As a residential real estate broker, Craig Zager is clearly a master of his craft, a top-producing go-between in the exchange of millions of dollars worth of Lake Tahoe area homes annually.
For the fifth year in a row, Zager, of Coldwell Banker Select in Zephyr Cove, has achieved the status of No. 1 producing sales agent in the state of Nevada for the real estate agency.
Also, according to the Northern Nevada Regional Multi-Listing-Service, in the same time frame he has been the highest producing agent from Glenbrook to Stateline on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. Over the last five years, Zager has sold more than $181 million of Lake Tahoe real estate.
Zager, along with many of Nevada’s roughly 25,000 other licensed agents, understand it is their ability to manage long days, the constant attention to even the most minutest of details, people skills and all the rest, that are starting points for long-term business success.
He said it’s a job not for everybody, when one considers the research, the paperwork, communicating with clients, other brokers and a retinue of craftspeople and fixers.
The big bucks didn’t roll in at first for the top producer, who estimates that he has sold 600 units worth $600 million in his career.
Zager began his real estate career in 1989 when Caesars Tahoe Showroom in Stateline eliminated his maître d position. “A friend thought I’d be good at real estate and paid for me to get my license,” said Zager. He was motivated to do well because he had six hungry mouths to feed, a prospect that fueled his ambition during his dues-paying early years.
Zager recalled his first sale but not the price — a starter condo. He attributes his sales success to professionalism and attention to customers’ needs. He said people coming back to him and sending referrals on a regular basis have rewarded him.
“I didn’t get into (specializing in) lakefront property until about 10 years later,” said Zager who honed his skills with each transaction and built a following in the niche market.
“Now it’s my primary focus,” said the seasoned agent who gets the job done with just one assistant and no presence on social media platforms, although he thinks it’s a smart way to go for up-and-coming agents.
“I’m an old school agent,” said Zager, who does own a smartphone but said he gets the majority of business via personal relationships, which are vital to not only obtaining a listing, but potentially opening the door to the next.
In a tough or down market, people tend to be drawn to top producers, said Zager. “It used to be said that 20 percent of the agents did 80 percent of the business. But now 10 percent do 90 percent.”
In Zager’s case, he has generated more revenue than 99 percent of his fellow agents in the Silver State.
He described the high-end clientele as purchasing homes in the $3 million to $10 million range. In an effort to provide his clients with the absolute best, Zager purchased a Formula 31SS day cruiser, with cabin, to offer a unique way to view lakefront listings. Dubbed a “Cocktail Cruiser,” he said it is the perfect way to take in Tahoe’s waterfront homes in style, loosen the prospects up and possibly clinch the sale.
It’s a way, he said, to keep his and the luxury division of the company fresh with past and present clients and prospects.
Those with waterfront properties tend to hold onto their homes much longer, said Zager, adding that there’s not much to choose from at present for those wanting shoreline real estate or choice view properties.
While spring is the unofficial seasonal kickoff for the home-sales industry, for Zager it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the busiest time of the year. Not everyone likes the cold, said Zager, of the summer-only lake residents. “For some reason, fall has tended to be the busiest, before the holidays and the beginning of ski season” at mountain resorts, said Zager about the bulk of his business, which comes primarily from California.
“But there’s really no rhyme or reason with the luxury buyers. They pull the trigger when they find the right lakefront property,” said Zager, who said upper echelon agents develop a strong sense of who is serious and who’s a looky-loo.
“I don’t do a lot of pre-qualifying,” said Zager of those interested in multi-million-dollar listings. As commissioned matchmakers to home buyers and sellers, “very seasoned agents are very discerning” and basically front end the process, said Zager.
A serious prospect and his or her Realtor will first want to meet Zager at the office rather than the house.
Not all transactions at the lake are cash on the barrelhead.
“It’s about half and half,” said Zager of the mix of sales that are cash only and those involving a lender. “I just closed a $5.8 million” deal and the new owner got a loan.
“Smart people are borrowing,” said Zager, adding 10 percent of the clients are from overseas.
A resident of Zephyr Cove, Zager said he has a beautiful view property. Like many Tahoe residents he was drawn to the area because of his love for outdoor sports — in his case cycling, boating and skiing.
Soon after high school, he bought a one-way ticket from his hometown of Woodland Hills, Calif. to Lake Tahoe.
Of his four children, one daughter is thinking about getting into the business. Zager said he hopes to stay active for another 5-10 years.