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Finding Success in Real Estate Sales

In this exclusive Q & A interview Real Estate Agent, Dave Sun, explains how he got into the real estate business and what the work is really like.

How did you get into real estate?

I worked for 20 years in IT, got tired of a nine to five cubicle job and decided it was time for a change. A career in real estate was appealing.

I looked around and thought about buying a franchise but nothing looked interesting. I somehow got led to real estate and decided to give being an agent a try.

I was living in New Jersey at the time and the first year was hard. I didn't even make 10K. Then by the time things got better, my wife and I decided to move to Seattle so I had to repeat the difficulties of the first year again. This is my sixth year working as a real estate agent and I am able to make a comfortable living. I wish I found this career 20 years ago!

What are your favorite parts of the job?

I like the direct person-to-person contact that I get. It's great to see the results of my work right away. During my 20 years of IT work, I felt like a cog in a machine, and when nothing was broken in the machine, I didn't feel like I was accomplishing anything. But in real estate, there's the gratification in helping buyers find a wonderful house or helping a seller unload a house that has had trouble selling. For those who are structured, you can be as successful as you want to be in this career.

What are your least favorite parts of the job?

I have trouble with time management so I don't spend as much time with my family as I'd like.

It's an easy trap to prioritize clients over family, and in fact, real estate agents have a high divorce rate.

The inconsistency of income is also tough. Like most real estate agents, I am very busy in the summer, but three to four months can go by in the winter without selling a house. I have to remind myself that I don't receive paychecks-they are commission checks and 40% of them will go to the government at the end of the year. It takes extreme self-discipline to keep track of and save for federal taxes, social security, self-employment tax, and my personal retirement fund. Plus we have to buy our own health insurance, life insurance, and disability insurance, which I just purchased. Disability insurance is important because in this field, if I become disabled, my income stops that very day. Ideally a spouse or significant other would have a stable income with benefits to keep the new real estate agent afloat.

How did you select a real estate company?

I interviewed at the three biggest brokerages in Seattle because I wanted to work for a company with a strong reputation. A lot of people are under the mistaken impression that they are going in for a job interview, but it's rather like we are interviewing the brokers. After all, we don't get a paycheck from our brokerages - we pay them. That's why I never say "I work for John L. Scott," I say "I'm affiliated with John L. Scott." My priority was to see if I could work with the managers. I picked this office because I was impressed by the managing broker: she was knowledgeable, a great administrator, had a take charge personality and was tough.

I have some doubts about whether talking to agents in the office is a good use of time, because with 50 to 60 personalities, I would get a wide range of answers. Some will inevitably be happy and others unhappy.

What is your advice for beginning agents?

Real estate is about building relationships. The majority of our business comes through referrals; very few clients come through ads in the paper or other random prospecting.Selling Homes photo After all, what reason do people have for selecting your ad out of the other 99 agents who are running ads in the local paper that weekend?

Work hard for every one of your clients and hope that they have a positive experience and have enough faith and confidence in you to refer your name to their friends and family. To be honest, there are many incompetent and lazy real estate agents out there that give the rest of us a bad name. You tend to hear more negative stories about agents than positive ones. Be a good agent and the business will come.

The best way to start is by joining big networks, such as the PTA, professionals clubs, a sports team and making it known that you are in the real estate business.

What is your system for selling a house?

The first step is to fix up the house. There is a big difference between a house that looks nice when people are living in it and the way a house should look when it is for sale. I work with my clients on small repairs: updated light fixtures, patching up holes, fresh paint, new faucets if they are outdated, etc. These things aren't expensive and I roll up sleeves and help out. Then I bring in my stager to arrange the furniture so that the house looks roomier and aesthetically appealing. The third step is to bring in my professional photographer to take top quality pictures. This is important because a lot of people will look at the house online before they tour the actual property. People need to fall in love with the pictures.

After the house is in good condition, I conduct extensive marketing to other agents. I send paper fliers to the traditional agents and electronic fliers to the tech savvy agents. A lot of my work from this point on is behind the scene-negotiating, screening home buyers (you don't want someone who is going to flake out on you) and tracking every step. It's no accident that the closing process runs smoothly because I set everyone up to work properly. My process is above and beyond what a lot of agents do, but I consider it part of my code of conduct where we make our clients our first priority.