Jacki O. | The First Lady of Real Estate
I met Beale — and it has something to do with Beale because that’s how I got here — I was 20 years old. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was going to junior college and the first thing I thought I was interested in was psychology. I started taking all these psychology classes and then I thought that’s not something I think I can do for the rest of my life. Then I took marketing. I thought marketing I could kind of use in anything. And then I don’t know, I guess I get bored too easy or something. I took almost a year of these classes. Junior college is only supposed to take two years… now I’m on my second year, and I switch to interior design. So I’m kind of flailing at this point. From 18 until I met my husband I had switched majors three times. He was a musician and he was passionate about music. We fell in love and I actually kind of thought I was going to dedicate my life to his music business.
He was moving forward with his music and he got in the band that got signed to the record label: Lutefisk was the band that ended up touring and doing pretty well. We used to hang out with the Foo Fighters, Weezer was in that scene; it was called the Silver Lake scene in the early 90s. Beck, Weezer, Foo Fighters, Chili Peppers. Weezer and Beck, they both made it and so it was kind of like the hip hop scene where you brought up your friends. Lutefisk got signed to all the same lawyers and entertainment things as Beck and Weezer. At this point, Beale and I are married. I ended up getting an AA with my emphasis in interior design, so I finally got my AA! But I joke that I have more credits on my AA than most people have in a master’s. I swear I went to junior college for like six years.
I came from a pretty modest background and I hate to say poor because poor is no food. But my parents were very working class. My mom and dad fought about money almost every day of my life. In my head, I felt like we were going to be well off because of Beale’s music and I was going to be there to support him. I didn’t have anything that I was passionate about, and I always said I believe the luckiest people are people who know what they want to do in life, a passion. I looked up to Beale because he knows he wants to be a musician and he’s going for it. And things actually were looking really good. He was in this band and they toured twice and they did an album, now they were starting to get the buzz. Weezer had gotten kind of big, Beck had just broke. In my head, I’m like, we’re going to make it, we’re next. Beale quit his job to go on one last tour to promote the third album — they got signed to A&M. Elton John, Mariah Carey were with A&M. And just… bad timing for the music industry. I didn’t really understand what that all meant because it was new technology and I wasn’t downloading anything, I was still buying vinyl albums. And it happened fast. The music industry just went through a whirlwind and started collapsing. Beale’s third album was being made by A&M; we’re thinking, this is it. But they dropped almost everyone on the label, except like Elton John and Mariah Carey.
By this time, I got a job at Home Depot; they went through a thing where they hired actual interior designers and they were experimenting with the high-end, because the economy was good at this time. When I first started working for Home Depot, they didn’t even have carpet. Basically, they had window coverings and wallpaper. I was actually doing pretty good at Home Depot and feeling pretty good about my job and everything… still wasn’t sure if that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. But I’m not joking, in a matter of like three months our world fell apart because they got dropped.
We got a settlement from the record company because they had to break a contract. I think we got maybe $15,000, $20,000. We could have fought but we didn’t have money for lawyers at the time. I remember saying to him, “You’re going to go back to work, aren’t you?” He goes, “I can’t go back to work, after what I’ve done and been through, I can’t go back to work.” And I was like, “What do you mean you can’t go back to work? We have babies!” We had a two- and a five-year-old. I thought, “Ok, let him have a year and just do his mourning.” A year goes by and I was doing good at Home Depot, but by this point the money’s starting to get low. I said, “You gotta get a job.” And he looked at me and he goes, “I want to be a house husband.” And I said, “We don’t have enough money for that!” We’d just bought a house. We fixed up everything by hand — that was actually a really good life lesson, that we bought a fixer-upper together. I always joke that we had to go to the library to get books because we didn’t know how to do anything. I didn’t even know how to paint. There was no YouTube — now I tell my young clients, “Oh my god, YouTube it!” I’m a sushi chef now because of YouTube!
When we bought our house, I decided to take a couple courses in junior college about real estate. I wanted to educate myself on buying a house, so I took some real estate courses, never thinking I was going to get in real estate. I had taken like four classes in real estate and then one of the teachers said, “You know you have enough credits you can go take the test.” So I decided to take the test. This is 1991, and again, I’m not even thinking about getting into real estate, I’m actually pretty happy at Home Depot doing my interior design stuff and Beale was about to go tour. I cram the one night before and I was late, and they usually don’t let people in but I sweet-talked my way in five minutes late. To pass the real estate exam was 71% at the time. I got 71% and I passed. I had that in my back pocket, but I never thought about using it. Now at this point, my husband is saying he wants to be a house husband, we’re running out of money, I have a house payment, I have two young children.
I’m working at Home Depot and the customer service was really good and we were instructed that anyone that came up to us and asked us for something, we had to walk them to the item. I loved doing that, I loved talking to people. Good timing for me, this is now 1998. We went through a bad recession from ’91 to about ’98. But I got inside information that the market was picking up because every person that came up to me, they go, “Where’s the smoke detectors, the water heater straps?” They’d just passed an ordinance that every house, to sell, had to have smoke detectors and water heater straps. Every person, it seemed like, would come up to me and say, “Where’s the smoke detectors?” So finally I start talking to these people, “Why do you need these smoke detectors?” and they’re like, “My house sold with multiple offers” or “I just sold my house and I have to get these done because we have multiple offers.” It wasn’t even on the news yet. After a couple weeks of this mad smoke detector surge, I came home to Beale and I said, “I think I’m going to get into real estate. I think that might be a good way to supplement my income.” I wanted to move to Fullerton because we had two kids and Anaheim had, at the time, terrible schools. I looked here in Fullerton for brokers. There was a small company called McGarvey Clark and it was mom and pop, but they were the giant of the city. They were the number one. And so I joined them.
There was a lady named Dorothy, she was probably like 80 years old — she was my broker. She really took me under her wing and taught me a lot. I was only training for about two months and she was like, “You need to go do an open house.” I was like, “Really? I don’t even know anything about this yet!” And she goes, “No one sells houses at open houses. You just need to go to an open house, another agent’s listing, and start learning the lingo, start feeling comfortable talking to people.” So I said ok. I called this agent named Kay and she had this property that backed the 57 freeway on Deerpark. Nobody really wanted it and this property was hard to sell. No other agents wanted to hold it open, but I was new, she let me.
I get there and typical me, I’m always like 5–10 minutes late, I’m just putting signs in the front yard and a couple drives up. I’m like, “Hi, welcome, I’m still setting up but go ahead and go in and check out the house and I’ll be there in a second.” They go in and I’m still fumbling with my signs and I’m wearing way too high heels and just a wreck. And the couple comes out and they go, “What do we do if we want to buy this house? We want to buy this house.” I’m not joking! I look at them and I actually was honest with them and I go, “I don’t know! But I’ll find out.” I told them, “Look, I’m going to be honest with you, I’m brand new, but my broker said she’ll work with me, as my partner, on my first deal. If there’s anything I don’t know, I’ll have to ask her, but I’ll always get you the answer. But for your trouble, I’ll pay for your home inspection.” And that just came out — that was the only thing I could think of. Because there was no way I’m going to act like I know what I’m doing. There’s no way I can, that would just be terrible, not a good way to start my career and that’s not me anyway. I’m pretty transparent. I didn’t even do the open house, I closed up and I said, “Follow me to my broker’s office, we’ll go write up an offer right now.” I think I had a cell phone… I know I had a beeper, I don’t know if I had a cell phone. I get to the broker’s office and somehow I got Dorothy there and we wrote up the offer and it got accepted. I will say this — once you get your first sale under your belt in real estate, it gives you a lot more confidence.
At that point, I worked at Home Depot and I got out of interior design because it was boring. There was a positioned that opened and it was an auditor. My hours were 5:00 to 1:30 but I had Saturday and Sunday off. I would get off Home Depot at 1:30, I would go to my real estate office and I started farming lower Raymond Hills, passing out literature. The best way I built up my business was every weekend — every weekend — I did four open houses. And these are all other agents’; I didn’t have any of my own listings or anything. I would do an open house on Saturday from 11:00 to 1:00 then I’d go pick up my signs from that open house and then I’d schedule another open house either at 1:30 or 2:00, and go set all my open house signs. I was doing two open houses on Saturday and two on Sunday. I was focused. Because I’d done my first sale and even though it was 50% — my broker got 50% of my commission — I think it was like an $8,000 commission and after it was all said and done I got like $3,500. But to me at that time, that was a lot of money. I was making $50,000 a year at Home Depot which for that time was pretty good, but I had a goal that as soon as I made more than my income at Home Depot, I was going to quit Home Depot. I made $65,000 my second year in real estate. But then what finally clinched it was that I was getting busy. I was getting listings because some people at open houses had a house to sell and then buy — I was killing it.
Finally, the second year, this was the turning point. I still have a 40-hour work week at Home Depot, but I’m working 40 hours in real estate. So I’m working 80 plus hours per week. I get a call to list a house. I look at my schedule and I am booked; I have to bump them to the next week. Like, it was a Thursday and I had to bump them to Tuesday because I had every minute of my day booked. Here’s the moral of the story if anyone gets anything out of this for real estate: If you get a call for a listing, you drop everything. You make it happen. You cancel your appointments, you do whatever you can. Tuesday comes along, I drive to their house, and there’s a real estate sign in their front yard and I look across the street and there’s the same identical real estate sign. They didn’t call to cancel or anything. I knock on their door and I said, “What happened? I’m here to list your house.” And they go, “Ohhhh, we’re sorry, someone came to us in the weekend and talked us into listing with them and we decided to sell our rental across the street, too.” Right there, I lost two listings and I think they wanted to buy something after they sold, so I basically lost the income of my whole Home Depot salary. Those three deals would have been like $35,000. I’m making $50,000 at Home Depot but this is one transaction! I gave my two weeks’ notice. That’s when I quit Home Depot.
With houses, everyone thought Zillow was going to kill realtors. But if anything, it’s kind of made my job easier because people will find houses. At this point in my career, I’m more of a listing agent than a buyer’s agent, so it really hasn’t affected me. Now I’ve stepped up my game and when someone hires me, I’ve started a program called Flip It Yourself. I was doing it anyway but I finally had an epiphany about five years ago to market it. Because I’d always done it — when someone came to me with a house that was kind of dirty or cluttered. People used to list houses just the way they were. That was really more the norm, like, “Ok, we’ll price it this way because it doesn’t show well.”
With the Flip It Yourself, my goal is to go into people’s houses, and for usually under $15,000, I have turned a lot of houses around and made them look like model houses. I know for a fact that most of my clients gain at least $50,000 equity. Some of my clients say they’re sure that they’ve gotten $75,000 more just by putting in $12,000. I look at a house and I try to draw on what is good about it. I just did a mid-century around the corner and that was great because they hadn’t done anything to it. There was grass wallpaper that was falling down… in the kids’ mind, that house had to be gutted. I looked at the house and I was like, “No, nooo! We’re going to play up the mid-century.” It had turquoise countertops, it had the original lights, it looked and smelled terrible. The windows: It had all these walls of glass that were 50 years of dirt, so you couldn’t even see through the windows. I told them, “Oh my god, I can’t wait to clean these windows because that’s a feature of the house!” I thought I could get them $700,000. They had actually talked to a few realtors — this was a few years ago — they were saying they thought they could get $650,000 or $675,000 selling it as-is. I took over that house and got the wallpaper fixed and cleaned it up, new carpet, staged it with mid-century furniture. We ended up getting like 10 offers, and $789,000. I feel like I’ve done that for most of my clients.
And you know what’s great is that I really know in my heart that I’m helping people. That is why I feel very good about doing this. Because if I didn’t do this for them, they’d sell it for $75,000 less or $100,000 less. Don’t even get me started on everybody wanting to be a house flipper now! Everybody asks me if I watch those shows. I don’t. That’s actually the epiphany: One day I’m on the ground, I think I was laying those vinyl squares because those are good if the floor is terrible, you can make it look kind of good, so I was laying those vinyl squares and one of my sellers said to me, “Gosh, you’re so good at that, do you watch all those shows?” I said, “No, I’m too busy doing it for my clients!” That was before I owned Flip It Yourself and I said, “Oh my god, I am flipping houses for my clients!” Anyone can flip a house for $200,000 and move walls and put brand new granite in, but not that many people can take $12,000 and make a house look like a model house. Now, I walk into a house and I go, “Ok, I can work with that floor, we’re going to paint these cabinets and take the old hardware off and put new hardware on, I’m going to change these three lights.” I’m actually really good at it.
I’m probably doing less transactions, but I do charge a little bit more. I’m really upfront because if they’re making $75,000 more from me doing everything and they’re only putting in $12,000 to $15,000, I deserve to be paid more. I have been overall making more per deal, but I’m doing less, which is actually kind of nice because churning through deals is a lot of work. But now I’m doing something that I’m very passionate about and I’m helping people. That’s where I’m at right now, with Flip It Yourself, really pushing that.
What I do for listings, I do a lot of physical work myself. I empty houses, I spread mulch, I clean, whatever… now that I’m single again, I’m becoming much handier. I’m fixing doorknobs, I’m YouTubing shit. I have to! It’s been a struggle but I’m feeling very empowered by taking care of this house on my own and it’s looking pretty damn good! This has been pretty empowering for me and it’s not been easy. That’s the thing, I’m doing other people’s houses and then I come home to my house. I just helped my boyfriend with his laundry and I have a big pile of laundry in my closet. But I feel women are much more powerful when they are put into bad situations. I really do.
When the market’s good, everybody gets into real estate. As a career, you can make almost as much money as you want, as you put into it. It is definitely a job — it’s not easy. It’s the number one transitional business, where people get in and get out because it’s not as easy as it looks. It’s much harder than people think because you have to work. You have to be self-motivated. I have a personal assistant and I will always have a personal assistant even if I can’t afford it because that keeps me motivated. I know he’s coming in so I gotta get up, I gotta prepare our day and figure out what we’re going to work on to keep him busy, too. That’s always been my little tool that worked for me. Because it’s easy when you don’t have a boss and you don’t clock in, “Oh, I’m going to watch TV all day” or “I’m just not feeling like working today” or whatever. It’s very hard to be focused and driven every day.
You don’t learn until you actually do it. I got lucky by selling my first house at my first open house, so that’s how I learned. Trial and error. The funny thing is, is if I try to go take the real estate exam today… I’ve done about 1,500 transactions, and I’m involved every day in real estate. I don’t think I could pass the real estate exam today. The questions on there — everything you learn has nothing to do with real life. If you want to learn how to do real estate, I would say become an intern for a high-profile agent for six months. You would probably learn more from that, and get farther ahead, than anything. Because until you’re doing it and you’re opening lock boxes and you’re coming across problems, you’re not going to learn. You’re not going to learn from a book in real estate. You may learn how an acre is 44,550 square feet or something like that but you’re not going to learn how to approach the business.