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The path into real estate can be accessed from many roads. For Jason Castro, a Dallas-based agent with Coldwell Banker who formed Castro Property Group with his brother, Michael Castro, last year, the road to real estate came after a successful career as a musician. Castro was the third runner-up on the seventh season of American Idol in 2008, and went on to tour as a full-time musician for 10 years.
After life on the road started to take its toll, Castro turned to real estate — something that had become a bit of a hobby for him over the years — for a chance at a new career. Four years later, Castro is an established agent and team leader who’s ready to meet pent-up demand from buyers now that he and his team can meet in-person again.
Inman recently spoke with Castro about how his career, his team and how the pandemic has changed business.
Inman News: You had an established music career — that’s still ongoing in some capacity — before becoming a real estate agent. What made you decide to get into real estate?
Jason Castro: I was on American Idol when I was 20 years old, was the third runner-up and went on to sign a record deal. I toured and released four albums over the course of 10 years, and in that time I got married and started to grow a family. I now have four kids, and somewhere along the way, the traveling just got a little bit harder. The more kids at home, the more I felt like I was missing.
Real estate had always been an interest of mine. I grew up around construction; my grandmother was a very small-time investor. Early on I bought some property, first a house then a rental property when we were touring.
Eventually, I decided to get my license thinking it was just for myself, to find better deals. I did not even know what the Realtor career looked like. I didn’t know anything about it, I just thought I was getting my license so I could access the MLS.
Then, as soon as I started meeting with brokers, I realized, “Oh, wow there’s actually kind of a lot of opportunity here in this job.” At that point, I had already purchased and remodeled probably five to 10 homes, so I had a lot of experience in real estate and self-negotiating deals. I felt comfortable walking through a deal.
My friends kind of knew me as the real estate guy — even though I was the music guy, I was the only person who owned a couple rental properties or fixed up a house. So as soon as I got my license, I naturally became the go-to for real estate in my peer group.
Things escalated quickly just as we put our social media skills to work and leveraged the network that we have, and so my brother jumped in with me. We are hyper-local, and we’ve been busy. I stay pretty entrenched in the community, so [we] just built relationships that way.
I’m four years in now and launched a team last year. That was always an ambition of mine from the time I got started. I read Million Dollar Real Estate Agent, the Gary Keller book, so early on that kind of set a path for me. I just wanted to be able to leverage.
My strength is connecting with people and I love the opportunity to give other people careers. Coming out of music, my whole goal was, “I gotta make as much money as I did on the road.” I had a good career there, but I was just gone all the time.
I honestly didn’t think I would have another option given that I didn’t have a college degree. I didn’t know what options there were, so real estate really surprised me. Now I see how I can help other people find very fulfilling, rewarding and well-compensating careers. That’s kind of an exciting part of the journey.
How many team members do you have at this point?
We currently have four team members. One of them is an administrative assistant, and the others are agents. We’re trying to keep it small. We’re not trying to grow a huge team out of the gate, we’re really trying to dial in our systems.
They really operate as buyers agents. I procure the leads, I make the initial contact, we schedule a buyer’s consultation and at that consultation I take one of our team members and make the hand-off there. It’s been a really great set-up because the people I’m bringing in excel in areas that I maybe struggle in.
I am very much a big-picture visionary. I love finding opportunity and casting a vision, but I struggle with the details. So having team members that are very detailed-oriented that take great care of customers is valuable. They impress me all the time, and really do a better job than I do myself. That’s what you look for when building a team: people who complement you.
This has been a very strange and challenging time for most people. What’s been the toughest part of navigating the past few months for you and your team?
Not meeting in-person has been the toughest part, especially early on. Early on, we really kind of scaled back and shut things down out of precaution.
Also, everything fell apart. All deals kind of blew up in that March area. So, when you see like five or 10 deals just disappear overnight, it’s kind of like, “Alright, let’s go home for a bit.”
Thankfully, we had come off of some really big months where we were tracking with our goals and doing awesome. That was the biggest kind of frustration. We had been thinking, “Man, this is setting up to be an awesome year. There’s so much demand, and everybody’s getting ready to list, so much in the pipeline …” And then it just hit a wall.
For a month, it was very discouraging. In that time, we were actually involved in a few renovations that were going on so I was able to pour attention into that, and just had to have faith that things are going to turn around, and we’re going to sell these houses.
Thankfully, after a month or so, it just started picking up. We’re busier than we’ve ever been right now. I think after the initial scare, once you knew where you were sitting — if you still had a job, if you could work remotely — and that, along with the low interest rates made buying a home realistic again.
Everyone’s sitting at home and either loving their house or frustrated with it. So I think there’s a lot of pent-up buying energy that’s starting to come out. We’re seeing it here in Dallas — it’s as hot a market as its ever been. Everything’s selling quick.
You mentioned not being able to meet in person has been a big challenge — what have you done to stay connected as a team during this unusual time?
We shut down for a month; that’s pretty much what we did. If you were working something, you kind of nurtured it, but we were all just like, “We don’t know what’s happening. We’re staying close to home and seeing what happens.”
But we’ve started to meet in the office again, and we’re the only people meeting at the office right now, so it works. It’s a very safe way to do it. We have our own private office. We’re not mingling with anybody else and we’re wearing masks, we’re taking all the precautions.
For me personally, I work off of other people’s energy. So at home, I’ve realized my house is too small for me and my four kids. I cannot work at home — like, it’s impossible. I have to be at the office. We started that probably about a month ago. I remember we kept having the conversation: “OK, when should we start doing it because I’m not getting anything done at home, I cannot even make a phone call at home.”
Our brokerage is doing a lot of proactive [things] — and we already had a lot online, like our training — but we’re doing our office-wide meetings that are normally in-person through Microsoft Teams. The brokerage as a whole has moved to a very virtual platform.
The cool thing is, I think, that Coldwell had all these resources that nobody was tapping into and now that we’re at home and largely depending on the portal, we’re discovering there are ways to learn and still promote our business. Because when you have a slow month, you should be learning. That’s what you should be doing. You should be asking, “How can I make my business better? How can I procure more business?” I have seen a lot of people start to tap into those resources that have always been [available], but not used.
Anything else you’d like to share?
A big part of our business was our events. We had a lot of fun events — open house-concerts, our Christmas party was epic. So what do we do in this climate? Now that everyone has been getting used to Zoom and using these other resources, we’re kicking around the idea of doing some type of live event, where we can educate homebuyers.
I still think so many people do not understand the process of buying a home, and they feel like it’s a bigger hurdle than it is, and now more than ever is the best time to buy a house. So that’s our job, we want to educate people and make them feel confident in buying a home because it’s one of the best decisions you can make.
With these interest rates, if you can buy a house and you’re not buying a house right now, it’s just crazy. But so many people think, “I’ve gotta have 20 percent down,” but that’s not true. So we’re kind of thinking through some online events, but don’t have anything nailed down.