In this weekly column, real estate agents across the nation share stories of the lessons they’ve learned during their time in the industry.
Last spring, I started writing the “Lesson Learned” column and began reaching out to real estate agents, brokers and executives from all over the country.
I’ve talked to brand new agents, seasoned veterans, and movers and shakers in the national spotlight, and one thing has always been true: Everyone has a story to tell and some wisdom to share.
Here are our top 10 favorite, most actionable pieces of advice in the words of those who lived, learned and got better at their crafts.
1. Don’t take anything personally
Alyssa Blevins, Alexandria, Virginia
Not to take anything personally! I tell my clients this all the time because buying or selling a home can be so emotional, but it was hard to take that lesson to heart myself. My first year, honestly, it was maybe my first month, in the business, friends of mine were selling their $1 million-plus home in an extremely desirable neighborhood. They didn’t use me!
How dare they?
I took it personally. But honestly, what did I know? I wasn’t being mentored at that point, and I was brand new to marketing, to making connections and to the process in general.
When you’re a new agent, you think all of your friends and family will automatically use you as their agent, and that’s just not the case. It feels personal in the beginning, but the more confidence you develop in yourself, the more you can focus on the work ahead and not the people who didn’t pick you.
2. Set your boundaries
Maria Dampman, Purcellville Virginia
Set your boundaries early, and stick with them. Make time for those things in life you don’t want to miss like your child’s dance recital or a friend’s birthday dinner.
Schedule everything you don’t want to miss out on just as if it was an important business meeting. Having trouble getting to the gym? Schedule it as a recurring appointment.
Your recharge time should be just as important as work time. How much work do you think you will get done if you are laid up in the hospital from exhaustion?
Remember, you are allowed to say no sometimes — you are not a beck-and-call agent but a well-educated and highly respected professional. Setting appointments and boundaries helps you more easily schedule a work-life balance and helps you set good habits from the beginning.
No matter what, with some creative thinking, there is always a common ground and a compromise that can be made where both parties “win.” Always be friendly, helpful, ethical and courteous.
If you follow this rule, not only will you have easier transactions, you will also make some great new friends in the process.
3. You’re only as good as the company you keep
Ilan Bracha, New York City, New York
You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with. Keep looking for talented people, and never be complacent. Don’t over-leverage your holdings.
I learned this by taking action, calculated risks, and of course, failing at times. I made my way and am now owner of the third-largest brokerage in the city. Throughout that journey, I learned that your mindset is key — the only way to keep a strong outlook is to have a great support system around you.
Technology will continue to evolve, and more tools will be available to consumers and professionals. But at the end of the day, we are dealing with people. Having a genuine interest and listening to people to help to solve their problems is all that it takes to develop meaningful relationships and business opportunities.
I like to live by the words of educator Peter Drucker: “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
4. Teamwork makes the dream work
Jamohl DeWald, Portland, Oregon
The key is getting on the right team. You need to find a team that is successful in real estate and will actually train you and let you write up contracts, go to listing appointments, photo shoots, closings, show homes, hold homes open, etc., so that you actually learn the profession you’re in.
Don’t go to a team that is only looking for a gopher — someone to keep flyer boxes full, hang signs, go to inspections for the lead agent, doing the dirty work. This is key!
While it is important to learn all the dealings of real estate, you want to make sure you are learning the keys to be successful in this business. I think the best way to learn is by doing.
If you can get on a busy successful team and participate in 60-plus transactions in a year, just imagine what you will learn compared to the 12 or 20 you manage on your own learning by trial-and-error.
Being on a successful team will also help to supplement your income and give you a steady income instead of not knowing when your next commission check will come.
In less than two years, I was on over 130-plus transactions of which 99 closed, and counting — that type of experience could take an agent more than seven years to get, depending on your market.
5. The only constant is change
Nikki Field, New York City, New York
Never take a market for granted. Just when you are reading it correctly, expect for it to go sideways or even upside down. Market changes are to be expected, anticipated and immediately embraced in order to keep ahead of the pack and to best advise your clients and customers moving forward.
Specialization of real-time market trends is my trademark. Pivoting and changing my focus and skill sets as market indicators warrant is essential for success.
For me, the ’90s was the decade of the local co-op market run-up in sales, the 2000s shifted emphasis to the mega sales of the townhouse decade, and the 2010s was the dawn of the new development era fueled by international buyers. I anticipate that the 2020s will demand full-frontal global portfolio advisement.
I followed the money and drilled deep into the Mainland Chinese market beginning in 2009: personal investments included recruiting top Chinese professionals to join me in building out our Field Team Asia Desk, language and culture studies, frequent travel throughout China participating in seminars, forums and industry speaking engagements while networking Chinese wealth manager relationships.
I also participated in a national book tour for my co-authored published book written in Chinese, The Definitive Guide to USA Real Estate.
And then … the 2018 China government funds export restrictions severely impacted my sales volume. Time to pivot.
February 2018, I launched my India Desk. Same platform, significant efforts and personal funds investment, and we are now specializing in targeting and securing these focused and motivated buyers.
What I learned? Follow the money.
6. Work hard
Eddie Shapiro, president and CEO of Nest Seekers
I have the oldest advice in the world: work hard. From the mid-90s, when I first entered the industry, until now, no matter whether markets were good or bad, hard work has always been the most important part of every success story.
Of the thousands of agents I’ve known and worked with over the years, there isn’t one that isn’t a hard worker. The industry is one of the easiest to penetrate — you don’t need a college degree, prestigious connection, trust fund or top-notch skills in tech.
You need the willingness and drive to work hard 24/7. Everything else can be easily taught. The sky is the limit.
7. Cross your T’s and dot your I’s
Ophelia ‘Opey’ Angelone, Sebastian, Florida
Make sure everything is initialed, and make sure everyone gets a copy.
I had a deal with a large parcel of land about eight years ago. The buyer was a surveyor and the seller was a bank, since the property was a foreclosure.
I had both sides, and this particular piece had recorded restrictions. The buyer agreed that he understood that even though there was no active homeowners association, it didn’t matter because the restrictions were recorded, and if the owners wanted to start an HOA again, they could.
Luckily, I had him initial that he understood what I said.
The day before closing the buyer got cold feet. He called and told me he wanted to commercial farm the land, and I reminded him that the restrictions would not allow any commercial farming.
It’s super important to give buyers a copy of everything they initial and keep a copy. The judge agreed with the us, and it cost the buyer the deposit (he did not close) and all court costs and attorney fees.
An important part of this conversation was that I told him if he went ahead and closed and really didn’t want the property, I would sell it for him for no commission to help him out. He declined and ended up losing over $20,000 with nothing to show for it.
8. Whoever talks first loses
Erica Collica, Detroit, Michigan
Our human instinct is to panic and call, email or text, but ultimately, you will end up negotiating against yourself. Be patient, and listen carefully — it will pay off in spades.
I remember in 2008, right when the recession hit: I was 24 years old and was negotiating one of the toughest deals of my two-year-old baby career. I was representing the buyers, and the sellers were a group of well-known estate attorneys along with their very experienced agent — she had 30 years on me.
We had been going back and forth for more than a week, and we were about $10,000 apart on a $450,000 purchase. My buyers where not coming up, and the sellers where not coming down.
I was sitting at my kitchen table after eating dinner, and the phone rang; it was the sellers’ agent asking if I had made any progress with the buyers. I told her we were firm, exactly why we were firm, and I stopped talking.
There was complete silence on the line —I am not kidding you, for probably close to a minute. My heart was racing. Finally, she simply said “OK, I will call the attorneys.” Phew.
Nearly a complete 24 hours went by with no reply. I remember wanting to just touch base to see if she had any update, but I knew I had said and done all I could. There was nothing left to say.
So I waited.
Suddenly, at 11 p.m. at night I received an email with a fully executed PA notifying me that we had a deal. I actually cried. I’m laughing now, but it took everything in me to follow that golden rule of negotiations, “Whoever talks first, loses.”
Try it sometime; trust me on this one.
9. Attract, don’t sell
Peggy James, Lorton, Virginia
I was divorced, it was a Saturday evening in 2001, and I was about to join Match.com. I had no idea how to begin. As I read bio after bio, I was left feeling they were all the same; just the faces were different.
I pondered a bit and said to myself, “Don’t overthink this. Peggy, you can sell houses all day long. How do you do that?”
I quickly answered my own question. I sell features and benefits! And that is when I had my light-bulb moment. So I quickly called my girlfriend and asked her to bring her camera over.
The next day my bio was born.
I had five photos (just like the MLS): one without makeup and a towel on my head (yes I did), one in my convertible, one on a cruise, one with my dogs and one at home.
My bio said:
The photos you see are of me and my life, I have two dogs; they are non-negotiable. I own a convertible. I prefer to vacation on a cruise or near blue water. I am not high maintenance and love just being at home. I am not fussy.
If you can deal with the photo with my hair in a towel, that is as bad as it gets! Now regarding this internet platform called Match.com. It feels like a department store I once visited in San Jose, California, that had many many floors.
I am kind of lost and need some help. I’ve been to bad boy department, and as cute as you are: NO. I passed by the old man dept; not interested. I’ve been to the married department; please do not contact me. I am simply looking for the nice guy department. Can someone point me in the right direction?
Guess what happened? The emails flowed in. I was married in less than a year to one of the five guys I met online. So the lesson learned was “The laws of attraction work online!”
Attract, don’t sell was how I would run my business from that point forward.
(Side note: My new husband hated Realtors. He almost did not date me because I was one. LOL!)
10. Stay grounded
Amber Tkaczuk, Omaha, Nebraska
Always keep your emotions in check. Buyers and sellers are under a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety and the process can be a roller coaster of a ride for them. They need an agent who will ground them, not send them into more of a panic.
You should help guide your clients through the process and give advice, when they ask for it, but remember, at the end of the day you are just the messenger. There’s no need for you to mirror your client’s emotions, especially if they are upset with the folks on the other side of the deal.
Remain calm and always be nice to the other agent.
Lastly, success doesn’t come overnight, and hard things take time. This is a tough business, but such a rewarding one if you stick with it. It is fun to look back at my career and see how far I have come. I cannot say I did it all by myself, but it definitely took a lot of perseverance on my end to be where I am today.
Christy Murdock Edgar is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant with Writing Real Estate. She is also a Florida Realtors faculty member. Follow Writing Real Estate on Facebook, Twitter, Instagr