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Maybe I’ll stay in real estate? Or maybe I won’t?

YES-NO-MAYBEMatt Stigliano – a relatively new agent is out of the business.  Temporarily.  Most agents in the business are “relatively new” to me – I’ve been in the house selling business since 1978.  Several people, in letting Matt know how much they cared about him, commented that – they too, had thought about leaving the business, or had also left the real estate business but came back to it later.

Matt is a really bright guy.  A nice guy and a bright guy.  Read his stuff and you will easily see both – a really nice and a really bright guy.  And yet, he is out of the business.  Most people who enter the real estate business do not last more than a few years.  Some people who are not nearly as nice as Matt or even close to his level of brightness manage to last – without too many major hiccups – and spend their working lives as Realtors.  Brightness, niceness, being well-dressed, clever, charming, articulate, computer literate, well-read, curious, having great attention to detail, etc. – good attributes, each and every one of them – seem to have little or even possibly nothing to do with long term success in the real estate business.  It is actually very easy to find loads and loads of people with all of those qualities who don’t last and perhaps just as many people who lack virtually all of those qualities who do last.

What is it?

What is the quality or skill that permits longevity and ultimate success in this business that sort of seems to “get in the blood” of the people who last.

It’s pretty simple.  For some, almost too simple.

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Yes.  No.  Maybe.

All specific questions can be answered YES.  NO.  Or MAYBE.  Yes and No are easy.  I do or I don’t want “it” – whatever “it” might be.  Maybe is YES and NO fused together in the mind.  Every problem anybody has ever had or will have has had an unresolved “MAYBE” sitting there.  And that point of indecision connects to past times of confusion and indecision and then just floats along with the person stuck on the maybe.

Do you want coffee?  Would you like to go to see a movie?  Would you like to list your house with me?  Would you like to buy this house?  Are you a Realtor?  Each one a question.  Each one with the same three possible answers.

If you are constantly around people who are “on a maybe” you will tend to find yourself also “on a maybe”.  It just sort of works that way.  I know.  My first twelve years in real estate I was constantly “deciding” if I wanted to stay or leave.  I had no idea where I would go – but that living from deal to deal, month to month, never feeling really secure, never feeling like I had a “real job” was a fantastic version of hell that I called my life.

To fully “make it” all the maybes have to be stripped off.  All of them.  Are you IN or are you OUT?  Pick one.  Get ALL the way in or get ALL the way out.  This is true for pretty much any activity, really.  In or out?  Avoid the middle.  Don’t quite like that customer?  Find a way to like them or get rid of them!  Do not carry on trying to endure them.  Fish or cut bait.

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This business is SO simple – even a Realtor can do it.  From the Millionaire Real Estate Agent, Leads, Listings, Leverage.

The reason (note: not A reason) agents leave the business is they did not have enough leads.  The one skill they needed to become good at – they didn’t.  Lead generation and lead conversion.  Agents who have enough leads have “enough” business.  It is lead generation that makes the difference between success or failure.  You could factually be awful at all the other skills and still make a decent living.  One can not be awful at lead generation and still do very well – no matter what other skills they may possess.

Lead generation is accomplished either by prospecting (the agent reaching to the customer) or marketing (getting the customer to reach to agent).  There are no other “methods”.  All methods fall into one of those two: prospecting or marketing.

The secret?  Strip off any and all reasons or explanations for failure and to not do well.  Then learn to lead generate like it really really matters.  You can do it.  I know.  I’ve been where you are.  Like Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through hell, keep going”.

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Written By

Russell has been an Associate Broker with John Hall & Associates since 1978 and ranks in the top 1% of all agents in the U.S. Most recently The Wall Street Journal recognized the Top 200 Agents in America, awarding Russell # 25 for number of units sold. Russell has been featured in many books such as, "The Billion Dollar Agent" by Steve Kantor and "The Millionaire Real Estate Agent" by Gary Keller and has often been a featured speaker for national conventions and routinely speaks at various state and local association conventions. Visit him also at and



  1. Daniel Bates

    May 13, 2010 at 7:41 am

    I’ve been in real estate for 3 1/2 years and had one foot out the door for the last 2. The simple reason is that I love my family too much to drain all of our savings and lose our house to prove that I’m smart enough to make it. The truth is it doesn’t have much to do with smarts in this business, it’s an odd conglomeration of who you know, how you look, what you know, and the such. One great thing about real estate is that as you can find a cheap place to hang your license, pay a couple thousand dollars to keep your license active and a website up and you can keep building a presence even if you’re working a full time job. Yes it sometimes means putting in long hours but if you really plan on getting back in it and your goal is a nice website (and I can’t fathom that not being your goal if you’re in real estate) than you can’t stop your hosting to save a few hundred bucks a year. I’m probably the only agent with a #1 website on google for all the terms that they want to show up who is still doing it part-time, but my market is not where I want it to be yet. And yet I just got a new listing yesterday and in my spare time (yeah right) this week I will put the listing on MLS and start marketing it.

  2. Ken Brand

    May 13, 2010 at 8:22 am

    Attention Me and aspirational Realtor Icons.

    In this post Russell shares purified Stem Cells. Infuse your calcified and arthritic attitudes and actions with Russell’s revelation and your on-purpose-action and you just might make it BIG.

    I’ve been doing this for 32 years. Ups and downs, triumphs and face-plants. Like Russell and Yoda say, “No try”, only do. One of the reasons I have managed to succeed (scratching, clawing, slugging and hugging) and stick, is because I’ve never had an “escape pod”. I’m not qualified or mentally flexible enough to do ANYTHING else. It’s scary, but burning your boats creates a extra sense of urgency. Do or die?

    My advice, print this out, frame it, and hang it over your desk.


  3. Susie Blackmon

    May 13, 2010 at 9:10 am

    I have a hard time thinking of potential clients as leads. Geeze. They are not leads to me (although I understand the importance of ‘generating leads.’) LEAD THIS!! To be fair, I have to clarify that I also have a hard time feeling great about being a realtor, in part because it takes more education to be a cosmetologist than to sell real estate. Bleh. I’ve moved away from the world of dinosaurs back to Florida and horse country not to get out of real estate but to build more credibility and follow my passion, and help ‘people’ find horse properties along the way.

    • Benn Rosales

      May 13, 2010 at 11:24 am

      Dunno why you wouldn’t think of a lead as a lead, it doesn’t make them think you’re any less of a ‘Realtor’, or a saleswoman. If it quacks like a duck… and to think they think any more highly of you for any reason is not reality.

      If you read this article, and truly understand it, it’s about people’s attitudes towards the profession of sales, regardless of what they’re selling.

      It’s fascinating to me that we have two schools of thought here, and I’m only making the bigger point that Russell is still in business, and he just calls it what it is and does the business as it’s been practiced for a hundred years about a young man who practiced the same mantra as you, but is not succeeding.

      The great thing about Russell is that he makes no bones that he IS in sales, and his relationship with the consumer is truly transparent, so at the end of the day, playing semantics doesn’t put food on your table, it puts it on his.

  4. Dan Connolly

    May 13, 2010 at 11:59 am

    While it might take more education to be a cosmetoligist than to sell real estate, the license that allows you to legally sell real estate is only the first tiny step in making a living that is predictible and repeatable. To do that there is a lot more education required. Russell is spot on in his analysis of what it takes to stay in the business it’s all about lead generation. Learning how to do that is the name of the game. Two people can cold call and one gets tons of business and one gets squat. It’s all about what you say, and how you answer the questions. That can be learned.

    The same holds true for direct mail, working the SOI or building a website. How you do what you do is critical and there are plenty of people who can teach you how to do it better. I have taken many seminars and read every book out there. I have studied pretty every real estate trainer and while I don’t follow any of them hook line and sinker, I take a bit here and a bit there and make a conglomeration that is my unique approach.

    So while lead generation is important what you do with them when you get them is critical.

  5. BawldGuy

    May 13, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Russell, as I’ve said a few times over the years, I think you and Dad were brothers with another mother. 🙂 Do, don’t do, stop whining. There’s nearly 75 years of real estate experience between us, and I bet we couldn’t point to three long term successful agents operating from the Kumbaya songbook.

    The message you’ve so succinctly expressed in this wonderful post should be shotgunned from coast to coast. My favorite line is, “This business is SO simple – even a Realtor can do it.” Such a simple, factual statement, yet so damning — as we both know that most Realtors can’t walk and chew gum simultaneously. The worst part? As you put it so well, they refuse to decide to chew while walking, yet have a plethora of excuses explaining their failure. I bet Ken agrees.

    Ken — love the way ‘burnin’ the ships’ was morphed into ‘no escape pod’.

  6. Fred Romano

    May 13, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    Russell – This is an excellent post!!! Very true and very SIMPLE. Leads make business happen… I work leads almost everyday. Even though our business models are very different, the same principals still apply.

  7. Karen Goodman

    May 13, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    I agree 100%. When I was looking at changing brokerages last year, I was really put off by the idea of lead generation. Every time I heard ‘lead generation’ I translated that into calling FSBOs, expired or past clients and asking them for to hire me. It took a while for me to realize that my blogging efforts and attending tweetups IS lead generation. No one method will work for everyone, but everyone needs to find something that does generate real leads. Otherwise, they need to get out of sales. And any Realtor who things they aren’t in sales is fooling themselves.

    I really feel for Matt & other agents who have to ramp up their business all on their own. I doubt I would have gotten into real estate if I hadn’t stumbled across my first brokerage – an exclusive buyer’s agency local company which focused on the relo market. I was handed my first client in 4 days, and I often had to turn down clients because I was already working 7 days a week and didn’t have time to breathe. I spent 5 years paying my dues…working around the clock with a 50-50 split and paying out hefty relo company referral fees. But everyone pays their dues somehow. I just did it in a way that paid my bills, even though it meant I didn’t have much of a social life.

    In or out. If ‘IN’ is what you want, find a way to make it happen, even if it means joining a team and working for someone else while you build up your contacts. If ‘OUT’ is an option, it will probably become reality.

  8. Brad Officer - Jacksonville Real Estate

    May 13, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Russell – Great insight as usual. My father in law always says, “either you recognize you are in marketing or you recognize you are out of business”.

  9. Bruce Lemieux

    May 13, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Great post. Not sure why I’m commenting since I can’t add anything. Still….

    Like many people who chose this career path, I discovered how difficult it is to be successful in this business despite my superior intellect, education, work ethic, charm, etc. As Benn wrote, you have to be good at Sales. Before becoming a Realtor, I didn’t value or appreciate Sales. I do now.

    I’ve probably read the Millionaire Real Estate Agent 10 times. Leads, Leads, Leads — it’s the foundation of a real estate business — not great service, not blogging, not neighborhood expertise, not technology. Without Leads, you have nothing to build a business on. If you don’t learn that lesson early, you won’t be successful.

    Like many things in life, real estate looks pretty simple from the outside.

  10. Stephanie Crawford

    May 13, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Thanks Russell! That was the shot I needed to get me out of my slump today.

    I’d love to hear your some of the scripts you use to get down to the prospects motivation and the verbiage you use to express your need for their commitment.

  11. Matthew Hardy

    May 13, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    > playing semantics doesn’t put food on your table, it puts it on his

    Damn fine comment there Benn.
    Almost as good as this post of intoxicating clarity.

  12. Noel

    May 13, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    Yes, here in New Zealand the property market has be tough, although we have not had the number of foreclosures as in other countries. Figures out today show property prices and sales fell in April 2010 across New Zealand, Compared to 12 months earlier, the index has risen by 6.2 per cent. Housing prices are now 3.7 per cent below their November 2007 peak.

    So it is tough for the agents here (with many giving up), but not as bad as the USA or UK from what I gather.

  13. Missy Caulk

    May 13, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    When someone says something and there is nothing to add, but you are in complete agreement you say, “Amen.”

    Ok one more thing, it is a lead, until they are a customer or a client.

  14. Jim Gatos

    May 14, 2010 at 6:55 am

    Another one for my “real estate bible” by Russell Shaw!

  15. Shawn Shackelton

    May 14, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    I agree with you Russell, you have to be all in or all out! If you are in real estate and say you haven’t struggled with the business I will have a hard time believing you. It’s a tough business, which is why I think we see more agents leaving the business right now than entering. What in life really worth doing isn’t hard?

  16. Janie Coffey

    May 15, 2010 at 8:10 am

    I am going to “Amen” Missy’s “Amen”!

  17. Broker Bryant

    May 15, 2010 at 8:58 am

    Russel. So true. being nice and being bright and very good qualities to have BUT lead generation is EVERYTHING in real estate. If you can do it you will succeed and if you can’t you’ll fail. It’s simple.

    I think the majority of the folks who get into this business wrongly feel that lead generation is the broker or team leaders responsibility. While this may work for a short period of time the agent that depends on this is really nothing more than an employee whose livelyhood is at the mercy of someone else.

    The 2nd mistake is thinking that social media and all it entails will be enough lead generation to make a good living. Wrong again. We must have multiple as in MANY sources of lead generation to have long term success.

    And the reality is that those of us who have been in the business for many years have an advantage., We have built our business to a point where we get a steady stream of business to help supplement our ongoing lead generation. We make it look easy when in fact it’s just the fruit of our many years of labor.

    Even Russell Shaw didn’t just miraculously start selling 500 houses a year. Or did you?

  18. Maxwell McDaniel

    May 15, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    The mistake that most of us make, is that we believe we are in the Real Estate business first and foremost. Wrong. We are in the lead generation business, we just use the results of our lead generation to allow us to help people buy and sell homes.

    I’ve been doing this for a decade now, not nearly as long as Russell or some of the other amazing veterans on this board. But I’ve seen a lot and learned a lot in those 10 years. I started at KW with an incoming “class” of about a dozen agents. None of them are still in the business besides myself. They wanted to sell houses, but they didn’t want to generate leads. Sure it’s more fun to go to a closing than picking up the phone to call your database. But you can’t go to a closing every day, but you CAN and SHOULD lead generate every day.

    Thanks for the great post Russell

  19. Alex Cortez

    May 16, 2010 at 1:51 am

    This post really hit home. I am relatively new to the industry, coming from a strong professional background and levels of success. I have been doing all the things that I have been told are the foundation (blogging, social media, industry forums, on-page optimization, local networking, etc) and it seems as though all my efforts are for nothing. Leads are scarce and I just kept thinking ‘well, they will come’. It may sound corny but this post opened my eyes in a way I really needed. Cold calling will be my new mantra. Hopefully I will not be another tale of an educated mind not making it in real estate (which would really suck, as I have put all my eggs on this basket). Hanks for the post, Russell.

  20. Brian Brady

    May 18, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    The link to the exercise on removing barriers was useful…again. Russ, you are the “blue blazer” in every salesman’s wardrobe

  21. Nick Nymark

    July 30, 2010 at 11:28 pm

    Interesting Article.

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