GRANGER, IN–Looking good is an essential component of Gregg Rafalski's success as a real-estate agent, the 35-year-old RE/MAX employee asserted Monday.

Gregg Rafalski, who understands the importance of a good first impression.

"As a real-estate agent, my appearance is crucial," Rafalski said. "On any given day, I'm interacting with a large number of people: clients, property owners, business associates. It's of the utmost importance that I convey professionalism to my customers and colleagues at all times."

To this end, Rafalski said he always wears a freshly pressed shirt, a "smart-looking" tie, well-polished shoes, and a minimal amount of carefully chosen jewelry, usually a watch and one ring. He also makes sure that his fingernails are clean and neatly trimmed.

"Buying a home is one of the most important decisions a person can make–many are sinking their entire life savings into it," Rafalski said. "That's why I need to project an air of confidence to my clients. Rumpled khaki pants and an untucked polo shirt are simply not going to cut it when you're looking to say, 'I am fully in control of this situation.'"

Though he graduated from high school with only a C average, Rafalski "aced" his subsequent 54-hour real-estate pre-licensing course at Michiana College in nearby South Bend. After completing the course, Rafalski passed the Indiana Real Estate Commission examination and gained his licensure in 1984. He has spent the past 17 years in commercial and residential real-estate, including the past six at RE/MAX.

Rafalski said he learned the importance of looking good early in his career.

"I attended quite a few [Indiana Commercial Board of Realtors] conferences during those first few years on the job, and I was lucky enough to meet some tremendous salespeople to serve as my role models," Rafalski said. "Because of the way they looked and carried themselves, these guys could walk into a room and, within two seconds, all eyes would be squarely on them. They could sell a drink of water to a fish."

It was at these early conferences that Rafalski learned "the true meaning of sales."

"Many people mistakenly think the success of a salesman is determined by your knowledge of the product," Rafalski said. "Sure, you need to know how old this house is or what the property taxes are on that one, but that's what briefcases are for. It's not the house, it's you that you're really selling to a customer."

Added Rafalski: "Speaking of briefcases, this one is imported Italian leather."

To look his best, Rafalski keeps abreast of current fashions. Two Fridays a month, he leaves work early and drives down to Glenbrook Square Mall in Fort Wayne, nearly 70 miles away.

"The Marshall Field's at University Park doesn't always carry the Hugo Boss shirts I like," Rafalski said. "So, every so often, I like to take a little trip down to Fort Wayne. I know that sounds crazy, but, believe me, when a potential home buyer is on the fence, the right shirt can turn an 'I'll pass' into an 'I'll take it.'"

Unlike his less successful colleagues, Rafalski doesn't waste his office hours keeping track of property values or brushing up on zoning changes. Instead, he browses online for hard-to-find items from his favorite brand names, including Kenneth Cole, Calvin Klein, and Ralph Lauren.

"If you dress cheap, you are cheap–it's that simple," Rafalski said. "Same thing goes for houses: Cheap houses, cheap commissions. That's just not my mindset."

In addition to his wardrobe, Rafalski's choice of transportation plays an important role in the impression he makes. He drives a red 2000 Chrysler Sebring convertible, which sends a strong message when he arrives for a house showing.

"What would a potential home buyer think if I pulled up in a dinky little Honda?" Rafalski asked. "Would that instill confidence in my abilities as an agent? I don't think so."

Rafalski also puts care into the appearance of his office at RE/MAX, which he keeps meticulously clean and decorated with silver curios and framed art prints.

"When someone walks into my office and sees the Waterford vase and Nicoletti leather chair, they know I know what I'm doing," Rafalski said. "Why would you entrust your search for a home to an agent who doesn't even care what his own office looks like?"

Rafalski's attention to detail has not gone unnoticed among clients.

"Gregg always looks so nice," said Adrienne Bauer, whom Rafalski is helping find a larger location for her Wicks 'N' Wax store. "I wish my husband would wear some of the newer tie styles, but he won't. He always says, 'I'm a pediatrician, not Regis Philbin.'"

Rafalski's coworkers are equally impressed.

"The clients really seem to like Gregg," said Granger RE/MAX senior real-estate broker Jonathan Quirk. "He's not necessarily our best agent when it comes to knowing his way around the neighborhood, but he still gets a heck of a lot of referrals and repeat customers. I think it might be his hair or something. He's got real nice hair."