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Real Estate Agent

Benjamin Illulian

Breaking Multiple Sales Records in Just a Few Years

Benjamin Illulian

Location: Benjamin's Listing, West Hollywood
Date: 4/19/2020
Title: Breaking Multiple Sales Records in Record Time
Profession: Real Estate Agent and Founder, Illulian Realty

Q & A

Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do for a living?

My name is Benjamin Illulian and I’m 30 years old.  I am a real estate agent working on both the residential and commercial side. However, I focus primarily on the residential side. 

Residential real estate is a lot more personal. You’re finding people their homes. Every single transaction is a story of its own, as opposed to commercial, where it’s a lot more black and white, numbers driven. 

You can make plenty of money on either side, but for me I’ve seen more success and enjoyment doing residential sales.

What's your backstory and what led you to real estate brokerage?

I’ve always been a salesperson.  I remember going to elementary school and carrying cans of coke in my backpack so I could take it to school and sell it.  I was a deal junky. I did that with gum too. Then when cell phones came out, I was selling cell phones at school. I was always looking to see how I could make a deal out of something.

At first, working in real estate wasn’t my intention.  I always thought I’d end up in the tech world because I was very passionate about technology.  I was always so intrigued by the newest gadgets. My friends and family would call me to help them with anything tech related because they knew me as the go-to.

As I grew up, I was known as the deal guy.  For example, when I was in high school and my friends were looking for cars, they would say, “Go to Benji. he knows where to get the best deal and knows all of the right people.”

Fast forward to college, I went through the Yeshiva College system.  I didn't go through the traditional  American college route. I went through the rabbinical education and got my bachelors degree in Jewish law.  As a result, I have a very cultural education background. I studied in L.A, New York, Australia, Israel, Paris and Italy. Studying in all of these different settings really helped open my mind.

When I graduated, I was 21 and I came back to LA to start working in property management for a few private clients.  My first property was in Inglewood. At first, I was more of a lower level manager working with 5 colleagues who were running the operations for a shopping center.  I was able to excel very quickly, and in a short time I took over the entire operation myself. 

How I transitioned to sales was interesting. I had a lot of close friends and family coming to and saying, “You’re wasting your time. You are a salesperson. You’re friendly, you’re likeable and you’re a dealmaker. Why don’t you go into real estate sales?” 

A part of me was really scared to make a move into a new industry because I was comfortable, I had a paycheck, I had a job and it was easy. The thought of becoming a successful real estate agent seemed so impossible to me at first. I was just scared, so I didn’t do it.  

In my early 20’s I started a lifestyle company.  I wanted to create something that incorporated my love for Judaism, but also my passion for just having a good time. The company was called Kosher 90210, and the name says it all.

Yes, you can have your "Kosher", and you can also have your "90210", which resembles a lavish lifestyle, fun, travel, and the best of the best.

I wanted both. We started off as a certification brand where we would just certify kosher products, and before I knew it I had an apparel line that was in Kitson, Montage Hotel, Peninsula Hotel and we were selling out week by week.  Nicki Manaj, DJ Khaled and many other celebrities were wearing my T-shirts.

We became the first Jewish/Kosher page on instagram in 2016 when the platform was really starting to blow up.  We gained so much traction, that Kosher restaurants and products were reaching out to us to get our Kosher 90210 certification on their products.

You couldn’t apply to get the certification, we had to want you.  I like to think it was kind of like the Soho House of Kosher Certification. 

After about six and a half years working in property management and some time building the Kosher 90210 brand, a friend of mine signed me up for the course to get my real estate license. 

For 8 months I didn’t even open the course materials. I always found an excuse not to do it. Eventually, I gained the courage, and I think a lot of that has to do with being surrounded by good friends that motivated me and genuinely cared for my success.

I went to my friend's office and we studied for the exam from 6pm until 3am.  2 days later I got my license.  

I was interviewing with different agencies trying to determine where it would be best to hang my license, and a friend of mine introduced me to Rick Cunningham, the owner of a ton of Keller Williams franchise offices. 

I met with Rick, and told him a little bit about my business experience and Kosher 90210. He was not Jewish or religious, but he appreciated the fact that I was creative and doing things differently. Not only did he ask me to join his franchise, but he brought me on his personal team.

How did you go from just starting out as a Real Estate Agent to getting to where you are today and breaking records in West Hollywood?

I essentially had 3 careers: Kosher 90210, Property Management and Real Estate. When I started at Keller Williams, it was all very new to me.  I was really just figuring things. I was told that it would be a slow process to gain traction as an agent, so I figured I’ll just take it day by day.

Within the first month, I was at my cousin’s house with one of her friends who had just got engaged.  I thought it was a good opportunity to ask her friend’s fiance if he wanted to sell their current place and move into something bigger.  I pitched myself and I got my first listing. 

I really proved myself by going above and beyond in terms of service to my client. He saw how excited, passionate and hardworking I was.  He was ready to put his place on the market just as it was for around $700,000.  I told him not to do it because I saw an opportunity to sell it at a higher price if we remodeled it. 

I used the tools that I had learned from property management to clean up his place without spending a fortune. We spent about $10,000, and achieved the highest record sale for this building that had 110 units.  Little did I know, this was the first of many records to come. 

I was introduced to a bunch of people because of that first transaction.  The story just continued like that my first year.

During the Keller Williams annual award ceremony, I won Rookie of The Year. I was absolutely shocked when it happened.  I wasn’t expecting that because I had only really done a few transactions and I didn’t think it was anything special. I guess I underestimated myself and they saw a lot more in me at the time.  

During my second year in 2018, I did about $30 million in sales. I went from Rookie of The Year, to top agent in the office. 

At one point I had 6 escrows open simultaneously, and closed all of 6 of them. Three of them were 10 day closes.

I was working non stop.  During that same time, I had a wedding in Lake Como, and I spent the majority of my time focused on closing these deals. People would see me in the hotel lobby at 4am wondering why I’m walking around taking business calls during the party.  I just wanted to get the deals done and make sure my clients knew that they were my priority regardless of where I was in the world.

This year my goal is to make it in the top 100 agents in California, and at the minimum hit $100 million in sales. 

Describe the process of launching your business. What was it like?

A lot of it was just getting familiar. Learning how to write an offer, read a contract, or negotiate a sale, it was all about learning. The stuff you learn to get your license doesn’t really prepare you for that. 

The real learning comes through the experience you get on the job. Slowly you get familiar with the MLS, C.A.R. Forms (where you can find all the contract forms needed for a transaction), escrow requirements and more.  

I always tell people, the best way to learn something is when you get your hands dirty and do it.  You can read about it, watch YouTube videos and all that stuff, and it’ll help prepare you, but the only way you’ll learn what works and what doesn't is through application.

Since starting, what has worked to attract and retain clients?

There are a few ways you can attract clients.  If you work hard enough, you will find deals, and everyone will want to work with you.  Every buyer is looking for the broker who has good deals, and every seller wants someone with a great track record.

So, how do you get clients with no track record? The number one most important thing is building trust. For me, I got my first client through a relationship and proved myself by going above and beyond for them, just as I continue to do for all of my clients.

I got a few other clients in the same building as my first sale because people remembered me and the passion that I had during my open house. Then, as I was building a track record I would market myself on Instagram and via email so people could see what I had sold and what I was listing.

My clients can see that I put their interests before mine, and I never let anything get in the way of that. That’s how I’ve gotten all of my referrals and grown my business to what it is today. 

It doesn’t matter if your client is buying a $500,000 home or a $5,000,000 home, you have to treat them as though they’re buying a $50,000,000 home.

I’ve had clients that were willing to pay top dollar for certain properties, and I’ve advised them against it because I knew we could get it at a better price.

One of my first transactions is another great example.  I had worked so hard to put the deal together and it finally got the offer accepted. 

As we were in escrow, I realized that some of the listing information wasn’t accurate.  The seller’s rep told me just to leave it alone because my client was happy and it could ruin the deal.  I couldn’t do that. I would never let my client buy a property without knowing all of the information I do.

I ended up losing the deal, but I felt great because I did the right thing.  People see that. I’m in this business for the long run and I want to make sure that my clients are treated the same way I’d want to be treated myself. 

The same honesty and integrity goes for getting a listing.  I’m going to tell you what I believe your property is worth based on trends and data, and I’m not going to just feed you what you want to hear just to get the listing. 

It may bite you to do that in the short run, but in the long run people will respect you for being an expert and just telling the truth. Your reputation is everything in this business, and it’s built over time.

Through starting your career, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

There have been so many opportunities I missed on earlier in my career simply because I was scared. I would create barriers for myself that didn’t really exist.  I’ve realized now that it’s okay to get rejected. If you don’t try you will never know what could have been. 

My lesson from that is to just put myself out there.  Approach fear head on. You will be surprised that more often than not, you will make things happen for yourself that you once upon a time thought were “impossible”.  And if you fail, you’ll learn and you’ll do better the next time.

What would you say makes you different from other Real Estate Agents?

There are a few things and it starts with work ethic and personality.  I work very hard and I don’t get discouraged. Referrals are the biggest lead generator for my business because of the fact that I work so hard, and my clients know that I will never pressure or push anyone into a deal just to get it done.  People enjoy working with me because I’m a good listener and I pay attention when they tell me the details of exactly what they want.  

The next thing I’d say is I provide a full service, which most people don’t do.  The best compliment I got from a client was, “The reason why I work with Benjamin and give him my listings is because he doesn’t work for me; He takes the listing as if it was his own property and puts his heart and soul into the work until he gets the job done.

I don’t just come into a property and throw up a For Sale sign.  First, I look at the condition of the house. Can we make any low cost improvements to show the house at its best possible appearance? 

It’s all about the details. On a broad level, my services include remodeling, staging, marketing, print material videos, photography and more. 

When a house goes on the market, the first thing you see is a picture. If your pictures are not top quality and intriguing enough, it doesn't matter how great the deal is because people won’t be attracted to it.  

I’m committed to integrating these services at the highest level for my clients.  I have a staging team that I work with on all of my projects. 

I’ve had the pleasure of working with and bringing on many different designers depending on the style of house I am selling.  I then personally take the time to be at the house during staging and make sure that I believe every piece is the right fit for the property. If not, I will make sure that the staging team changes it out as many times as needed until it’s perfect.  Most agents don’t do that, and putting in that extra effort makes a difference.

Lastly, I’ll say that I’m blessed to have been born and raised in LA with an incredible community around me.  My father is a Rabbi, so I naturally grew up knowing a lot of people in my community. Having had some of those relationships has helped me in countless transactions, whether that be saving money for my clients or just getting information on a deal.

What if you didn’t have connections and you were just starting in Real Estate. What would you do?

I’d like to clarify.  I don’t attribute my connections to my success.  I started working with Keller Williams having had no prior connection and I’m still working with them today.  If you’re going to blame not starting or failing to not having connections, you’re just making excuses. You have to find your way.  

Everyone has a connection. You might not be looking in the right places.  You never know who you might be able to work with. I’ve sold property to people that in my mind would have never been a real lead.

I just put myself out there.  I send email blasts to all of my contacts when I have a new listing or off-market deal, and I’ve been surprised on multiple occasions with the results from people I never expected.

What career accomplishments would you say you are most proud of and why?

The Huntley just set a new benchmark for highest residential sale price in history for the city of West Hollywood.  Up until I sold this house, the highest single family residence sold for $4,450,000. We came on the market at $5,195,000, which most people will tell you was crazy.  Even established brokers that had buyers interested said they would not talk to us until the price dropped below $5 million.

After 14 days on the market, we went into contract at $5,100,000. This is now my third record in the City of West Hollywood.  Just a few months ago I achieved the highest lot price per foot and building price per foot. 

Another accomplishment I’m very proud of was for a client that had an offer declined for a condo they really wanted.  I didn’t give up and I literally knocked door to door on similar units within the same condo complex. I found one person that opened the door for me and said they’d consider selling IF I found them their next property. 

Within one month I was able to represent the buyer and the seller of the condo, and find the seller a new home. That was a home run. 

What's the biggest challenge you've had to overcome in business and how did you go about it?

Because I’m so honest and trusting, I really take it personally when I feel like someone has gone around me or cheated me.  I put so much effort and passion into every deal, and unfortunately there have been times I’ve been unjustly burned.  

The next thing I’d say is dealing with cancellations. It sucks. These deals take a lot of time and effort to get to the finish line, so if it falls apart it can be tough.  Instead of focusing on that particular loss, I focus on the majority of transactions that I've succeeded with and that really helps put it all into perspective.

I overcome these challenges by looking at all the good things that are happening in my business and my life.  I look at the cup half full. I can’t stress enough the importance of positive thinking.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like? What's your ultimate goal?

I feel amazing.  I couldn’t be happier.  I'm fortunate to work with the most incredible people.  Throughout this journey I’ve met some of the most amazing and colorful people.  My clients are not just clients, they are my friends and that’s been a truly rewarding part of all of this.

My goal is to continue moving with the momentum I have.  I’d like to grow my team and help others that were in my position a few years ago with my experience.

Software & Tools:

What platform/tools do you use as a real estate agent?

Multiple Listings Service (MLS): The MLS is a centralized location for real estate listings. The MLS provides agents and brokers quick and easy access to listed properties. Agents are able to narrow down the listings in the MLS according to their buyer's preferences, like neighborhood, square footage, number of bedrooms, etc. 

Mailchimp: Mailchimp is a marketing automation platform and an email marketing service. I use Mailchimp to create different subscriber lists and schedule when I want to send out my email campaigns for my different listings. With Mailchimp, I also get campaign reports that tell me how many subscribers have opened the email or left it unopened, as well as how many clicks the content of my newsletter received. 

Top Agent Network (TAN): The Top Agent Network is a private online business community for top real estate agents. Once accepted, it gives access to exclusive market intelligence and the ability to exchange private market information with other top agents in their area. As a TAN member, I am able to share Pre- and Non-MLS real estate information with other agents.

Instagram: I love Instagram because it is a free form of advertising that everyone is familiar with already. With Instagram, I am able to post amazing images of my properties, video walkthroughs, and other tidbits to entice buyers. I work hard to keep up with my Instagram, making sure the page looks aesthetically pleasing, keeping up with my stories and updates, and posting all my new properties and listings. I also utilize Instagram TV to upload all of my property videos. This way, when someone lands on my page, everything listing is clean and perfectly laid out for them.

What software would you recommend to someone starting out in your field? Why?

The MLS has been the primary marketplace connecting buyers and sellers of real estate in the United States. Listing your property on the MLS is the first step to selling or finding a home.

What software would you advise people to be wary of, or not to use at all? Why?

Always source with an agent or MLS itself because Zillow and other third parties are robotic systems that only pull information from other sites, so they are not always accurate/reliable.

If you could wave a magic wand and create any kind of software to help you with your business - what kind of tool would you build and why?

A CRM application where you could put all your client information into and manage all your emails and communication to keep it organized.

What tools, other than software, do you use for your business?

I rely heavily on human interaction and networking. I am always looking to talk to anyone and everyone because you never know what will come of it.

Resources:

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources you’ve learned from along your journey? Why?

I love listing to the podcast “How I Built This” by Guy Roz on NPR. Each episode is an interview with a different entrepreneur discussing how they built their company and got to where they are today-a lot like what you are doing with Toolsy. Being able to hear all of their stories and advice keeps me motivated and inspired.

Where would you steer someone looking to learn more about real estate?

Podcasts like the “BiggerPocketsPodcast” and “The Real Estate Guys” are great for learning and keeping up to date with all things real estate. The “BiggerPocketsPodcast” offers interviews with a wide variety of players in the real estate investment business which is super interesting.

The Real Estate Guys” gives a great understanding of economic events and trends in the real estate investment market.

Books like Your First 365 Days in Real Estate are also great when you are starting out and wanting some direction.

What are you doing to continue learning and growing in your business as well as personally?

Staying open and having conversations with anyone that I can. I think the biggest way to grow and learn is by simply just talking with people. You can learn something from every single person you meet, as long as you are open minded and willing to take it in.

Final Question:

What advice would you like to share with people based on your experiences?

You really just have to put yourself out there. Surround yourself with good people. Get out of your comfort zone. Take a chance.  You never know what could have been unless you try.

Never in my life would I have thought I’d be where I am right now. I already had a great life before this, but didn’t realize I had so much more potential.  

Next time you doubt yourself, I hope this story inspires you to realize you're more capable than you think. 

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