This is a different type of post. There will be no mention of San Carlos sales trends, White Oaks versus Howard Park, multiple offer scenarios or downtown redevelopment.
I thought it was time to go behind the scenes and give anyone who was interested a look at what really happens in real estate in San Carlos. If you are expecting something similar to “Million Dollar Listing” you will be very disappointed. Being a realtor in San Carlos can be a brutal, yet wonderful career. In full disclosure, I have had this post written for some time but stalled and considered not publishing it because I did not want to come across as someone bragging about any type of success. So, please understand that the purpose of this post is merely to relay my experience of the last twelve years and to encourage anyone who is thinking of taking up a career in real estate to do so if they are truly passionate about it and know that there is always room at the top.
At one point or another, so many people I run into in San Carlos tell me that they have thought about getting their real estate license. I get it. It’s intriguing. It was for me too. I’ve also encouraged anyone who has a passion for real estate to give it a shot and work toward their license. With the hope of giving anyone interested a better understanding of what this world is like, I have detailed my entire real estate experience in this post. From starting out on my first day, to the day I finally stepped foot on top of the San Carlos real estate market. This is how I did it:
I want to get you right to the heart of this post, but I should probably first briefly set the stage so that you have some background on how it began for me. In January of 1997, I met my wife, Lori, on a trip to Washington D.C. I was a first year law student at Santa Clara, buried in school loans. Lori had just graduated from Wake Forest University in North Carolina with an interest in advertising. San Francisco was a logical spot for advertising. I managed to convince her that the west coast was the best coast and we were off and running. In 2002, our first daughter, Olivia, was born. Shortly thereafter, I decided that the morning walk I took Olivia on outside of our Potrero Hill loft, while slaloming her stroller through the hypodermic needles, was not the best place to raise our family. We returned to my home town of San Carlos a few months later.
By 2004, I was four years into practicing law when I had a very difficult conversation with myself. I hated being a lawyer. Stopping the practice of law meant kissing off all of the hard work of law school and the California Bar, not to mention the mountain of student loan debt that was incurred. I always had my eye on real estate and San Carlos was what I knew best. In 2005, just before our second daughter, Lexi, was born, I walked right out of my law office and right into ReMax Today (now Today Sotheby’s) in downtown San Carlos. After spending time in a premiere, 700-attorney law firm in Palo Alto, I thought I was well equipped to handle whatever the San Carlos real estate world could throw at me. I could not have been more wrong.
The First Day
In April of 2005, I waited in the lobby of ReMax Today, on the corner of San Carlos Avenue and Walnut Street, for the manager to show me to my shared office. Upon sitting on the lobby couch I caught a glimpse of a very loud-talking realtor walking to his office in a hideous gray suit and white sneakers. Suddenly, every stereotype of the realtor world came flooding into my head and I had a brief “what-have-I-done” moment of sheer panic. Suddenly, the day to day craziness of the legal profession did not seem so bad as I tried hard to ignore the little voice in my head telling me to run for the nearest exit. However, things did settle down and I was shown my office where I quickly got out my laptop and managed to stare aimlessly into my blank screen.
By the time I arrived on the scene in 2005, San Carlos was dominated by a few key realtors. David Young of Coldwell Banker and Justine Ford of ReMax Today, both had imposing numbers. In fact, the domination was so profound that many realtors advised me that there was no room at the top of the San Carlos market and trying to make room was a waste of time. I was 30 years old in 2005. Looking back on it, I was a bit arrogant and thought that if I could make it in the cut-throat world of a high-end law firm, there was no reason why I could not have a stake in the San Carlos market just like David Young and Justine Ford. While this confidence ultimately served me well, looking back on it, my initial execution was a bit foolish and naïve.
The Ultimate Jungle
The real estate landscape has all sorts of competitors as I quickly learned. Any time you have perceived, easy commissions and a low barrier to entry, you are going to get a host of characters from all over the map. The competition for listings and buyers in San Carlos is as cut-throat as anything I ever experienced previously.
To help shed some light on this consider this fact: There are 21,000 realtors in San Mateo County. 0-55% will not have a single transaction in a given year. The next 56-76% will do 1-2 transactions in a year. The top 24% do the rest. So, just to get to the place where you can scrape by and make a living you need to be in the top 10-15%. Essentially, you need to be better than 9 out of 10 realtors. Looking to support a family in San Carlos? You better produce more than 19 out of 20.
Three Prong Approach
Where many new realtors go wrong is that they come in without a plan. Simply showing up and sending out a few mailers will have you going back through that revolving door and out of the real estate world in under a year. For me, with a very young family and another daughter on the way, I needed to go from 0-60, immediately. Like I said, I knew San Carlos well and to do well in San Carlos you need to be San Carlos. To make sure I was totally visible I set out to blanket San Carlos in three key areas:
(1) Key Area #1: The San Carlos Blog
2008 was the break through year for me and it was solely due to the San Carlos Blog. I knew that in order to break into the top tier of agents in San Carlos I needed to do something different. I also knew that San Carlos did not have an online forum for community issues and real estate. I saw the need and I immediately went to work. I spent six months of 2007 developing the San Carlos Blog. At the time, not many knew what a blog was. It was the first of its kind in San Carlos and the response was instantaneous. Later this month, the San Carlos Blog will celebrate its 10th Anniversary. I have always taken a tremendous amount of pride in giving readers an insiders’ view into San Carlos real estate with information they cannot find anywhere else. You can get numbers anywhere. If you want to real scoop, it is on the San Carlos Blog. Today, it has a massive following through online subscribers and those that follow on Facebook and Twitter.
(2) Key Area #2: The Schools
In 2008, I cemented a long-standing relationship with the San Carlos Education Foundation by offering to sell a house for free during their annual Spring Fling Auction and being their Platinum Sponsor. This relationship was enhanced three years ago, as I became the Diamond Sponsor which last year resulted in cash and services donations for $50,000. 2017 will close out 10 straight years of a wonderful relationship with SCEF. Schools are the number one reason people move to San Carlos. Creating a partnership with SCEF was critical.
(3) Key Area #3: San Carlos Treasure Hunters
A very bright marketing person once told me, “don’t sponsor an event, create the event”. Now entering its 12th year, San Carlos Treasure Hunters, has served over 1,800 San Carlos kids and their families. It is an annual event that I developed and funded from scratch. Each October myself, and Dr. Gary Lau of San Carlos Orthodontics put on the event and make sure the event is entirely free to any San Carlos family that wants to participate.
The exposure worked and I did well in 2008. It was enough to catch the attention of some more experienced agents. While I would not get to the top spot for another five years, I was quickly rising.
In 2008, I had a meeting with David Young at Coldwell Banker. As mentioned above, David and Justine Ford were at the top of the San Carlos real estate market. I don’t remember off-hand why that meeting was called, but for all of the business we were each doing individually in San Carlos we, oddly enough, never had much interaction. I don’t recall much from the meeting, but I do recall David saying that being at the top of any real estate market is a tough position. People will do and say anything to knock you off. I didn’t think much about that advice at the time, although it would make sense a few years later. While this is true in any business, it is particularly venomous in real estate because it is essentially a bunch of independent contractors who don’t exactly run ideas and statements through a public relations department prior to acting. As mentioned above, it is truly a jungle. Have thick skin and push forward, was essentially the message.
Myths of the Real Estate World
Prior to going any further, let me clear two up widespread myths about San Carlos real estate:
- Houses in San Carlos Sell Themselves. I can see how it may seem like that, but trust me they do not. While houses may not sit longer than two weeks on our market in some cases, what you have not seen is the two to three months of preparation before they ever got to market. The staging, prepping, reports, seller difficulties, unexpected issues from the property inspection, photography, virtual tours, cleaners, landscapers, painters, handyman, title issues, disclosures and the list goes on and on. You will be expected to manage all of these and help counsel the seller who is understandably very stressed. Additionally, when you finally do receive an offer(s) do you have the experience to negotiate it properly? With an offer and multiple offers there is a finesse element to it that can result in a higher price and better terms. Experience matters here.
- Realtors get 3%. The amount of times I have received a net 3% for selling a house out of 300+ transactions: 0. When listing a house in San Carlos realtors are expected to pitch in and help pay for some of the pre-market items. Additionally, agents have a split they must pay their brokerage for all sales. They also have insurance, MLS dues, association dues, warranties that are paid for on behalf of their clients and all other costs that come from being in business for themselves. While they are under a supervising brokerage, they are all independent contractors.
Truth in the Real Estate World
Take a Look at the Big Picture. An agent sells a 1.8M home in two weeks and makes a commission. Seems like a great gig. However, if you are going to account for that commission you also need to account for the buyers that had that same agent show them homes for two years while the agent left family gatherings and kids’ birthday parties to show them houses and write offers, only to get the call that those same buyers decided to rent for the next few years or that they suddenly found a house and had the listing agent write the offer for them. If you are in real estate for any length of time, this will happen to you many, many times. To focus on one commission and sale is a major mistake as it is not at all indicative of the entire story.
2013 was the final step for me in a long climb. The groundwork from my three prong approach was hitting on all cylinders and my patience and hard work had paid off. I managed to sell 54 homes with buyers and sellers that year. As much as that year was exhausting, it was equally as gratifying. 2014, 2015 & 2016, all followed a similar pattern and 12 years later I had the longevity of year after year production to finally join the others who sat on top of our local market.
A look back at the last five years of real estate in San Carlos would show you that the top producing realtors for San Carlos real estate are basically the same names as when I started. In no particular order, for the last five years the top selling San Carlos agents were myself, David Young, Justine Ford and John Shroyer. These are people who are producing the highest numbers year in and year out in San Carlos and have done so for a very long time. While we may not always see eye to eye on things, I have a newfound level of respect for anyone who can consistently be around that top spot for so many years.
Unlike what was told to me back in 2005, if you are smart, dedicated, have a plan and can do something different, there is always room at the top. If you have a passion for real estate, do not be afraid to follow it.
There is simply no way I could have ever made it through these last twelve years without the help and support of so many people. First, a thank you to my wife Lori, who supported a substantial career change. A big thank you to Shannon Bruton, my long-time assistant who keeps me on track. A thank you to Jeanne Garde and Jim Meader for giving me my first opportunity at ReMax Today in 2005. To my partners Chuck Gillooley, Joyce Romeo, Alana Corso, Tatum Clarke and Laura Bertolacci, thank you for taking a big risk with me in 2014 when we formed Dwell Realtors from scratch. Finally, the biggest thank you of all goes to all those who have trusted me to assist them with their largest purchase and sale of their lives. I am well aware that without any of you, none of this is possible. Thank you for your trust.