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Monica Discusses Serving a Diverse Community + Where the Market Goes Now

{Video Time: 28 minutes}

Welcome to the
Miami Community Newspapers Show!

My name is Brittnie Bassant. I’m President and CEO of ChamberSOUTH, and this is Live with Brittnie. And today I have a very special guest with me, we have Monica Betancourt. She is consistently rated as a top Miami Realtor and is the President of The Monica Betancourt Group. Monica, thank you so much for joining us today.

Good morning, thanks for having me.

Getting to Know Mónica

I’m so excited. Monica and I were chatting before the show and I’m so excited for you guys to learn all about her and hear her story. So, let’s get right into it. We’re going to start. If you can just tell me a little bit about your professional and personal journey. And I always tell my guests, please throw in a fun fact because I love learning about fun facts.

So, fun fact, I didn’t start being a Miami Realtor until I was in my mid-40s.

Really?

And I guess that’s pretty unusual. Most people start earlier, but I was raising a family and working with my husband and his business. And so, when he sold the company and retired I decided this is definitely what I wanted to do. I’m a people person. I like helping people, so it all started then.

So walk me through that, like how do we get to the point where you’re like in your 40s and just pivoting into a completely different role now.

Completely different role because I was more on the accounting side, but helping people and being with people and, you know, seeing different things every day — that’s kind of what I love. And so being in the accounting side of things, I was good at it, which I don’t normally tell people because then they want you to be the treasurer of organizations, but…

Be careful about that.

…I’m not good at it anymore people!!

Be careful about that. You’ll be a victim of your own success…

I know….

…and you will be called to be treasurer.

But it wasn’t what I enjoyed, you know. I really liked the people part of it. I always enjoyed, all my life really, helping people in whatever it was, so when you’re a kid and you help somebody with their homework or if they scraped their knee or whatever it was that they needed. People used to call me Mother Hen, to tease me when I was in high school, but it was just a natural thing to me. So if somebody needs a recommendation, if somebody needs a favor, if somebody is stuck trying to get something done and I know how to help them, then you know that’s just naturally what I like to do.

And I love real estate and I really grew to love Miami in the time that I have lived here, since 1971, so I just thought that this is something I would really enjoy. And I was right. I do. I enjoy it very much.

Tell me a little about your personal background. I know that you’re not from here – that you moved here when you were 14, very much like me, but then I made her stop. I was like don’t tell me anything else because I want to hear it all for the first time with you guys. So, tell me a little bit about your personal journey.

So, I was born in Bogota, Colombia, as were my parents and all my siblings, except the youngest one; she was born here. My dad worked for Exxon, at the time it was known as Esso. We lived in different countries as expatriates, you know when you work for one of those multinational corporations, they relocate you often. And so we lived in several countries in South and Central America which was a great experience actually, and as you look back you realize that now you have friends all over the world, so it was really cool.

And when I was 14, Exxon relocated us here to Miami, and it was a wonderful thing. Now looking back, honestly when we got here, I did not like it. Miami was a different place then and we were very happy. We had moved here from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. So…

Okay, wow.

…we speak Portuguese, which is another advantage of moving around.

Yeah.

You know, you learn cultures, you learn languages. It’s great.

And you did all of that before you were 14.

Yes.

Wow. What a formative experience.

It is a very formative experience.

Serving the Diverse International Miami Community

When you look back it’s amazing because you understand different cultures, you understand different languages. Even different countries that speak the same language, like in South America, every country except Brazil speaks Spanish as their main language. But they’re very different in their nuances of the language, in their cultural norms, and it’s great to understand all that as a Realtor. This has been a great advantage to me as a Miami Realtor, with people coming from different countries and even different parts of our country.

Well it helps you make that personal connection and that’s so, so important when you’re trying to help someone find, realize their dreams. That’s a big goal for someone, purchasing and owning a home, that’s a big dream, it’s a big life goal and so, that’s not something that you take lightly.

Well, you know, buying a home and selling a home is really most people’s biggest financial transaction.

Oh, of course. Absolutely.

And so, it’s not just a financial transaction. It’s very emotional. Buying and selling a residential property is an emotional transaction. And if you can understand all the different parts that go into that, whether they’re buying and moving somewhere else within our city, or selling and moving somewhere else within our city, or selling and leaving the city, which is a trauma in itself — and I personally went through that several times as we’ve mentioned –you understand that. And there are different things that it helps to understand the emotions and the family dynamics and the cultural differences of where they came from or where they’re going, and to be able to help people with that. I think this is really good and I enjoy being able to help.

That’s hugely important because I don’t think a lot of people talk about the emotional side or the “heart side” of real estate.

It’s the biggest part.

Becoming a Miami Realtor

Okay, so you moved here when you were 14.

I did.

And what did you want to do? Like what did you want to be when you were younger, and how has that kind of shaped what you do today? And we talked a little bit about accounting.

You know what, I really don’t think I knew what I wanted to be when I was younger, right. So, we moved here where everything was really different. We, went to a different school, I was getting adjusted. I liked my schoolmates, I had a good time, but I never really thought of oh, what do I want to do when I graduate and go to college and whatever. So, when I went to college, I was naturally good with numbers and so the counselor suggested that I study accounting. Nobody really told me what it entailed and what it would be like, so yeah I was good at it and I was fine, but it wasn’t my passion. Then, when I met my husband, he was starting a new business, so that was more interesting. I started the accounting department for him, but it was for a new business and our own business, and so that was the…

What was the business?

He was an engineer for jet engines.

Wow.

He started in Philadelphia and then moved here to work with Eastern Airlines. Then he left Eastern to start his own company. He would buy parts from used jet engines — I think he was one of the first people to do that — and have them refurbished at FAA-approved facilities and then resell them, which is what he used to do for Eastern internally. So it was a pretty exciting time. It was a great business.

What an interesting, interesting field.

It was a cool business, definitely.

Wow. Very cool.

And eventually we bought our own house and we bought a couple of investment properties. And that’s kind of how I started really realizing that real estate was a thing, that it was a business, and started in the back of my mind thinking about that. But again, we were raising a family and promoting our own business and working at that, so it wasn’t until we sold that business and the kids were a little older that I stopped being a full-time volunteer at the schools, and I thought, you know, this is really what I want to do. I started working as a Miami Realtor when the market turned, so I started in the worst part of real estate.

Really?

I did, I did. I got my license in 2007, but I really started working in 2008.

Oh, my goodness. The worst time.

It was!

Good grief. We’re going to talk about that in a minute, but what are you passionate about right now, like what are you passionate about today? Because you said that when you were younger you didn’t really have something that you were so passionate about. I think now you do, we touched on it a little bit earlier, but what are you passionate about?

Right now I think my biggest passion – well, I’m always passionate about helping people. To that end, I try to help with raising funds for the Baptist Health Network. I’m on the Philanthropic Council of Baptist Health and I enjoy talking about Baptist and getting people to understand that their donations are helping in so many ways, but also I’m very passionate about letting people know how much Miami has to offer. We live in an incredible city and, through my work as a Miami Realtor, but also through my life and my experiences here, I have to tell you that I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else right now. We have everything. We have cultural, we have medical — top medical — we have sports, we have a diverse community, we have the weather, I mean we have everything. So, when people ask “Why live in Miami?” they have to give me a time limit of when to stop.

Yeah, and that’s saying a lot coming from you because you’ve lived in so many different places, but I completely agree. You know, we moved here from Trinidad and I absolutely adore Miami and it has so much to offer and I think there are times that we really need to be so grateful because we really do live in paradise. It’s incredible how amazing, like you said, we have everything, everything to offer here. Everything’s available.

It’s a little bit of thing, like you know people say we live where you vacation, and we do! We live here every day and sometimes we get used to it and we forget that if you go somewhere else, oh I’m not seeing the ocean every day, oh wait it’s freezing and there’s no greenery and palm trees, and diversity, and restaurants and it’s amazing.

It’s so funny…

And we have an incredible education system.

Miami’s top-notch on so many different levels. It’s funny because a few years ago I tried to do this thing, I don’t have the time for it anymore, but a few years ago every weekend I would pretend to be a tourist in Miami. And so I’m like okay, if a friend was coming to visit or you were only here for a day, what would you do or what would you recommend that they do? And so I started doing those things and I would visit some of the things that I think we take for granted or we don’t appreciate.

Exactly.

And trying to see it through that lens, so being a tourist in your own city, even for a day, is a lot of fun because you’ll discover some hidden gems that are right here in your backyard, that you’re not taking advantage of.

Absolutely! Or that even if we go every day, like Venetian Pool. My kids used to go to Venetian Pool when they were growing up and I tell my friends and people that come with kids or adults, go to Venetian Pool! It’s incredible. But we just take it for granted. It’s an incredible place in Coral Gables, and things like that, that we just think they’re like, “oh yeah, so we have this,” but they’re amazing. I agree with you. Being a tourist in your own city is something that everybody should do at least once.

I feel like we’re doing a commercial for like The Greater…

I know!

Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, but it’s true. It is 100% true. And anyone that knows me knows that I’m a big Everglades girl, so I’m always out in the Everglades in the beautiful gorgeous ecosystem, that is highly underrated, and when I post pictures of me exploring in the Everglades and doing things in the Everglades people are always like, where are you? Where is that? Like they don’t think that I am 20 minutes from where you live, and because it’s so incredible, this area, this city, this county is so diverse, and we really need to take advantage of it. We’re so off topic!

Being passionate about what you’re doing, like you’re passionate about the environment and animals. Being passionate about it is contagious.

It’s part of it. Yes, it’s part of it. Okay, so let’s talk now…

Back on topic.

Providing a Personal, VIP Experience for All

So, Monica is a Miami Realtor and the president of The Monica Betancourt Group, which is a real estate team at EWM.

Yes. We’re a part of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices EWM Realty.

Perfect, so tell me, I mean real estate, and like you said you started right when it was not probably the best time to start. I cannot believe that’s when you started. But now you’ve been doing it for what, over 20 years? Almost?

Almost, yeah.

Almost 20 years.

Right.

So, tell me a little bit about it. Tell me about what you guys do, who do you serve, what makes you different. I feel like everyone, we talked about it, everyone’s a Realtor right.

There are a lot of Realtors, right.

COVID created just an army of Realtors.

That it did. That it did.

But, you come with years upon years of experience.

Right.

A heart for people, I think, 100%. So, tell me a little bit about The Monica Betancourt Group.

So, we’re a small group. It’s not my intention to ever have a gigantic group. We work under the brokerage Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices EWM Realty. So, EWM was a luxury broker by itself and then it became part of Berkshire Hathaway, which gave us a bigger platform to be able to do our thing. But our small team is really very dedicated to customer service. So, what we try to do is, like I said, understand the people that we’re helping; where they’re coming from, their needs, their culture. And if it’s important to their transition, what they may find important or interesting about the move and if they’re selling again, where are they going, how can we help. What do you need when you sell the house, to make your life, the life of your family, easier. So, we are very hands-on with our clients and we get that feedback from them — which is very gratifying. I’m really glad that people feel that we care because we do. I know everybody says they care and everything, but truly there’s very little that our clients would need within the process of buying and selling that we don’t consider part of our job as their Miami Realtors, and part of our genuine desire to help people build their perfect Miami life.

Responsibility.

Right. It’s a stressful time, like I said, it’s a big financial transaction. But it’s also a very special time, and so we try to make it smooth and seamless and happy so that they can move forward with whatever their next step in life is. And if there’s anything we can do to help them if they’re relocating out of Miami, we try connect them where they’re going. And people that are relocating into Miami as well, I very often am able to connect them with people before they arrive. We have a couple relocating from out of the country right now, and tomorrow I’ll be with them and it’s very important to know how they live where they live now, to understand the type of transition that they’re going to experience when they come here. We tour a lot of distinct Miami neighborhoods before they make a decision, if that’s what they want, to find what areas they like before we even get to the specifics of homes or condos that they’re going to look at to purchase. And we discuss the details of their life — do they have pets, do they have children, do they want urban, do they want suburbia? All those things are important. So, we are very personally involved with our clients.

I think it’s really important to have that hands-on experience and I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t realize — you’re saying you’re connecting them to the Miami community when they arrive if they’re relocating from out of town, that’s incredible. That’s so huge. I think that’s amazing that you’re doing that.

It’s really important. They need to know where to cut their hair, where to…

Yeah.

…a few choices for dentists. I mean, you can go on Yelp, but…

The restaurant scene…

Yeah.

…the whole nine. Absolutely.

Where’s the grocery store?!

Exactly. I completely agree. Those are things that I just never think of, you know, but someone’s thinking of them and the Miami Realtors at The Monica Betancourt Group are thinking of them, so definitely reach out! So, you’re part of Berkshire Hathaway EWM and so, when you hear that name, it definitely has a status and a prestige to it. It’s luxury homes. But is that the only thing that you deal in, really?

No. So actually, I would tell you the bulk of our business is luxury Miami real estate, but we do everything and we have people that are buying their first home and they have a different price point and we will help them and find them what they need, wherever it may be.

So you’re a Realtor for everyone.

For everyone. Yeah. You know what, it’s about helping people.

Right.

That’s really our passion, and so there are no exclusions. There’s no price point that is too low. You know, I hate even using that term. I don’t like it when people use that term. It’s like what are you qualified for and we’ll help you.

Absolutely. Okay, good.

That’s really our philosophy.

That’s good. I wanted to make sure that we clarified that…

Absolutely.

…because I do know that people think EWM, they think Berkshire Hathaway, they think oh my gosh.

It is, right. It is mostly a luxury brokerage. But we do everything. And we do rentals for people that need it and we do rentals for people’s kids when they come out of college and you know, again our philosophy at The Monica Betancourt Group is helping people with their real estate needs, whatever that may be.

Surveying the Miami Real Estate Market into 2023

Do you want to talk a little bit about some real estate trends? I think people would probably be interested to know. I know the past couple of years have been very interesting in real estate.

Yes, they have.

So, it used to be that — I feel like up until a few months ago — a house would go on the market and it would be under contract in a day…

Right.

…if not sooner.

Right.

Are we still seeing that happen…

With several offers

With several offers above asking, I mean it was a wild time.

It was a wild time; 2021 was a wild time.

Is it still a wild time?

It’s a little bit calmer.

Okay.

We still have a lot of buyers here in Miami-Dade County, Southeast Florida really. So prices in the luxury market have come down a little bit, but they’re still higher than they were last year and still higher than they were first quarter of 2021. So, our market is doing well. The market is stabilizing. It’s not such a seller’s market as it was because there’s a little bit more inventory. But that’s a good thing, right. So people can find homes and get homes but we still — as an example — there was a home that we listed in Pinecrest and it went under contract almost immediately, and then those people had to back out of the contract. They were relocating from another country and it wasn’t going to work out, so we put it back on the market and within one day we had three more offers. So there’s still that, but not 30 offers. But there are still buyers out there, it just takes a little longer.

People that started in real estate, let’s say in 2020 to 2021, this was their first real selling year… We laugh about this all the time, like one of our team members said to me recently, “Oh, but you know, I’ve had this house on the market for eight days and I don’t have an offer.” And we were laughing, and they were laughing too and we said okay… this is a little warped when you started in 2020/2021 right. The house is going to sell. And it sold in three weeks. That’s still…

That’s normal.

…really fast. No, not normal — it’s really fast!

What’s the average before? Taking out 2020 and 2021.

Houses could be easily on the market between two and six months.

Okay.

Easily. And, and some of the super high end price points, could take a year to sell before.

Right.

It just depended on where it was and how well it was priced and what kind of a buyer really wanted that particular type of house. So now it’s taking a month. I mean it’s still…

It’s so incredible.

Incredible.

And prices are great. I mean, if you look at the prices, you’ll realize that historically they’re still trending upwards. And Miami’s a great place also for people that want to buy investment properties.

Yes, absolutely.

You know, they want to have residual income and rental income for future years, and we still have very good opportunities for that.

Good to know. Okay, so there’s still time to get in on this. There’s still time to buy. It’s a good time to buy.

It is a good time to buy. People are a little bit worried about the interest rates right now, for example, that the interest rates are so high. Well, you know historically if you look over the last 50 years, they’re really not that high. When I bought our first house with my husband in 1986 or so, the interest rate was 14% and nobody really thought about it. That’s just what it was. That’s what you paid. We’re at 7% now and it may go to 9%. But here’s the deal: you buy your house now because the price of your house is still going to go up. If you hold your house for five, seven years, your price is going to go up. So, if the interest rate goes down in a year, you refinance. If they stay the same, you’re good.

I feel like we’ve been spoiled.

If they go up, you bought at a good rate.

Right. I think that the past 10 years have really shown a very different market than the past 50 years, so a lot of people are used to things that are maybe not the norm, and they have to become unused to those things.

If you just think about it, you’re right. Interest rates are what they are so you buy the house that you want. It’s time. You’re ready to make the purchase and so you just work with what happens in the future. If they go down you refinance.

Yes. You’re not, not stuck.

You’re not stuck with that right. It’s not a forever type of thing.

Being a South Miami Community Ambassador

Monica and I were chatting a little bit before about something else I want to cover. So, you think of Realtors, and you think of the benches with Realtor ads. Monica has leveraged innovation and technology in a unique way to take a new approach to that classic platform. Going back to the theme of community and helping people and bringing them together, she has a website called ParkBench.com/SouthMiami, and I don’t really know much about it because I told her to stop telling me anything else, so by all means let’s find out all about ParkBench!

So, ParkBench is a company that developed a platform for community websites that are sponsored and enriched by one local business person in each community. So, for example, what we do at The Monica Betancourt Group is we sponsor our personal Miami communities. I sponsor South Miami and South Coral Gables, one of my teammates sponsors Pinecrest, another sponsors North Coral Gables, and another sponsors Miami Lakes. These are the communities that each of us lives, plays, and works in.

So, let’s just use South Miami as an example. The website is ParkBench.com/SouthMiami. It’s all about getting people within Southeast Florida and even outside of Southeast Florida to learn about the community. Obviously, they’re going to know that I’m a Miami Realtor and I’m sponsoring this, but it isn’t about me or my real estate work. It’s about the community. I will highlight as many of the businesses as possible with personal video interviews and tour. I’ll put a spotlight on community activities and outreach, whatever is happening within South Miami, I’m going to highlight it.

So, I’ll start for example by doing interviews with the local business owners, the various businesses and services that are provided for the residents of South Miami. The Freebee ride share is a great one, you know, a lot of people don’t even know that Freebee operates in their Miami community!

Freebee is incredible.

Freebee IS incredible!

I love telling people about Freebee and you’re right, a lot of people don’t know that there’s this amazing service.

There are a lot of people that don’t know that. And so, it’s great to do these interviews and put them out there. And when people search for something to do in South Miami, this ParkBench.com/SouthMiami website will come up and showcase all the ways to enjoy South Miami and make the most of living there, as I do! Instead of one stationary bench on a corner somewhere with an ad on it, this website is filled with information about the community that you may be considering relocating to or just are curious about and want to know what’s available, what restaurants can I go to, what shops are there, what healthcare, events, parks – everything! We’re just launching at the end of 2022, and we’re going to ramp up fast and celebrate as many locally owned businesses and South Miami community highlights as we can.

I love that. What an incredible resource.

It’s a great thing.

What a fun resource too, you know? If you’re looking for things to do in your Miami community.

It is fun! And we get to know the people in our community because we go and speak to them and find out different things that are happening that maybe are brand new or we weren’t aware of.

If there’s a business owner in that community that wants to connect, can they just reach out to you and say hey, I want to be featured on ParkBench. I want to connect with you and I want to promote my business, can they do that?

They can and we would love it.

Absolutely. Awesome, okay great!

They can log on and there’s actually a place where they can say, sign me up for an interview, or they can always call me, my number is everywhere online. If you look up Monica Betancourt Realtor, it’ll come up. I would love to feature people and then once we feature them in an interview, they get their own page on the website for free if they want to post events that they’re having or coupons or information, whatever they want to post and there is no cost to them. The point is to make it easy for small businesses especially to promote themselves. So, it doesn’t cost them any money. It doesn’t take a million years for them to do. They don’t have to be tech savvy. They just need to tell us what they want to put on there and it’ll be done.

That’s amazing.

It’s really cool!

What an incredible resource for our Miami community. I hope that our community, and that our members, and our businesses take advantage of that because it’s amazing.

What’s the Best Advice You Ever Received?

Okay, so we’re getting ready to wrap up. We’ve had such a great conversation. I’ve completely lost track of time! So, the last question I always ask is, what is the best advice that you’ve ever received what advice would you like to leave our audience with today?

It’s funny because I’ve thought about this over the years, under different circumstances. My dad, after he retired from Exxon, became a lobbyist in Washington DC for The Colombia Flower Council, but the California growers and the Ecuadorian growers and the Mexican growers, they were all trying to do the same thing. I remember one time he came home and he was saying that his bosses were mad because he had promoted something that didn’t benefit just the Colombian flower growers, it benefited all the flower growers. And he tried to tell them, don’t you understand the more people that buy flowers the better we all are, right. The better off we all are. They don’t have to buy just Colombian flowers.

Right.

And so, that kind of stuck in my mind. Also, our broker gave us a book to read that’s about giving and it’s always been my philosophy. As I said, I like to help people, but you give to give, right. Without the expectation of anything coming back. So, I think the best advice I got is just give and be generous with your knowledge and your time and your resources because it makes you feel good and it’s great. And eventually, it helps the whole community whether that is your office, your family, your friend circle, whatever. It’s just about giving.

Giving back.

Right.

I absolutely 100% agree. To piggyback off of what your dad said, a rising tide lifts all boats.

There you go!

And we really need to remember that. There really should not be an ulterior motive. It should be because it’s the right thing to do.

Correct.

So, by all means give, give back! Be an active participant in your community.

Always give back, you know, be grateful.

Yeah.

I think being grateful is really important.

We’re coming into that season, we’re coming into the season of giving and of gratitude — and now I’m like plugging everything — because we talk about Miami, we talk about what an amazing place this is and all of the amazing organizations. We’ve got Give Miami Day coming up in November.

Give Miami Day.

We want to make sure that we’re supporting our Miami community because as we said, a rising tide lifts all boats. Give back, make sure that you’re making that difference. Make sure that you’re making that impact.

None of us got here by ourselves.

And that’s my philosophy actually, Monica.

None of us got here by ourselves.

That is 100% my philosophy. I feel like whenever I say this people are going yo to start rolling their eyes because I say it so much, but my philosophy is no one accomplishes anything alone.

Nope.

And so, you need to make sure that you’re always continuing to give back and pay it forward, so that’s great. I’ve loved this conversation. It’s been so much fun!

Thanks, me too!

So, thank you so much for joining us today.

I’m really grateful for you and ChamberSOUTH.

Thank you, of course, aww.

I’ve got to tell you, and I’m not just plugging ChamberSOUTH, it’s been amazing. I love all the activities and the networking and the people. So, that’s another way that you guys give back is just by helping everybody in the community and the businesses to succeed.

Yeah.

I appreciate that.

We love our members and we love our community and we love our businesses, and we love you, so thank you so much Monica for joining us today!

Thanks!

And that’s going to wrap up our show today with Miami Community Newspapers. If you’re interested in being featured on our show, please reach out to us at ChamberSOUTH.com. You can call us at the office: 305-661-1621 or you can email us at [email protected] Our shows are filmed at 10am every Friday.

We’ll see you then!