With the wide range of career paths available to real estate professionals, each agent has a different story to tell. In this series, we bring you the stories of successful individuals who’ve taken their real estate careers in various directions. We sat down with each of them to talk about how they got started in the industry and the twists and turns they’ve taken along the way. Keep reading to learn about Ann Raschein’s path to success and find out what insights and advice she has to offer new agents who are getting started in real estate.
Ann Raschein, sales associate at RE/MAX Preferred in Madison, Wisc., is a relative newcomer to the real estate business—she kicked off her career in 2014—and she’s still developing her niche, her image, and her areas of expertise. She says she has three key pieces of advice for the newcomer to the industry, or to those who are contemplating a career in real estate:
- Don’t be in too big of a hurry to develop a niche. Learn all you can about the market you’re in, look for under-served neighborhoods or client types, and figure out how to fill the void.
- Use past experiences in your previous career to develop knowledge and understanding of the real estate business, as well as personal connections.
- Look for a brokerage that emphasizes training and mentoring, and makes its more experienced agents available to help new hires.
Q: You’re fairly new to the industry. Have you developed a specialty yet?
A: I work with both buyers and sellers on residential transactions; I don’t work with commercial properties. My main market area is Dane County, of which Madison is the county seat, and I do a little work in surrounding counties. I wouldn’t say I have a niche; not yet, at any rate. I’ve been in the business for a year and a half, and so far I’ve handled transactions ranging from $140,000 to $725,000. I’ve worked with native Madisonians and newcomers.
Q: What is your pre-real estate background, and what is your educational and career history?
A: I had worked in human resources for 14 years, during which I had experiences in lots of different areas: performance management, employee relations, training, recruitment, benefits, administration, anything else you could think of. I spent a good portion of my career at a credit union, which turned out to be an advantage when I went into real estate, because I’d gotten to know so many mortgage lenders and had learned quite a bit about the process.
I grew up in the Madison area, and majored in Business Management at Madison College. I started working in HR without any formal specialized training, and got my HR certification along the way. I worked with the credit union and then with a large national company. That was pretty much my career, and I can’t say I was unhappy with it, but I finally felt that I was burning out, and I knew I needed to make a change. I wanted to be sure I was in a position where I was helping people and could make some impact on their lives.
Q: What was your process for getting started in real estate, and was it different from the way most people get into the business?
A: My mother-in-law and brother-in-law are co-owners and brokers at the company I work for, RE/MAX Preferred, which is a RE/MAX franchise, so I had a lot of support right from the beginning. The transition was fairly easy, and it went much the same way that it does for anyone else, nowadays. I got my license after attending online classes and passing the licensee test. My mentor was always available to answer my questions. We talked about contracts and about the different scenarios I might face. RE/MAX Preferred offers lots of training, both one-on-one and in groups, as well as ideas for different marketing campaigns, and the more experienced agents make themselves available to brainstorm.
One great example of how one of our owners helped me is the time when I was having a hard time selling a condo unit. One of the problems with the property was that it had upstairs bedrooms, and many people who are looking at condo living want the master bedroom on the main floor, because they don’t want to climb stairs. But we brainstormed about the property’s good points, and one of them was that this development allowed large dogs—which is unusual for a condo. I have a Bernese Mountain dog, so I was able to make a video of the condo, featuring my dog, to make the point—and sure enough, that did the job.
Q: What have been some of the most memorable ups and downs of your real estate career? What are your greatest achievements?
A: I had an especially fun experience working with a couple that was new to Madison and had been renting temporarily. They asked to see properties in all my favorite neighborhoods, and I had a great time showing them around the city and picking out the types of houses that might interest them. I develop a strong connection with my clients. Often I feel some sadness at the end of a transaction, because I’ve truly enjoyed our time together, and then it comes to an end.
One of the most memorable negative experiences was a situation where I was representing the seller of a duplex, and a potential buyer called me and asked me to represent them. All of a sudden I was working both sides of the deal, which was exciting—but I found out that the buyer was working with an out-of-state lender with whom they didn’t have a close relationship, and who I suspected was untrustworthy. Both the buyer and the seller were willing, but we had to reschedule the closing several times because the financing just wouldn’t fall into place, and it was such an emotional process. Because I was working both sides of the deal, I could see what was going on, and I could assure both parties that it would happen eventually, but I learned, from that experience, the value of working with a local lender that has the client’s best interests at heart.
Q: What advice would you give a newcomer on how to build a real estate business?
A: Find a mentor you can bounce ideas off of, who can hold you accountable and help you develop goals. I love the flexibility of this job, but that’s one of its challenges. I’d also remind you that it’s not just about transactions. You have to spend a percentage of your time on the housekeeping part of the business, creating a database, following up with potential clients, developing a marketing strategy. You might not appreciate what a big transition you’re making when you become a fully commissioned employee, so you’ll need to work with someone who can teach you about planning for taxes and saving for retirement.
You have to develop a high profile in your community if you’re going to succeed in residential real estate, and you have to build a reputation as someone who’s community-minded. For example, I belong to a group of local businesspeople that meets monthly to discuss how to improve the community. I’m a runner, and I participate in full and half-marathons—and I like to wear my RE/MAX shirt to represent my business on these runs.
It’s important that you sincerely care about your community. I’m lucky in that I really like Madison and what it has to offer. I’m also involved in groups that are related to home ownership but have impact on our community. I’m on the selection committee for Habitat for Humanity, so I get to make recommendations as to who gets a Habitat home. I belong to the Homebuyers Round Table, which focuses on education for first-time homebuyers in the low to moderate income groups, and helps them with down payment assistance programs.
Q: What are some key mistakes real estate brokers/agents make, that don’t get talked about?
A: One of them is relying too much on referrals from friends and family. Those referrals will know that you’re just starting out in the business, and they might be reluctant to have you represent them: they might be looking for higher levels of expertise. Of course you have to have those referrals, and you should work to get them, but don’t depend on them. You can also find clients by target marketing through Zillow and Google, and by networking with mortgage lenders and other people in related businesses.
Q: What are some trends in the residential real estate business that people should beware of if they’re just getting started in real estate?
A: Changing technology is one of the most important trends. Some agents are differentiating themselves by using drones to showcase a property, and by hiring professionals to provide 360-degree virtual tours.
Q: What is the Madison area like, and what makes it especially interesting from a real estate agent’s perspective? Can you tell us about your favorite neighborhoods, and what type of properties are available, and how availability and pricing compare with other markets?
A: Madison is a college town, with a prestigious university, so the market is consistently strong. People are often relocating in and out of Madison, so the market is always changing, even when other markets are slow. Madison has a variety of properties available: everything from brand-new penthouse condos to 100-year-old homes with stunning woodwork and old-fashioned charm. Some of my favorite neighborhoods are near downtown and close to our lakes.
Q: What is the future of your real estate business?
A: I would like to build a team of my own, maybe five years out. Right now, I’m still at the beginning of my career, so I’m defining my target market and creating a marketing strategy.
One great advantage of a real estate career is that it gives you the freedom to choose your own path and take your career in the direction that’s right for you—at your own pace and on your own terms. Stay tuned for more blog posts featuring successful real estate professionals, including info on how they got started, where they are now, and where they’re headed.
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About the author
Joseph Dobrian has been writing about commercial and residential real estate, and real estate-related finance, for more than 30 years. His by-line has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Real Estate Forum, Journal of Property Management, and many other publications. He is also a noted novelist, essayist, and translator. (Look for his new novel, Hard-Wired, in the fall of 2016.) His website is www.josephdobrian.com, and he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.