I once completely quit selling real estate and vowed never to do it again. I hated selling real estate. I wanted it out of my life forever. I felt like the real estate business kicked the shit out of me and took my life away. And I know there are a lot of people out there that feel that way. Maybe you feel trapped by the hours you have to put in, by how you always have to answer your phone even late at night. Maybe it’s the last-minute showings you have to do for your buyers because you can’t risk them missing out on a new listing. Maybe you are always a step away from being broke.
Here are bits and pieces of my story, the hard times I fell on, how I got burned out, divorced, almost went bankrupt, and pretty much gave up on everything.
My real estate business was in full-swing in 2008, which was my second year of earning over $100,000 of income. I had started just a couple years earlier in 2006 when house prices were plummeting and Realtors were giving up their licenses left and right. I was one of the few new agents that made a fast climb upward in the business. I had an office staff of 8 employees and a construction staff of 10-15 people. i was flipping houses, buying rentals, and managing large construction projects for investor clients. I was speaking at events teaching people how to build their real estate business. It appeared that I had it all and it had nowhere to go but up from there.
I was happy with my accomplishments, and quite proud of myself. But a certain reality started creeping in. I was always the first one to start working every day and the last one to go home (many nights I worked until midnight and woke up at 5am the next morning). No matter how hard I tried I was never caught up. It was wearing me thin. Finally I decided to take a vacation. 3 weeks away seemed to be just what I needed. I spent my last week in town working 18 hour days writing notes and instructions on every single file so my staff could handle it. Long story short, I spent a large portion of my vacation on the phone. By the time I got back, there was more bad news. In my absence some houses we were rehabbing for some investors were underbid, but we had to honor the contracts. On top of that the banks shut down several of our bigger clients, rendering them unable to pay in total around $200,000 that was owed to my company. This was a huge hit to the company and my personal bank account (I used my own money to pay the contractors after the business reserves were depleted).
“I had to lay off my entire staff all in one day.”
At this point I laid off everyone. I still had some clients and continued the next year on my own and did OK, but I was scared to try to build up a large business again. During this time I also went through a divorce. My world was crumbling. I had zero passion to wake up and sell houses or work on investment properties. It was a really dark point in my life and I decided I just needed a complete change. I refused to renew my license and let it go back to the state. So I began a marketing and consulting company, and continued to teach classes on real estate marketing. I believe I personally needed that time to recharge and figure my life out.
“I finally started thinking about getting my real estate license back.”
Fast forward to the end of 2012. A woman I was dating at the time gave me a bit of a push to give real estate another try, as well as a real estate broker that I had been running marketing campaigns for. I thought about it a lot. I knew I was a natural at it, but I sure didn’t want to go through that same hell that my life was last time around. After much thought I took the con-ed classes and got my license back. Want to know why?
I made a list of what I like about selling real estate and what I didn’t like. Also on that list were high-risk parts of my old business, and relatively low-risk aspects of it. Some of the biggest things I worried about were having to work excessive hours, and losing money. So I decided to eliminate these issues this time around. First, I decided I would not hire any employees. Instead I outsourced many things that an employee would normally do. After I created my marketing campaigns I hired a work-from-home assistant (or virtual assistant) to handle the daily task of running them. This includes posting new ads online for my listings and HUD listings, sending out mailers, responding with basic information when leads come in, etc… This cost me very little money because I only get charged for the actual work they do. I don’t have to pay an employee 8 hours worth of work every day if I only have 30 minutes of work needed. This also saved a lot of time I used to spend trying to come up with things to keep my employees busy. I actually wasted time coming up with tasks to keep them busy, and most of these tasks didn’t even really need done. So that huge time and money waster was eliminated.
So at the beginning I was handling everything else my assistant was not handling. I was working with buyers and sellers and handling the phone calls. My next step was to bring on a buyers agent to free up more time. The agent covers all of his own fees, so it costs me nothing whether he sells or not. But I was careful to choose a person with good work ethic to make sure they will actually follow up on the leads and close sales. The commission structure is a split, so I still make money every time he closes a deal for one of my buyers.
“My team costs me nothing if they are not producing. When they are I am making a profit too.”
So now I am building a team that costs me nothing if we are not closing a sale (which is far less stressful that having a ton of employees). I removed the risk that my last business had. My time is freed up to work on new marketing campaigns and listing houses. I am purposely not growing as fast as I can because I would rather build this on a strong base of systems and a good team rather than having me run around like a maniac to try to keep all the clients happy. And I am much happier because of that.
I have 2 more buyers agents ready to come on board, and my next step is to bring on a listing agent. This removes me from “working in the field”, and allows me the time to handle my strong points which are marketing and business development. And it also gives me enough freedom to pursue my other passions. I’m currently filming two documentaries (one about unknown but very talented musicians and another about a trip I am taking to learn how to surf).
“Real estate is fun again, well… Most of the time.”
Real estate is now something that I like doing again (most of the time), and it is making me money. I’m not back to the level I was at before, and I sincerely doubt I will ever have that many people working for me again. But why the hell would I do that when I can earn the same income with only two people working for me? I’m focusing on maximizing profits with a low overhead, high output approach.
I hope that my personal experiences help a few of you that have had doubts or are going through a rough patch. I suggest figuring out exactly what it is that you don’t like about the business and changing it. Or if it turns out this really is not the right business for you, get the hell out and do something that truly fulfills you. Or do as I did and reduce your hours and pursue other passions as well. Real estate does not have to define you. You can be more than one thing. Now when people ask me what I do I can say I’m a film producer and I sell real estate. And I like the sound of that.
Best of luck to everyone.
January 7, 2014
I was intrigued by your virtual assistant. This is something I may be interested in doing, living in a small community with few jobs. How were you able to find this person? I would like to offer such services to the local real estate offices, and would appreciate more information if possible. Thanks
February 16, 2014
One of the easiest ways for you to start out would be to post some ads on craigslist for your virtual assistant business. I would also suggest joining LinkedIn and Facebook real estate groups and networking with them. You will start getting work quickly if you network with the right groups, offer helpful advice, and mention the services you can provide.