“2020 was going to be my best year ever.” Does this statement sound familiar?
The prior year was my 20th year in real estate. Since starting with a luxury property management company in southwest Florida in 1999, my career took me to residential real estate operations for a RE/MAX franchise in 2004, where I almost immediately had a crash course in market volatility.
I enjoyed the real estate boom, weathered the bust and somehow helped keep things afloat during one of the most challenging markets in recent real estate history.
During the crash, I had a lot of time to think about whether real estate was really the career for me. I went back to college at night, finished my bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Florida and looked at the employment landscape.
I thought about becoming a history teacher, taking my experience as a professional musician into music production, or following my brother-in-law into the world of finance. However, a funny thing happened during that final year of college.
Our brokerage had a gentleman who hung his Florida real estate license with us, but he was primarily licensed in Georgia. One day, knowing that I was working to research new methods to drive agent growth and productivity, he walked into my office with a training book from his main brokerage, Metro Brokers in Atlanta (now BHGRE Metro Brokers). I realized after reading through it that I actually had found my true passion: helping entrepreneurs to achieve their goals.
This reignited my spirit, and soon I was spending hours a day interviewing agents, researching the newest trends and sales methodologies online, listening to cassette tapes (remember those?) of various real estate coaches, and generally soaking up every ounce of real estate knowledge that I could.
I boiled it all down into a new strategic focus, and results followed. That passion eventually took me to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2013, where I had the opportunity to work for the No. 1 RE/MAX franchise in the world in multioffice sales.
Like many, I battle imposter syndrome and was nervous about making the continental leap. I shared this with my dad one day, and he told me something that I’ll never forget: “You may feel really comfortable jumping into the pool from the side … but eventually, you need to climb the ladder and jump from the high board.” So I jumped.
In January 2015, I was invited to serve as an Inman Ambassador and speak at the Inman Connect Conference in New York City. This was the infamous “snowmageddon” year, and the conference changed my life. I met dozens of amazing real estate leaders, many of whom I now count among my closest friends, and the trip led to me joining Realogy and Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate that fall.
My eyes were opened wider than ever to the breadth and depth of the industry, and listening to like-minded real estate personalities share and swap strategies felt like being a kid in a candy store.
What the audience and my new friends did not know at the time was that my father was watching me speak from his hospital bed in Florida. He had been diagnosed the previous month with prostate cancer — a cancer he’d overcome 10 years earlier but was back and aggressive. His chemotherapy drugs almost killed him that week, but he summoned the energy to watch his son speak live from Times Square.
I will forever be grateful for that snowstorm, as it led to Inman News deciding to stream the content online at the last minute. Knowing my dad was watching helped me dig deep and put my all into my time on stage. His words — and the words of my fellow Inman attendees — fueled me.
I mention all of this because like many of you, I entered 2020 with a profound sense of optimism. After working as the director of industry outreach for Zillow Group, I left in October 2019 and joined MoxiWorks as the director of business development.
I was excited to have a new role, a new team to work with and the ability to get back to what I was passionate about. I was also a newlywed; my wife and I were busy planning our honeymoon and continuing to discover all the benefits that life in the Pacific Northwest has to offer.
Three weeks into the new year on January 21, a Washington resident was diagnosed as the first American with COVID-19. The pandemic had an effect on us quite early on as my wife works as a nurse within the University of Washington medical system, and the state of Washington was one of the first to respond by shutting down and encouraging social distancing.
Everything changed. My wife began wearing full personal protective equipment for her 12- to 13-hour shifts. I worked remotely from our home beginning in mid-March. The honeymoon was cancelled, my business trips were cancelled, brokerage initiatives were postponed, and my Facebook feed was full of uncertainty and doubt.
Uncertainty and doubt, of course, leads to stress, self-doubt, overanalyzing everything and a variety of downward spiral slides within the playgrounds of our minds. I quickly felt my spark diminishing.
One evening in April, I received the call from my mother that children dread. My father had passed away from a massive heart attack. My idol, best friend, counselor and life coach was gone.
I was in complete shock as he’d been doing very well on his cancer medication and was healthier than he’d been in years. Ultimately, I gained strength knowing that the cancer hadn’t beaten him and that he didn’t suffer. That helped me to pick myself up and make sure I seemed OK, even if I wasn’t.
If there’s one thing I know living in Seattle, it’s that when it rains, it pours. Following an odd occurrence in late July that was eventually revealed to be my first-ever panic attack, I was sitting in a hospital emergency room the next day. The good news? I hadn’t had a stroke, and my heart was fine.
However, a CT scan revealed that I had a brain tumor behind my left eye, wrapped tightly around my carotid artery. I was stunned and terrified. The weight of the world seemed to increase exponentially overnight, crushing my attitude and energy. Beyond my own diagnosis, there didn’t seem to be good news anywhere you looked — COVID continuing to explode, the economy suffering and unemployment rising.
However, through the noise and negativity, I began to focus on how the real estate industry was working to help their communities. I saw agents assisting families in need, brokerages supporting their local arts scene with live-streamed concerts, real estate markets continuing to thrive as the industry adapted to this new normal.
The industry’s strength and resilience fueled mine at a time when I desperately needed it. Once I publicly revealed my health news, I was blown away by how the real estate community embraced me even tighter, sending messages of hope, good wishes, support and daily packages showing up at my door full of Star Wars goodies, blankets, toys and notes to cheer me up.
Finally, on Oct. 15, I checked in for a scheduled six-and-a-half-hour brain surgery that instead lasted over 11 hours. (Technically, I underwent a bilateral frontal-temporal craniotomy and orbitotomy, featuring an anterior clinoidectomy, intra canalicular tumor resection/removal with optic canal decompression, but I wouldn’t suggest Google image searching any of that).
I woke up the next day with a 13-inch scar from ear to ear across the top of my head, a black eye, a swollen face that helped me resemble Sloth from The Goonies and most importantly, a tumor 60 percent smaller than before surgery. I then did what most of us do when we’ve been off the grid — I checked Facebook, and I had hundreds of comments of support and direct messages.
Now, many of these were from colleagues and professionals who I had developed friendships with over my career, but I was struck by how many came from people I didn’t know well. Agents who had seen me speak, read Inman articles I had written, enjoyed my tweets or who worked at brokerages I worked with in consulting roles.
They took the time out of their lives, which surely had their own challenges, to thank me for helping them in the past and offering to help me now. My spark was once again reignited, brighter and hotter than ever. It feels good to serve and help others.
It was also a reminder that despite the negativity, the “brand on brand” fighting we see in recruiting, the hyper-competitive agent landscape in markets with thousands of agents but only hundreds of listings, ultimately, we are all in this together.
My glass half-full analysis of 2020 is that whether it was premeditated or not, many real estate agents who might have been neglecting their sphere corrected that, reaching out to folks not just to try to earn a listing or commission, but to see how they were doing personally — fellow agents included.
For all we hear about online leads and conversion, year after year, the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers shows that the majority of transactions come from past clients, referrals and an agent’s sphere.
Successful agents remember that the “R” in “CRM” stands for relationship not revenue. What’s more, they offer advice beyond what someone can Google on their own, put their clients’ needs first, communicate before, during and after the transaction, and most importantly, see the names of clients and prospective clients as people, not “leads” or numbers.
If you do these things, chances are you’ll be successful, because at the end of the day, as much as we try to complicate things, success in real estate isn’t brain surgery. I should know.