Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, November 5, 2021

From eating pizza to selling houses

Realtor Panebianco has a system for achieving even the most mundane tasks

Realtor Bill Panebianco says he has a system for everything. And by “everything,” he means EVERTHING – underlined, boldfaced and italicized.

Panebianco, 57, could pull an example from his work as vice president of sales and marketing for Pratt Home Builders – the homebuilding arm of Pratt and Associates. He could also use an example from the other hat he wears at work – principal broker for Pratt Homes.

Instead, Panebianco describes this defining aspect of his personality by explaining how he tackles a pizza.

“I take the first slice, place it on my plate and pour ranch dressing on it. I then grab a fork and a knife and cut off the tip, which I eat. After that, I cut the piece in half from end to end and then cut up each half, eating bite by bite. This way, I don’t burn my mouth.

“I also pour ranch dressing on the second slice, but I pick it up and eat it like everyone else does because by then, it’s cooled down enough to touch.”

Panebianco is seated in a decoratively warm conference room at Pratt Home Builders on Dayton Boulevard. Inscribed on the wall beside him is the five-step buyer-centric system the company uses when it builds a home. Seeing the steps laid out in short, pointed phrases gives him comfort.

As the principal broker for Pratt Homes, Panebianco doesn’t sell houses, but he does teach his sales team how to work with buyers. This involves training them to use his systems.

Panebianco draws an example from work rather than his dinner table.

“When a buyer tells us what they want, we try to go five whys deep. We keep asking questions until we get to the heart of why they want what they want,” he explains. “A lot of people come in here and say, ‘I need a three-bedroom home.’ But they might really need a two-bedroom home with an office.”

Although Panebianco coaches the members of his sales team to follow specific systems, he says his leadership is less process-driven than his other responsibilities because he’s dealing with people rather than things.

“People often confuse management with leadership. You can’t manage people; you manage things,” he explains. “You can manage processes, but you have to lead your people to follow those processes.”

Just like Panebianco has helped to shape the members of his sales team, he says he’s a product of those who taught him.

Chief among his mentors was the late Bill Herring, a national sales trainer Panebianco says influenced builders who are giants in the industry today.

Although Herring charged thousands of dollars a day to speak, he and Panebianco lived near each other in Florida and became friends, which made Panebianco eligible for free advice every other Saturday at 8 a.m. over coffee at Starbucks.

“He wouldn’t even let me buy his coffee every time,” Panebianco laughs. “We took turns paying.”

During these casual get-togethers, Panebianco says Herring taught him the importance of developing and following systems.

“Learning from such a great man was an incredible thing.”

Panebianco continues to turn to people he respects for feedback on his work. For instance, after drawing up a new sales system for Pratt Homes, he asked Myers Barnes, a national new home sales consultant, for his thoughts.

Barnes looked over the proposal and gave Panebianco unfiltered advice.

“He said, ‘This might be the best sales system I’ve ever seen, but you’ll be a pioneer, and pioneers usually get shot in the back,’” Panebianco recalls. “He then told me to wait a couple of years before I tried to bring it out.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, hastened the deployment of Panebianco’s new system, which involved meeting homebuyers through Zoom and other virtual processes in an attempt to save customers and the members of his sales team time.

“Time is the most valuable thing you have,” Panebianco muses. “There are 24 hours in each day for you to do what you have to do. Respecting a person’s time rather than wasting it can be a powerful thing.”

Panebianco says Pratt Home Builders has put most of its new sales system in place and notes it will be fully implemented by Jan. 1.

“It’s going to be a different way of doing business,” he adds.

Panebianco tends to go down unconventional paths in his work. After joining Pratt Home Builders in 2015, for example, he began attending Women’s Council of Realtors – Chattanooga events on behalf of the company.

Pratt had signed on as a strategic partner of the Women’s Council, and Panebianco was serving as the face – as well as the friendly smile – of the company.

Two years later, the Women’s Council invited Panebianco to become a Realtor member, which he did. (Men are welcome to join the Women’s Council.)

In October, Women’s Council named Panebianco its Realtor Member of the Year during its 2021 Member and Strategic Partner Appreciation Event, making him the first male Realtor the local council has honored with the award.

Panebianco says he was “floored” when Women’s Council President Connie Powell-Brewer called his name.

“Even though we’re called the Women’s Council, it takes both women and men to elevate the professionalism of our industry,” Powell-Brewer says. “Bill’s attendance at our events and monthly luncheons is superior. He’s also stepped up and applied for a position on our board.

“His support, commitment and willingness to serve upholds our mission statement and core values and made him an easy choice for Realtor Member of the Year.”

“The Women’s Council is the best group of Realtors in Chattanooga,” Panebianco gushes. “I have found camaraderie, made great friends and done a lot of business because of the connections I made through the council.”

Panebianco cut his teeth in sales and management in the automotive business before becoming a Realtor in 2007. After only a few weeks, a national homebuilder recruited him to manage its sales team. He remembers telling them he hadn’t sold a home yet.

“They said, ‘But you led people for 18 years, and that’s what we need,’” Panebianco recalls.

At the onset of the housing crash, Panebianco asked to be relegated to sales to avoid being laid off. When his boss asked him to pick a community, he selected one in which the company was doing poorly.

“She looked at me like I had three arms,” Panebianco laughs. “But the person who was there was not doing the right things, and I knew I could sell a lot of houses.”

Panebianco was right. Not only did he sell a house during his first day on the job, but he also went on to become the company’s salesperson of the year.

Panebianco was repeating his success with a regional homebuilder in 2015 when Pratt reached out to him.

“The company was growing exponentially and needed someone with some regional and national experience,” Panebianco recalls.

At first, Panebianco was skeptical about leaving Florida to live in Chattanooga, but after speaking with owner Win Pratt, he told his wife he believed he had a new boss.

His wife was skeptical about moving, too, but after several visits to Chattanooga, they fell in love with the city, Panebianco says, barring one deficiency.

“My wife misses the ocean, so if there’s any way someone can move it closer, we’d be all for that.”

Knowing it’s not possible to change the geology of the continental U.S., Panebianco and his wife plan to return to Florida after they retire.

As one might expect, Panebianco has a system for when and how this will happen.

“I need to work nine more years for our financial plan to work the way we want it to. When we retire, we’ll probably move back to Florida, buy a small place and sell real estate, just to keep busy. I don’t think I could ever not work.”

As Panebianco looks ahead, he sees himself and his wife learning to play golf and hitting the greens together. “It’s going to be our thing,” he smiles.

That chapter is several pages away, however, which gives Panebianco ample time to devise and deploy new systems for his sales team at Pratt to use.

fHe could also come up with a new way to eat pizza but doubts that will happen.

“It’s the perfect system,” he insists. “Why would I ever change it?”