to find for a lot of people, it’s like something that's just so in alignment with who you are and what your mission is in life. I'm so, so grateful that however long it took that I made it.


It didn't take very long. Oh, I feel like you did so much in a short amount of time in your different career paths, and the different kinds of experiences you brought all led to where you are today. And to land in real estate under 30, you know, is huge and to have built your track record to where you are today at 30–30 or 31 now? You're 30. Yeah. Oh my gosh.

What can you tell us about the importance of making a connection with clients? You talk a lot about how at your previous job, really missing the customer-facing and, now as a realtor, where it's all client-facing, what's your thought process to that when you are meeting a new client and trying to build a connection, where you might not know them as well, or know them in a working capacity?


Yeah. I don't know how I would do it without that. I will say, at the very beginning of this career, so maybe the first six months, I did struggle with that because there was so much to learn. And I felt very insecure about being so new to the business, and clients are entrusting me with one, two-million-dollar deals. And so I wasn't able to show up authentically and create that connection as a result. 

I had to really put my guard down in order for that to be facilitated. So, it wasn't until probably a year in that I really started to do that, and the theme of last year was authenticity for me, and that's what really helped me to start to become myself. 

Like, okay, connection is really important to me. I need to understand everything that I can about my clients. Home buying or home selling–it's interconnected with so many different aspects of your life. And that's what I love about real estate, is that there's so many facets to it. Because of that, you can't just think about, “Okay, the client wants to buy or sell their house, and, you know, that's what I'm going to do for them.”

You have to really understand: why is it that they want to buy or sell their house? What is the goal that they're trying to achieve in their lives? Not just financially, what is the number that they're trying to hit, but why is this the scenario that you have right now?

And in order to understand that, you really need to ask questions and build that connection and develop that empathy. I really feel like if I'm truly going to do a good job for my clients, then I really need to understand them. And if I need to understand them, then I need to connect with them.

I need to let my guard down and I need to disarm them too. And so, I think that the best way to do that is–to develop that trust–is to make that real, authentic, genuine connection. So super, super important, and I think has really been a huge part of whatever success I've had.


Oh, I love hearing that: asking a ton of questions. And how do you kind of disarm yourself to share more about yourself with clients in order to have that two-way kind of connection with them?


Mmm, it's a great question. It's definitely something that I struggle with. I don't like talking about myself. It's not something I'm accustomed to. So, that's something that I did have to learn: it’s like divulging a little bit more about my personal life. You know, a lot of times it'll just be like asking them that first question and then they say something about themselves and it's like, “Oh, you know, I also have a cat” or “I also have a husband” or “I've also traveled to that place.” And then from there, really starting to find that common ground, that common thread, and things that you might be able to talk more about. 

We work with such a diverse group of clients, and they all have interesting backgrounds and lives. And, I think that's the most wonderful part about the clients that we work with is getting to know them and what led them to this moment. 

It's amazing. It's an amazing achievement to be able to buy or sell or move, especially in San Francisco where the prices are so high. It's so interesting to me. And yeah, I think putting my guard down means understanding that I need to divulge a little bit about myself too, and figuring out where that might be interesting for them to hear about.


I ask the question in hopes you would enlighten me because I can relate. I don't like talking about myself and so much in a client relationship, you want to make it all about the client. But, you bring up such a good point: that in order for there to be that strong trust and connection, they want to learn about you too, and in the process to really trust and have that connection with you. 

And I love that you shared how it's tough for you. Because, for those who don't know Bran publicly on social media, you're so radiant and seemingly very extroverted and always have really eloquent and articulate things to say. But would you say that you identify more as an introvert?


Yeah. And every personality test that I've taken, it's like “You just need to accept the fact that you're an introvert.” I am an introvert. I can be very, very shy. But you know, I also know that if being more extroverted is what's required in order to help someone or to achieve my own goals, then I have no problem doing that. And again, I love connection, and so sometimes it requires you stepping out of your skin and being a little bit more extroverted, so it doesn't feel inauthentic to me in any way.


And I think a lot of folks can relate too because, I think, sometimes people have the misconception that to have all these connections with people, you have to be a very outgoing, extroverted person. And I think, in fact, actually as an introvert, it very much resonates and works more because it's these one-on-one connections you're building with people more so than being the life of the party, for example. It's more personal connections.


Hmm. Yeah.


What's an experience you've had where you struggled at first making a connection with the client? And, how did you work through that?


Hmm. Great question. I think it's especially difficult when I'm working with a very analytical type, which is odd because I am also inherently very analytical. I majored in Math and I was a data analyst. And so, I think when it comes to the numbers, I can connect with the client. 

But I think, when it comes to making that connection and, on an emotional level; which, buying a house–yes, it does involve numbers, but it is also very emotional. And sometimes, you just need to trust your intuition when you walk into a home, if it's the right house for you. 

There's a particular client that I will not name, but this comes up a lot, and I think it's more of like an archetype where they are just so focused on the numbers, and all they really want me for is to tell them the numbers and tell them “How much is this house worth” and “How much should I bid,” for example. Or, “How much do you think my home is worth and how much should I list it for?”

Actually, I had this the other day, where someone called me. It was a cold call. He called me from a listing that we have, and he was like, “Oh, I'm interested in buying a home. Tell me which neighborhoods have the best price per square foot. And, how much is it going to be for me to buy a two-bedroom, one-bath home in such-and-such a neighborhood?”

And the first thing I did, because I know that, I need to create this connection: “I need you to understand how I work in order for us to be successful.” The first thing I did was, “First of all, I'm happy to answer your questions, but I didn't get your name. What's your name?”


So simple.


And he was like, “Oh, I'm so sorry. My name is blah.” And then, you just start asking questions, more personal questions. “Why is it that you're looking for a home?” “Oh, because my daughter lives nearby.” “Oh, what does your daughter do? How old is she? Are you concerned then about security? If that's the case, then these neighborhoods might not be right for you.”

And then that just leads into opportunities to ask more questions. You could go either way, but you're then in control of the conversation. And then, I just started to get to know a little bit more about him. And I think that that helped him to put his guard down and start to be a little bit more emotional with me and talk about the qualitative aspects of buying a home, instead of just the numbers. 

Because you're not buying a box with a dollar sign on it. You're buying something that has certain features that work with certain aspects of your life. Hopefully, that answered your question.


I love that. Well, one, because in client-agent relationships, sometimes it's so easy to let the client or the other party be the driver, but I love that you kind of rewound it and took control of trying to build a relationship instead of just answering questions and satisfying or getting him to hear what he wanted to hear.

It's like, no, you took a step back and just built a foundation for a productive call and, hopefully, a newfound connection. So, I love that because it could be really intimidating to do sometimes with these cold calls. It's like, “Just give me all the information right now.” 

You need to have all the answers and it's like, “No, what's your name?” I love it.


Mmm, yeah. Yeah, for me, it's more of the analytical type that I struggle with. And they also tend to be older men I struggle with a little bit, because they expect something from you. They expect a product or a service from you, and it's like, “No, I actually need to create a connection with you in order for us to be successful together.”


Yeah, I love that boundary and framework for them too, because it's very much a two-way street, and that does ultimately lead to a very successful outcome, which is their goal as well.


Yes, yes, it's all about them.


Can you tell us a story or a time where your connection with the client really saved the day? Maybe it was delivering really hard news or troubleshooting and being able to think creatively.


Yeah, there's one very recent transaction that took three times longer than any of us expected it to. And it was just one of those transactions that there's one thing after another after another is just going wrong. And this is where, after a lot of trial and tribulation, I have learned that the initial consult–and just anticipating things going wrong, maybe being a pessimist in some ways and really setting the expectation for your client upfront as often as possible–is so, so helpful.

Because then, you start to establish that trust, and I almost felt like, for this particular situation, there's a bar, and every time, I had to fill up that bar with some gas. And then, every time something happened, that bar would shorten, and then I'd have to build it up again because I knew it was going to shorten again.

So, it was just constantly figuring out ways, okay, knowing that there might be some things that I will need their trust for, I need to make sure that their expectations are set right. So, for this particular scenario, the first thing was, as soon as we were about to list on market, rates shot up.

The price that you originally thought you're going to sell it for, and we're going to have to list it even 100,000 dollars less than that. So, that initial consultation of helping them understand, “This is the list price that I expect you'll be able to sell in this market. But, I want you to know that if we're not planning to list your property for another two months, then that could change. And we're going to have to revisit the comps at the time.” 

So, things like that where you just constantly anticipate–so it was the price, and then as soon as we got onto the market, one of the agents who was showing the property forgot to close the fridge, so there was a leak, and then it damaged all of the floors. So, we were going back and forth about whether to call up insurance or not–just like, freak accident–and then, I think we almost ratified, but then something fell through at the last minute. And then, on closing day, Fidelity got hacked.

So, it was just like, of all days, it was the day that we were supposed to close, so we had to delay it another week. And it was another day, and then it was another week before they actually got their funds disbursed, and so, I can't imagine how that would have gone if they didn't have utmost trust in me. It would have been really, really rough.

Just one thing after another after another. I'm sure that this is the scenario where people decide to cancel. There were many times where I was like, “Oh, they're going to want to cancel this listing with me because it's so tumultuous.” 

It was so tumultuous. It was such a rollercoaster ride, but every time I got on the phone with them, I just came with positivity and reminders of, “I have you, whatever happens, I am here with you, and I'm going to give you as much of my expertise and guidance as I possibly can.” 

And that just: “We trust whatever you want to do.”

The offer that we ended up ratifying came in a hundred thousand less than the lowered asking price. And even then, it was like, “Well, do you want to counter?” “No, I think we trust you. What do you think we should do?” 

And so, it just makes things so much, so much easier when you have that connection, when you have that trust built. And in the other direction, it can be very hard if you don't.


What was your internal monologue, knowing you had their trust? But I know you, Bran, because you care so much. A lot of these things are outside of your control, but it's still so stressful. What was your inner monologue saying during all the hiccups? Even knowing you still had a strong connection and trust, I'm sure it doesn't take away from the stress in many ways.


Every time something happened: “You've got to be kidding me. You've got to be kidding me, but I know that this is solvable. It's not the end of the world. This is solvable. While I haven't seen this before, all strung in a row like this, things like this have happened before in other transactions.”

And so, pulling from that confidence of: even if it is an unprecedented problem, pulling from that confidence of “I can figure this out.” And just believing in that and trying to approach it with more positivity. But yeah, definitely, my initial reaction is like, “Why me?”


Any tips for how to deal with someone where they might be resistant to trusting you or connecting with you?


Hmm. Yes, I would just try to understand why and call it as it is. I think that we are fortunate to have as many clients as we do. And so, if that client is unable to trust you, then it's like, “Well, I have other clients that trust me.” But also, understanding that you're maybe not the agent for everyone.

And so, I think it's like, trying to understand: is it a me thing? Is it a you thing? Or is it an us thing? And, is it something that we can figure out? Or, is it time that we go our separate ways? And with the authentic intent of them being successful. And if you being successful means not working with me, I am happy for us to go our separate ways so that you can find an agent, and I'm happy to recommend an agent that might be a better fit for you.

So yeah, I think just calling it out and saying, “Hey, look, in order for us to be successful, I think it's very important that we have trust for each other. And, I'm not sensing that from this relationship, and I'm not really quite sure why. But it could just be me; I want to understand if that's something that you feel as well. And if so, if there's a particular reason that we might be able to resolve?” 

And just listening and seeing if there's a path forward or not.


Definitely. That's huge, especially, I feel like when you call it out, the client almost…it wakes them up a little bit because sometimes, they might not even be aware of it on their end. Or it garners a lot more respect, and I love that being able to call it out and also being able to not be tied to the outcome–where you have to be involved and saying, “Hey, there is an out, you know. Yeah, this has to work for both of us, and if it currently as is–it's not working for me.” 

So we can see the other alternatives. I love that you shared that because I think so many agents feel like, “No, I’ve got to make it work somehow.” And sometimes it's just not worth it for our own mental sanity.


Yeah, and that's something I've learned over time is: you want to build. When you imagine your business 10 years from now, you want to build a client tribe that you love to work with. And that's going to be what's most fulfilling and energizing for you. And so, that starts with every single client that you decide to work with.

And then, you know, if it's a successful transaction, then they'll refer to you clients that are probably similar to them. So, thinking about what you want, what you envision for your business 10 years from now, I think that could be a helpful way to expand that view, and know that it's going to be okay if you decide to let that one go.


Totally. I remember the first time I let a client go, and it felt like the biggest weight was lifted off my shoulders. Okay, as we wrap up, this is a fun one: what are three tips that you can share that will just help a client feel comfortable around you that can be applied to any agent?


Oh, okay. So, tips for agents about how to make a client comfortable. Number one, asking questions, really showing that you're invested in them and want to know more. 

Number two is being vulnerable, and so that does involve sharing stuff about yourself and about your personal life. And sometimes things that aren't all the best accolades that you've received. And sometimes that means being self deprecating, if that's your style. 

So, listening and being vulnerable. And three, I think, is just being there. As simple as it sounds, it's just showing up. More tactically is: don't ever have more than a 24-hour period of having someone wait for you to respond.

Or if, maybe something is going on in their lives, which is causing them to be buying or selling. And, maybe it's that, “Oh, they have to pause their search because their partner lost their job. Then it's saying, “Totally understand. Please let me know if there's anything that I can do for you. I have had clients who told me that their partners have lost a job, and my question is, “Oh, would you be open to sharing what it is that they're looking for? Because I might have clients or friends that are hiring.”

So it's just showing up, being there for them in any way, regardless of whether it's related to real estate or not.


Yeah. Oh, I love that. Such great tips to apply to, yeah, being an agent, but also just being a human being and connecting with people all around us, especially in this digital age. 

Well, that brings us to the end of this episode. Thank you so much, Bran. I always love being in conversation with you and I always learn something from you as well too.


Oh, thank you so much. Such an honor to be on this podcast. You'll have to let me know how it goes because I'm not listening to it.


So for our listeners, if you have any questions you'd like Bran to answer about connections and clients, let us know. You can find Bran on social at @BranBunnag, which is B-R-A-N B-U-N-N-A-G on Instagram, and also our team @thoughtfulrealtor. But for Bran, since she's not going to listen to her own episode, leave us a review and let us know how much you loved Bran because I know she will very much appreciate it and it would mean the world to us.

Thank you so much, Bran, for joining us, and thank you dear listeners for listening and until next time, bye!



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