Stephen Shapiro started in apartment leasing when he arrived in L.A. from Philadelphia in the 1970s. Early on, he found a niche leasing property to celebrities including Al Pacino and Mick Jagger in Beverly Hills. Selling agents didn’t think it was worth their while to get into property leasing, so this space was all his.
- Looking for your big break in real estate can come from a negative experience rather than a positive one. Bouncing back can be what makes you great.
Stephen Shapiro started in apartment leasing when he arrived in L.A. from Philadelphia in the 1970s. Early on, he found a niche leasing property to celebrities including Al Pacino and Mick Jagger in Beverly Hills.
Selling agents didn’t think it was worth their while to get into property leasing, so this space was all his.
“Agents were not paying attention to rental, and people were coming to do films and record albums who you would kill to have as a client, but they were ignoring this,” said Shapiro, who ferried celebs around in a limousine.
Now the chairman of Westside Estate Agency in Los Angeles has been operating in the $10 million-plus real estate market for over 35 years.
One thing led to another, and he finally had an opportunity to sell a home.
Shapiro and these six other top producing agents remember the moment that led to something more. Whether it was a sluggish progression that finally paid off, a natural disaster or painful rejection, their stories highlight the power of the hustle and how risking the unknown — and daring to be different — can result in the ultimate payoff.
The power of patience
Talent manager (now film producer) Shep Gordon would go to Shapiro when a client of his needed a house. He was getting divorced and wanted his house sold before he filed.
So he called up Shapiro.
“He wanted it sold so badly, he said ‘I’ll take no money down; they can pay me in a year or two years,'” Shapiro said.
The young Shapiro just “called people he knew in the business” and got the deal done.
He sold it for $3 million, which was a lot at the time, and it’s currently on the market for $75 million decades later.
Billions of dollars into the future, Shapiro is more than happy with the career he waited so patiently for.
Opportunity in adversity
Kris Lindahl of the Kris Lindahl Team from Re/Max Results, Minnesota, also saw opportunity in an area others were avoiding.
When he broke into the real estate industry seven years ago, amid one of the toughest markets in history, Lindahl got into short sales.
“Now, the majority of the agents avoided getting involved in distressed sales, but what I saw was an opportunity, and that was the platform on which I was able to launch my business,” he said.
With his website, MinnesotaShortSale.com, he attracted homeowners who were not just needing to sell but who needed help.
“It was such a rewarding feeling to be able to assist homeowners in getting out of stressful financial situations that were taking a toll on their well-being and families,” Lindahl said.
“It was a grind, and often each case paid less commission than the traditional sales, but I loved the hustle.
“Every morning I would walk into the office to pick up a stack of short sale listing appointments, and then I would be on the road from sun up to sun down trying to relieve stressors and alleviate financial burdens for my clients.
“The prize was how grateful each of my customers were when I was able to provide them a way to a better future,” he added.
Lindahl now runs Re/Max’s seventh most successful team in the country.
Rejection can be the impetus you need
Sometimes it isn’t a big break but a piece of rejection that galvanizes your career.
Ben Hirsh, broker owner of Hirsh Real Estate in Buckhead, Atlanta, had been working for years to break into the top tier of agents in Atlanta’s most prestigious area.
He had made good progress and was selling over $30 million per year but didn’t feel like he had made his name yet.
“That’s when a well-known person in the community had me over to discuss selling his $3 million home.
“After showing him how I could market his home better than anyone, he told me I was hired. Later he called and said that he had changed his mind and hired another agent. She was inferior as an agent, but he said I just ‘wasn’t Buckhead enough.'”
Hirsh used that moment of extreme frustration to buy the website Buckhead.com, a site he had been trying for years to buy but always lost in negotiation.
The site has turned Hirsh into a media company in his own right and boosted his reputation as a true local expert.
Last year he sold over $57 million and was the no. three individual agent out of 6,000 per the Atlanta Board of Realtors.
It’s all about the hustle and grind
Another independent brokerage owner, Jerry Holden of The Holden Agency based in Ohio, tells the story of pure “hustle and grind” as he started out and the cold-call inspired deal that convinced him he was on his way.
He remembers putting together a deal before his business opened its doors in late 2013.
He found a buyer for an apartment building in his local Ohio market, got the address for the owner who lived two and a half hours away and drove to see him.
“I knocked on his front door and asked if he would be willing to sell his property. He said he hadn’t really thought of it but he said: ‘Anything is for sale.'”
“I said: ‘Could you hold on a minute; I have an offer in my vehicle,'” Holden shared.
A month and a half after he opened his doors in October 2014, the deal came through.
“I closed that deal for $1.4 million, and right there I knew that this company was going to survive and flourish,” Holden said.
A San Francisco agent’s lightbulb moment
For one top producer in San Francisco, it was the the ’89 earthquake that triggered her real estate launch after being a property investor.
“My lightbulb moment was when I actually lost money on one of the remodeling projects I was doing due to the fact that it got damaged in the ’89 earthquake and subsequently surrounding values went down,” said Nina Hatvany, Pacific Union International’s leader of The Hatvany Team.
Her husband asked her: “Why are you in a business where you can lose money? Why don’t you sell real estate like all your friends do — it’s much less risky.”
Hatvany answered him: “Oh I wouldn’t like that — too much driving and imagine handling all those keys, it would be a nightmare!”
She adds: “Anyway, I promised to try it for six months, and the rest is history.”
Ranked the top individual agent in the City of San Francisco and recognized in The Wall Street Journal as one of the top 35 sales agents by volume nationwide across from 2009-2015, Hatvany has sold over $1 billion in property.
Knowing when to ask for help
An incremental progression can make all the difference at a key time.
Amy Kite, team leader of The Amy Kite Team with Keller Williams Infinity in Chicago, attributes her success and her drive to continue her career in real estate to getting an assistant early on — after selling 30 units.
It turned her life around as an agent.
As she puts it: “It meant I could do what I loved to do, and I didn’t have to worry about the crap,” — the crap she alludes to being paperwork, tracking transactions, and just keeping on top of things such as scheduling.
“I’m better out in the field, not making sure all the t’s are crossed and i’s dotted,” Kite said.
Keller Williams helps agents know when they can get an assistant, and it’s sooner than some think.
These days, Kite has a driver as well, and her team closed 503 units last year, totaling $90 million in sales volume.
Hiring an admin can be all it takes
For Live Love Homes Keller Williams expansion team leader Lisa Archer, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, hiring an admin was a key part of her ascension, too.
Archer tells the story of seeing top producer, Ben Kinney, at a Keller Williams training event about four years into her career in 2010.
As she puts it: “The message was: ‘If the cable guy can do it, I can do it.'”
At the time she was working with her father and deciding if she wanted to stay in real estate. “We were making money, but it wasn’t that I got up every morning and was passionate about it,” she said.
She went from being a Realtor to being a business owner from that time on.
When she got back home from the KW event, she propelled into action.
“The first thing I did was hire an admin, then I hired a coach and now I am a coach,” Archer said.