Unfinished Business

I left Real Estate in 2008. In something of a huff, with the confident contempt that I’d never be back. Good riddance, we said to one another at the time.

I had done all the jobs in the industry, pretty much. The last one had me as a mortgage lender, and I was waiting out the time because we were planning on Ruby’s birth at the time, and the company I had had benefits. She was born, and I went into digital media for the past 10 years.

But I always felt that there was some unfinished business between Real Estate and I. An odd mix of revulsion and nostalgia. The “one that got away.”

The Substantial Downside

I fostered an honest contempt for many of the aspects of the industry. The NAR’s unseemly rent seeking behavior. The living caricatures that are Real Estate Agents.

The industry’s shameless, selfless studied and deliberate obtuseness that would make Upton Sinclair’s quote payoff:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

Yes, the NAR is sometimes daft. But they do have confidence. And that goes a long way.

Then there’s the lifestyle aspect. By their own choice, Real Estate Agents are constantly “half working” zombies. The bottom line: they don’t generate enough business so they have to tolerate the insufferable. And that creates some type soul-crushing PTSD-eque kind of hollowed out vibe that they all share.

Them: always kind of working, but never really concentrating. A twitchy vibe where you feel like they are looking right through you. A lockstep but slow slide into human cliché always got to me. I did it, too. The erosion of integrity got to me. The industry in general is concerned with itself. Them’s the odds.

When you read the NAR’s code of Ethics, when you see what’s enforced at local boards, you learn that the majority of the work is an agreement to keep issues and problems in-house. Cooperation & Compensation. They brook no interference and they will get after you if…

“REALTORS® shall not knowingly or recklessly make false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals, their businesses, or their business practices. “

The brush, friends, is broad. Half the conversations I’ve here locally have been with Realtors just aghast at a top performing team’s advertising and how it highlights some of this stuff.

Then there’s the matter of Lawrence Yun, the economist who has all the credibility of Michael Cohen.

It was a daily battle to do right by and for my clients. The industry was either indifferent, or there were a coterie of self-aggrandizing ‘only honest’ agents. These were the ones that were midlevel producers, quietly shooting rocks at ther betters. Meanwhile, the board spends more clock time on “Realtor’s Duties to other Realtors,” than their duties to their public. Complaints and hearings centered around entering errant data into the MLS, advertising violations and procuring cause. Never would the public have pull.

The bottom line: Real Estate Agents generally make their own work. And they spend an outsized portion of their energy tut-tut-tutting the inferior ethics of their competition, or something. It’s a strange world.

The Significant Upside

And yet.

I say all this and I still want in. Selling houses is the biggest game in town when it comes to consumer marketing.

I’ve always identified with sellers. And I’ve felt like the purest form of the art was selling houses, stocks or cars. I’ve done stocks (albeit in a fairly limited way). These things represent the big American Dreams, ingrained in our culture from the Hamilton to the Homestead Act to the Capra Oevure to the GI Bill and more. Under all is the land, yano? And land ownership made America America.

I did well (if inconsistently in terms of effort and production) during my time as an agent, and there’s always been a tug towards the industry…a nostalgia.

When we were young and innocent…

There’s a low cost of service and you can make a significant impact at a key time in someone’s life. Most practitioners of anything are average or below, so by being great, you help the world.

You can also do it better and when you do it better, you can reap the rewards.

The income is good, the schedule flexible is good, the job is simple, helping buyers and sellers make good decisions is a good thing to do.

The Boundaries.

To start and to protect myself against the downside I’ll have to set up some boundaries. There are parts of any business I don’t love. And that’s normal, predictable, and part of the gig. But to protect myself from the bad parts of this one I’ll be deliberate about boundaries.

So I’ll go back. With the stuff that I learned at Simplifilm about delivery, production and client service.

After a 6 week “startup time.” I’ll cap my total hours at 35/week. This is enough. I’ll be around to make dinner, I’ll be around and present for my kids. Realtors spend time on drama, there’s an addiction to the potential use of time that makes them half-work all the time. I have to inoculate myself against that unfortunate trap

  1. I won’t feel scarcity and have to “always be selling.” I will talk about stories of families, but I won’t be in “realtor” mode when at family gatherings. I’m always appalled by the too eager-to-talk-real estate types.
  2. I’ll get in the best shape of my life during this journey. Can’t be a cliché. Gotta eat right.
  3. I’ll be available to my kids daily. I’ll be around to support their endeavors both artistically and academically. I’ll will do more than my share of the housework, and I’ll put my best energy into building a family structure and keeping our family organized and on point.
  4. I’ll continue to have a curriculum for personal growth and I’ll develop and continue to develop a life practice.
  5. I’ll leave energy for writing and for my own consultancy. I’ll work some type of split schedule there.
  6. There will be some rules around this, a series of Maxims that I’ll live by, operate by and use.
  7. I’ll spend a weekend each month away out of town and away from Real Estate. I’ll have some vacation scheduled each quarter.

There may be other things that I need to do – like having a second phone that goes away, or other similar things to help enforce boundaries. I’ll need to manage the expectations of my children. I set it up so that they are fairly self-sustaining in the morning. My wife is the best person ever and can’t be any easier to get along with.

The Plan For Production

I did some of my usual spreadsheets to figure this out and tinker with it. It requires diligent execution. It requires 35 hours of focus each week. To earn a robust and happy living, I don’t really need to have a LOT of leads, views or anything, but I need a few deep connections and people that “get” me. My actual tribe.

I’d say that 150 views over 6-8 months in a local area is REALLY good, and say, 500 subscribers is top end (for this business). I’d want to have a list of say 3500+/- in a CRM where I was actively promoting things and sharing expertise. Once the CRM has “enough” names, we’ll have enough to market and remarket to.

  1. I’ll roll with this from a media first perspective. On camera every day. I’ll do this job from a media first perspective so that I’m recording and demonstrating expertise.
  2. Leveraged lead gen is key here. I have to use FB/Insta to make this work and have media that I can reuse down the chain.
    • Cost per lead needs to be ~$250 or so. A lead isn’t just a ‘meh’ inquiry.
    • I’ll focus on High Hanging Fruit, instead of the Zillow/Realtor.Com crap that everyone’s fighting for. Long-term relationships.
  3. I’ll do this with an operating plan. My income should gross about $420k/year and to net about $300k/year. This is just over $30k a month, or 3.7 homes sold monthly in the part of this market I want to be in.
    • (Object here is 45 homes per year, average price $355k, average commission ~2.65% or ~$9407.)
      • Object is to do 40% listings / 60% buyers first year. The 25 buyers will take 25 hours to deliver per buyer with good systems. ~625 per hour.
      • 44 homes a year:
        • Q1: 6 homes.
        • Q2: 12
        • Q3: 13
        • Q4: 12
      • “Wasted” buyers will be ~300 hours year. I.e. buyers that fall out. I’ll measure this and be gracious about it without feeling anything. The measurement will test my skills/assumptions.
      • 60 hour cap on buyer hours.
      • 17 Listings will take 17 hours to deliver per listing = 289 hours.
      • Object is to be at or around 15% to acquire business (ad spend + video production). $4500 initial investment and a “kitty” based on income.
      • 15% to provide services to them (pictures, gas, gifts, ads, vendors, brokerage services)
      • No substantial admin/assistant. Gotta do my own paperwork and rely on good title companies. Build a process using our tools.
      • This (ultimately) will be split 20 hours with or serving clients / 15 in lead gen. When I don’t have clients…I’ll spend the time on active lead gen.

Skills & Inputs Needed

Lead Sources:

First, I’m going to use the Platform system. We had a rocky start, but I like the ethos that they are striving for. I get that it’s aspirational and there’s a very wide gap between where they are and what they say. All visionary companies have one.

This will have me running some Facebook ads and building out landing pages to work with them.


I’ll have to acquire some skill I don’t have. A quick list:

  • Market knowledge. To be gained by doing the neighborhood preview videos and a disciplined MLS study and export. This will include pricing and local preferences.
  • Paperwork Knowledge & Fluency I’ll have to get fluent again with the paperwork and disclosures needed. I’ll be doing those quickly and as efficiently as possible.
  • Listing Presentation I’ll do a listing presentation that’s about them and their goals. A lot of the listing presentations are bad. I’ll base this on The Perfect Webinar
  • Buyer Brokering This is the part that’s fun, and we’ll have to work with this in a congruent way.
  • Pricing I’ll look at as many homes as possible, and I’ll look to price homes appropriately and as professionally as possible.
  • Diplomacy Most agents are high-strung nitwits. In order for this to work I’ll have to suffer fools more wisely than I do today. I have an aversion to dealing with the “type” of poor communicator that fills the rank and files at your local brokerage.

First Projects:

To get this rolling we’ll need to have some projects done. None of these should take much longer than a day or so to build out, if I don’t dawdle.

  1. Create a branding and content calendar.
  2. Create standards for each video and blog post, and a way to assemble them quickly.
  3. Create landing pages.
  4. Create all advertisements that I mean to use & follow up sequences.
  5. Create a Listing Presentation.
  6. Create Buyer’s Presentation.
  7. Create a place for iterated processes that may be changed. (Maybe WorkFlowy)

So enough talking. 1900 words of it. Time to get this done in the context of the Life of Rigor that I want.

There’s unfinished business here. I mean to settle up.

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Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is writing this blog. He's a startup veteran, having built a company called Simplifilm. This blog is about things that he's starting to - but may not actually - think yet. It publishes irregularly.
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