Brokerage

Karla Saladino on why real estate firms waste money paying for leads

A managing partner shares her hiring process and talks about why real estate technology is overrated

Future-Proof: Navigate Threats, Seize Opportunities at ICNY 2018 | Jan 22-26 at the Marriott Marquis, Times Square, New York

Karla Saladino is a managing partner at Mirador Real Estate.

Describe what you do in one sentence: Raise rent roles, decrease vacancy rates, beat sales price per square foot, and lift up those who deserve lifting — emotionally or financially — in the process.

Age: 35

Degree, school: I don’t even remember — I bounced around a lot. I never wanted to go to college, but I recall getting a degree, as I got into law school. I skipped graduation to work, and people found that odd.

Location: New York City

Social media: LinkedIn

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Karla Saladino on a boat.

Karla Saladino on a boat.

What’s your favorite activity outside of work and why?

I get my best ideas and the most clarity when I’m traveling. I have a strong desire to comprehend as much as I can about the world; it enhances my business in ways that aren’t always tangible but are very much real. I’m in the process of creating a consulting company for brokerage and development projects outside of the New York market domestically and internationally. We’ve already been testing it, and the results we’ve been able to achieve on the few projects we’ve taken on are incredible. When you apply New York marketing, branding, or even sales training and techniques to other markets, it gives them a huge edge. In return, job creation in emerging markets that result from it is the ultimate feeling of fulfillment. I plan on having a percentage of our hours be pro bono for this purpose.

What’s your favorite classic piece of literature and why?

“The Moon and Sixpence” by Somerset Maugham. I was sitting in a tub in London for hours reading it as I didn’t want a moment in my life to go by without knowing the next word. I’ve always been one to favor adventure over tradition and this book really spoke to me in that way. Living sparsely while exploring your passion vs. living in the mundane fulfilling “what’s expected of you” in regular society — there is no contest. Somerset always grasped this in his work as a theme.

Are you the first entrepreneur in your family?

At this level, yes; however, my grandfather was a tremendous businessman and negotiator. I think we were competitive in a way that I always wanted to beat him, and he wanted me to beat him, too. I wear his gold watch to anything business related. It’s my most prized possession. My father always had businesses going as well, in addition to his teaching to help support the family and provide us with a stable environment. There is no way I could take the kinds of risks I’ve been able to in my career without the solid foundation my family gave me — and that came from his entrepreneurship as the add-on.

Why’d you decide to join your company?

I had sold/rolled my firm into another about six years prior — and that firm was preparing for a roll-in of their own. I planned to take a year to travel around southeast Asia but was simultaneously approached by some people on the development side whom I really respected to start this firm. I could give them more focus as well as be able to give offerings to my other developers and clients that were not achievable before. I swore I would never start another brokerage, but my team at the time was so excited about the idea, and the ideas I had for these particular partners got my brain buzzing. I couldn’t focus on anything else. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and has become the most utopian model I’ve ever created or worked in. I’m truly grateful and still wake up some days and look at it with wonder. I’m constantly improving it, catching mistakes, building systems, etc. I love it.

Describe a time when you felt particularly insecure about the future of your company. How did you bounce back?

I never did — I have backers that trust me and understand what I’m trying to do. In return I work my ass off to get them results and returns.

What would you describe as your company’s biggest victory since you joined it?

When we broke our first million in revenue around the 11th month in operation with a small but targeted team of experienced agents, I knew I was on to something. When we crossed 4 million in our 22nd month, it was even better!

What’s been the biggest obstacle your business has encountered, and how have you dealt with it?

Hiring. I’m so particular, and even then sometimes I get let down. I think leaders make the mistake of thinking the people they hire are going to have the same work ethic as them. From a statistical standpoint, I try to only take agents past the point of probably retention in the industry, which in our arena is about two years plus. After that, I have them interview via roundtable with the whole firm, and we take a vote. Most of our new hires are referred from current agents, or they seek out my agents to get that referral. It makes the pool small, but it keeps the culture clean and consistent. In our model all must work together, be honest, and support one another or it won’t work. If we are representing something, it must be shown to any interested party within one hour. The agents share this task. After a certain point, I consider them family and it’s hard to fire family, so I’m fast to fire if I see cracks right in the beginning.

What puzzles you most about the industry?

I never got the long-term benefit of lying in advertising, yet people continue to do it. As the data get cleaner, this type of agent will get eliminated; however, websites that count on pure data to eliminate people in the real estate industry puzzle me just as much. I meet them all the time in vendor meetings, and they have rarely worked on the ground or gotten their hands dirty in any way when it comes to commission-only real estate sales. I build, seek out and implement new software all the time, with the objective of eliminating administrative tasks so agents can pick up the phone and spend more time on relationship-building.

People want people — an example of this is whenever you hear someone yelling “representative” into an automated system on the phone. They want assurance. Pure, honest data, coupled with a return to personal customer service, will deliver the experience all apartment and house hunters are truly looking for I believe.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about building a business?

My first company taught me all the lessons I needed to know. My mother called it grad school because it cost me as much money. One big lesson I took from it is there always must be a chief and tribe members. It can be scenario-based, but equal partnerships don’t work for me. There needs to be a respect level and a default decision-maker present at every impasse. It makes your life personally and professionally that much easier.

Big lesson number two: Don’t fall for shiny things. Usually there is not much of value underneath. Small, quiet expansion is the way to go. I have taken over two other brokerages in the past 18 months or so that have made the mistake of signing onto things without appropriate proven return, and it drove them into the ground. You don’t need an expensive office, 10 expensive ad venues or a large team of agents that produce less than your annual investment into them to prove yourself. These are the illusions of success that will run you out of business. Be outstanding at two things, for example — the other eight things glimmering in the background, if important, will emerge loudly if you need to pay attention to them down the road.

What’s the most overrated real estate technology?

Most of it! Firms waste so much money on “leads.” When I do ad investment case studies, or look at companies to take over, I care about what converts to closed deals only. Invest more in that than spreading your budgets thin to show up on obscure websites that don’t matter in your market. Anything that will allow the same property to be listed eight different times, by eight different agents, with eight different prices, can take a hike. The consumer doesn’t like it, and your probability of capturing a client is diminished.

karlasaladino

Karla Saladino boxing.

How will the role of the real estate agent change over the next five years?

I think agents are going to have to invest in themselves more, through coaching, assistants to help them in their weaker areas, and flat-out organization. It’s a relationship business now more than ever. I meet agents who never gift their clients, follow up post-closing, thank supers or the people who made their deals possible. The agents who do will make it; the agents who don’t will be forced out of the way. I personally like to invest my time to study models of successful companies unrelated to my business to take in their most profitable programs and and adapt them to real estate. “Entrepreneur” magazine is the “US Weekly” of my world. When Chip Conly or Tim Ferris release as much as a blog post, I want to know about it and assimilate it.

What motivates you more: power or money?

Money buys freedom — and if you want, it buys power, too. I’m very boring when it comes to finance; I’ve been in debt before and do everything in my power not to be in that position ever again. I also won’t let anyone manage my money. I spent years in classes about options trading and the markets. If it all goes to crap, I get to retire in Maui; I would take that over power any day.

What is your biggest professional fear?

I’m lucky to have found a business coach who has gotten me through almost all fears in business. She made me realize the “worst case scenario” is sometimes the best — so just be you, act with purpose and apologize later if you really mess up. Inaction and avoiding difficult conversations, is what I’mtruly afraid of.

What is your biggest personal fear?

I’m going to have to take a pass as I don’t like to put negative things in writing and avoid them verbally at all costs. What you focus on tends to pop up!

Who do you respect most in the industry?

People with inherent generosity. For better or worse, I hang with the 1 percent more than the 99 percent in my business life most of the time. The ones who are full of love, and lift up their friends and family with more than money, with mentorship, are the ones I take cues from. My business partners are incredible with this, as they surprise me by their generosity and appreciation often, I’ve cried more than I would like to admit. That trickles down.

When I was in South Africa on a project with some of my agents a few weeks ago, there was a server in a restaurant who was so outstanding compared to everyone else we had met, I just doubled the bill with tip. He came back to ask me if there was some mistake and when I said no, he gave me this look that moved me to the core. I had him exchange information with the person I was with who could get him any job he wanted in Cape Town. In Maui over Christmas, I was working with a woman whose child couldn’t get new shoes as she lost one — I went to a big box retailer and got her a big gift card, making sure to leave before she could figure anything out. Pay it forward is a thing — and it’s the best thing. I’ve been lucky I get to pick and choose my clients. The ones who don’t match this mentality, I get to simply take a pass on.

Now for the typical girl answer in NYC real estate — but there is a reason it’s typical. When I was less than two years in the business, an agent took me to small seminar at some hotel to hear Barbara Corcoran talk- pre “Shark Tank,” pre-everything. I was floored by her. I had been working for a guy who stole money from me; it nearly cost me my rent and my ability to stay in commission only sales/real estate — I was so upset about it. I’ve never dealt with someone so unethical, but welcome to the big city! She said something about a pyramid, and the crappy people at the bottom just fall off — the ethical ones that stay true remain at the top. Persevere! It turned me around. Some people joke that my whole career is fueled by not letting that experience, and other events similar to it, beat me. So be it.

Are you a real estate leader who’d like to participate in our profile series? Email amber@inman.com.