Editor’s note: From fast-food franchise owners to local news anchors to former Olympians, real estate has long attracted people from all walks of life who’ve opted to try their hand at selling homes. In this special three-part Inman News series, we caught up with some of these real estate pros to share their stories. (See Part 2: Pro athletes race for home sales and Part 3: Leaving home sales behind.)
Bob and Lorene Hetherington anchored television newscasts in the Columbus, Ohio, area. Billy Radakovitz was a UPS driver. While they came from different walks of life, they are now traveling the same career path in real estate.
These relative newcomers say their new profession has been both rewarding and challenging. And while real estate may not be easy street, they say they’re feeling very at home with the career change. While many new agents are joining the real estate industry daily, the routes they took to get there and the reasons that drove them to it are as individual as the agents themselves.
For Billy Radakovitz, who spent 11 years as a UPS driver, his calling in real estate was proof to him that father knows best. An agent at RE/MAX Advantage in Rocklin, Calif., Radakovitz said his dad had long promoted real estate as a viable career option.
Radakovitz was earning a living as a delivery driver and he didn’t envision himself as a “paper-pusher,” he said. But the work environment changed for him at UPS, and “I just didn’t agree with a lot of the politics involved with the union and I just stepped away from it.”
It was finally time, he said, to take his father’s advice. “Although he never got a real estate license and never became an agent, he obtained his fortune through real estate,” Radakovitz said. “He always tried to talk me into (real estate). I decided to give real estate a shot. I wish I would’ve done it 10 years ago.
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“Once again he was right, darn it.”
Radakovitz, who received his real estate license in December 2002, credits the agents and brokers who mentored him for a smooth transition into his new profession and for helping him to steer clear of costly rookie mistakes. “The camaraderie has just been wonderful,” he said. Radakovitz was working in another delivery job when he first took the job at RE/MAX, and his broker, Britt Cooper, advised him that it was best to keep that other job until he was sure real estate was a good fit.
“There weren’t many brokers willing to let me do real estate part-time,” Radakovitz said. “Britt said, ‘We’d rather you have a stable job as you break into the business because it can be very difficult if you quit your job and find out real estate’s not your bag.'”
So Radakovitz weathered those early days and has since become a full-time agent. His schedule is more flexible now, he said, and he has more time to spend in the community and with his three boys. “The freedom has been wonderful. I am heavily involved with (my sons) and their Little League. It’s been so much less stressful, particularly during the holidays.
And his UPS days of meeting and talking with customers along his route are not wasted in real estate. “I’m a talker, I’m a socializer, and in real estate you fit right in.” Perhaps the most difficult part of his new job is the wardrobe, he added.
“Really, if I had to say, the worst part of getting into real estate has been to pick out what to wear. At UPS it was just a closet full of brown uniforms,” Radakovitz said.
Bob and Lorene Hetherington had well-known names and faces in Columbus, Ohio, because of their nightly television newscasts. Bob anchored the evening news on WYSX for 10 years, and Lorene (known then as Lorene Wagner) was an anchor for Fox-28.
The couple dabbled in real estate even before they became a full-time real estate team. “We would fix stuff up. It was like a very active hobby for us. We loved it.” They paid their mortgage with income from rental properties.
And they looked at a lot of houses in the area. “Every Sunday Lorene and I used to look at houses. We were the quintessential ‘lookie-loos.’ This was our hobby. We loved looking at homes. Of course, it would drive Realtors crazy. Probably they figured, ‘These people are never going to buy.'”
But as management changes began to shake up their stations, they decided to turn their real estate hobby into a big career move. They pounded the pavement, knocked on a lot of doors and got 25 listings in their first year. In their second year they sold 44 homes, and this year – their third year in the business – they are on pace to sell 50 homes.
The Hetheringtons’ slogan is fit for a news broadcast: “Two Trusted Individuals. One Trustworthy Team.” They work for HER Real Living, a top player in the Central Ohio residential real estate market.
Bob said that Realtors are sometimes perceived to be loud, fast-talking salespeople, but “I was pleasantly surprised when I met all of these classy people who are Realtors.” There are about 125 Realtors in the HER office, and Bob said the energy in the office is not unlike the news business. “The best people, the best reporters – they walked the walk. You didn’t hear them talk all day.” And the best Realtors, too, he said, aren’t braggarts.
Real estate has its definite perks, like a schedule that allows them to spend more time with their children, Bob said. “We get to see the kids a lot.” But the job can also be demanding. “As you get more busy you do have constraints. We had to develop, literally, a schedule on the wall.”
Starting out can be tough, too, Bob said, and he noted that he and Lorene had set aside some money that eliminated a lot of the stress when they first joined the field. “If you want a paycheck every two weeks and have to have that kind of security, this is not the job for you,” he said. “The first six months are really kind of terrifying. I think it’s really important to have your ducks in a row in terms of financing.
“There are so many people getting into the business, I’m just not sure how prepared they are.”
Erv Grulkowski, a McDonald’s franchise owner, decided to super-size his career options last year by getting into the real estate business. Becoming an agent was not a huge stretch for Grulkowski, an agent at Realty Executives Top Producers in Blaine, Minn. Before owning a franchise he worked in a corporate job for McDonald’s, where he worked on the approval of some new franchise sites in the Indianapolis region during the late ’70s and early ’80s. “I enjoyed the real estate aspect of it,” he said.
Grulkowski’s oldest daughter now works with him in his continuing management of his McDonald’s franchise business, and his other daughter works in investment banking and is a mortgage broker and real estate agent.
“I’m a bit of a workaholic,” he said, and his dual career “as made me sharper in the way I handle things. It’s good not to always be wrapped up in one business. I kind of get a different perspective from both businesses.” He conducts most of his real estate business on weekday nights and weekends.
Grulkowski said a key for him was in finding a broker who let him work on his own but was always available when he had any questions. “I think it’s important that an agent has a good relationship with his broker,” he said.
The real estate business can be a bit overwhelming at first, Grulkowski said, especially with all of the technologies that are battling for agents’ attention. “In real estate there are so many companies that are out there trying to solicit Realtors, from Internet companies to software programs to lead generators. You can get caught up in doing everything and not necessarily be able to stay afloat.”
Grulkowski took a lesson here from his McDonald’s experience: “If the franchisee did everything the corporation asked them to do, they’d be bankrupt in no time.” So he has been selective in what tools he chooses to use and which ones he snubs. He focuses on a real estate niche of golf communities and lake properties, and has plans to expand his Minnesota and Wisconsin business to Florida.
New real estate agents shouldn’t count on instant success, Grulkowski said. “Like any business, we always think we can do a lot more in a short period of time. It takes a little bit longer (than you expect) to get yourself established.”
Tomorrow: Pro athletes storm the realty business.
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