In 2007, Mark Stark’s world did not look bright. The CEO of Prudential Americana Holdings Nevada had $22.5 million in debt, and the sputtering real estate market made it impossible for him to pay it all back. After a testy bankruptcy and more than a few shot nerves, the real estate pro came out battered but not defeated.
Fast-forward five years and the enthusiastic, straight-talking Stark is a buyer again, having acquired—with the help of Prudential corporate—local offices of Windermere, Century 21 Money World and even Arizona Prudential offices. Sales topped $2 billion in Nevada and Arizona in 2011, and today, his operation has 1,900 agents, most of whom are local. This year promises even larger opportunities for Stark and his backers.
For the Chicago native who started selling real estate (and dabbled in stand-up comedy) while attending UNLV in the 1980s, today’s market calls for some creativity. With low MLS (multiple listing service) inventory, Stark teaches his agents to employ some good old-fashioned legwork. His agents aren’t afraid to knock on doors to ask for business and approach homeowners not even thinking of selling their home, sometimes with a buyer in hand. “People are impressed when you come to them with a buyer,” he says. “You’re building a rapport. They’ll remember you.”
Approaches like this are vintage Stark, says Nyda Jones-Church, founder of Prudential California and a former partner in some of his ventures since 1998. “When you have low inventory, you have to create your own,” she says. “And, yes, that can include old techniques like door knocking.”
Stark expects slim MLS pickings for the next few years, and agents not willing to wear out some shoes won’t be in the business long. But for those open to pounding the pavement, Stark’s door is open. Jones-Church sees Stark’s enterprise possibly climbing to 7,000 agents someday.
With the eye on the prize of becoming a major regional player, Stark has his sights on acquisitions in Las Vegas and neighboring markets. But he is not afraid to turn down opportunities to purchase offices if the mindset of the company isn’t a good fit.
“He is such a careful analyst of his business decisions now,” Jones-Church says. “When I first met him, he was a new CEO and he wasn’t like that. … The market was flying high, and you could make quick decisions. But he got burned a couple of times, and he learned.”