Julie Sarkiss was teaching math and science at a Dallas middle school in the mid-1980s when a friend suggested she try her hand at selling real estate.
The Texas city's market was sizzling hot at the time, so the outgoing Columbus native decided to make the leap and get her license. The move paid off handsomely, with Sarkiss making more money in four months than a year of teaching.
But, more importantly, she fell in love with her new career and decided to leave teaching altogether. She was truly passionate about her new profession.
"There was flexibility and it was just very exciting and drew me in, and it became a career," said the University of Georgia graduate, who is 55 today. "I just loved it and it was a natural for me. So I sold for 21 years before I got into management."
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Life can be a highway and for Sarkiss, it led her to work with three major real-estate brands -- RE/MAX, Coldwell Banker and Keller Williams -- with stops in Atlanta and Savannah, Ga., as well.
There also were changes and challenges that included economic recessions, introduction of new technology and a divorce in the late 1980s.
It was in 2006 that she put her past teaching abilities to another use, entering the world of real-estate training and consulting and management. But, eventually, soul searching brought Sarkiss to the realization that she wanted to come back home to Columbus.
Still, she needed a new job. So the journey continued and last spring the woman who had been so eager to leave home after high school and college landed at Waddell Realty in Columbus, becoming director of agent business development.
It's there that she works with managing partners Reynolds Bickerstaff and Allen Parham, as well as 56 agents whose livelihoods depend on finding homes for buyers and helping those wishing to sell their houses do so.
The Ledger-Enquirer talked with Sarkiss recently to get her thoughts on the "dream job" she now holds, as well as what it's like to change with the times as a real-estate agent. This interview is edited a bit for clarity and brevity.
You've been with some big real-estate brands. How do those compare to Waddell?
I managed Keller Williams and I managed Coldwell Banker. What I found was all of the companies have great models. The key as an agent is finding the one that fits for you. We're not for everybody. At Waddell, we don't look to be the biggest, we just look to be the best. I know that sounds corny, but it's the truth. We don't plan to get giant. We are really looking to find agents who are really committed and in a learning mode, and who are very focused on becoming a fantastic servant to our community's buyers and sellers out there.
What is your role as director of agent business development?
I work with our agents. We have one-on-one coaching, and I am responsible for helping them build their business plans and helping with strategies to achieve their goals. The part that is challenging for agents is the accountability part. Every month, those agents in my coaching program know that they're going to walk out with a set of tasks and goals to achieve. When they come back a month later, we talk about those things. It helps keep them on track. It's a fun brain-storming session.
Is there any traditional training involved?
I also do have training. I'm in charge of the newbies -- and we are looking for newbies right now. I can't wait to get some. But I'm in charge of training them and I have one business class every single Monday called jump start, and it's all about their business. I am a broker, so I can also talk to them about contracts ... but I'm really more there for their business planning and strategies.
You've got veteran agents and younger ones. How is it dealing with the different age groups?
It's not so much age. We've got lots of people in their 40s and 50s getting into real estate now. So it's really the level that they come in at. When you're brand new, you're so excited. It's like buying your first house. It's the opportunity and, usually, a change, too.
Then you can get somebody coming in from the corporate world that has this corporate structure. Now all of sudden there's total freedom and 'How do I manage my day.' It really is a fun time, but there's also a whole group of concerns that come out of it, like, 'How am I going to compete with these people who have been doing this 20 years.' They're scared to death of con
tracts and doing things the right way and things like, 'How do I get business?' They don't know all of those things yet. So it kind of comes back to my teaching days when I see a kid who finally gets long division and they're so excited. Their eyes are wide open.
What about those who have been around awhile?
The more experienced and seasoned agents, their challenges are very different. They're managing a business now. They have grown it. They've got their systems in place. Or they don't, but know that they need to. They're more knowledgeable about what they need.
But when they get busy, it is all about time management for them. That is the challenge for top agents is time management and being able to have a life and sell real estate, too.
The business can wear you down?
Oh my gosh, burnout is very common. That is something that if I could go back, that would be the No. 1 thing that I would change is carving out more time for family and also just to get away and have more vacation time, because you will hit burnout. I certainly did.
I used to pinch myself every morning and say I can't believe I get to do this and make money doing it. Then it seemed to change overnight. But it really didn't. I was just working 24/7 and not taking time off because you're always worried that, 'Oh, it will get slow again.' So managing that for top agents, that's the toughest thing. And I'm there to help them do that.
Managing time is obviously critical?
Once an agent has tremendous business, they need to learn when it's time to get an assistant. They need to learn when it's time to find help and how to outsource. You get so wrapped up in things and busy that you don't see how you're going to find the time to do that. That's what I'm there to do is help them grow their business, learn to leverage, and help them with time management.
I would presume that younger agents are more comfortable with new technology?
You are right on that. That is one thing I tell my newbies that are in their 20s, 30s and, really, even early 40s -- they have an advantage. When they are sitting there concerned about how they are going to compete with these agents who've been doing it for 30 years, I'm like -- technology! They don't know life without technology. So when it comes to social networking and website management, they're on it. They also understand how their peers like to communicate with each other. On the other hand, the older agents -- I remember one in Savannah -- she almost quit the business. She said that nobody will pick up the phone anymore. So it really is different. I try to tell all of my seasoned agents: Look, you've got to find out how these young people (buyers and sellers) want to communicate ... because if they don't want to talk on the phone and they want to text, it's either you accept that or you lose the business.
Have you always adapted to changes in technology easily?
No. (laughs) Believe me, I kicked and screamed and hollered. Back in 1996, when I got my first PC, I remember putting it in my home office, and it had its own little place, and I didn't even touch it for like two weeks. I would just walk by it and look at it like: I don't know if I even like you. (laughs) But I finally started seeing what it could do for my business and how much time it can save. And the marketing ability, it saves you a ton of money. It also can reach out and touch so many people that you couldn't do back when it was just me and a telephone. That was back when a telephone had to be wired to a wall at all times. I was in the business even before the first cell phones or car phones. ... It is just so amazing what it has done for us to be able to market better, save time, get information to our customers and our clients quickly. That just didn't happen before.
Technology has taken away some jobs in our society. Will we always need a live, human agent to help buy and sell homes?
You still need a real estate agent. We were all concerned about that early on. And, still, to this day, the National Association of Realtors does surveys every year and what they're finding is, yes, people start on the computer. When they start thinking about looking for houses, 90-something percent begin on the computer, and they'll search and search and search. But when it comes down to them becoming very serious -- a house is still people's biggest investment in most cases -- they do want a live person that is experienced and has expertise. I think buyers and sellers are finally realizing it isn't just about locating a house. It is from contract to close. My gosh, that is the biggest part of our jobs now is getting that deal closed. Also, it's just making sure that the investment is a good one. You can look online and see all of these great houses, but if you don't understand the neighborhood and the territory, it's tough. ... It's an uncomfortable feeling to know that you love a house, but what about the area? You still need an agent for that.
So with your job there are lots of meetings? What's an average day like for you?
It's so much fun. Yesterday, I had three consulting appointments with agents. We have already started our business planning for 2014, so we've created our income goals, and it is now all about building goals to achieve those income goals. Every agent is different, so the days of standing in front of a class of 20 agents and teaching them exactly the same thing is all but over. ... Contracts, of course, they all have to comply and they all have to make sure that they understand how to use our forms. But when it comes to marketing, when it comes to how they relate to their customers, it's all different. So one-on-one I get to help them make very unique business plans that really are attracting like-minded to them. Maybe some people just love music, they love sports, and they're going to attract those kind of people. How do you reach out and make those connections? That is hard with technology. People aren't face to face quite as much as they used to be. So I am helping them create very unique business plans that really are specific to their personalities.
On the heels of a severe national recession, is it a tough time for real-estate agents?
I have got some of the top agents in the city that got into this business in 2007 and they have no idea what a great market is all about. But, boy, are they going to be superstars because they did well in a down market. Oh, it's so much fun when it turns around. The folks getting into it right now, they'll still have a taste of the tough times. But as things get better, it's just a fun career to be in.
You've been through some hard times in the business. Your thoughts?
What happens during the tough times is it really weeds out a lot of people. So you don't have as many agents right now as you did in 2005. The survivors are there. This happened to me in the late '80s and early '90s when we had a recession -- nothing like what we're going through right now, but at the time we thought it was the worst thing that ever hit. But I hung in there and when it turned around, I was sitting pretty. I was that agent that made it through. We have lots of those agents at Waddell, that came in around 2007, and I cannot wait to see them benefit from hanging in there and doing the tough stuff to continue being a real-estate agent.