A Story of Overcoming

Florida broker Ben G. Schachter uses innovation and resilience to make a comeback after losing everything in the 2008 market crash.

Ben G. Schachter, GRI, is no stranger to the roller coaster that is the real estate profession. After joining the industry in 2000, Schachter made millions—and then lost it all in the crash of 2008. His resilience and innovation paid off, though, and today he’s found success not with one business but with two. The Florida-based broker and president of The Signature Real Estate Companies is also the co-founder and head of sales at TotalBrokerage, a software company for real estate brokerages, and he credits his resilience in the industry to learning from his setbacks, following his intuition, and pursuing out-of-the-box approaches.

A Teenager Looking for Spending Money

Unofficially, Schachter began his real estate career at age 15. Angling for cash to take girls on dates but not old enough to secure a traditional job in Florida, he had to get creative. He lucked out on finding a real estate agent who needed assistance making cold calls and who’d pay him cash. The agent paid him $5 per hour plus $20 per appointment. “It was ironic because this job ended up shaping the trajectory of my future career,” he says. “Had I not tried to get a job at 15 and instead waited until I was 16, I probably would have been like everybody else and worked in a grocery store or at the mall.”

A few years later, while a freshman at the University of Florida, he started his second job in the field, at an apartment leasing firm. He cleaned and loaded the fax machine and later answered the phones and completed paperwork. Eventually, he became a leasing consultant at $10.50 per hour.

When Schachter graduated from college in 2000, he turned down the company’s sales manager offer to earn his real estate and mortgage broker licenses. Then, while living at his parents’ home in Boca Raton, he began working as an agent under a broker whom he’d met in college. At the same time, he started his mortgage broker business.

Capitalizing on South Florida’s new-construction boom, he earned $146,000 in his first year and purchased a two-bedroom apartment. He often played dual roles for his clients as their agent and their mortgage broker.

Earning Millions and Losing it All

In 2002, Schachter recognized he could capitalize on earnings by having agents work under him, so he started his own company, Florida International Real

Estate, and a real estate team under the broker he’d met while in college. Thanks to the continued surge in new construction, he was netting a seven-figure income by 2006. To catapult his earnings further yet, he decided to invest in flipping new construction.

The market crash of 2008 stopped Schachter in his tracks, though, halting his upward trajectory. He realized he needed to borrow $4.5 million to close on the homes he’d committed to buying and flipping. In the end, he sold his own home, car and even wristwatch to raise the funds to close them. The homes he’d hoped to flip at a profit were sold at a considerable loss. “Things got so rough, I had to sell my blender—and I had a really nice blender,” he recalls.

To regroup, Schachter moved back in with his parents, and at that time, all his possessions fit into two duffel bags.

Despite his losses, Schachter was intent on remaining in the real estate profession. His earlier successes made him confident in his ability to bounce back, and he looked at the effects of the market crash as a learning opportunity. “I figured this was a good time to earn my broker’s license, so I could hire other agents and mentor them,” he says. “I could teach other people what to do to be successful and, equally important, what not to do so they wouldn’t make the same mistakes I did.”

So he could pay for real estate school, his father loaned him $500, with the stipulation that he finish the course, pass the state test and move out within 90 days.

Becoming a CEO

Soon after Schachter earned his broker’s license, he rented his own home and began working at Boca Raton–based Quad Realty Investments Inc. Its co-owners, Mark Levy and Schachter’s former neighbor Jack Jaiven, asked him to be their broker. When the two offered him a specific salary, he told them to cut it by 50%. “I said I wanted to earn equity in the company if I was going to build it,” Schachter says. “I was concerned that in five years, they’d bring in a business consultant who’d ask why they were paying me so much.”

To achieve the goal of partnership, he asked Jaiven and Levy to set specific sales goals. The goals were lofty, and to the co-owners’ surprise, Schachter succeeded in meeting them. By age 31, he was broker and president as well as a partner of the company.

Expanding the Business

After joining the company in 2006, Schachter not only beat his sales goals but also started making changes: First, he changed the name of the company to The Signature Real Estate Companies; then, he joined the local MLS and REALTOR® association and bought computers for all the employees.

Realizing the effectiveness of hyperlocal branding, he set up brokerages in multiple communities and branded them according to the community’s unique aesthetic and needs. For each of these companies, he used the name of the community. Each has its own branding and location, but all were run by one management team and back office.

Schachter interviews each potential hire or agent himself to ensure they’re a good fit for the brokerage and commits to offering them all of the amenities needed to do the job well. Though margins have thinned, he still believes in offering tools, technology, training and support in abundance.

To compensate for those thinning margins—a result of rising costs and inflation—he saw the need for additional revenue streams. He’s set up several successful affiliated real estate–related businesses, including a real estate school and a mortgage brokerage.

In 2015, Schachter had grown frustrated with existing real estate software and asked a software engineer friend from college to build a cloud-based, end-to-end transaction management solution. As partners, they created TotalBrokerage, a software company that brings all aspects of the back end of a brokerage together in one package. After beta testing the product at his own brokerage, he added the software to his suite of income streams, and the two began selling it to the public five years ago. The subscription-based software is used by about 200 brokerages.

Today, Schachter, who lives with his wife and three children in Boynton Beach, Fla., works 20 hours per week at TotalBrokerage and 50 hours per week at The Signature Real Estate Companies. Boasting a 40-person management team and nearly 1,500 agents, the brokerage is projected to close about 6,000 transactions totaling nearly $2 billion by the end of 2023, with the affiliate companies bringing in another $1 billion.