How Sucking At School Made Me A Better Real Estate Agent

Growing up on an island in Alaska was a cool adventure, but as a teenager all I could think about was getting off that rock. With only 13 miles of roads, the town just kept feeling smaller and smaller. Many of my friends were getting into bad habits and I might have followed suit if I hadn’t been so determined to get out of there. I knew that getting into college was a sure way out, but I had a problem.   

I was never naturally good at school.

In fact, I pretty much sucked at school. My freshman year of high school, I got D’s in Science and Math, and C’s in everything else (except PE, I always got an A in PE). It was extra lame because I was actually trying to get better grades than what I was getting. I never skipped class and I did pay attention, but school just didn’t come naturally to me. If there was a way to screw up a test, I did it, from overthinking or going too slow; I invariably did poorly.

These low grades kind of freaked me out, once it registered that this wasn’t good enough for most colleges. So I stopped hanging out with friends as much and I studied at night. I arrived early to school to meet with my Math and Chemistry teachers to get extra help figuring out the assignments. I was lucky I had teachers who offered this help, and I found that they were eager to lend an extra hand so long as I put forth my best effort in their class.

Since I was a pretty slow reader, my English teachers helped me by letting me know the books that we would be reading the next semester so I could get a head start. Many of the friends I went to high school with breezed through every class. It was just easy for them. They rarely studied and got better grades than I did (which, of course, always pissed me off).

I didn’t realize at the time that the extra work and effort I put into high school was actually teaching me one of the best life skills I could have hoped for: How to work hard at learning. By the time I was a senior in high school, I was getting mostly A’s. This helped me get into college. Not all of those I applied to accepted me since I bombed the SAT (tests were still my Achilles heel) but my grades were decent enough to at least get me out of town.

The crazy part about college…

I thought it was easy. Sure, finals week sucked, but for the most part, I discovered that just showing up, sitting near the front, and being engaged in the class was a near guarantee that you would get a B in the class.

Many of the kids in my dorm skipped class. There was no parent around to force them to go, and the college certainly didn’t alert parents to their child’s lack of attendance. The kids who struggled the most in college were often the smartest and brightest of us all. Their problem was that they never had to work hard at school. High school was easy for them, and I think college seemed hard because they had never learned how to study or work hard at learning.

My first year at college, I pretty much got all A’s. I also discovered that once you show that you can get A’s in college, you can reapply to the universities that shot you down before, and with a solid college transcript you can get in almost anywhere. Reapplying for scholarships was also a wise move at that time because I got a number of them (and I really needed them).

Becoming an Expert

Knowing how to learn new things and adding discipline to the learning process has shown me that anyone can be an expert at anything. All they need to do is study that area of interest every day for an hour or so, and within a matter of months they can be very fluent in that expertise. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all areas of life and professions. But I believe if I wanted to be a web designer, stockbroker, fitness instructor, real estate coach, or whatever interests me, I could learn how to not only be good at it, but with diligence and the right amount of time focused on learning, be one of the best in my local market.

I’m a huge believer in lifetime learning. I feel there is a direct correlation between my willingness to keep studying and my successes.

My Broken Industry

In my real estate community we have a major problem. Not only is it very easy for anyone to get a real estate license, but there are very little educational requirements to keep it. To make matters worse, I don’t even support our industry leaders’ efforts to require more education, because the education provided is often misguided or downright bad for the industry, as it teaches agents how to be annoying door knockers and cold callers in the pursuit of new business.  

Education for agents is rarely based on how to better service clients. The focus is instead on how agents can keep themselves from getting sued or how to make more money by convincing clients to sign contracts sooner, lower their list prices further, and keep pushing them because “behind every no is a yes”.  I’m calling bullshit.

Is it any surprise that real estate agents have a bad reputation? Many agents are now worried that with technology, they will soon be replaced. That’s a valid fear if the only value they bring to the customer is opening up homes and entering price reductions.

"If agents are not constantly learning about their local market, about new marketing systems, and about how to provide better service to make more money for their clients and save them months of hassle, then they should be replaced by technology."

Many real estate agents in my industry are like many kids I went to college with. They are hoping that just by attending college it will equal a good paying job for them. They have little desire to work hard at learning so they can provide expert level advice to their clients, they only desire working for bigger paychecks.

For agents in my real estate office, I am often pointing out awesome free resources where they can go to learn about marketing, successful entrepreneurship, and how to better their skills. Often we then collaborate with each other to overcome challenges or discover new avenues to further help our clients. It is a fun environment to work in and I am enjoying seeing the success that comes from it.

First Day of School

Ivy & Emilia's First Day of School
The other day I dropped off my girls at their first day of school, and I couldn’t help to wonder if school will come easy or hard for them. I honestly don’t care what grades they get so long as they put a good effort into their education. My goal is to teach them the value of working hard at learning, by showing them that their efforts will open up new doors in their lives.

I’m not sure what to do about my real estate industry to help fix some of its major issues, but I at least plan to write about it more often. I want to bring awareness to the issue and maybe even write a book specifically for agents on what I’ve learned and where they can go to learn more, so that they can find new levels of success for themselves and their clients even if, like me, they sucked at school.