Bob Wolff – Billion Dollar Agent

At the end of 2011, Bob Wolff had achieved the milestone of selling more than 1 billion dollars in property over a career spanning nearly 37 years. His advice to all agents who would like to achieve the same thing? Look after the people, and the money will follow. Story by Samantha McLean.

The Harcourts Conference is about to start at Jupiters Casino and I am standing in line at the coffee cart in need of my morning fix. Several Harcourt’s Agents are standing with me doing the same thing. I start chatting to one of them who asked me where I was from and what I had been doing there. I mention I’d been there for AREC and that I was about to interview Bob Wolff. “Ohhhh.” he said, “You are going to love Bob, he’s awesome. We all love Bob.”

I had already been feeling a bit nervous about meeting the “billion dollar man”. Bob Wolff’s reputation precedes him. A much sought after realtor in his hometown of Orange County, California, and a sought after speaker and coach, last year, Wolff achieved the amazing in his almost 37 year career in real estate, crossing the threshold of over $1 billion in property sold.

He arrives with his partner Mary, all smiles and warmth, and I can immediately sense why it is that he has been so successful. He is poised, gracious, and confident, and warmly greets me like a long lost friend. I immediately think to myself that if I had a property to list for sale, I would list it with him right now. His enthusiasm for talking about real estate is infectious. I needn’t have felt nervous at all.

Bob Wolff, 59, started in real estate when he was 22, and has had no career other than real estate. This year, he says, is the best he has ever had. I’m intrigued to find out how it feels to have sold over a billion dollars in property.

“It’s funny you know,” he muses, “I actually did not realise that I had reached that number until the end of 2011. Someone else actually asked me to just add up the value of the real estate that I had sold in my career. I was pretty surprised because for the first 15 years –  almost half of my career – my average sale price was only $85,000. So I was really amazed – I added it up two or three times just to make sure. It was a pretty incredible feeling.”

That’s a lot of houses. I ask him if he has a favourite property and he starts to recall a couple of them. “When I began my real estate career in Fort Collins, Colarado, my favourite property was one owned by a Gerry Nordick, at 309 West Harmony Road. It was the first home that had been listed in that area for over a million dollars, which was about 13 times the average value  ($85,000). I remember selling that house and it was such an achievement, especially as I was only in my 30s.”

We talk about some of the other properties that he has sold, and I quickly realise one of the special things about Bob Wolff is that he seems to remember the name of every vendor and the address of every property. How many exactly does he remember? “A lot. I remember names, addresses, and people. It’s really all about relationships and people, and putting people first. Put people first, and the money will come.”

I want to know what it takes to have such a long and successful career, and I ask Wolff about what a general day looks like for him. “I need to get up early, usually between four and five in the morning, and I have a couple cups of coffee and a chat with Mary. Three days a week, I play tennis in the morning. Every evening, I take home the one page daily activity sheet for the next day so that I can look over it and make sure I can adequately prepare for every appointment (which could be somewhere between seven and 10 appointments). I like to be mentally ready for whatever the next day brings.

I usually get in the office between 6.30am and 8.00am. The very first thing I do when I get to the office every morning is to make sure that I am ready for each and every appointment. Sometimes I take the papers for my appointments and lay them on the passenger seat in my car, in chronological order, so I can go house to house while just picking up the packages. Preparation is so critical—if there is a little game change, I can adapt to it right away.” I ask Wolff what he thinks are the big challenges for agents over the next couple of years. “There are three factors that affect the sale of every property no matter where: price, condition, and location. That has not, and will not change. But we do have to get good at what we do. For example, don’t take on properties that you believe are overpriced. Get focused on the concept of dollar productive behaviour. Work with buyers that can afford to buy and sellers that want to sell. We need to get better at qualifying.”

“Also, you’d better have a goal and be clear on why you are in this business. Otherwise, you are just getting up and going to work. If you are only earning $40 – 50k per annum in this business you might as well go be a waitress or work in a bank. You have to love it. It’s a people business and you have to love working with people.”

What about technology? “With the technology we have today, agents need to have a lot of information. You have to know what is going on with mortgages, what the trends are, and the numbers in your market. For example, how many homes have been sold in your neighbourhood or city in the last year? What is the listing price or the sales price ratio; what is the absorption rate? What is your inventory from the last five years? Those numbers may sound technical, but it is easy and important to gain that knowledge. People will respect you for having it. Then the buyer or seller can work together with you as an agent. We have to be prepared, have the product knowledge, and embrace technology in ways that will help our marketing.”

Is there any piece of advice you would give your younger self about the industry based on what you know now? “Yes I would.” He smiles. “Firstly you need to establish your non-negotiables. It may be knocking on doors, it may be writing thank you notes. It may be doing open houses; it may be following up on your sphere of influence. It may be ‘so many’ phone calls a day. But regardless of what those tasks are, you have to determine what those non-negotiable tasks are that are going to build a foundation for your success. I try to remind the younger people that they need to be patient. Look after the people and the money will follow.”

Do you think younger agents can be blinded by the money? “We all have aspirations to make hundreds of thousands of dollars, but there are very few jobs outside real estate where you can make that kind of money annually after your first or second year. You have to be patient and work hard. If you were hired to work from eight to five at a bank, but you showed up every day at 8:30 or went home every day at 4:00, or took two hours for lunch instead of one, there are a couple of possible consequences, including being fired.” He laughs, “There is really no difference between that type of job and working in the real estate business. You have to work to be successful. When I moved to California in 1989, not knowing anyone, I moved into a market that had just fallen drastically, with people losing up to 50 percent of their home values. Just by doing open houses every day, I earned about $330,000 in my first year in the business there.”

Wolff thinks before speaking again. “One of the mistakes made by younger agents, and others, comes from the advent of technology like email and texting. It is so easy to forget to talk to people in our business; meetings can be coordinated and information passed without actual conversation. I would recommend to real estate agents today not to be so caught up in this metamorphosis of technology. It has its value and its place, but do not forget the people.”

What are your best tips for being successful? Again he smiles at me and simply states: “I do my work consistently and I try to take care of people by, for example, returning phone calls and writing thank you notes. Return phone calls the day you get them. Send out anniversary cards. This year, even with the problems in the market, is the best year I have ever had in my career. It’s not because I’m special or anything—I just work. There are no secrets.”

“You have to be able to see it, anticipate it, and know those numbers of your business. The quicker we can adapt, the greater the chance of a successful experience. It’s all about change. Change is inevitable, growth is optional. I’m having the best year I have ever had; it’s not because I’m not that special, I just work hard. I do what I do and I do it consistently.”

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Samantha McLean

Samantha McLean is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Elite Agent and Host of the Elevate Podcast.