As a 23-year-old moonlighting as a bartender, I jumped into the business without a clue what I was doing. My mentor, a more experienced agent, taught me how to get more serious about being a successful practitioner. These are the key lessons he helped me learn, and I still use them to this day.
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A few months ago, I was sitting at a Starbucks, enjoying my Grande Peppermint Mocha and scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed on my iPhone. Almost 100 percent of the time, I am in my own world and minding my own business. On this particular morning, two women were sitting at the table next to me and talking about real estate.

“How is your husband doing selling real estate?” asked woman number one.

“It wasn’t for him. He had to get a real job,” replied woman number two. “The market is bad, and people just aren’t buying houses. Plus, his office manager was demanding that he come into the office and work with a mentor. He quit his job so he could sell houses, not be someone’s assistant.”

There you have it: That’s the mentality of some people when they come into the real estate business. The ironic thing is that I could imagine the woman’s husband answering to a boss at the carpet company, asking him to be in the office at a certain time, take lunch at a certain time, and clock out at a certain time. He probably didn’t even question it. But when it came to going to his real estate office and working with a mentor, he was resistant. Why?

When I started my real estate career at 23 years old, I was bartending at a local restaurant. I worked nights, but I always had my days available to work on the skills needed to be a successful agent. I took advantage of having a mentor. Sam Ruiz was a 13-year grizzled veteran of the industry. He was very successful and told me if I wanted his help, I would have to be in the office at 8:30 a.m. sharp. I never questioned that because I was thankful someone was willing to help me understand a career I was unfamiliar with. After a long night of bartending, getting up and heading to the office was tough, but I did it.

After 18 months under Sam’s mentorship, I found myself light-years ahead of where I would have been without him. In fact, many of the principles he taught me, I still use today. Here are five educational principles Sam taught me:

1. Never stop learning. Sam would make me practice writing offers. He would give me a scenario of a buyer who was interested in buying a home, pick a sales price and type of loan, and make me write the offer. While this was repetitive (and somewhat boring), I didn’t fully realize the benefits of this until I saw how I compared with others. People in my office who had been in the business for several years were still having difficulty writing quality offers.

As I improved, the scenarios thrown at me became more difficult. When I thought I knew something, Sam would throw a curveball. He forced me to think on my feet and be prepared. I still attend many training events every year. Even though I might have been to a similar training or seminar in the past, I still go because this time around, I am a different version of myself. Sam taught me the value of always putting forth effort to improve myself.

2. A professional doesn’t make money sitting at their desk. Relationships work best when you are able to meet people in person, look them in the eye, and present your unique value proposition as to why they should use your services. Yet many real estate agents huddle up in their office, close the door, and jump online or make phone calls. I never understood that. Don’t get me wrong, I use social media, emails, and phone calls. But Sam taught me those tools should be used to create in-person meetings that will build the foundation of your sales business.

3. Dress for the job you want, not the one you have. I’m a jeans-and-sweatshirt kind of guy. But as a baby-faced 23-year-old, I barely looked like I could drive let alone help someone sell the most valuable asset they owned. At the time, I didn’t have much money. I went to Macy’s and bought as many nice dress outfits as my meager bartender income would allow: three ties, three shirts, two pairs of slacks, and one pair of black Oxford shoes. It wasn’t much, but it got me started.

I remember coming to the office wearing slacks, a dress shirt, and a terribly knotted tie. Sam laughed, fixed my tie, and said, “Let’s go list a house today, kid.” And just like that, we were off to my first listing appointment. Although I felt uncomfortable in those clothes, I also felt confident because I looked like a professional.

I sat quietly and watched Sam present his unique value proposition to the seller. I was impressed; so was the seller. She listed with Sam on the spot. On the car ride back to the office, I asked Sam why he thought she listed with him instead of another agent. He smiled and said, “Because we were prepared, informed, knowledgeable, and presented ourselves as professionals.”

4. Have an accountability partner. When I first started with Sam, he was a pack-a-day smoker. I was a three-times-a-day fast-food eater. I would yell at Sam about smoking. He would yell at me about eating garbage. We both realized how unhealthy we were being and did our best to hold the other one accountable. As we moved through our careers, we would always make sure the other one was doing okay. I would call Sam for advice on a listing. Sam would ask me for advice on how to market a listing online. We both set individual goals we personally wanted to hit. We relied on each other to be honest, supportive, and firm on helping the other one hit those goals.

5. Don’t take your knowledge to the grave. Sam is one of five brothers. He has never been married or had any children. A couple of years ago, I asked why he dedicated himself to some spiky haired bartender like me who walked into his office so many years ago. “Because I kept pushing you beyond what I thought you would be willing to do,” he said. “I expected you to quit like so many others did before you. And you just kept coming back for more. I figured I was stuck with you.”

Sam had a wealth of knowledge he was willing to share but never found someone willing to put in the work to make it happen. I was his sponge. Everything he taught me, I soaked it up. It made me a better agent. It made me a better person.

In the real estate industry, there are agents who will keep their knowledge with them ’til the day they die. And that’s fine. They can do that. But I know that someone taught Sam. And Sam taught me. And while I’m still learning, I, too, have a responsibility to make sure I pass on what I have learned about this business.

In case you were wondering about our unhealthy lifestyles, which I mentioned earlier, you’ll be happy to know that Sam quit smoking and hasn’t touched a cigarette in 10 years. Myself? I’m heading to the kitchen to go eat something called quinoa … whatever that is.