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Creating and Growing Real Estate Wealth: The Starting Line

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Is real estate a good personal fit for you? William J. Poorvu shows you how to get started in this chapter from his book.

Is real estate a good personal fit for you? If so, how do you find your first job? After that, how do you find your first deal?

Most likely, you have no experience, very little knowledge, not much money, no relationships, and no credibility out there in the world—in other words, none of the things that you’ll eventually need to succeed in a real estate venture. So, why should you consider a career in real estate?

There are many advantages to being in this field, financial and otherwise. The industry has almost unlimited points of entry. You can practice your craft in any community in the country. The product comes in all sizes, shapes, and price points. Each property can be owned in a separate entity, with the ownership apportioned to reward specific contributions. You can be in the business owning one property or hundreds.

Real estate is the poster-child industry for entrepreneurs. You don’t need substantial capital of your own to start. Financing is available for individual properties, based primarily on the income from the property rather than the net worth of the owner. You can outsource the services required to build, lease, and operate the property, allowing you to keep your own organization small and your overhead minimal.

What do we know about entrepreneurs? The ideal entrepreneur can be described as visionary, driven, energetic, flexible, persistent, detail oriented, good at negotiation, quick with numbers, and able to manage risk. The simple truth, however, is that few of us possess all these traits. (We’d probably be impossible to live with if we did.) In any case, it’s really not necessary to be all these things at once. It is more important to be intimately aware of the market, understand the financing options, and maintain a healthy network of contacts and professional resources—achievable goals for most of us.

In many cases, the most successful entrepreneurs are life-long learners. They are people who are willing to listen, and who don’t need to prove they are the smartest in the room.

The Job Search

Finding your first job is always daunting. Pick an area of real estate that relates to your strengths—one that will give you a point of entry and an opportunity to gain experience.

You might begin by working for a property owner directly, but such jobs are relatively hard to come by. In terms of sheer numbers, there are many more entry-level jobs in firms that provide services to property owners. These firms usually specialize by function, locale, and product type. Functions can include real estate brokerage, law, accounting, financing, building management, design, construction services, and so on. Product type can mean residential, office, industrial, warehouse, retail, hotel—or, in some parts of the country, self storage, parking, agriculture, or ranching.

Think about which functional area plays to your strengths—for example, your sales skills, your accounting background, or perhaps even your computer skills (in this day of Internet listings and virtual tours of properties). That will not only help you get your first job, but also put you in a position where you can excel and have more to offer to your next employer. Use your contacts: families, friends, alumni groups, and so on. Talk to as many people as will see you. Word of mouth is vitally important. Firms don’t necessarily do their hiring to accommodate your graduation schedule, so be prepared to discover that your job search may take time.

Before you start your job search in earnest, try to learn more about your own strengths and weaknesses. You might want to do some online research, or borrow some books from the library, to get a sense as to what makes you tick. Some online personality tests can expand your thinking, and you can follow up these general tests with more targeted research.

Meanwhile, try to look at the landscape around you with new eyes. Where does opportunity lie? Where are new buildings going up? Can you get a summer job at one of these building sites?

For most of us, where we live is where we start looking for a job. In other words, we usually don’t pick the location of our first real estate job search based on its inherent real estate potential. Our day job, our desire to be near where we or our spouse grew up, the sheer accident of where we were discharged from the service or where we went to school—these are far more often the determinants of location.

As it turns out, there’s usually nothing particularly wrong with being in one location versus another. Each area has its own subsets of communities, neighborhoods, and streets. It has its own social, economic, zoning, and transportation dynamics. Even though, as a rule, it is better to be in a faster-growing market, even slow or no-growth markets have their opportunities. And without a doubt, we tend to have better contacts in the town where we grew up or where we spent our college years. Great contacts can make up for a less-than-hot local real estate market, especially when your goal is to gain experience.

Make your resumé a strong tool. Have a friend—or even better, someone who has experience hiring people—look at it and give you honest feedback as to what this all-important self-introduction is likely to tell a prospective employer.

Don’t be afraid to include something offbeat at the bottom of your resumé, such as running a painting crew during the summer, working in another country, or excelling at a sport, second language, or musical instrument. You want to demonstrate to your potential employer that you have some kind of spark—and of course, give that person something to talk about at your interview. (Here’s where having had that summer construction job will definitely be a plus.)

Do research on the person who’s agreed to interview you, and on the company that he or she represents. This will demonstrate your initiative and seriousness, allow you to ask better questions, and perhaps flatter the interviewer. Google is an easy starting point.

Yes, this adds up to a lot of work, which can sometimes be frustrating. You need persistence and patience. Keep in mind, however, that the first success is often the hardest to achieve.

When you finally do get a job, try to perform multiple tasks within that company. The more experiences you get, the better. Talk to your coworkers about your interest in learning as much as possible. They often will be happy to share if they see you are eager to help, and to learn. Again, people may be flattered if you show a genuine interest in what they do and how they do it.

This raises an important and related point: The person whom you are going to work for is just as important as the work you’ll be doing, and maybe even more so. In an ideal scenario, your boss will spend time with you, share experiences, challenge you, and introduce you to others. If he or she has a great reputation in the industry, that reputation may well rub off on you.

Timing is also important. Sometimes it is better to go into real estate when real estate is out of fashion, when people are flocking to other trendy fields—say, Internet start-ups or private equity firms. There may be fewer openings in real estate at those points in the cycle, but there is also less competition in the tough times, you’ll get better training, and you’ll be well positioned to take advantage of the eventual upswing in the market.

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