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13 tips for becoming successful in real estate, from young industry leaders

Business Insider

By Hana R. Alberts, Dan Latu, Alcynna Lloyd, Jordan Pandy, James Rodriguez, and Zoe Rosenberg

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

A person in a crowd raises their hand.
Say "yes" and trust your voice are two pieces of advice for creating a thriving real-estate career.

  • Business Insider selected 20 young professionals 35 and younger making waves across a vast industry.
  • We asked the up-and-comers to give us their best career advice for those just starting out.
  • Here are some of the top insights, straight from the wunderkinds themselves.

Charting a successful profession in the real-estate industry takes gusto, smarts, and know-how — all things possessed by this year's cohort of rising stars in the commercial and residential sectors.

Whether it's becoming a top-selling real-estate agent in Austin, Texas, or launching into the growing self-storage industry, these young talents have figured out what it takes to rise to the top. Among those lessons they shared with Business Insider: Always be prepared, stay humble, and trust your voice.

Take a look at the insights 13 of them have learned along the way, presented in alphabetical order by first name.

Find your purpose

A headshot of Ankur Jain
Ankur Jain Santiago Felipe

Ankur Jain, 33, is the founder and CEO of Bilt Rewards, a loyalty program that allows users across the US to earn rewards for paying rent. Despite his flashy title, Jain's not too focused on it — and thinks you shouldn't be, either.

"I think too many people, especially if you've gone to business school, are told to think about your key goals" and what title or role you want, Jain said.

Jain's advice is to focus on purpose instead of goals, and the accolades and titles will come naturally.

"So many people get so hung up on this very defined, specific version of what they think they need to get what they want," he said. "And then there are the 15 opportunities that come by that could offer them exactly what they're looking for, but are packaged differently."

Don't be afraid to ask questions

Azar Kheraj
Azar Kheraj Houseful

Azar Kheraj, the 33-year-old chief operating officer of online real-estate platform Houseful, views open-mindedness as a crucial element for success.

"I think that's such a powerful thing for anyone — no matter where they are in their career — to lead with questions," Kheraj said.

In his role as COO, Kheraj supervises Houseful's finance operations, business intelligence, and employee enablement teams.

To be a thoughtful and impactful leader, he regularly challenges his own ideas and assumptions.

"My most-used phrase is 'this may be a dumb question,'" he said. "I think that leading with humility and understanding is how you build supportive and incredible teams around you."

Stay ahead of the curve

Bryce Grandison
Bryce Grandison Jelissa Holder

Bryce Grandison, a senior analyst in asset management at multifamily-acquisition company Langdon Park Capital, believes there's no such thing as being too prepared.

To stay ahead of industry trends, the 26-year-old makes a habit of seeking out diverse sources, including reports, news articles, and books.

"I'm always trying to read different books that can keep me abreast of what's going on in the macro environment, rather than just what's happening at a specific property," he said.

Staying well-informed about emerging trends in the real-estate sector is what distinguishes him from his peers, earning the trust and confidence of both colleagues and superiors.

Grandison, who often collaborates with colleagues older than him, is currently reading "The Trusted Advisor," a self-help book by David Maister, Charles Green, and Robert Galford.

"Sometimes being young and new to the business, people don't trust you," he said. "I want to continue to keep pointing out ways in which not only am I driving value, but I also clearly know the market."


Say "yes"

A woman with blond hair smiles for a photo behind a blank backdrop.
Devyn Bachman Kristin Karkoska, Blue Sky's Studio

Devyn Bachman's career advice begins with a simple word: "Yes."

"As a society we have defaulted to saying 'no' to things outside of our small comfort zone," Bachman said. "I would encourage more people to say 'yes' to hard things, to new things, to things that you are not sure you are going to succeed at."

Bachman, 35, has used that mantra to establish herself as an oft-cited national housing expert at John Burns Research and Consulting, a firm that offers data and analysis to many of the industry's largest builders and investors.

Her career path was far from preordained. She got her start at JBREC as an analyst, but climbed the ranks to senior vice president of research and operations through a combination of hard work and a willingness to raise her hand.

"The fear of the unknown," Bachman said, "plagues and prevents too many from ever reaching their full potential."


Have no shame

A woman smiles in front of a black background.
Katharine Lau Stuf Storage

Katharine Lau launched Stuf Storage, a company that places automated self-storage facilities into underutilized commercial space, in 2020.

The company has 100,000 square feet under management across the country, and is hoping to triple its square footage in 2024. To do that, the 34-year-old knows she needs to be assertive.

"You're in control of your own destiny," Lau, Stuf Storage's cofounder and CEO, said. "Often, really taking the reins is incredibly important, not waiting around for others to respond to react."

In other words, she said, have no shame. If someone's taking too long to respond to an email, follow up. To get stuff done, there has to be hustle.


Lean into your specialty

A headshot of Kathryn Lawn
Kathryn Lawn Cushman & Wakefield

Kathryn Lawn, 35, has a very specialized clientele, and that comes in handy in her line of work as an executive managing director at Cushman & Wakefield.

Although Lawn focuses on leasing commercial space to life-sciences and tech companies, she gets calls from other industries looking for space. She passes them off to her colleagues, as she prefers to cater to her base.

"Some of these groups that are doing life sciences, they're also doing law-firm deals and they're also doing tech deals and they're also doing lots of things," she said. "So to say that they're really specialized — I question that."

That allegiance to her clients makes her a go-to agent when someone has a unique ask.

"We keep our heads down and we grind and work hard and get things done and put our clients first," she said. "And that tends to do well for us."


Own your story

A headshot of Natasha Sadikin
Natasha Sadikin James Leng

Natasha Sadikin ascended the commercial-real-estate ranks by turning what she thought of as a weakness into her greatest strength.

Having first explored the career path of an architect, Sadikin, now a senior development associate at modular-building startup Juno, embraced her people skills to help move projects forward.

Sadikin said that early in her career she was told she was too soft-spoken. She also made sure she heard everyone's concerns before moving past a problem. Focusing on talking it out when an issue arises has helped her career move forward.

"That has become one of my biggest strengths: helping to facilitate good conversation that has actually productive outcomes," she said.

The 31-year-old credits leaning into that skill to knowing herself.

"I think a big part of it is just owning your story and really understanding your bigger drive and mission," she said.


Nurture your relationships

Nicole Marburger
Nicole Marburger Fifty Clicks Photo

Nicole Marburger, the 32-year-old founder and owner of Legacy Real Estate Group with Compass in Austin, Texas, is always transparent with her clients.

She thinks that to be successful in the real-estate industry, agents must be honest and always prioritize their clients' well-being. Marburger's goal is not merely for her clients to purchase a home; she wants them to find the right home.

As an agent, she dedicates time to understanding her buyer clients' budget and comfort level regarding home upgrades or repairs. If the property doesn't align with their criteria, she is forthright in advising them to consider walking away and exploring other options.

"There's no such thing as instant gratification," Marburger said. "It's about continuing to do the right thing every single day, for our clients and business."

To establish trust within her clientele and community, she stresses the significance of engaging in daily networking, actively participating in community events, and showing appreciation.

"I met this client about four years ago at a networking event, and we established a relationship. She knew I was a committed and reliable person," she said, adding that the continued relationship and "years of consistency" ultimately led to one of her most successful deals.


Speak up for yourself

Nicolle Lee
Nicolle Lee Courtesy of Nicolle Lee

Nicolle Lee learned a valuable lesson by the age of 30 that many folks never do: It's important to have confidence to voice your professional opinions.

"When I was younger, I had a pretty good intuition," she said. "I just had a lot of self-doubt because I didn't look like everyone else in the room."

Now as a manager on the corporate-development team at Royal Caribbean, Lee isn't bashful about putting her thoughts and ideas forward.

"The sooner you can get over that hurdle, I think, the better," she said.


Don't be afraid to take risks

Raunaq Singh
Raunaq Singh Rayon Richards

Raunaq Singh was the first loan officer at online real-estate database Opendoor, where he developed a confidence and a readiness to take risks.

"Learn to trust your intuition, and you will develop judgment that your instincts are good," he said.

The 28-year-old is now the founder and CEO of startup Roam, an online platform that pairs buyers with assumable mortgages — a type of mortgage financing that enables buyers to assume the interest rate, current principal balance, and other terms of a seller's agreement.

In the pursuit of success, Singh motivates his team to assert themselves and rely on their instincts when making business decisions.

"Be opinionated and self-directed," he said. "Being self-directed is very valuable in the sense of, you'll have a clarifying notion of what you want to achieve, and how to get there. "


Always come prepared to meetings

A woman smiles in front of a white background.
Sarah McCann Billy Delfs

Sarah McCann, a 29-year-old associate director for real-estate strategy at architecture and design firm Vocon, Googles every person before she meets them.

"Always come prepared to a meeting," she said. "Do your homework."

McCann advises office landlords and managers on how to redesign their spaces in order to appeal to and attract tenant companies.

To connect and build trust with her clients, who face new challenges as old-school office buildings struggle amid a rise in work-from-home culture, McCann is currently taking inspiration from a book by former Eleven Madison Park General Manager Will Guidara.

"I'm reading this book, "Unreasonable Hospitality," about going above and beyond for your clients, going out of your way to do things that make them feel special and heard," she said. "It's important as young people to think about relationships, and nurturing those relationships in a really caring and authentic way."


Have breadth and depth in your field

A man smiles in front of framed black and white photos.
William Cahill Aventuur

William Cahill spent time at a management consulting firm in London, doing work in mergers and acquisitions as well as data and analytics, before becoming the associate director at man-made surf-park developer Aventuur.

The 30-year-old's broad background gave him an advantage in the career switch.

"Be a jack of all trades insofar as it supports your holistic understanding of the business and allows you to add value on most things," he said.

At Aventuur, Cahill develops data-and-analytics systems that speed up market research, land analysis, and financial modeling that help the company assess where to open a location next.

It's not only the systems that he has developed that make him an indispensable part of the small team, but also that he's the go-to guy for many things.

"People start to turn to you for certain things because you're an expert," he said, "You feel cool about yourself in that regard."

Be useful, not used

Zelalem Adefris
Zelalem Adefris Courtesy of Zelalem Adefris

As the CEO of Catalyst Miami, Zelalem Adefris oversees wide-ranging activities related to social-justice projects in the greater Miami region. The greatest lesson she's taken from the gig is when to say no to opportunities.

"In the nonprofit sector, you feel compelled to say yes to every request," the 31-year-old said.

Through experience, however, she's understood that being a yes person leads her and the Catalyst Miami staff to burn out or use their time and talent inefficiently. In order to be their best, she's learned to not overextend.

"To do our best work, what do I have to say no to or share the opportunity with someone else?" she said.


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