Last month marked my 47th anniversary of being a licensed real estate agent/broker. For nearly 40 of those years, it’s been as a broker and owner of a real estate and note investment firm. My first ever license was dated October 15, 1969. I got it in the mail in time to experience my first day in the office on October 25th, a Saturday. I was a full-time college student taking 15.5 units, so weekends and the occasional evening were my times to work. That first Saturday, I was exactly 70 days past my 18th birthday — which meant I knew absolutely everything.
By 22, I’d become full-time, which was in February of 1974. When I began in ’69, it was a recession. When I went full-time, it was a recession. I felt like a bad luck magnet. My earnings were so feeble that while doing our ’74 taxes, in front of my young bride, the H&R Block lady said it would’ve been better if I just hadn’t worked. We call that a reality adjustment in my family. As the recession gradually morphed into recovery mode, sometime in ’75, I began getting deadly serious about my career. That meant casting about for mentors to supplement Dad, who’d retired to become a 4 handicap.
By that time, Dad’s general manager, who after Dad’s retirement went back to being a working agent in the one office that’d been kept open, had become a true mentor. In fact, as I got older and less of an idiot, I realized he’d been my first “outside” mentor since months before my 18th birthday. He was crazy good as a teacher. An example? I got a listing from a “for sale by owner” ad in the paper on the afternoon of that aforementioned first Saturday on the job. It wasn’t worth the paper on which it was written, but you couldn’t tell me that then. I was the man! That is, ’til I got home, and Dad’s response was (paraphrased), “You mean you did what I hired you to do?” End euphoria.
Back to 1975, when, with Dad’s blessing, I left the company to work for a man I greatly respected who hadn’t retired and who would mentor me daily in real time for the next couple years. In the two years 1975-76, he showed me exactly how to “farm” a neighborhood long-term for listings. Ditto for knocking doors in random neighborhoods once in a while. He explained things in minute detail in the office one on one. He then took me out with him as an observer as he put into practice what he’d been teaching. After watching/listening for about 10 conversations with homeowners, I was pumped! Turns out my fears were not only baseless, but of my own making.
Then he said the next door was mine. Gulp. I knocked. The door opened. It was a man about Dad’s age. He didn’t cut my heart out and eat it while still beating. In those few short minutes I somehow became different from the ground up. Can’t really explain it, though I’ve tried dozens of times. My mind simply began processing things using a completely different program, so to speak. While in his car driving back to the office, he couldn’t stop smiling as I recounted my “epic” conversation with that first door knock.
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My Income Skyrocketed
I’d been mentored one-on-one by a truly elite expert. He’d learned from another such expert while married, and his family had been growing into a total of six kids. But it wasn’t selling real estate, it was selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. You can’t fake those kinda results. He not only supported his family, he bought a home, all before it ever dawned on him to even consider becoming a real estate licensee. I’d read a few books on the subject. I talked to many so-called “seasoned” agents about it. But not until this incredibly generous expert took me under his wing did I see what was possible.
Fast-Forward a Couple Years
Though also taught how to use the telephone correctly by this mentor, I became disenchanted with the business of listing/selling owner-occupied homes. It frankly wasn’t my cuppa tea. My mentor knew this and sat me down one day. In a nutshell, he told me to go after the investment side of the business. He also said he didn’t know anyone who could help me, but that I should endeavor to use the same approach with a new mentor(s) as he’d been for me. That first ‘outside’ mentor was one of the eight mentors who literally changed the trajectory of my professional life. He’s gone now for many years, but I still think of him often.
His Advice Ignited My New Mission
I talked with everyone who’d put up with my questions, finally landing on a title rep friend of mine. Who knew his company sponsored one of the premier investment/exchange groups in the area? This group was exclusive, invitation only. In fact, they had a limit of 20 permanent members. Turns out they’d been together for years, with almost all of ’em sportin’ massive experience in investment analysis, exchanging, and the rest. The public was not welcome, period. Ron, my title rep, secured permission for me to attend one of their Wednesday meetings, held every other week. It started at 7:00 a.m. and was 45 minutes up the road from me. Oh. My. God. It was like being in a room where everyone but you is a world champ.
They weren’t speaking a language I understood either. I mean, the words were English, but when strung together were literally foreign to my ears. After one guy spoke for about 90 seconds about what he was trying to accomplish for a client, I quickly scribbled a note to Ron that said, “What did he just say?!”
He burst out laughing then read it to the group, who then joined in the laugh fest. The speaker then translated for me, and I was able to understand. It was like the clouds cleared and a heavenly choir began singing. I was beyond excited. The head guy, according to Ron, saw my lust for learning and how excited I’d become with my new found comprehension. I was invited back. I wasn’t “in,” not by any stretch, but I wasn’t shut out either. Man, was I jazzed!
That Was the Middle of 1976
That group in around a dozen meetings or so took me under their collective wings. I swear, as I look back, I’ll wager 15 of those 20 guys were elite experts. They didn’t need the public or other so-called real estate investment agents/brokers. That group did millions of dollars of business inside that meeting room, meeting just twice monthly. It was amazing to see from the inside. They eventually told me what elite experts I should seek out. All but one weren’t local, but they did 1-3 day seminars. I attended seminars like a demon the next few years. Meanwhile, I got my own broker’s license and opened up my own firm, with Dad of course, ’cause even as full of myself as I surely was back then, I knew enough to ensure my back was covered.
Those seminars were taught by icons in the industry. I couldn’t believe I was even in the same room sometimes. They taught analysis, discounted notes, tax deferred exchanging, and so much more. One of them, the iconic Chuck Chatham, taught how to counsel clients. I literally couldn’t keep up with the notes I was furiously scribbling. Listening to him and the others was like being given the keys to multiple vaults. It showed in my dealings with other investment brokers in various meetings around town. I was now keeping up my end a lot more of the time.
There Are Results, and There Are Excuses
From the time I was but a know-nothing high school Junior listening to Dad or one of his highly successful business buddies, to today, my successes can be directly traced to words directed at me by incredibly gracious elite experts. The times I’ve failed can be reliably traced back to one of two factors:
- Me thinkin’ I knew what was what long before I was expert, much less elite. What a joke.
- I relied sometimes on somebody who’d convinced me they knew exactly how to produce the results I needed, but were instead merely wannabe posers. Still, completely my fault for lack of discernment.
DIY is Damaging Thousands of Investors’ Retirement Scenarios
Many will view this as me viewing all DIY related to real estate/note investing as a bad thing. That will be inaccurate. It’s one thing to soup up your car’s engine by yourself. It’s quite another to do it while following the wisdom and plans of a veteran engine rebuilder with decades of successful experience. Look at all the books dedicated to investing being gobbled up like pancakes at a Little League breakfast, then compare that with all the wildly successful investors you know personally who figured things out by themselves as they followed Youtube, books, and the like. Wildly successful is a dangerously relative concept. The reason? The bar is set so perilously low.
The construction business has had it right for centuries. I’ve now masters in carpentry, tile, design, engineering and many more. All of ’em without exception have told me about the people who trained them and the massive experience they brought to the table. Real expertise and experience simply can’t be faked. The number one downfall of the DIY movement is almost always the answers to questions they never knew to ask. There’s no defense against the unknown. The real problem is that when reality finally strikes, it’s nearly always too late to matter.
The best return on your invested time will be in the search for your team of elite experts. The real secret to generating a magnificent retirement is contained in the well known carpenter’s proverb, “Measure twice, cut once.” Put another way, get it right the first time. In a nutshell, that’s the core reason elite experts succeed. They get things right the first time, over and over and over, ’til the planned results are obtained. It’s not more complicated than that.
Trial ‘n error is fine when you’re building shelves in your garage, but less than fine when you’re building your retirement. Knowledge, expertise, and massive experience matter more than most folks realize. The lack of that immutable trinity is virtually always the recipe for mediocrity.
What difference has having a mentor made to your real estate career?
Let me know your experiences with a comment!