Alex Milshteyn admits that he wasn’t running his real estate business properly. He wasn’t keeping track of the money he earned versus the money he spent, and he wasn’t pocketing as much cash as he thought he should. “I always had the feeling I was making good money, but I was always broke,” says Milshteyn, CRS, GRI, a team leader at Coldwell Banker Weir Manuel in Ann Arbor, Mich., whose team sales volume was $62 million last year. “I had no idea how much money I was making and where the money was going.”
So he started paying closer attention to the numbers, and that’s when he learned some important lessons about budgeting. At the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Orlando, Fla., on Friday, Milshteyn offered attendees some of his secrets to better budgeting and business planning, not the least of which, he says, is to pay yourself first. “The reason why we budget is to make sure we make some money, so start from the bottom up. Ask yourself what you want to make next year, and then figure out how to lower your expenses first.”
Here are some other tips Milshteyn provided for better annual budgeting for your business:
- Don’t set goals based on an assumption that the market is going to get better. You have to be realistic about how much you want to earn, and if you had a bad year this year, you can’t overshoot how much you want to improve next year. “If you close $3 million one year, and next year you plan on closing $15 million – is that really going to happen?” Milshteyn says. “Set your expectations based on the market.”
- Assume a 2 percent annual increase for every line item in your budget. Adjust for rising living expenses and inflation. “Open up your credit card statements from this year, figure out what you spent money on, and use that as a gauge for what to budget for next year,” Milshteyn says. He adds that as you review, you should constantly ask yourself: “What was I thinking?” When you see an expense you wish you hadn’t made, cut it out of your budget for next year.
- Pretend you can’t rely on credit cards in bad months. Factor in the typically slower sales months into your budget so you can figure out your expenses and the income you’ll need during that time. That way, you won’t be so apt to pull out your credit cards for non-emergencies and get yourself deeper in debt. Milshteyn also suggests leaving credit cards at home or in your hotel room if you’re traveling. “When I walked through a trade show, I was a living credit card,” he says. “Don’t take your wallet to expo floors. It’ll give you a chance to think about what you should and shouldn’t purchase before you act.”
- Hustle with vendors. Milshteyn says his credit cards expire every 12 months, which forces vendors to call for the expiration date of his new cards at the same time every year. When they call, “I always say, ‘I’ve been thinking about canceling. Is there anything you can do for me to make me stay?’ All of a sudden, they get very creative to keep your business.”
- Only spend money on products that produce income for you. Review all the things you use to market your business, and count how many clients each has brought you. If you’ve been spending on print advertising for 15 years, but you can’t tie a single client to a print ad in the last few years, it’s probably time to stop taking out print ads. Reviewing your marketing tactics will also give you a chance to reevaluate the effectiveness of new technologies that may promise a big return but won’t work for you. “I bought a drone a year ago,” Milshteyn says. “It’s still in the box.”
- If you have employees, budget for more than the cost of their wages. More comes out of your pocket than what you pay per hour for an assistant. Remember to factor in unemployment insurance, social security and Medicare taxes, bonuses, and other local employment taxes.
- Always ask for an extension at tax time. Milshteyn says he learned from his CPA that the IRS hires temporary workers to process tax filings for the traditional April 15 deadline, and they may not be trained well-enough to understand items related to your business. “You have a 75 percent greater chance of getting audited if you file on April 15,” Milshteyn says. He advises real estate professionals to always ask for an extension to file on Oct. 15 – even if you’re ready to file in April. You’re more likely to get more qualified people reviewing your tax filings after the April deadline.