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 1: Newscasters, fast-food chain owners enter home-sale biz and Part 3: Leaving home sales behind.)

In Los Angeles, former Olympian and basketball great Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s Johnson Development Corp. has become a leader in redeveloping urban cores across the United States.

In Dallas, retired football Hall of Famer Roger Staubach has built his Staubach Co. into one of the nation’s largest and most influential commercial brokerage firms.

And in Florida, retired tennis great Nick Bollettieri–who would later coach such legends as Andre Agassi and Monica Seles–has become a big-time condo developer in suburban Bradenton.

While many current and former athletes often invest in realty ventures to diversify their assets, a small but growing number are finding that building, buying or selling real estate can become a lucrative new careerafter their playing days are over.

To be sure, many athletes who decide to enter the real estate business after catching their final pass or hitting their last home run have some big advantages over other newcomers: They typically have lots of cash to see them through the lean times as they build their business, plus easy access to other athletes and rich celebrities who often do a lot of real estate investing of their own.

Did you have an unusual career path? Take a survey.

Having a name that’s a virtual household word–such as “Magic” or “Staubach”–doesn’t necessarily hurt, either, but can prove to be a double-edged sword.

“Being an athlete can work against you because people might think, ‘What do you know about anything other than sports?'” Roger Staubach, who quarterbacked the Cowboys from 1969 through 1979 and now runs Dallas-based brokerage The Staubach Co., said in an interview several years ago.

“However, it can also get you in the door because people might want to talk about how the Cowboys used to beat the Bears,” said the two-time Super Bowl champ. “But if the conversation doesn’t go any deeper into what my company can do for them, my name doesn’t help.”

Steve Shull, who won a Super Bowl as a linebacker for the Miami Dolphins in the 1980s and now runs a national performance-coaching company, said he’s not surprised that some athletes choose to go into real estate after they retire from the game.

“Setting goals and then working hard to meet them is a big part of winning, whether it’s on the playing field or in the real estate business,” said Shull, who’s Los Angeles-based Performance Consulting group’s clients include Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Services and several other realty firms.

“The athletes with the best chance of succeeding in real estate are those than can take that ‘drive to win’ and transfer it over into their new career.”

It also helps if they at least dabbled in real estate while they were still playing.

Even while playing for some of the great Los Angeles Lakers teams of the 1970s and ’80s, smooth-shooting forward Jamaal Wilkes was taking a hands-on role in investing in residential properties.

“I did pretty well on those properties, so when I retired, I got into shopping-center redevelopment,” said Wilkes. “But when that market turned soft, I hooked-up with a business partner and started Jamaal Wilkes Realtors.”

Wilkes’ Beverly Hills-based realty firm has since blossomed into Jamaal Wilkes Financial Network, which offers an array of planning and marketing services to a long list of well-known clients–many of whom he played either with or against on the court.

Around town, Wilkes is still one of the best loved Lakers and UCLA Bruins who ever played the game.

But while he appreciates all his adoring fans, it sometimes causes problems.

“We used to have to drive by our listings all the time to make sure nobody stole our (Jamaal Wilkes Realtors) yard signs,” Wilkes laughed. “Believe it or not, some fans think they make nice keepsakes.”

Tomorrow: Why agents leave real estate sales careers.

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