A.J. Lakovich-General Manager
Coldwell Banker Premier Real Estate
Interview by: Kent Sakamoto
Originally founded in 1979 by Dan and Peggy Blough, their company later became affiliated with Coldwell Banker to provide a superior brokerage firm. Through Dan and Peggy’s aspirations of growth, they expanded to the greater Fresno area in 1989. Teaming with, and later becoming the sole owner of Coldwell Banker Premier Real Estate in April 2006, George Murphy carried on the storied traditions of the company by serving as the broker. Two years ago, George Murphy assigned A.J. Lakovich to assume the general manager duties, and he oversees roughly 60 agents in the greater Fresno area. He serves as a mentor and model example of their mission statement of putting their primary emphasis on providing the best possible service to the industry.
- What was the specific reason why you chose to pursue a career in real estate?
A.J. - “Pretty simple, just to own my own business and it was the cheapest way I knew how to own a business. I was looking at an equipment dealership and I needed $500,000 to get going, and real estate you can start a business for about $1500.”
Q. How you did you first get started in real estate after obtaining your license?
A.J. - “I jumped in full time, quit my job, and just threw myself at it 100%. The biggest thing was that I forced my income to come from it. So it did. I didn’t give myself much of an option. I gave my two weeks before I passed my test, and it is amazing what can happen.”
- How did you first begin working for Coldwell Banker Premier Real Estate?
A.J. – “My neighbor was George Murphy who lived across the street from my parent’s house, and when I was in the process of getting my license I was really considering the commercial business. I asked him without knowing he owned Coldwell Banker but knowing he was in real estate, but did not know he owned Coldwell Banker. I said George, ‘what do you know about Collier’s team?’ (Referring to Collier International) The next thing I knew, I was at lunch with George. We jotted on a napkin, and that was it. I’m in, let’s go. A five dollar sandwich, and now I have given him eight years.”
Q. How long have you served as the general manager of Coldwell Banker, and what are your major responsibilities?
A.J. – “About two years ago, and I see my major responsibilities as three things. Number one, to retain the good people we have. Number two, to recruit and find new great people. Number three, to give the great people we have, a general direction of how to build a “kick-butt” sales business.”
Q. What are the most rewarding aspects of your job as a general manager?
A.J. – “No question, is hearing the “Wins”. As you just witnessed, (Referring to an accountability meeting where I witnessed a new agent who just signed his first listing agreement) that was his first listing. There is something just special about a new agent, thinking they can do it, but not being 100% sure, and seeing it come into fruition where they can actually do it. It is probably equally as fun to watch an experienced agent who is past all the nonsense, who is just humbled and fixed, and just focused on the stuff that continues to maintain a great business. Even sometimes when they surprise themselves and reach new levels. Just watching and being a part of the agents’ success, is by far the number one reward. If I couldn’t be apart of that, I would do this job.”
Q. What would be a drawback of a real estate career that you might warn a pursuing student intern or a possible new agent?
A.J. – “I’d say there are two big ones that would probably eat up about 80% of the people that don’t make it. The first being cash flow. There is no passive form of income in our model. It is 100% commission and the checks come as they come. There may be three or four in a week, and there might not be one for six weeks. Some people might not receive one for months, and back and forth. They really need to understand cash flow and what their personal expenses are and to accurately estimate what your incoming is going to be. Behave accordingly and do not take yourself out of the game. There are some people that make decent money and take themselves out because they can not manage cash flow. I’d say the other one is time management. A lot of people get into the business for the freedom of real estate, but that freedom can hang you just as easy as it is a draw. The most successful agents, you can set your clock by them. That discipline is where the freedom is. When an agent is disciplined, they then have freedom that real estate will allow. They can then cut out on a Thursday or Friday, subject to being disciplined a majority of the time. The one’s that get into it because they want to make up a schedule every day, they just die. You have to be more disciplined in this business that any other business because there are not a lot of rigid things in place that keep you on track. You have to put those things in place for yourself, and then surround yourself with people that will hold you up to it. Then once you do that, there is awesome freedom that comes along with it. Cash flow and schedule are the two things that will take people out of this business quicker than anything else.”
Q. What do you believe is your best tangible trait that has led to your success in this career?
A.J. – “ Discipline. My first year in the career, I said to myself, that if I was not going to make it, I am going to die honestly. I was at the office everyday at 7:30 a.m., and no matter what, I was at the office until 5:15 p.m. Those were my two numbers. Even if I left an appointment at 4:30 p.m. and my house was ten minutes away and the office was ten minutes away, I would go back to the office until 5:15. That is what all my success has come from, that discipline of just being a student of the business and doing the things it takes to succeed. Equally or more importantly, just doing the right thing for people. It is an easy compass when you always do what is right for your client. The stress is never there; just do what is right for your client. You do not do it for this reason, but the secret is it leads to more business. You don’t do it because it leads to more business; you do it because it’s the right thing to do. It kind of is the cherry on top when it does actually lead to more business.”
Q. What kind of salary could be expected from a full-time agent in their beginning stages of a career in real estate?
A.J. – “Truly it depends. We have agents here that have matched and exceeded their best year’s income, in their first year. Those would absolutely be considered the exceptions. 100% of it depends on the agent. I’ve seen it range from; they haven’t sold a house in their first twelve months, to people who have sold over thirty in their first twelve months. If a person shows up full-time and dedicated to doing their business plan, is coachable, and is willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. There is no reason they shouldn’t make over $50,000 their first year. This is all subject to discipline and scheduling.”
Q. What are some major weaknesses of new agents in the real estate field that you have experienced?
A.J. – “Ego, number one. That they think they have a secret way to make it work, and their lack of discipline as well. They also do not understand the role of momentum in the business. The hardest thing to do in this business is to get momentum going. It is easy to keep a wheel spinning once it is spinning, but it takes more energy to get it spinning. They are constantly getting it spinning, letting it stop, and getting it spinning again. They are just wasting energy and resources. It’s just so much easier to keep it spinning and it’s the best thing for your business. Historically, I did it in the beginning. You would get in Escrow and give everybody a high five, take everybody to lunch, book a trip, all because you sold one house. Then you show back up, your momentums gone and now you have no money. So ego definitely is a key major weakness.”
Q. How can you see jobs in the real estate field changing in the future?
A.J. – “We are a fairly unregulated industry, so I can see the legislation getting thicker and thicker in the business. Trends say it will. I’d like to think that we are getting more and more quality people. When the job market is as tough as it is, people want to bet on themselves as opposed to a company, and real estate allows you to bet on yourself. So we have seen a pretty awesome crop of people come in as a result of a tough economy elsewhere. Like anything, when times are great, then people just come for the easy paycheck. Which there are times when it can be that way when the market’s just flying. It does feel like the quality of people drops off at that time.”
Q. Are their any journals or organizations that you have deemed helpful in evaluating the field?
A.J. – “I would certainly say our local association is a great place with local knowledge, networking, and keeping us up to speed. The California Association of Realtors website is probably my go to place with all of my trusted information. And with that, any events that they present are very helpful in terms of the data and legal side of the business. For the sales side, the Mike Ferry organization is hands down the best out there. They really cut to the chase on what it takes to build a business within real estate. Those are the top ones that I use.”
Q. How important are routines in having a successful career in this field, for example your calendar, because I know personally that you keep a very detailed date book?
A.J. – “Everything! I know your setting me up for that one, but they are everything. Referring back to the maintenance part, the goal is get something that is easy to run at a high volume. You have to be organized and you got to have a lot of the decisions made for you in advance. That is where a majority of the stress comes, it’s not the situation, and it’s the lack of knowing what I do in that situation. If every situation presented, you had to dig deep and make a decision, then you’re going to become stressed out and move slowly. And worse yet, you’re not going to make good decisions. The whole goal was to build something where 85% of the stuff that happens throughout the day, the answer has already been determined. So there is no stress when somebody asks me to view houses on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before 9:30 a.m. For example the answer is, “I am sorry, it doesn’t appear that I am the person for you because that is the time I prospect.” That is not a stressful situation when the decision is already made. Versus, “I want to look at houses Sunday night at 11:30.” My answer to them is, “Unfortunately, that is my family time.” Those situations are not stressful, because if you do that, then you might think my wife and kids are going to be upset and etc…Routine in my opinion is everything. Of course there are always the exceptions, and there always needs to be. 85% of it needs to be routine. Example “This is what I do when I get a listing appointment, and these are the questions I am going to ask”. Then the career gets fun, and then it really starts to spin.”
Q. What are the keys to juggling a real estate career and still finding time to enjoy your days off, especially since most people like to view property on the weekends? You mentioned earlier how your weekends are sacred for you and your family, please explain how you push to get everything done Monday-Friday.
A.J. – “One of my competitors actually gave me a great analogy one time. He brought out a jar full of big cobblestone rocks, and asked everyone if it was full. Everybody said, “Yeah it’s full”. So then he takes out little pebbles, and pours pebbles into the jar that fill up all the space in between the cobblestone rocks. He asked again if the jar was now full. Some people said yes, others sat back and watched because they didn’t know where this was going. Ok, so then he pours sand into the jar that filled up all the space between the pebbles and rocks. Then he asked again “Is it full now”. Nobody answered. So then he pulled out a glass of water and poured it into the jar. His whole point was, if you put the sand in first, you’re never going to get time for the big stuff, which is your family, so you have to put those things in your schedule first. It took me awhile to realize that. It is all about balance, and to me, would not feel good if I didn’t have “just” my family time. I believe everybody is meant to work, but you got to have those big rocks in your calendar, and they have to be the biggest thing. You will never meet your potential as an agent unless you have that balance.”
Q. What is one “Win” that sticks out to you, over the course of your career that you would be glad to share?
A.J. – “It was the decision to get into real estate, period. That first year, was the toughest year of my life, but also one of the best years of my life. The “win” of betting on myself and seeing it payoff. Not that I made the most money I have ever made that year, or that I sold the most houses, but the “win” of knowing that I could support myself off of 100% commission business. To get to the end of that year doing it, then moving into the next year with all of the same challenges ahead of you, but with the comfort and knowledge of knowing that I’ve done it. That builds every year, and it kind of is a euphoric feeling, like earning a chair at a table where only people that get to sit there, are people that bet on themselves. That is not said that we are better than anybody else, that it is just a unique group of people that want to say, “I believe in myself, other people, and I am willing to bet my income on it.” Then you get to the end of it, you pay your bills, you have a little left over, not saying you made a million dollars, just the fact of that equation paid off, gives you a tool in your belt that nobody can take away from you. Anything I have done since then is just an example if that concept.”
If there was one thing that stood out about this informational interview, it would be the emphasis that A.J. Lakovich put on discipline within this career field. You have to be diligent about the business, and do not let distractions sway you away from your goals. There is freedom that comes with this career, but make sure priorities are taken care of first and foremost. I would like to personally thank A.J. Lakovich for taking time out of his busy day to give myself and others the insight in pursuing a career in this field.