By SUSAN GALLEYMORE
While the housing downturn has devastated some markets, leading some industry professionals to choose other careers, there are young entrepreneurs who are bucking the trend and chasing their real estate dreams.
Now 22, Rich Lewetzow was a high school freshman when he began working in the boutique-style real estate brokerage office of Brown & Co. doing miscellaneous tasks for Realtors, accompanying them to open houses, performing site inspections, and asking lots of questions.
He earned his real estate license at 18, despite dyslexia, and sold his first listing, a San Francisco condo, for $625,000.
The fifth-generation San Franciscan says he has never regretted his decision not to attend college after graduating from some of the city’s best high schools.
He left Brown & Co. in May 2011 and joined TRI Coldwell Banker Previews International. "I enjoy working for a well-known and recognized brokerage," he says.
Despite the economic downturn — and his youth — his business has doubled. He encourages anyone considering this tough business to "listen to people’s suggestions but never give up on your own direction. There’s a lot to learn … and knowing the right people is key."
Many of Rich Lewetzow’s clients are parents and family members of high school friends. "They don’t care that I don’t have a college degree. They just care about how I perform."
Father-son developer team
Ty Bergman started community college after he earned his real estate license at 18.
He had been a shy kid — his parents are immigrants to the U.S. and "I never really fit in and I gravitated toward the arts" — and his mother urged him to pursue real estate as a career. Her father had done very well with property development in England after World War II and Ty followed his mother’s advice .
His father followed in his son’s footsteps and received his license several months after Ty. The youngster joined his father in their growing real estate business during the summer and, with his father’s mature business experience and connections, the pair built a successful partnership in Los Angeles.
The younger Bergman is an extreme sportsman who says he takes particular pleasure in buildings he designed in Venice, Calif. "I love this business for allowing me to express a variety of interests, but I never forget that I’m only as good as my next sale."
When he’s not working in real estate, Ty Bergman enjoys extreme sports. Photo/Tony Zapata
Lewetzow and Bergman are rare breeds in the field of real estate sales — the median age of Realtors is 56, according to the latest member survey released this year by the National Association of Realtors, and that rose two years from 54 in the 2010 profile.
A mere 5 percent of the 183,000 Realtors in California are under 25, while 15 percent are under 35. According to Steve Goddard, 2010 CAR president, Realtors under 20 are "extremely rare." Of those, the few who make it big show remarkable perseverance or have older mentors.
This homebuilder is still in high school
Then there’s 16-year-old high school student Austin Hay of Santa Rosa, Calif. Not letting his age hold him back, he skipped the tree house-building phase and went straight to building his own home on a trailer base, albeit in his parent’s backyard.
"I can park and move it whenever I want" Hays says of the 130-square-foot-plus loft bedroom space with a shower, a composting toilet, an off-the-ground, two-door refrigerator, and a gray water sink. He smiles as he explains that his outdoor cook stove was "a gift from Santa."
He estimates his home has cost less than $12,000 mortgage-free dollars.
From real estate to ‘paper engineering’
Denise Price (Photo credit:kphotographie.com)
Denise Price is also one of those "extremely rare" exceptions, although it was paying her own way through college that got her into real estate. She was 18 when, right out of high school, she enrolled in a summer real estate course.
"I noticed mature Realtors drove nice cars and figured I could earn money that way too."
Her father scratched his head, made up the difference after she invested her savings, and suggested she was making an error — neither he nor his wife had ever worked in property development.
She sold model homes in Denver, Colo., during the day and attended classes at 5:30 a.m. and in the evenings.
"My boss gave me my first opportunity, but even he was shocked at my success. I didn’t know what I was getting into, really. But, to me this is more than sales; I see it as helping people make important decisions about their lives."
Twenty years later, Price’s real estate colleagues are still older than she is, and she recommends that young entrepreneurs "work with experienced people in whatever business you are interested in … don’t be afraid to ask for help … and don’t be a know-it all."
These days, Price practices "paper engineering" as a hobby; her first pop-up book of Boston’s historical buildings will come out in the summer of 2012.
A pre-publication sample of Denise Price’s pop-up book featuring Boston’s historic sites. YouTube
It’s a labor of love. I’ll never get back my initial financial investment, but I’m fully hands-on and I love every moment."
Teen blogger digs luxury real estate
Cole Perkins, 13, has told Inman News he might become a Realtor "someday. My parents always have thought I would be a good salesman."
He has earned nearly straight A’s attending online high school from home … and about $2 per day with Google Ad Sense on his blog Lavish-Property.com. It focuses on high-end real estate in North America and Europe, and the 400 to 500 hits a day include new and traditional media outlets and Realtors from as far-flung as Dubai and Switzerland.
He says he "never really liked public school," although he intends to go to college. What will he study? "Probably something in business." For now, though, he says, "I just do this for fun."
And fun seems to be the initial key that drives these youthful entrepreneurs.
Susan Galleymore is a freelance writer in California.