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Once a week for a period of nine weeks, Realtors participating in the City of South Bend’s Certified Realtors Program absorb the ins and outs of the city’s neighborhoods, economy, schools, culture and history.
The classes are offered through the SELL South Bend Initiative and were developed by Sue Solmos, the City’s residential marketing specialist, to raise awareness of the unique features of the city.
Initially, Solmos approached a group of Realtors, who embraced the idea as a much-needed tool in selling South Bend to prospective homebuyers.
Each respondent contributed one key idea worth further exploration. Those same Realtors then participated in the first series of classes – and all of them learned something new.
“Even Realtors who have been practicing a long time were very surprised at some of the things they learned,” Solmos says.
SELL South Bend’s Realtor certification program is among the nation’s first initiatives by a municipality to actively improve the marketing of its existing neighborhoods and housing stock. The program, and Solmos’ position, address several housing-related objectives identified in City Plan, South Bend’s 20-year comprehensive plan, which was adopted in 2006 after strong community participation. They include:
• Increase the marketability of South Bend’s neighborhoods.
• Promote homeownership within city limits.
• Strive for livable, mixed-income neighborhoods that collectively reflect the diversity of income levels of the region.
A history of influence and grandeur
For example, Realtor Jim Dunfee didn’t know that South Bend was a world leader in industry and influence during the heyday of industrial giants. Although the presence of Studebaker and Oliver is well-known local history, for instance, fewer people are aware that other prominent manufacturing companies, such as Singer and Birdsell, were also headquartered here.
“I must have not have been listening back in third grade when we went over that lesson,” he quips. “To learn about that time in our history – to see the grandeur of the lives they lived – made it all real.”
Moreover, learning the city’s history makes it more meaningful to drive around town with prospective homeowners and show them the history he is describing.
The SELL South Bend program provides Realtors with material that allows them to talk about the city in a positive light, as well as presenting them with a broad view of the available housing options.
“As a result of the initiative, we now have 48 Realtors who are ambassadors for the city,” Solmos says. “They leave the class very excited.”
The class became so popular, in fact, that the series was developed for the general public. Called the Lunch & Learn series, it covers content similar to that in the SELL South Bend course, but in less detail. For the Realtors, each class is in a different location, typically one that highlights the day’s topic.
A series of receptions at new developments have helped to promote the series. Solmos has highlighted SELL South Bend at such diverse venues as the groundbreaking for East Bank Townhomes (see related story on downtown housing options), and two citywide open houses. Plans are even in the works to air the series on WNIT.
A way-cool city
If there’s one thing Dunfee is hoping class participants will take away with them, it’s this:
“We’re a much cooler city than even we realize.”
South Bend residents take many things for granted because they’re around them every day. But, visitors from out of town often are struck by South Bend’s many assets.
“I was just reading that we were named a Bicycle Friendly Community,” Dunfee says. “That’s way cool. This is a vibrant community to live in.”
Click here to view times and topics for the Lunch & Learn series.