What I Learned in Real Estate, The First 10 years

Amazing how time flies. Here it is, my 10 year anniversary of when I started in real estate. Oh what I’ve learned in real estate this decade.

I’ll share.

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Did you see the part where I mention owing taxes?

Yeah tough lesson. Scroll down to the nobody has it figured out part and you’ll get why this happened. I share because I know people can relate.

While I was no stranger to running a business, marketing for leads, and running large teams, real estate was an entirely new nut to crack.

I grabbed a black 3 ring binder (old school for a tech savvy girl like me) and printed out the MREA business planning kit given to me the owner of my market center (what Keller Williams calls their offices) and went to work.

Here’s what I learned.

Lead generation before everything.

If you have the leads, you have so many choices as to how you want to run your business. If you don’t have the leads, you are likely to eventually fold into someone else’s plan, the person that has the leads.

At first, I laughed when I saw people with signs on the door or desk that say “Don’t disturb, I’m lead generating”. It felt like I was back at home as a child with a “Boys can’t come in” sign. Before I knew it, I was sporting the same signs.

Lead generation time must be protected and held so valuable that nothing can come between you, and it. It’s been done before anything else so that there is less risk of something putting it off to the point that it doesn’t happen.

Discipline is Required

Many people get licensed as a real estate agent because they desire freedom. This freedom is what sends so many of them back into their day to day jobs.

Freedom means nobody is asking you to punch a clock, or accomplish a task, or sit in a chair for a certain amount of hours. There’s no manager asking you what you did that day.

In fact, you are patted on the back for just being a cheerleader in the office regardless of your production level. This feels good, and every office needs a cheerleader. Yet, it doesn’t feed your family either. You’ll need more than that.

If you have ever tried to accomplish a goal in the past such as losing weight, gaining muscle, saving money for a purchase etc., then you know what it truly takes. Did you achieve that goal?

If not, you still have much to learn. If you did, what lessons can you carry over into real estate?

I bet you’ll find the #1 thing you learned in achieving that goal (or not) was about discipline.

Once you have set your gameplan into motion, dig deep, and apply that discipline. It’s the difference between your failure in real estate or succcess as a real estate agent.

There’s two kinds of people in this world. There’s one that says I have to feel like it to do it, and the other says I have to do it so I feel like it.

It’s best to Carry ONE big Rock

Find your rock. Pick it up. Don’t put it down. Make it your single focus and carry that rock to the finish line.

My rock, from day one, was 7th level.

7th level, from the MREA real estate agent book is when you create a business that earns profit without you working directly in the day to day activities.

For me, this was the win. It wasn’t units, or a certain production amount although we set those goals as a team. For me, life is good when I have multiple streams of income that don’t require daily attention in each to achieve them.

Don’t get me wrong, there has to be energy given to each, just not all at the same time.

In fact, it’s impossible to give full energy to all of them at the same time.

Today, I have a real estate business, albiet not as big as it once was or as it could be, that earns income without me ever stepping foot in an office or an a buyer or listing appointment.

① My one thing for that business is still attracting more business.

Everything else is done by everyone else. And honestly, I make as much profit in it today as a small team as I did working in it every day with 15 of us as a big real estate team.

Interesting right?

There must be a Gameplan for Success

Whiteboard is marked up with a red marker and shows a game plan including idea, planning, strategy, prepare, implement, action, launchOver 10 years, I’ve seen more agents leave the industry than I have succeed. This has been the way it is for years.

There are many reasons for failure and less for success.

The successful agents have figured out the basic principles and have held true to them.

Successful business owners have a plan. They don’t throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

There are many great tools for creating a game plan at Keller Williams including what is called GPS or a 1-3-5.

Brian Icenhower has a great page on how to use the 1-3-5 or one page business plan for an individual agent or a team.

Here, you set one main business objective, the big goal (big rock).

Next add 3 goals to accomplish that objective. For each of those goals, you’ll have 5 specific strategies that will help you achieve that goal.

Success Requires Massive Action

If I were to prioritize this list, massive action might just take that top position. A plan, goal, or dream is just that without action.

You don’t achieve great things sitting on your behind.

Once you know what to do, and where to go, you have to commit to the actions needed to achieve it.

All too many times over the past 10 years have I talked to agents with a great attitude, an amazing plan, and yet they have failure to launch.

I often say that some people suffer from “optimism disease”.

What I mean by this is that they mean well, talk a great talk, and then sit back waiting for the world to deliver.

They just constantly post positive messages on social media, have extreme enthusiasm about their business and life, and then just believe it will somehow come to them without much effort on their part.

Let me tell you a secret about “THE SECRET”. 

You must first state the intention of what you want. You must visualize it and FEEL it like you already have it.

And then you must take massive action to achieve it.

The universe will conspire to make it yours as long as you are also working to make it yours.

Even if you haven’t learned all the how yet, you must show up and go after it.

A Big Why Keeps you Going

Business is not always going to be great. No matter what, there are ups, downs, and curves.

You will lose a listing appointment. You will lose a team member or employee.

You will probably face an unhappy client at some point.

There may be a time when you don’t earn enough profits to make ends meet.

You quite possibly will consider quitting.

What do you do then? That’s when you dig deep and remember why you started this in the first place. You plug in to the WIN. What is it, that if you achieve your goals, is accomplished?

Is it the freedom to be your own boss? Is the ability to provide for your family? Is it so you can build your dream house?

Is it so you never have to go back to the rat race of the corporate world?

You have to plug into the pain of what happens if you don’t achieve it. And you have to feel the passion of what happens when you do achieve it.

Your BIG WHY is exactly this. It’s the one thing that when SH** hits the fan will keep you WILLING to do the work that must be done.

Your BIG WHY should inspire you enough to do MORE than you think it will take to achieve it.

It can be a simple statement, or a book! It’s there for you to feel and pull energy from. It’s not for anyone else and doesn’t matter to anyone else. They will not be motivated by YOUR big why, but you will!

Here’s my Written Big Why:

My Big why is to have all of my family in one place.

We want to be together by choice. And we want to move to place of choice that we all agree upon.

My why is to be a matriarch for our family, the leader.

I want to provide opportunity for the adults that can then improve the lives of their children.

I want the siblings and I to all sit out on decks together and laugh and tell stories of our childhood. I want to be each others rock.

I want to be the “little bit crazy” but wonderful Aunt and Grandma that the babies and kids race to for comfort, and stories, and treasures. They know AuntGrandma will always be there for them, judgement free.

Their lives, Their Choices.

I want to build passive income not just for me, but for my family. Bringing my family into the fold of our empire is the beginning. Next, we build wealth, together.

We will have a place by the ocean and a Christmas House in the mountains where we all gather for the special times. And we will live with the spirit of the Christmas House in us year round as we DRIVE HARD to achieve the opportunity to celebrate in it again on the next holiday.

The ‘Family Fund” is compiled year round and funds vacations, and special occasions like weddings, new babies, and whatever else appears.

This fund is built from designated profits from the empire.

Family Matters.

Growth is Messy

For those that desire perfection, this is going to be extra challenging. Building a business is messy.

And as Cody Gibson, Real Estate Expansion Team Owner, and MAPS coach will tell you, nobody has it figured out.

Imagine a child learning to paint for the first time. They wind up covered in the colors and their first masterpiece is a blob.

The only way to learn is through the mess. The only way to succeed is through the mess.

Not all Mentors are Millionaires

In any business, you want to have models and mentors.

There’s a place for written models and there’s a place for human models.

I always say that when you are looking to accomplish any goal, find someone that has done it.

Look for where they succeeded and where they failed.

Determine which part of their success was personal genius, and which is duplicable.

Be careful though. It’s so easy to get caught up following the people you see on the stage.

It’s easy to fall into the “hero” trap and fall in love with someone’s business assuming that they are rich and perfect. Most are going to dissapoint you.

If you listen though, many of them will SCREAM warnings of failure.

They will tell you what worked and what didn’t or what’s working and what isn’t. If you’ll listen.

“Team, we are going to take 200 listings in 6 months. We are going to do it because Sam at the convention did it.”


How exactly did Sam do it? Was it profitable?

What tools and resources did he have?

How much was earned in and how much was bought in?

Do you really know the level of success and how it was achieved before you try to claim the same victory?

Be careful to choose models have bonified proof of what worked. They track, they measure, and they product. They own a profitable business.

A great mentor will share the principles of success.

A great mentor won’t be shy about sharing the same about their failures.

A great mentor doesn’t want anything from you other than you taking action and following their advice.

And they are able to share exactly how they got there. 

Where you work Matters

A succesful person will be successful wherever they are.

And a person who chronically fails based on their own limiting beliefs, personal demons, or failure to take action will always fail no matter where they are.

This being said, when you take someone wired for success and give them an enviroment for success, they will thrive.

They will cling to the tools, resources, systems, and guidance provided and will move through failure to success that much faster.

Interested in learning more about Keller Williams? Message me: lori@loriballen.com

Uncle Sam Gets His Eventually

Oh if I only knew then what I know now about paying myself as a real estate agent and about taxes. It’s so easy to grab that paycheck and run to the bank. Bills get paid. Kids get fed. You know the taxes will be do at the end of the year, and yet that’s so far away.

No,  it isn’t.

The best way to handle taxes right out of the gate is to stop cashing and keeping checks as personal income.

Use a business account for your commission checks. You can pay yourself in profit dividends, or put yourself on a salary. You could also immediately send estimated taxes into the IRS.

Get a CPA who understands real estate that can help you stay on top of those taxes, day one.

You don’t want to get stuck with penalties and interest, especially year over year.

Even paying quarterly estimated taxes can be too much for many agents. With good intentions, they create the tax account, move over the estimated tax amount into that account and promise not to touch it.

Yet, emergencies happen. Down cycles happen. You go two months without a closing and what happens? You start dipping in the IRS fund!

Best to get it paid and out of your hands as quickly as possible.

The Database is a Gold Mine

I once sold a business. It was a pretty big small business with several warehouses, an office building, massive inventory, employees, vehicles etc.

The business didn’t sell because of the “stuff”. It sold because of the clients that were going to do repeat business with our company.

A database should be the one asset you value most in your business.

I personally suggest a database that allows for the contact information, notes, emails (tracked), an autodialer, if this then that processes, text/email/phone campaigns, scoring, integrations with 3rd parties such as greeting cards. For this, we use infusionsoft.

We also found Contactually to be a good system while we were growing into Infusionsoft for our marketing company.

That being said, start with what you can afford and will use, even if that’s a 4 X 6 Index card box (Who remembers those?) or a Google Spreadsheet.

Today, we hear a lot of good things about Lion Desk. (Sorry, I don’t have a link to that)

Here’s more on choosing on a CRM.

The Holli McCray Group consistently sells over 300 homes per year. We took the time to interview them and see how they’ve been so successful in their real estate business.

Branding Matters

From day one, you must focus on a brand. Every business must have a “look and feel” to it. Every business has an energy. If you aren’t purposeful about that energy, it will show up on it’s own, and that’s not always positive.

Every business, even a single real estate agent should have:

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Agent to Agent Referrals is a BIG business

When done right, you can build an entire business from agent to agent referrals. If not your entire business, it could be a large portion.

While I’m known to be a search engine ranking expert (or SEO) as well as a social media coach, those only drive a portion of my real estate business. 70% of my Las Vegas real estate business is generated from agent to agent referrals.

Here’s how the money works.

An agent from California has a seller. Their seller is going to buy in Las Vegas and they call me. (Yay!)

They ask for a 25% referral. This means, that when the total commission to my side of the transaction is issued, the agent in California will be due 25% of that total.

Let’s say the buyer spends $500,000 and the co-broke commission to my side is 3%.

3% X $500,000 = $15,000

From that $15,000, the referring agent will get 25%. 25% of $15,000 = $3,750.00

Now, that leaves me with $11,250.

On my team, we split from there and each pay our own franchise and office fees.

So, for example, if your team split is 50/50, you’d each get $5,625.00. The agent referral is paid off the top.

You can set up your economic model however you see fit of course.

Shifts Happen

Every business you can think about just about has changes in their market. These can be a result of natural disasters, real estate market fluctuations, employment challenges in the area, and so forth. Businesses are affected by changes in the world, nation, and local economics.


Live in your Skillset

And leverage out your crappy.

I once heard a fellow agent Rowena Patton say this at a mastermind and I loved it. What you are awful at, someone else is a master at. What you hate, someone else loves. Leverage out your “crappy”.

What I learned during the first 10 years of real estate is the more I fought to “Become” what I wasn’t, the harder it was to become who I was supposed to be. 

We all have a natural behavior and natural skills. Each one of us have activities that cause us pain, and activities that bring us joy.

I believe the more we live in our “joy”, the more we will thrive and want to stay in the industry.

Have you ever seen someone who is analytical, loves paperwork, hates traffic, is an introvert, would rather be alone be happy long term in a sales position?

How about that person that is outgoing, high energy, fast moving, social, people oriented, bores easily? Would you believe that they would find joy long term sitting in an office alone? Probably not.

Would someone who hates math love to be a market center administrator?
(This is the role at Keller Williams that processes finances and numbers all day.)

There is no one size fits all here even though behavioral assesments do tend to “box” us in to “should be roles”. For the most part, these assesments are great guides to where someone should find energy and thrive and what roles may be more challenging.

I’m one of those “can’t put in a box” kind of people.

While I get energy from people, I prefer to spend most of my time alone. Why? I actually think it’s because my top behavior is result oriented and when I’m creating, I do better in marathon mode with no interruptions.

I actually enjoy people very much in a work environment. Because I am socially driven, however, I know I will get caught up hanging around masterminding or helping others and not get my own work done.

You will never catch me around a coffee machine making small talk, however. I don’t do small talk. (Don’t get me started on elevator conversations).

I’m data driven, yet am challenged with math. I want the data in an easy to digest report that will help me in decision making. I dont’ want to create that report or figure out how we get the data.

Others Have Gone Before You

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. In fact, it’s best to not even get creative until you’ve mastered the basic principles of real estate success.

Lead generation is a great example. Take a look.

Most top real estate agents that I have interviewed have 2 or 3 main funnels of business. While they do many things, they do two or 3 very well.

For my Las Vegas real estate business, my 3 top lead sources are: 
Google Organic,  Google Paid, and Agent to Agent Referrals.

For my real estate marketing and website development company, they are:
Facebook, Youtube, and Google Organic Rankings.

(4th is now word of mouth which is exciting for our 3 year old company. It’s rapidly rising)

When you decide which your top sources will be, find a model. Find a person or a team that achieves production at a high level from that source, and then get as close as you can to them. Ask questions, Dive Deep, ask them about the steps in the process. Duplicate everything you can.

Examples of Real Estate Lead Sources you can learn:

  • Geographic Farming
  • Prospecting Expired Listings
  • For Sale By Owners
  • Networking
  • Social Media Strategies
  • SEO
  • Pay Per Click Marketing
  • New Constructions
  • The Luxury Market
  • Military
  • 55+
  • Farm and Ranch
  • Investors
  • Global Markets

Leaders are Always Learning

When I travel to conventions and classes all over the nation, I see the same people. Generally, these are leaders. They are leaders of their family, their lives, and their businesses. They are real estate agent, team owners, and company leaders.

We go to classes over and over. We understand that our brains can only retain what we are ready to implement, so we must revisit the lessons again and again.

Leaders are readers. You’ll find many leaders learn by watching video, reading books, listening to audio, following blogs and so on. They are hungry for knowledge and are clear that they never know it all.

You must Fail to Succeed

How many times have I failed? A lot more than I’ve succeeded.

Yet I only need those few successes and can easily disregard the failures are nothing more than lessons.

Failure should not be an embarassment. It’s a stepping stone. No, it’s a milestone.

Look at anyone who has ever succeeded and they will tell you that they failed first to get there.

I’m no different. I continue to create, invent, and fail. I build things that don’t work. I implement strategies that cost money instead of make money. I make bad hires. I sometimes even make bad decisions.

What we don’t realize is that those bad decisions lead us to the right ones.

They often are good decisions disguised as bad decisisions.

We may never learn what pain we truly avoided by experience a small amount from what we call “the bad decision”.

So, what’s my biggest failure in real estate? Read on.

Tough question. Yet I know the answer automatically.

My biggest failure was trying to push someone who I adored, and who was loyal into a leadership position, and then pushed him out because I felt if he wasn’t there, I’d find the right leader.

In doing this, I lost my top producer, and someone I treasured.

I confused loyalty for leadership and personal drive for the desire to advance.

This person is a leader, naturally, based on how people want to learn from him.

He’s an amazing person, and outstanding performer.

Yet not everyone is willing to step out of production and into leadership. Some really do just want to produce.

🗣 Here’s another secret I’m not afraid to share.

My real estate team isn’t going to grow any further without a leader who truly wants to build and expand. I’m not that leader that wants to go to the office every day and lead us into expansion.

I get excited about where it could go. I am excited about what it could look like if I partnered with the right person (or people).

Finding that leader would take focus and energy that I’m not willing to give right now as I’m building my marketing company which is my true passion.

My income today is 70% marketing / web development company, 30% real estate. And since I don’t spend anytime in real estate today other than lead generation, it’s a good place for me.

I am always, however, interested in making those dollars bigger.

For today, I am primarily working with a few agents in Vegas and we will probably stay small for now. My hope is that one day, in my travels, that natural born leader and I will find each other.

And together, we will blow it up!💣 I also hope that the producer I referred to in this blog, will find his way back home, because I still believe we can do big things together as well. I’m always looking for a big producer 🙂

👓 Others how read this article also enjoy learning from Troy Wilson in Florida on his journey from full time police force to full time real estate agent.

Perfection is the enemy of Profitability

It won’t be perfect. Ever. Let it go. Create your models and work within those models. Understand that you will do a lot of things amazingly well. In other areas, it will be less than perfect. You might even fail or make a big mess trying.

Dont’ expect every math formula to play out exactly as you planned. Things change and fluctuate.

You can’t Motivate the Unmotivated

If they don’t want to work harder or smarter. You can’t motivate them do do so.

You can’t inspire someone to success.

You also can’t drive someone else with your big why. They must have their own.

In order to truly help someone, it’s the leaders responsibility to learn what motivates then and help hold them accountabile for those results. It’s up to the agent to achieve them.

👍 Lori Ballen Reviews

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