There’s always something to howl about

Joe and Marge

In a classic Bawld Guy moment, Jeff Brown reminded us recently that hard work, not a magic formula nor even an ability to predict five out of six Power Ball numbers, is what makes a successful real estate career. All of the motivational seminars in the free world can not replace the experience of one real-life transaction. The fanciest widgets and the sexiest web site flash intros will never replace feet on the ground. Technological applications augment a solid business plan built on fundamentals; they do not replace it. We work in real estate, and there is a reason it is called “work.”

Jeff mentioned that he started his career converting For Sale By Owners (FSBOs). I always suspected we were twins. Just for fun, I thought I would share the story of my first transaction. We all remember our first – with a lot of fondness and more than a little humility. This is just a little walk down memory lane self-indulgence on my part but, if a few more people follow suit and share their “firsts,” we might start to connect the dots for the newer agents. I suspect we will see a common thread of tenacity and drive, stuff that can’t really be taught or learned.

Make no mistake. For the new agent wanting to jump-start a real estate career, this is a difficult market. But then, they all are. The first thing that will strike you is that your new career laughs in the face of the supply and demand laws of nature. There are more real estate agents than there are left-over casseroles needing a shave in my refrigerator right now, and certainly more agents than there are potential customers. This is survival of the fittest, and in the virtual Plinko game that is your office, within seconds of your arrival, every single one of your fellow agents will be plotting to throw you under a bus.

What distinguishes the working agent from the non-working agent is “work.”  A fundamental ingredient of this work is a “client” who wishes to buy or sell a home. Ideally, this “client” is not themselves a licensed real estate agent, which means that your potential customer base actually consists of twelve people in Your State.

So, your real work as an agent begins with your first customer. My first customer was Joe and Marge. (Actually, Joe and Marge were two people, but they lived in the same house, so I can only count them once. It’s a real estate thing.) This is a story of youthful exuberance, naiveté, misfortune, and unimaginable bravery in the face of adversity, but enough about Joe and Marge.

This is really the tale of how I weaseled my way into the home and hearts of an unsuspecting couple who needed to sell. I will begin at the end. I listed and eventually sold their home. The fact that my first transaction was a listing rather than a buyer sale was in itself unique. Listings are the Holy Grail of real estate, listings provide advertising opportunity, and listings breed more listings, kind of like bunnies. Buyers don’t generally allow you to place a sign in their front yard announcing, “Represented by Kris!!” Your only hope with buyers is that they will share your story with their friends, or, in some cases, your only hope is that they won’t. Sure, a buyer may become a seller some day, but you could be the day shift hostess at Walmart my then. Better to get the listings coming out of the gate.

What also made my first transaction unique was that Joe and Marge were initially FSBOs. FSBOs by their very nature are distrusting of agents. They like control, they firmly believe they can do the job themselves and better, and they will always know more than you do, even when they do not. Despite this, the Agent Needing to Eat can find some opportunity in the failed-FSBO-as-potential-client arena.

If I had possessed any formal training whatsoever, I would have never found myself at their kitchen table this weekday evening. I would have been holding an Open House for a successful Listing Agent, I would have been forcing my newly printed business cards into the clinched fists of my “Sphere of Influence” (formerly known as Friends), or I would have been addressing postcards with the much-anticipated Recipe of the Month to unsuspecting neighbors (October = Bologna Shapes with Mayonnaise Dipping Sauce). Yet, I was unshackled by the encumbrances of actual, practical knowledge. My two-week training program at the Rock Solid Brokerage corporate offices had not yet begun, but I needed to eat. So, I picked up the newspaper classified section. (In those days, we had things called “newspapers” which were made from paper stock of tree origin). It was the beginning of what would be a grueling day at the office. I made one phone call.

“Hello, this is Kris from Rock Solid Brokerage. I see your home is for sale. I specialize in Your Neighborhood (I think I sort of know where it is) and might have a buyer who is interested in Your Home (perhaps in August, 2015 if I am not working at Jamba Juice by then). Are you cooperating with agents who bring the buyer, and might I be able to stop by to preview the property?”

This is where the clouds parted and the angels sang, albeit off-key. “We are actually thinking about listing with an agent”, Marge confided. “Perfect!” I shouted, jumping through the phone and giving ol’ Marge a big bear hug. “Why don’t I come by and give you my Marketing Plan and preview your home at the same time? We could kill two birds with one stone!”

How prophetic. My birds agreed to meet with me.

Now, at this point in my long, illustrious career, it is important to remember that I have NO Marketing Plan. I have no plan at all. So, I fill my briefcase with a package of listing forms which are as familiar to me as the blueprints for Hubble Telescope, and I fill in the air space with random company promotional propaganda leaflets pulled from the shelves of the Rock Solid resource room, one of which undoubtedly involved step-by-step instructions for replacing the toner in the office copy machine. With my remaining free hand, I grab all arbitrary office items within reach (and which I believe included a two-hole punch and a desk lamp) so as not to look unprepared, and I head for the door.

With the help of my “stuff”, and much to the chagrin of Joe and Marge, I was able to stretch my visit into a painful, three-hour presentation. I spent two hours ogling over their most special of special homes, while I wisely devoted the remaining hour to discussing pricing, the reputation of my company, and the inherent dangers of continuing the photocopying process with a depleted toner supply. Stocking-clad limbs wrapped firmly around one leg of the casual dinette, I refused to budge. When their attempts at feigning death still failed to send me home, Joe and Marge, motivated by the need for dinner, oxygen and sleep, at last surrendered. “She seems like a nice enough girl, Joe, and I just don’t want to go through this again”. Ha! Put that in your testimonial book!

I returned to the office with a listing contract that looked like we had all prepared it with a box of crayons while wearing coordinating oven mitts. Perhaps that opposable thumb came in handy after all! Eventually, I had to return to rewrite the contract properly, but I had the job. I have since looked back and done the math; this first job resulted in eight subsequent transactions as a direct result of that one yard sign. And, don’t feel sorry for Joe and Marge. They got fabulous representation and results. I worked my hiney off. They were all I had, and I had nothing else to do.

If there is a moral to my story, it is this. If you are new in the business, go ahead and attend the classes. Learn the stuff in the office training manuals and get motivated. Then, get off your butt, and go find your Joe and Marge.

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    19 Comments so far

    1. Bob Wilson January 29th, 2008 10:12 am


    2. Courses In Plumbing January 29th, 2008 10:15 am

      This article is true for many walks of life, not just real estate. There comes a time when you need to stop learning and start DOing.

      This is something I see on a weekly basis, and sometime it can be hard to persuade some people that the best way to learn is the good old University of Life! Additionally you don’t get the same buzz out of learning as you do actually achieving in your chosen field of endeavour.

      Take my field for example, I teach plumbing courses and time and again I get people in who are allegedly experienced plumbers. But even intensive plumbing courses can only prepare you so much for the real thing. But there’s nothing quite like the feeling of taking on a whole plumbing project and seeing it through from start to finish. I call it the “warm fuzzy feeling syndrome” lol.

    3. Jeff Brown January 29th, 2008 10:27 am

      Kris — Talk about cajones!

      My first listing was a 3/2 sfr in Lemon Grove — $18,500.

      Terms — FHA/VA

      Commission split in those days was 20% of the listing side for the listing agent.

      $111.00 was a lot for an 18 year old college student in 1970. :)

    4. Kris Berg January 29th, 2008 10:43 am

      CP – The down side is that your on the job training requires that first client who either doesn’t know you are figuring it out as you go or doesn’t care. Joe and Marge knew but were too polite to ever acknowledge as much. I think they liked my spirit! :) I will forever owe them a debt of gratitude.

      Jeff – Since you beat me into the biz by 20 years, you win. My first was what was then considered to be a higher end product – $295,000 in Sabre Springs, conventional loan, and a more generous (slightly) split. Oh, and the roof leaked like a sieve.

    5. Kevin Boer January 29th, 2008 11:04 am

      My first one was a complete stroke of beginner’s luck: a $4M listing off a walk-in during floor time in week 6 of my real estate career. More complicated story than that, but that’s the gist of it.

    6. Jeff Brown January 29th, 2008 11:08 am

      Kevin — So what you’re really saying is your first commission was more than the sum total of my first several deals’ PRICES? Way to go! How did the other agents treat you when it closed? :)

    7. Sean Purcell January 29th, 2008 11:14 am

      “Ideally, this “client” is not themselves a licensed real estate agent, which means that your potential customer base actually consists of twelve people in Your State.”

      Hilarious. I was first licensed in 1987 and I too “made my bones” with FSBO’s although my marketing plan at the time was based on two simple facts:
      1. FSBO’s could be marketed by phone and that was my specialty (by virue of the fact I had spent summers in boiler rooms convincing people by phone that they should send money to a guy they never met, working for a company they never heard of to buy tickets they would never use)
      2. I wanted to ask a special girl out and could not figure a way to convince her that she should pay to take me out.

      Maybe the real secret to success, no matter what area you specialize in or farm, is having the correct motivation. I think I will call my next seminar:
      Real Estate Success Through Proper Application of Hormones.

    8. Jeff Brown January 29th, 2008 11:17 am

      Sean — You may have tripped over a gold mine. :)

    9. Kris Berg January 29th, 2008 11:39 am

      Yeah – We are all motivated by different things. My motivation involves electricity and running water.

    10. Sean Purcell January 29th, 2008 11:42 am

      Kris – mine is more fun :)

    11. Bob Wilson January 29th, 2008 1:39 pm

      When I used to work for Rock Solid, an new agent had the same luck as Kevin with a multi million dollar listing. It was the go-go period a few years ago and she double-ended it.

      The next month in the office she was intolerable, giving advise to everyone on how to do business. My comment to a friend with 20 years of experience was, “do it again and I’ll be impressed”.

      She didnt do any more business for 6 months. Sometimes the easy first deal is the the worst thing that could happen to a new agent.

    12. Phil Hoover January 29th, 2008 6:14 pm

      I have you all beat ~ hands down!
      Not my first sale, but nonetheless my first DAY in residential real estate.
      I will NEVER forget it! :(

    13. Kris Berg January 29th, 2008 7:24 pm

      Well, Phil, thank you for THAT visual! (“Hands down”?)

    14. Steve Trimboli January 29th, 2008 9:25 pm

      Thank you Kris for a much needed Pick Me Up!

    15. John Wake January 29th, 2008 11:10 pm

      My god, you’re real estate’s Erma Bombeck!

      [I love Erma Bombeck.]

    16. Hilary Shantz January 30th, 2008 5:43 am

      Hi Kris,
      Perfect post to read early this morning – so easy to spend one’s time blogging, strategizing, preparing advertising,improving one’s presentation— when I first started all I knew to do was go out there and find someone …I’m heading out there right now to do just that!

    17. Kris Berg January 30th, 2008 6:55 am

      >My god, you’re real estate’s Erma Bombeck!

      Except she was insanely rich. BIG difference.

    18. [...] Reserve May Be The Proverbial “Fool In The Shower”Kris Berg — Joe and Marge, Joe and MargeTrevor Smith — Rinse Your Cottage Cheese, Rinse Your Cottage CheeseMichael Wurzer — [...]

    19. Camps Bay Self Catering June 18th, 2008 8:07 am

      Hi Kris,

      Heartwarming story, but how difficult has it become now with the whole credit crunch debacle? Here in South Africa, we have real estate agents chilling on street corners, trying to make sales. Okay, maybe not that bad, but things are getting pretty hairy right now.