How I Became A Real Estate Agent And Started My Own Firm

Published: September 1st, 2019
Grigory Pekarsky
Vesta Preferred R...
from Chicago, Illinois, USA
started September 2009
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Grigory Pekarsky and I own a residential real estate company called Vesta Preferred.

We operate in the Chicagoland area and this year, 2019, we are celebrating 10 years or operation. We focus on relationship building rather than strictly selling real estate. Our operations are unique as many relationships in our company begin by helping our clients find their first home as a rental property in the city. We then stay in touch and maintain our relationships in hopes of becoming everyone’s broker for life. My personal business is now over 80% referral based and repeat clients due to these principles. This year we are #3 in the city for sales as compared to the 14,000+ individual entities that sell in Chicago.

We consistently grow at a 20% pace and this year we are on pace to write 1000 new leases and sell over $120m in real estate.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I stumbled into real estate. There is no personal history with real estate in my family or in anything I got into as a young kid trying to find my way.

I realized my real competitive edge was that I always picked up the phone, showed up every day and just did the work. Everyone always thinks there is some secret the most successful real estate agents keep to themselves.

My studies were actually centered in Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University (Go Green!). By Junior year it became apparent to me that I love animals but not so much the idea of being a Vet. So I did a 180 degree turn and finished with a Finance Major.

At the end of my senior year I had no idea what I wanted to do. An opportunity came up to interview for a real estate company in Chicago and that’s what I did. I got the job and within 2 weeks after graduation I was practicing real estate in Chicago.

The first 6 months were some of the most difficult I ever had to go through. Thought about quitting pretty often. In real estate you are trying to survive through the build up. That is why many people don’t succeed in their first year in this business. People have to realize that when someone rents an apartment or gets under contract to buy a home you still have months before you will see the money. So even in a best case scenario and you close someone on your first day on the job you won’t get paid most likely until 60-90 days from that period. That was a big punch to the gut to realize while I was in it. Also not selling anything for the first two months did not help. However at the 6 month mark something struck and I quickly advanced to the number one agent in the office I was working in. 18 months after starting in the business I opened up my own shop and never looked back.

Take us through the process of designing your services and launching the business.

The first 18 months in the business I created a competitive edge by figuring out some marketing secrets. For example the internet was really becoming a worldwide aggregate of talent around this time, 2008/2009. So I figured out how to use worldwide talent at the cheap to post advertisements consistently and become the agent that was called the most.

However, I realized my real competitive edge was that I always picked up the phone, showed up every day and just did the work. Everyone always thinks there is some secret the most successful real estate agents keep to themselves. The reality is that we just pick up the phone more often times then not and do what we have to do to get the job done.

Of course, I have built resources and tools that have helped me stay in better touch with past clients and to make my business more efficient. However in real estate its simple to know what it takes to get to the top. Work your ass off and pick up the phone when it rings.

We focused heavily on luxury rentals in the beginning. That’s what we knew and we were great at it. We also knew where to advertise to keep a consistent flow of clients coming our way.

For the first two years that was basically the game plan, keep our heads down and try to make it to the following month. We also were trying to develop a proprietary software that would help us maintain an edge on the competition.

We quickly realized that we were not a software development company and needed to focus on what we were good at. So we scratched the IT development plan and more so focused on our advertising techniques. We have always been fueled by our own money and never needed to take on debt. That has helped us stay alive and also taught us how to pack the strongest punch with limited resources.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

For us retaining customers has always been about providing great upfront service and then staying in touch with them and asking for referrals.

Real Estate is funny in that people don’t really think about it until they need it. However, over 80% of people don’t remember the broker they dealt with so they go online and choose a random person to work with. The problem is that brokers don’t stay in touch with their clients so they don’t remember them.

We have an annual 30+ touch point plan in our company that keeps us top of mind. We have everything from texts that go out, emails and video market updates. We also invite our clients to quarterly events so we can see them in person. That’s always the best way to stay top of mind and win referrals. This all helps us maintain our repeat business which accounts for a huge portion of our business but also consistently gets us new customers.

We do spend a lot of money on external marketing on online channels where homes buyers/sellers are looking for assistance. However the cost to client acquisition is very high. We still have aggressive follow up plans with them that lets us beat the industry conversion averages. The industry conversion ratio is about 2-3% we are closer to 9-10%. This is because we have a rule of one minute or less in our company. The moment we get an inquiry our agents are expected to get in touch with that potential client within one minute or less.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Last year we merged with one of the biggest brokers in the city. We formed a new sales arm and we are currently number three in the entire city for home sales.

We have consistently grown at a 20% clip since inception and are almost double that this year. Future is looking very bright.

We will continue perfecting our process and promise to our past, current and future clients.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Watch your money and spend. Focus only on what you can track and save the big marketing ideas later.

Do you have a two-year runway where you might not make any real money? Make sure you have enough runway allowance for yourself to take off or you might never even get off the ground.

In the beginning, it’s all about walking before you run. It’s easy to lose focus in the beginning and want to act like you are ready for the big marketing/ideas. Keep a realistic eye on your money and know where you can and can’t spend it.

Patience is also one of the most important things to learn. Rome was not built in a day and building a business is incredibly difficult and time consuming. Stay diligent and just show up every day. Keep your focus and faith in your abilities and turn off the background noise.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We have a CRM platform called Great Agent that is specifically catered to real estate.

Besides that, we use Google for almost everything else. From email to document sharing we use the cloud-based system to help us work efficiently.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I’m an avid NPR and TED talk listener.

As for books, I really enjoyed Never Eat Alone and Million Dollar Real Estate Agent.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

First question is, do you have a two-year runway where you might not make any real money? Make sure you have enough runway allowance for yourself to take off or you might never even get off the ground.

Besides working your ass off I would say always work on your attitude as that is 70% of your success right there and lastly, just show up every day. No matter what is going on you have to show up and work on your business.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are always looking for driven and focused individuals.

Where can we go to learn more?


If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!