Women In Real Estate: Interview with a Successful Real Estate Agent and Rental Property Investor
April of Century 21 Hometown Reality is a realtor who specializes in the central coast of California. When speaking with her, you can’t help but be drawn to her energy, her positivity and her confidence. She led with, “I am an open book so ask away!” which is a quality I admire because I know first-hand that it is not always easy to share the challenges that you have encountered along your journey with others. So thank you, April, for opening up and helping us to learn from your experiences. Your wisdom and advice is invaluable!
It is clear that April has found her calling in life not only by being a tremendous real estate agent, but also by coaching other women to succeed in the profession. In addition to being a realtor, she gives back to her community in San Luis Obispo by regularly organizing an annual fundraiser for a local organization called RISE. This organization focuses on supporting women in getting out abusive relationships, a cause that is near and dear to her heart. At one point in her youth, she credits RISE with helping her out of a very difficult situation. So, as a way to give back, she chairs the committee that organizes their annual “Wine, Women and Shoes” event. Each year, they raise much needed capital to continue to do the amazing work that they do.
The more I learned about her and her story, the more excited I became, because she is the type of person that I strive to be: a successful real estate investor who has built herself a thriving business and actively gives back to her community. April does this primarily through empowering women and celebrating the mentors who have had a hand in her success. Furthermore, she is living her life's work by supporting those other women who come behind her and lifting them up. She is truly a special woman, and I am excited to share her story with you.
@MackofAllTradesNY: I’m interested to hear more about your background. How did you get interested in becoming a real estate agent? And what made you choose to pursue it as a full-time career?
@AprilC21home: Growing up, my mom had done property management, and by watching her experience I learned quickly that is not what I wanted to do. To be honest, I wouldn’t wish property management on my worst enemy. It seems like your sole job is to filter people who are upset all day long. That just didn’t interest me.
So when I was about 20, I became the front desk receptionist at a brokerage house. After that, I moved to a few different positions within the company. I was the transaction coordinator for a while, I got experience in marketing back when we used to take out full page ads in magazines (that aspect of this business has clearly changed a lot) and I then was able to become a broker’s assistant. So I really got a unique experience of seeing all different sides of the business first. When I chose to become a realtor, I was coming to it with the benefit of having learned lots of knowledge from watching amazing professionals in this industry long before I ever had to pull the trigger and go out on my own. I am grateful for that and realize that most people don’t always have the opportunity to do that before they get into the business.
I have now been an agent for 17 years and I really enjoy it. I’ve been with Century 21 since 2009 and for the last 5 years, in addition to selling properties, I have been managing several offices as well. I work with a lot of the newer agents through our mentorship program. I take on mentees and we go on appointments together. I didn’t realize when I stepped into management just how much I would like the training aspect of the work, but to be honest, that is the part I really love. Nothing makes me happier than when you can see the lightbulb go off and witness a mentee use whatever strategy you taught them successfully. They are thrilled when they see it works for them too! I love seeing them get new clients and being successful. It’s the best part of what I do.
@MackofAllTradesNY: What type of real estate did you choose to specialize in and why?
@AprilC21home: I specialize in residential homes and some multifamily properties. Anything above a 16-unit complex I usually refer to a commercial property realtor. I just don’t do commercial properties enough and I believe it is my job to service the client as best as I possibly can. Sometimes that means handing them off to someone who is better able to serve them and meet their needs because they have more expertise in an area than I do. If that is the case, that’s what I need to do. My comfort zone has expanded over the years due to the nature of the business, but I am mindful to work in my area of expertise.
I will continue to grow into other comfort zones. But my thought process behind it is if someone were to ask, “Hey April, is this a good price for the house?” And if I didn’t know the market like the back of my hand, I can’t really service them as well as someone else could. I may do some research, but most likely I’ll pass them off to someone who knows that area better. They deserve that as a client.
Choosing residential real estate really came about organically for me. It’s what I train the new agents in the company to do and I show them how to work by referral. In order to build up your business, what you do is you create a raving advocate for your services in a satisfied client. You go above and beyond so they are so thrilled with your services they are eager to share you with other people. Once they finish the process with you, they essentially become your worker bee in terms of advertising for you. If they hear at a party that someone is thinking about buying or selling they are so excited about how much you helped them that they corner the person and tell them that they’d be crazy not to work with you. Essentially, that is how I have grown my business over the years. We as agents work based on our sphere of influence. My sphere was buying homes. I just enjoy helping families find their own properties.
@MackofAllTradesNY: Being in sales, you have to put yourself out there. Sometimes that is not as easy for a woman. What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome to be successful in this business? Have you ever received any criticism?
@AprilC21home: Being in this industry has made me very aware of how I look. Because I’m young, I am very cautious about not looking too provocative in photos. I don’t want to put a big target on my back.
I had an experience once where a colleague of mine’s now client showed my card to his wife. His wife saw my picture and immediately said that she would never let her husband go out with someone who looks like that. Her snap judgement had nothing to do with my professionalism or how well I do my job, the woman only saw a picture of me and had an instant perception of who I was. That was upsetting and has stuck with me. It also taught me a lot though.
I am also very aware of security. This business can be dangerous at times for similar reasons. I’ve heard many stories about women showing properties and bad things happening to them. For example, a realtor in another state was murdered last year while showing a property. And honestly, it doesn’t matter whether it is with a man or woman you always have to be aware and cautious because you are meeting with complete strangers. I’m often showing vacant houses in the middle of nowhere, so I always make sure someone knows where I am at and who I am meeting with. Newer agents tend to think of this business as all frills and fun. And it can be. It is fun showing beautiful homes and whatnot, but it can also be dangerous if you are not careful and aware.
@MackofAllTradesNY: One concern many people have about going into this field is that it is usually commission-based and real estate agents don’t necessarily have a consistent and steady income. How do you deal with the challenge of having a fluctuating income?
@AprilC21home: At this point in my business, I am able to forecast what I expect to earn over the course of a year. I’m usually able to look at how many transactions I have in the works and plan to close and I can predict and create a baseline income to kind of work from. However, that was not always the case. It started out rocky. In the early days, there were lots of peaks and valleys. There’d be the days you were so excited to get a commission check because you could pay rent and put food on the table. Then it could be scary where you were running out of money and not sure when the next one was coming.
I have had a lot of agents who I have mentored who have transitioned slowly into real estate. A lot of them are also coming into it as an encore career. Those people have usually retired from some other profession and tend to be more set up financially. And then there are a lot of people who are getting into it and are working somewhere part time to supplement their money until they have developed a wider network of clients. You’d be surprised though. Sometimes it only takes 3 or 4 sales to build up that savings account to where you need it to be.
I definitely try to help my mentees figure that out. A lot of managers won’t take those steps, but I do. I sit with them and help them to create a budget and stick that out. We try to create a forecast of how many people they are working with and what their timeframes are when purchasing. I try to do as much as I can to help them figure out their budget and live within their means. Especially in those earlier days, because that is often the key to their success, getting through those beginning years.
@MackofAllTrades: I know you spoke to it a bit earlier, but what is the most joyful part of your work and why?
@AprilC21home: It’s twofold, really: I enjoy helping buyers get into their first home. I find it very rewarding to meet with them and give them their keys. The first time someone buys a place, I’m usually the one holding their hand through the process and it can certainly be an emotional roller coaster. By the end of the transaction, I seldom work with someone who I wouldn’t consider a friend at that point.
The second part is definitely working with my newer agents. I enjoy it so much when they’ve found some success in real estate and they've now taken what I have taught them and they are reaping the rewards as well. When I can see someone else who I have mentored begin mentoring someone behind them, that gives me a lot of joy too. I really believe that once you reach a certain level of success it is important to pull someone else up from behind with you. We’re all in this together.
@MackofAllTrades: What is the most challenging part of your work and why?
@AprilC21home: Every transaction is challenging, really, because there is always something new I learn because something I didn’t anticipate happens. There are certain repairs that are unknown that pop up. Or a certain step in the process that takes longer than normal. It’s always something of that nature. But let me tell you, I have learned a lot about the inner workings of a home, more than I ever thought I would know through all these different transactions.
I’d also say the biggest problem is a lack of communication and professionalism in our industry. That is a huge problem in itself and that can come from all of the people involved in a transaction: lawyers, inspectors, brokers, buyers, sellers, etc. It’s difficult because we are all in this process together. For example, you can spend a lot of time helping a client search for that perfect place. Then when they finally find something that is a great fit for them and we negotiate it to a good price, their dad can come to the home inspection and because he doesn’t understand the value of the neighborhood or town, he can talk them out of it.
There are so many outside influencers when it comes to purchases. I’m only with a client a little bit of time compared to some of the people in their lives. Say a coworker, who they work eight hours a day with, tells them the house isn’t a good fit, they sometimes have more influence than me. Sometimes that can kill a whole deal and my client walks away not truly getting what they want. It’s tough to see that when that happens.
@MackofAllTradesNY: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about realtors and real estate agents is and why?
@AprilC21home: That our job is easy. I’ve even had a handful of my own clients get their real estate license because they told me that they thought what I did looks easy. I’m flattered that I make it look easy, but last night I was up until midnight reading contracts and replying to documents. In the beginning, I was holding open houses every weekend and practically had no social life. I worked very hard in the beginning so that I could build up a business based on referrals. That takes a lot of time and energy. And referrals are the best because they are basically a done deal. All those hours were well spent because now and it’s a lot easier to get clients these days, rather than me chasing down all the people who walk through the door at an open house. So yeah, I’d say it is a lot harder than it looks and takes a long time to build up to a certain level of business.
@MackofAllTradesNY: What advice would you give a young person who is just graduating college, likely with some student loan debt, yet wants to get on the property ladder as quickly as possible?
@AprilC21home: I help a lot of millennials into homes and I know some of them are avoiding credit like the plague, which I understand. You can buy a home with no credit score. There are several lenders available who are willing to do that but it makes it a bit more challenging. I’d recommend putting a nest egg aside, even if it’s just something small like 40 bucks out your paycheck, and put it into a basic savings account and let it build. There are programs specifically designed for first time homebuyers for little to no money down, so you can research and find one of those to help you.
Many people think it’s not realistic or that they can never buy a property themselves. I want them to know it is possible and love it when I see someone so young that has their ducks in a row. I love it when I see someone working hard to ensure that they have good credit scores and helping them to realize that they can step into home ownership. I just want to clone them and take them to other kids, because I think many people don’t believe it’s possible until they see it done. So many people out there that just don't think homeownership is a possibility for them. So be consistent. Pick a dollar amount, stash it away each paycheck and pretend like it is no longer there. You will build up savings quicker than you realize.
I also love it when I see people who are using real estate to climb the ladder of wealth. I personally saved up just enough money to step into my first home. It was a nice home but not in the most desirable location. It had a 17-mile, curvy commute just to get to town. After I bought it I didn’t change my lifestyle. I consistently lived within my means and lived on a budget. I then continued to save up enough money to buy the next house. Each time I did this I qualified primary residence financing, which means lower interest rates. And I decided early on I wasn’t going to sell the first property. Instead, I found a tenant there who would pay more than the mortgage. I have done this hand over hand several times now and would not be where I am without the use of this vessel.
@MackofAllTradesNY: Do you give clients any feedback before listing their homes?
@AprilC21home: I go over everything in an initial appointment and sometimes that initial appointment is stretched over a couple of appointments. First, I’ll meet with someone and discuss their needs. It really doesn’t matter if they are not ready to sell yet. Sometimes they just want to meet and talk about the possibility of their selling their property in a couple of years. That’s okay. I still come and sit down with them and talk through it. The good thing about starting early is I can give you a checklist of things to do to your house over the course of those two years that will help prepare it to sell. In that initial meeting, I also go over fees, the market and ways they can improve their value. The most important thing in that meeting is to help educate the seller so that they know what to expect.
@MackofAllTradesNY: Do you ever give any design tips for someone wanting to sell their home?
@AprilC21home: Design tips? Well, I tell them to minimize and declutter. I encourage them to deconstruct the house and each room and to just make it as plain jane as possible. It doesn’t matter if we walk in and see the most beautiful piece of artwork that sells for ten thousand dollars. If you as the buyer are stunned by this piece, then that means you are spending more time looking at the artwork rather than envisioning yourself in the home. I also tell sellers the basic things like try to avoid dark-colored walls. You also don’t want too much furniture either. It really is a case-by-case basis. I give them a checklist and encourage them to make the house as cookie cutter as possible. Paint everything a nice beige so it appeals to everyone.
@MackofAllTradesNY: What advice do you have for a woman who wants to start investing in real estate? What should she do? What sort of properties should she look at?
@AprilC21home: I’d say do what I’ve done. Never buy anything you would not live in yourself. If for some reason I needed to downsize or I needed to move into one of my properties, I could. I would never buy something I wouldn't live in because you may have to do that at some point.
If the price point allows, I would say to avoid homeowner associations. They will have a fixed fee that will continue to rise and will never go away. I’d recommend a smaller house at the same price point. You can use that same amount and get a place in town. In 30 years, you will own your house completely and not have a mortgage payment. Sure you will have to maintain it, but it will be based on what you see fit. HOA fees will never go away and will only go up.
I also avoid wonky or unique properties. If a property is sitting on the market for a really long time, you have to wonder why? Maybe it was built in 1915 and is out of place for a neighborhood. You need to ask yourself: how resellable will it be if that is the case? There are people out there who love quirky, but that requires a special type of buyer. I’m looking for something that will be easy to resell down the line should I need to.
I ask myself if I can rent it out. Is it in my comfort zone of driving? If for some reason I needed to be at that house ASAP would I be able to get there quickly? For me that number is within an hour. I also make sure it is close enough that I can drive past every once and awhile. Being able to go set your eyes on the property is important. It’s not to be invasive but it helps ensure you have a better quality tenant.
@MackofAllTradesNY: Do you have a property manager or do you manage your properties yourself?
@AprilC21home: I manage my properties myself because I have all the resources. Like if a pipe bursts, I can get a plumber out there right away. If I retire or move out of the area, maybe I’ll get a property manager, but right now I just do it myself.
Well there you have it folks. April definitely has motivated me to up my real estate investment game and has given me some practical tips I can take away too. If you don’t already follow her @AprilC21home, I recommend you do. And if you are ever in the market for a place in central California, I would recommend her services. She definitely knows what she is talking about and conducts her business with integrity, which can be hard to find these days.
Thank you, April, for the work you do in mentoring other women in real estate and thank you for taking the time to share your story with us!