“Change is Inevitable. Growth is Optional.” John C. Maxwell
This is my story. It is a story of perseverance, triumph, change, and growth and is the journey that has been the catalyst to my metamorphosis. This journey began in 2001 when I chose a career path in real estate and it is my hope my story inspires those of you who are on the same career path.
Many people think that selling real estate is an easy profession. Once upon a time, I was one of them. How hard can it be to close a sale and reap the reward of a 5k, 10k or 20k commission check? I asked myself this question as I pondered a career in real estate back in the year 2000. The career trajectory seemed pretty straightforward. I would take the class required to get my license, pass a state exam, and then help buyers and sellers achieve their real estate goals. I let myself dream a little to escape the harsh reality of being a single mother of four struggling to make ends meet. Real estate seemed to be a perfect match for my interests, personality, and goals. I loved architecture , had an affinity for design, was able to handle multiple complex projects in a dynamic environment complements of my being a single mother, and I liked the idea of being able to rise up the career ladder at my own pace and not have my upward mobility determined by someone else.
At this point, I had no college degree. I had a high school equivalency diploma , 6 college credits and a post-secondary certificate in phlebotomy that landed me a dead end position at a local hospital. The money I was earning as a clerical laboratory technician was nowhere near enough to support my family. Additionally, my position had me “chained” which created an imbalance in my personal life as my children’s schedule conflicted with my work schedule. Scanning through the help wanted ads one day, I came across an ad for newly licensed real estate agents .A lightbulb went off inside my head, a career in real estate may be the answer to earning good money while keeping my dignity. I thought of all the possibilities this path could lead to. I could eventually open a real estate brokerage, make big bucks rehabbing and flipping properties, or selling multi-million dollar luxury real estate. I could also go in the direction of a career in housing counseling, non-profit affordable housing or work in the corporate relocation industry.
All this potential for only the cost of a real estate licensing class of $600.00 , passing an exam , and coming up with the start-up MLS and licensing fees. It seemed like a small price to pay for such a big potential on return. I envisioned myself driving a beautiful white S- Class Mercedes Benz to a luxury home and despite having no previous sales experience other than a brief stint as a Mary Kay and Party Lite direct sales consultant, I enrolled in the principles and practices course at the local community college. I completed the course, passed my exam, and started my tumultuous career in real estate. Going into it, I knew there would be the periodic booms and busts typical of the cyclical real estate markets but never could I have imagined the economic devastation preceding the financial crises but like all other disasters one endures, there is a lesson to be learned and from the ashes we rise again stronger, wiser, and resilient.
My Humble Beginnings
The brokerage I started out at was a small independent firm. There was no formal training offered other than watching and listening to the seasoned sales people and asking many questions. I was expected to do floor time three or four shifts per week for three hours at a time. Floor time consisted of answering incoming calls which new agents do in an attempt to capture hot leads calling in on the firms listings. Many of the calls back then before ShowAssist technology was mainstream were from cobroke realtors interested in showing the firms listings. Occasionally , I would get a call from someone interested in previewing a rental or seeking information about a home listed for sale.
My first priority was to get buy-in from the staff I inherited when I was appointed to lead this organization . I did this by creating a vision of where I was taking the business and asked for their input so they had ownership in the new vision. I also had to earn their trust which I accomplished simply by having my words aligned with my actions (i.e. walking the walk and not just talking the talk).
I then got to work on process improvement initiatives (i.e .creating the operational framework) as this is the foundation of any effective business. As the designated broker and operations manager, I was also responsible for managing the firm’s public image and overseeing the development of the marketing materials. I updated the marketing and promotional materials and created new business banners, business cards, and “for sale” signs. This was no easy feat, as I had to establish relationships with the same vendors who had not been paid for their previous work. I eventually obtained the trust of every one of them and negotiated win-win contractual terms.
Recruiting and Developing Talent is Key to a Successful Brokerage
It was now time to implement a recruiting strategy. After attending a week long training , I was fired up and ready to build my new sales team. My cat Jezebel, who was very pregnant when I left for the training, had given birth during my absence. I returned home to find all my shoes removed from my bedroom closet and in their place were the cutest little kittens I had ever seen. I interpreted this as a good sign, my recruiting strategy would be successful and it was, 35 agents eventually came aboard . Continuous recruiting, I quickly learned, is on one of the keys to success in the real estate brokerage business. Developing your teams prospecting and sales skills is equally as important. I set up a training system and provided one on one coaching to each of my recruits and was always available to offer help and answer any question.
The Reality of Building a Business
My earlier vision of driving a luxury vehicle to listings would not be realized at this time, the commission income paid overheard , franchise and referral fees in addition to various loans and expenses. In fact, nearly every dime went back into the business. There were times when I had to live off credit cards and tap into the equity on my home. This, as I learned, is the reality of building a business from start-up.
I fell a little short off the pinnacle of real estate success which is measured by closing one million dollars in gross closed income but I did build a successful brokerage that was in operations for five years until the financial crisis dissolved my business partnership. The financial crises was tough,I lost everything I had worked tirelessly for. My home went into foreclosure, I filed bankruptcy. I hit rock bottom. In retrospect, this loss was the catalyst to my transformation. I became more determined than ever to rise from the ashes and reinvent myself.As I was enduring the devastation of a business failure, I thought my world had ended. What I didn’t see during that “dark” period was the silver lining of failing.