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Hello, and welcome to The Thoughtful Realtor podcast. I'm Connie Chung.
I'm Cliff Tsang.
And I'm Kenny Gong, and we are the founders and partners of Willowmar Real Estate.
And this is a real estate podcast where we get real personal.
Every episode, we sit down for insights, stories, and conversations about things in the market today, running a real estate team in California, and finding our way as leaders and business partners.
And today, we are talking about something inspired by you, our listeners. We often get questions and emails, so many from strangers who are curious to learn what's it like to be a real estate agent and what it's like to succeed in this industry.
Oh yeah. I'm excited for this one as we'll share what's reeled us into this profession and also what's kept us in it, as well as our best tips and practices.
Alright, let's get started. So, Kenny, what drew you into real estate?
Oh, you know, Connie drew me into real estate. So, as folks might know, my dad has been in real estate for over fifty years in San Francisco, but I never actually thought that it was a path for me until Connie—she got into the industry and said, “You should do this.” And I didn't actually love design or architecture necessarily. So, that didn't really draw me to real estate, so I kind of fell into it.
Then what did?
I needed a job! I needed a job and was just looking for something to try that felt completely different, and this felt completely different. But as soon as I got into being a realtor, I just loved serving people and what drew me further into the industry was just being of service.
And then, of course it was lovely to visit these beautiful homes, but at the end of the day, what kept me going, especially in the beginning, was this dedication to being of service.
It's so natural for you because you're such a giver, and you're so people-oriented. You understand people more than they understand themselves sometimes, and I think people are so comfortable and trustworthy around you where it's not uncommon for Kenny to go to a party, and he will learn their whole life story and all of their insecurities and everything.
People will divulge all kinds of things to Kenny. So it's so natural for you to steward this role as a realtor, and holding someone's goals and aspirations and serving them in this high-stress capacity.
Yeah, so that was me. Cliff, what about you? What drew you to real estate?
Actually, some similarities there, but I think one inspiration was actually Connie. for sure. Yeah.
So funny that I feel like you're the linchpin, or you've pulled both of us into this. But I remember: it was 2018. Mee-Sun and I took a year off to travel. I think I was interested in real estate, but I think to Kenny's point, I just needed something different. I had been working in tech prior to that. I knew that working in tech was not what I wanted to do, so it was a weird feeling coming back after a year off of travel and feeling like you've had a kind of a zen—a lot of time to reflect—and then coming back to the same type of career that you knew was not your calling.
And then seeing that Connie, I think had been very successful up until that point and also, we had loosely stayed in touch. But also, just knowing that I trusted you a lot and that you were someone that I would want to work with. So, I think similar to the story of a lot of people on our team, I didn't really … No, actually, the Redfin thing, I don't know if I need—
Oh! Oh! That's right.
Yeah, Cliff did consider Redfin before me, we'll put that out there.
Yeah, I had no idea what I was doing, clearly. But besides Redfin, there was no other team that I was even considering or any person that I sought to seek out for guidance. So then, I reached out to Connie, and that's what drew me in. Yeah, I was really just looking for something different, knowing that I had some interest in real estate and just being open to the possibility of something new and a different adventure.
What about you, Connie?
I—if I think back to my origin story of real estate—I have a terrible memory and I can't remember much about my childhood. But, I have fond memories and very vivid memories of going to open houses as a kid. And so that design background or interest has always been inside of me. And, just the idea of going into people's homes, I think it's the natural people person in me—kind of curious of the lives and dreams and aspirations and all the possibilities that exist in space. Many years forward when living in San Francisco, I would still visit open houses. It was those kinds of same dreams and hopes and aspirations that I still thought about in people's homes and now I thought for myself: what would it look like to have a space in real estate? And actually before pursuing my real estate license, I considered going into interior design, but I just didn't want student loans; I didn't want to go back to school. And you know, I hear the bar into getting into real estate is real low so I figured why not give that a try. And it was just “Let's just explore this as an avenue not thinking much was going to happen.”
Was there a spark? I feel like I've never actually asked you about this.
It was a failure from all my tech jobs I tried applying to. So, I didn't get any of those. And then it was really the opportunity of having coffee with a neighbor that I thought she was a top agent and offered to mentor me. And I thought, this seems promising. We seemed to have a great connection, let's give this a go and see where it takes us.
Yeah, that was really the start.
You know, it's interesting too because I remember that real estate, when we got into it ten years ago, was so different. There's so many more young people that are in real estate now that are getting into real estate young. But when we got into it, the median age—
Was so much higher. And there wasn't as much media coverage about Selling Sunset; there wasn't Ryan Sirhan; social media wasn't that big, so it was a very different industry. And I think for the people that started when we did, it was much more about falling into it or somehow having some kind of connection to it.
Like a family business or …
Versus now, people really—
Aspire to it.
Yeah, which is really cool.
Yeah. Which is so different than—
Yeah, you have these models, these public figures.
Ah, interesting. Yeah. That is really interesting.
So what's kept you all in this profession ten years later, Kenny?
Oh, you know why I'm still interested in it is that even with all of the changes that we were just talking about, it comes down to this profession is so closely tied to service. Still at the end of the day, it is being in close relationship with people and working with them as their partners, as their advocates, as their guides to get them to where they want to go next in their lives.
And that to me is still the biggest thing that is the most human element of this profession. And it's—the heart of this profession is: how do you really be of service during these really intense moments in people's lives? And I think that's still what's most interesting about it is that: that's our role is to be service providers.
It's not about the flash and glamor of any of that stuff. Sure it’s so much more prevalent, but when you really, really boil it down, we're service providers and we're in the business of being these important people in people's lives that can help them through big milestones in life. And, I think that's still what keeps me interested in it.
Yeah. I love that this profession is so dynamic. I mean, real estate is so broad and there are so many ways to be successful. And learning that from an early age in this career has been really helpful because there certainly was a period—and even sometimes to this day—where I felt like I had to do things a certain way, be a certain type of person or type of agent. But being able to be myself—I know empathy is one of my top skills, so natural and neat to me, of really understanding people, their emotions, where they're at, what they're feeling, why, and in this job, empathy is so key. It's being able to read people and build that trust and connection with them and also pick up when they're hesitant or fearful and speak to that. And so, it's just so fun. I think this job really speaks to my skill sets in that way. And also I'm a very “get stuff done” and in real estate, there are so many things to get done and it's very fulfilling for me.
Yeah. It's so interesting too, because I feel like you're talking about this natural nurturer—
Being a natural nurturer, being someone who takes care of people. This is the perfect profession.
That's why women—well, especially women—it's the one profession where women rank at the top, which is incredible because I think there is that natural, nurturing, empathy, people skills that is so core to being successful.
Cliff, what's kept you in it? Or are you thinking about going back to tech?
No, no. But no, I think both of what you said resonated with me, the service aspect of it, and also the “being yourself” part. So I'd echo those two, but then the one that comes to mind for me is the focus on personal growth. And I think it's related to becoming yourself, but this journey has been very eye-opening to me and has allowed me to come into my own person and personality and learn more about myself. And then, I would say this Willowmar journey in particular—of us building Willowmar together—has been really cool because I'm reading a book called The Surrender Experiment right now. And it's a great book, and I'm only a third of it through so maybe it changes, but it effectively talks about the journey that you can go through life if you learn to surrender more and to give up and just allow life to unfold the way it should unfold. And I think that has resonated a lot with me with Willowmar because that's what has kept me in is learning to better surrender at every point. Because every point has become actually better as we've surrendered, but I still want to exercise control over every part for some reason. So that's what keeps me in it. And it's fun.
It's that also, I feel like it's a balance, right? In order for you to surrender, you have to prepare and do all the things to set things up so that when you surrender, things happen. But you can't just completely surrender and just be like “Life, take me.” You have to actually find what is that balance of putting enough intention out there, doing the work, doing enough work, and then surrendering.
Have you read the book?
Okay. No, no, no—
Kenny lives by that philosophy though.
No, that is a great way to describe the book, because it's kind of an autobiography. It's not like he's just laying in bed, waiting for life to start. He is doing things, and there's intentionality, but when there's a decision or fork in the road, instead of trying to control it—someone called him to go to California to go to this yoga retreat. He just goes and surrenders to that decision making. So yeah. Good summary. Okay.
That's a really good one. Should we talk about what makes someone a top-tier agent?
Yeah, I'll share. I would say: the sooner you can build trust with someone really helps you to stand out as an agent because you're helping someone with a huge financial decision or action. And if they have complete trust in you, it will make the process and the journey so much smoother and in flow in many ways.
How do you think about building trust with someone?
I think first, a connection. It doesn't have to be like you both like the same thing, but both having some sort of connection where it is the foundation of that relationship. There's some likeability to it and I think that's why some agents will ask us, you know, “Should I have both a business account and a personal account?”
And I say no, because I think there's so much connection opportunities and likeability in sharing the personal stuff. Of course, there's also opportunity to do the exact opposite, but I actually think it's that personal stuff that helps build trust because then they just get to know the real person versus just all of these homes, the facade of what a real estate portfolio business account can look like.
This is a weird question. Sorry, we're going a little off script a little bit, but I'm wondering, does this happen to you with a client when you first meet them? I almost see them kind of like a puzzle, and it's a weird thing because in my mind, I don't actually physically see a puzzle, but I feel it.
It feels like I'm trying to figure out this puzzle, and I'm not connecting for the sake of connecting: there is interest, really, of trying to connect with them, learn about them, figure out—yeah, also what home they're looking for—but really just trying to get to know them on a deeper level. I don't know if you feel that way too. The puzzle analogy or metaphor came to my head.
Definitely, because it's understanding what are their needs and goals and how can you find that missing piece to fill those goals and the end piece, almost. But before that it's also: what are the roadblocks, their hesitations, and really sorting it all out. And I think in terms of building that trust and the likeability, there's also being able to share the expertise. And I think that helps build the trust and setting that relationship.
Yeah, it sounds like both of you are actually speaking about taking care of people, you know what I mean? Because when Connie says, “I want to get to know them,” right? “I really want to build a connection by getting to know them.” It's so that you can be of service; it's so that you can take care of them and the same thing with what you're talking about, Cliff, which is like “I want to figure out what is that missing piece so that I can help fill that piece, so that I can take care of them and get them where they want to go and it's so selfless, right? Even though we have great reward at the end of it, the best people, though—the top-tier ones—are the ones that really care about people, like: how do you plug yourself into someone else's life to get them where they want to go?
And that's a top-tier agent.
Oh, love that.
Because I think, for me, when I think about this, the top-tier agents are the ones that I respect the most. It's not the ones that make the most money. And sometimes, there's a correlation, like the ones that I respect the most often make plenty of money—and lots of money—but the ones that I respect the most, the goal is not to make the most money.
The goal is to really have the most impact on the most number of people, right? And it's not for flexibility. That's one of my biggest things, is that if someone comes to me that wants to be an agent, and they're like “I want to do this because I want to have a flexible schedule.”
I'm like, “Yes, and your schedule is not going to be that flexible. It's going to be somewhat flexible, but don't get into this because you think that it's going to be about you and your schedule.”
You have to get into this because you will have flexibility, but the flexibility has to be around your clients, not you. And I think those are the ones that make the top-tier agents.
True. Yeah. And for me, I would add to that. I think it's a combination of hard skills and soft skills. I think the hard skills are the things that you learned in the first few years, the foundational pieces of how to negotiate, listing process, how do you talk to a buyer, just the vocabulary and also the structure around the purchase contract, and all of that.
And then, I think there's an element on the soft skill side, that's really hard to articulate, but the way I think about it is folks who see this as a craft, a skill that they are trying to hone in on, years and years of excellence over and over and over again. They're not in it for one season or five seasons. They're seeing this as a career. A craft that they're trying to master and going back to what Connie was saying of just there's so many different ways to win in this game or do well is that it's not a one size fits all.
Maybe your design is not that great, but you're a masterful negotiator, and that's what makes you a great listing agent. Or, on the buyer's side, you are great at connecting and figuring out the puzzle pieces of what your buyers want. There's so many different ways to hone that craft. But I think it really comes down to someone who is just constantly trying to get better effectively, and it connects to the personal growth we've talked about too.
Oh, that's so great. Okay, wll, what tips and parting words do you want to share?
Maybe do a couple rounds. Let's go around. You want to start us off , Con?
Well, what I was going to share, I think, might be reiterated, but I would say, putting—
What? Are you going to reiterate what Clifford said? Say it because I wonder if I'm going to reiterate it too.
I was going to say: in this industry you learn—and this goes to the new agents out there—if you're thinking about wanting to be a real estate agent, so much of this industry, you learn by doing, and you're not going to know what it's going to be about until you're in it.
And so having a mentor or someone you can go to to really lean on for these questions—because I will say you don't know what you don't know until you're in it and you just don't know the response—having someone that you can really seek for advice, guidance, responses, how to navigate certain situations is so key.
But that's also what makes this job so fun is that, I would always tell people, “The test and the courses don't really prepare you for what real estate is going to be like as a career, so get through that as soon as possible. And then when you deep dive into it as a profession is when you really learn the chops of being a real estate agent.” Cliff?
Yeah. Oh, no, no. Finding a good mentor was on my list too. And just to reiterate what Connie was saying. The mentorship part is so key because I can guarantee in your first few transactions as you're learning this job, there's a better way to do it and your mentor should be able to guide you.
Even if you have good intuition, your mentor can guide you in a better way to phrase things, a better way to guide your client. So I think that's a key piece. My tip to new agents would be to not focus on the splits. I feel like whenever I talk to new agents, that question comes up so quickly in the conversation.
Commission splits, yeah. Just to clarify. Yeah. And I just feel like it's so short-sighted. It articulates that you don't understand how this works.
It's so true.
It's the easiest way to convey that you're a novice because Brandon Turner says this about real estate investing. Zero percent of the biggest transaction is still 0 percent. You'd rather still have a small cut of any transaction, right? And so I think that's related to the splits pieces. The higher split doesn't equate to more income necessarily. And I understand where that question comes from, but it's just so misguided because I don't think they're understanding how important mentorship is.
If you're looking to join a team, if not a team, but even the mentorship and just how to build a business, it's not going to come from that higher split.
And also, that to me already signals that’s not only a novice, but it's like, “Ooh, if that person is so concerned and prioritizes money that much, that's not someone that I want to work with,” right? That's not someone that I would bring on my team because it speaks to a misalignment.
But it's tough because when you don't know much about real estate agents, the few things you hear about are flexibility and commissions. So those are only things you bring up, “I want the flexibility and I want the highest—” so I get it but, yeah, there is so much more and when you're in it that's how you learn that.
Any other tips, Kenny?
I have a couple. My first one is similar to what we talked about: the commitment to constant learning. And I think that also leads me to think about humility and also leads me to think about this wonderful mindfulness concept of the beginner's mind, which is really, really embodying always—no matter how much experience you have—the mind of a beginner. Because there's this, I'm going to butcher it, but it's like: if you're a beginner, you have so much to learn. If you're an expert, you have very little to learn. And so if you're always living as a beginner, you always have this abundance of learning to have, right? Learning to be, and you have so much more to learn. And I think that's what I've always really taken and learned about this industry is that there's always so much to learn.
So if you think of yourself as an expert, only then you're going to limit the amount of knowledge that you can actually gain, regardless of how much knowledge you currently have. So I think that that is a really important tip of when you're a beginner, also when you're not a beginner, is just to really, really be committed to that constant learning. And the way to commit to that constant learning is to live with a beginner's mind.
Great. Ooh, so many great questions.
Do you have any more? What are your other parting tips?
I … Well, you got me thinking of it, Kenny, is operating from also that abundance mindset, especially in real estate, because one: you can constantly compare yourself to other agents. And it's so overwhelming and daunting, especially on social media when you see all these realtors constantly with so much business and doing things and you're like, “Oh, but I'm so far from there.” Know that there's just plenty of business to go around, and certainly, I have to challenge myself with it, especially when we think about how we operate as business owners and we really lean towards generosity with our own team, with our clients, with each other.
And we have to remember to do the same for ourselves, which is harder to do. But yeah, just coming from that abundance mindset that there's plenty to go around and that's the beauty of real estate: there’s so, so much.
Mine are: be consistent with marketing, with your schedule, with everything that you do, because I think there's a lot of power in consistency. And then also, I'm trying to think of another one. Be consistent …
Be consistent. Yeah, my parting tip is to get inspired by other service industries, not by other realtors. And I think a part of this is: it's great to have models, see other role models in the real estate industry. But I think that the danger is that it can feel like a bubble. It can feel like, “Oh God, I gotta do this in order to feel successful.” Or “I gotta do this in order to go here and to get there” if you are only looking at other real estate agents. And also, there are so many things that other service industries do that can inform and differentiate a realtor's business, and that I think is a beautiful, beautiful thing. And that's something that I always try to take into account myself.
Oh, that beautifully concludes this episode of The Thoughtful Realtor. I love that.
If you have more burning questions of what it's like to be a realtor, we'd love to hear from you. You can find us at willowmar.com or Instagram at @willowmar__ and reach out to us directly. And if you haven't already, please hit that subscribe button and leave us a review. We read each one of your reviews and appreciate when you share the love and until next time …
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