I Can Do That! No, Sorry, You Probably Can’t – Wannabes and Mentorship

by | BiggerPockets.com

I apologize in advance for the length of this post. The subject matter is near and dear to me. I think it strikes at the core of why BiggerPockets exists — and why I said yes to Joshua Dorkin when he graciously offered me the opportunity to contribute here.

One of the excellent characteristics about BiggerPockets is the access to real life professionals. I’ll often read a particular passage written by one of them here, and pause in admiration — this guy gets it. You may be reading this while noddin’ your head in agreement, but wondering when the other shoe’s gonna fall. Here it comes.

I’ve been blessed to have experienced a modicum of success in non-real estate endeavors, none of which have to do with makin’ money — bodybuilding, marathoning, and baseball umpiring. All three are, to be honest, not rocket science. The concepts leading to success and excellence in all three can be quickly assimilated by a bright eighth grader. The execution? Not so much. Anyone who’s done any of the three understands reaching even the bottom rung on the excellence ladder is no walk in the park.

Take umpiring.

There are the rules to learn, plenty of ’em. Then there are the on-field mechanics — who goes where and when. Who has what responsibility on any given play. Then there’s technique — how to be in the right spot, in time, while making the right call. There’s also dealing with players and coaches, the crowd, and what my main mentor used to euphemistically call, immediately negative feedback. 🙂 It seems easy enough, as we’ve all found ourselves wondering what game some ump is watchin’, cuz it just can’t be the same one we’re seein’. “How is that pitch NOT a strike! Moron! — try usin’ your good eye next time, OK?!” And trust me, that example was genteel.

Ever stood behind an NCAA Division I catcher as a 95 mph fastball comes whistlin’ in, and you hafta decide ball or strike in a second? At that point it becomes, um, not something everyone’s equipped to handle. Or how ’bout an 81 mph slider that breaks like the hand of God hit it, buckles the knees of the hitter, but catches the inside corner at the knees? You know in your heart of hearts it didn’t look like a strike to the crowd, but you, the hitter, the catcher, and the pitcher all know it hit the strike zone. Do ya call it as it was? Or do ya take the easy way out and please the crowd? If ya please the crowd though, the pitcher’s dugout realizes you’ve telegraphed a message to them: You have no huevos.

It’s not much different than being a professional investor, or in my case, also a professional real estate investment broker/advisor. The folks who’ve bought a property or who think they’re investors, but that’s no more true than a Little League umpire who thinks he could train a month and call balls ‘n strikes at an Oregon vs San Diego State game. He’d be runnin’ away like a nine year old girl who skinned her knee at recess before the end of the first inning. They’d own him.

‘Course, when the brick wall of reality hits the wannabe investor, the consequences are often infinitely more damaging than a little embarrassment, hurt feelings, and disillusionment. So what’s the solution? How does one really end up to be a bona fide real estate investor and/or broker/advisor worthy of the moniker?

For some the answer is to do it yourself, which from where I stand is not only folly, but arrogance in action, only exceeded by the ignorance employed as gas on a fire. Do I know of investors who’ve successfully done it themselves? Yep. Can count ’em on one hand with a couple fingers left. Do I know a bunch of ’em who think they’re pro investors who’re ‘self taught’? Yep — and most of ’em are lickin’ their wounds about now.

I implore the members here to take advantage of the many experienced contributors to these pages. Yeah, I know, some have been self taught, though I suspect when pressed, they’ll have a story or five about the grizzled veteran who kept them from harm, or helped extricate them from a dicey situation.

I implore you to make it your Holy Grail Goal to find someone who’ll mentor you within an inch of your life. BiggerPockets is silly with folks qualified to help you. You don’t hafta be a natural, just a good student, willing to listen to someone who’s been there, lived that. The best (Smartest?) learning any of us ever do is by others’ mistakes instead of our own. This is true in everything we do that matters to us. How much does your retirement matter to you? Maybe enough to give it more attention than a do-it-yourself RadioShack project? Just askin’.

The training I received as an up and coming umpire was nothing short of magnificent. It was often one on one, much of the time in live games. Two of my mentor/trainers were former pro ball umps, another three were guys with experience in the College World Series in Omaha. When they spoke, you listened. They were at times brutally harsh with their criticism, but I learned quickly how much my game improved when I applied their wisdom.  Sometimes what they taught was found in the last few words of a throw away sentence. “Oh, so that’s why I sometimes lose sight of the outside corner.”

Solid mentorship has become a joke, in my opinion — on a couple levels.

First, most of those I’ve observed in my neck of the woods as mentors, couldn’t teach a new agent where the bathroom is — or if they could, they use them as cheap labor. Ensure your mentor is someone to whom you’re willing to entrust your future. That’s easier said than done. True OldSchool mentors are hard taskmasters — they view your ultimate results as their personal success, or failure.

Second, an OldSchool mentor will allow you into their ‘inner sanctum’ so to speak. They’ll let you see/hear/touch exactly what they do, and how they do it — in real time. Don’t confuse a classroom-type setting for mentorship. A teacher ain’t a mentor.

I was mentored by half a dozen guys, a few of them legitimate icons. It was a blessing. To a man their only request for remuneration was that I do the same when I was qualified to do so. Sure, they got paid for seminars, consulting, and the like, but they mentored serious agents every now and again. I’ve done the same a few times.

One such kid was a horrifically dyslexic 25 year old with a high school diploma from a poor rural area of Washington. He’d been in Prudential’s ‘mentorship’ program for 13 months with one lonely transaction to show for it. Many in the program would come by my office for answers or advice, which resulted in a meeting with the office manager. She told me to knock it off, as she had a husband/wife team in-house for that job. I responded by tellin’ her they came to me uninvited — why was that? Crickets.

I asked her if I could make Daniel, the above mentioned young agent, one of my assistants, which she agreed to, though with reservations. Daniel felt I’d helped him escape from prison. 🙂

During the following eight months he found out the meaning of indentured servant. Since I already had two other assistants who were golden, I was able to baby him along. He sat in on every single client meeting, even if it was the first time I’d met the folks. He wrote up every listing and offer I generated — usually several times. 🙂 After a couple months I promoted him to ‘fireman’. A transaction had a problem? Dan was the guy to put out the fire, as long as it wasn’t something in need of my personal attention. At first, I had to tell him every frickin’ thing to do. I couldn’t write anything down for him cuz he was terminally dyslexic. But he’d trained himself to be one of the best listeners I’d come across, and his memory was like a hard drive. I rarely had to tell him things more than twice.

He went from solving problems like a kid ‘painting by the numbers’, to asking me if his approach would work. After more time passed, and his confidence expanded, he’d come to me with a smile, saying he solved the problem, and was his method correct? I knew we’d reached a turning point when he came to me one day, a stupid grin on his face. He proceeded to tell me of a problem of which I wasn’t yet aware, and how he’d solved it.

He was almost ready to solo.

A couple more months of being my ‘personal assassin’ as he was now known around the office, and he was ready to do his own stuff — though still under my authority. I should pause here to note that more than a few agents were miffed that I’d taken the worst performing agent in the office’s mentorship program as an assistant. I’ll never fully understand why. Those folks made no secret of their hope that he’d fail miserably. Buncha losers.

That first week his marketing efforts produced a couple looking for their first investment. As he met them for their initial meeting, I posed as his assistant, a role I embraced with vigor. Bottom line? He not only found them a fourplex, but listed and sold another small property — all in his first 30 days flyin’ solo. Though I critiqued his efforts, I never butted in at any time.

My policy was to ignore the office’s listing/sales ‘board’, as I was the only investor guy roaming the halls, and frankly, they didn’t care about my listings, and cared even less about my sales. It was understandable. But some had been hurtful in their barely disguised opinions about Dan, and I wanted the pleasure of publicizing his success. So the BawldGuy Team was born. I put his transactions on the board, which added up to just over $1 Million! He’d generated $15,000 in gross commissions to the office, which became the hallway buzz all week long. In your face! Furthermore, the office manager, bless her heart, pointed out his success in front of the entire 150 office population at the following Tuesday’s office meeting. Dan’s grin coulda lit up most of San Diego. How cool was that?

That’s how mentorship should work. That’s what’s available here at BiggerPockets. Stop thinkin’ you can read stuff here, or go back and forth in the forums and become a real pro — with rare exceptions that ain’t gonna happen. Pick a mentor, come to them asking for help. Offer to be their bitch. Whatever it takes. Just do it. But stop kiddin’ yourself about becoming a self made pro, cuz it just ain’t gonna happen. Remember, true pros are few and far between. Most of the folks on the forum are there just like you — to learn. But also know that most of them you may think are mentor material, are simply a few chapters ahead of you in the book. Don’t be fooled.

I’ve observed to many that if you wanna know about someone’s grasp of a subject, read at least 5,000 words of what they’ve written. It’s their body of work that will shed true light on their real knowledge, expertise, and experience. After 5,000 words, they’ve either proved themselves or undressed themselves. Either way, you win.

Find a mentor — succeed wildly — then return the favor.

Photo: Jay Cox

About Author

Jeff Brown

Licensed since 1969, broker/owner since 1977. Extensively trained and experienced in tax deferred exchanges, and long term retirement planning.


  1. Jeff, no need to apologize for getting on a rant with this article for it was very well said. No telling how many agents are out there that only wish they would have someone like you as a mentor when starting out. How many REALTORS® take on a new agent, show them their office, the copy machine, and wish them good luck with no further training? You were on the money on this one.

    Visit Liz Voss’s last blog at San Antonio Homes.

  2. Jeff, Once again you have hit this one out of the park!

    I will never forget my first professional mentor… there were days when I absolutely hated this guy… but through thick and thin he hung in there with me and I have to say his patience paid off for me… big time, once I headed out on my own as a real estate investor.

    The importance of finding someone who is willing and ABLE to take any investor through the process cannot be overstated.

    One last point… your recommendation/insight regarding the “5000” words is dead on!

    Keep these great posts coming.

  3. Jeff Brown

    Thanks Peter — As you point out, 5,000 words will pretty much do the trick. Anyone can luck out for 500 words every now and then. But in 5,000 words readers know what he knows — and what he doesn’t know.

  4. Just beware of paid “mentors.” There is no such thing as a paid mentor. If you are paying them, they are functioning as consultants or coaches, not mentors, and have a different agenda. True mentors are ONLY interested in your success; that is their payment. You repay them by mentoring others once you are a seasoned professional. The term “mentor” is being misused horribly, destroying the meaning of a true mentor-mentee relationship.

  5. Jeff Brown

    Susan — Opinions vary, obviously, but I have no problem with paid mentors whatsoever. Pay doesn’t taint or bless the lessons imparted, the character of the mentor does. In my opinion, pay isn’t relevant in the least.

    It reminds me of the story of the two deaths by gunshot in one neighborhood. One was by a criminal caught in the act of breaking and entering who shot the homeowner to death. The other was shot by the ’empty’ gun being cleaned by his wife. Question:

    Which victim is more dead?

  6. Susan S. McCormcik on

    I TOTALLY agree with Susan Lloyd’s post also! HOW true! But this post lays it on the line-for the truth of what it is-I still need a MENTOR-would someone call on me?!

  7. Gerald Grinter on

    Jeff! Now this is why I joined BiggerPockets. I am just getting my feet wet with investing and have yet to purchase my first property but have made it my obsession to become an investor. I am learning so much more by listening to everyone here. I have found a home and expect great things of myself. Sure, I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m scared to death. But that won’t stop me. Keep writing. I’ll keep reading. Maybe our paths will cross one day. Have a great week.


  8. Yes Jeff you were right, it was a little long but nontheless a good read and great points.

    I’ve been an investor for about 4 years now and it’s just in the last 6 months that I’ve realized how important it is to have a good mentor standing beside me. I’ve talked to several people and looked into several coaching programs but I’m still looking. Your insight on mentorship is so much the truth that so many don’t understand.

  9. I can’t believe no one has commented on this post for over two years! What a great post. As someone that has been researching from the sidelines for far too long, I’ve just now realized the importance of finding someone to shadow and learn hands on from. I can’t get enough of the forums and articles here on BiggerPockets, I still can’t believe it’s FREE! Thanks again for taking the time to write all the articles that you have, I and many others have a lot to learn from you!

    • Jeff Brown

      Hey Pat — Pardon me for the tardy reply. Not only will you learn more, but you’ll very likely learn more quickly. Some of the most valuable lessons I learned from my many mentors was when they told me stories of their epic failures. Awesome.

  10. Jason Brooks on

    Jeff, Phenomenal Post! I thoroughly enjoyed the long read. I have done exactly as you have suggested here and offered myself up to the strongest of whiplashes. I have a back of steel and a mind like a steel trap. I think the 5,000 word synopsis is equally true. I can look back at my posts from the moment I joined BP to now and see a vast improvement both in my process and action. I am still a free agent at this point but I am actively seeking that mentor and I believe I may be close to securing that priceless relationship.

    To your continued success sir!

  11. Awesome post Jeff!
    Not long enough in my opinion. True mentors will have you go through every painful process out there. People who think they are mentors but just want to micromanage everything you do are not good mentors. I’ve learned the hard way.
    And you put it in the same words that I have said “who needs a bitch because I’m ready to learn” 🙂
    Thank you for being honest and down to earth.

  12. Michael Volek

    This is a very descriptive and detailed read. Thank you for posting this. There were a few times where I would laugh, pause, reflect, and gain a little more insight on how I will do things from now on. Thank you for taking the time to enlighten those of us that haven’t quite figured it all out. I look forward to more posts like this in the future.

  13. Clairesa Scales on

    I would like to comment from the perspective of someone whom has just obtained a real estate license… in the last week. Being brand new in real estate I truly appreciate your article as well as the resulting comments from other real estate veterans. Prior to deciding to “take the leap” into the real estate industry (something that has been on my to-do list for 2 years), I read a lot of research and attended a lot of free conferences from someone’s real estate investment team offering to “mentor” me at the tune of several thousand $$$. Of all the information provided, this article has been more helpful by far at this stage of my real estate career. In every new project I I choose to dive into, from public speaking to direct sales and even when I was debating on marriage, I always seek the mentorship and guidance from someone whom is knowledgeable and with a proven track record of the level of success (or preferrably higher) that I seek. This article will serve to help me build a rapport and relationship with such an investor/agent. Assistance & guidance obtained through relationship and servitude. Thank you Jeff!

  14. Timothy Shea

    I’m a newbie here, having said that, I’ve also been a Marine, a construction worker, a foreman and project manager. I know I have a lot of learning to do when it come to real estate investment. I must say the story about how you mentored Dan was just precious. I never liked people who hope for others to fail. I’ve always felt it’s a character fault, that tells a lot about ones self esteem. Good show!

  15. Sam Lenderman

    Thanks for the no-BS, straightforward post! I’m attending my first REIA meeting next week and I’m excited to learn as much as I can about investing in the Tampa market. I’m ready to find a mentor, work my ass off for them, and keep my ears open.

Leave A Reply

Pair a profile with your post!

Create a Free Account


Log In Here