PERSON OF THE WEEK: When Frank Nunez graduated from college in 2007, he faced an economy that was beginning to show signs of acute distress. His career path turned in a direction that, in retrospect, may not have been the right opportunity at the time: he became a real estate agent in Florida.
Nunez has detailed his unlikely odyssey across the shoals of Florida's crumbling real estate market in his new autobiography, ‘I'm Not God – I'm a Real Estate Agent.’ MortgageOrb spoke with Nunez about his experiences in the tumultuous Florida housing market.
Q: The title of your book is certainly striking. What is the story behind the title?
Nunez: The story is actually pretty funny. I was having a contract dispute with a listing agent over some language in a contract that I had on a short sale a few years ago. His sellers wanted to sell back the appliances to my buyers, when in the contract, it clearly stated that all the major appliances were included. Both parties signed off on the contract without anything being conveyed by the sellers that they were going to keep the appliances.
However, the listing agent didn't seem to understand this, leading us to go back and fourth for several weeks regarding the issue. He also had a heavy Greek accent that made it difficult to understand him at times. Finally, he began to see that I had leverage, but was in a hell of a situation with his sellers. When I began to put some pressure on him, he just yelled in his heavy Greek accent, ‘What do you want me to do? I'm not God, Frank.’
That's where I got the idea for the title of the book. I wanted something catchy that would get people's attention.Â I didn't want this to be just some ordinary real estate book – I wanted something different.
Q: How did you get into the real estate field after getting out of college? And did you realize there was a housing crisis brewing when you got into the profession?
Nunez: When I graduated from college, the financial crisis was starting to take shape. I knew there were problems with the U.S economy – however, I thought that it was just another business cycle. I didn't really realize how bad things were getting.
Business schools don't really prepare students for events like the recent financial crisis. You're kind of in an incubator, where they make you believe that because you have a business degree, you can take on the world. Then, when you graduate, you realize what you learned in school wasn't based on reality.Â
I decided to do real estate because I believed – at least at that time – that one of the true pathways to wealth was real estate – by owning assets and accumulating wealth. I also wanted to start my own business, so I figured the best time to do it was when I was young and didn't have any obligations.Â
I also figured that the worst-case scenario was that if real estate didn't work out, I could just get another job. After all, I had a finance degree, so what could go wrong?
Q: In your opinion, what role did real estate agents play in the events leading up to the housing market crash?
Nunez: That's a difficult question to answer because there are so many actors played a role in the housing market's crash. I think Realtors, just like their clients, got intoxicated by the real estate market. Like the Internet boom in the late 1990s, the real estate market was like an ATM machine where agents were making some great paychecks because anyone with a pulse could get a mortgage. You had borrowers taking out mortgages with little to money down with poor credit scores and insufficient income, yet they were purchasing homes that they had no business buying in the first place.
Agents don't really care about how their clients purchase the property, because Realtors don't really get involved with financing. As long as the transaction closes, the agent's job is done. I'm sure there were agents who knew something was wrong, but I think they didn't want to believe it because the times were so good.
Back then, everyone was making money. Of course, we all know what happened after that. Many real estate agents just weren't prepared for the aftermath of the bubble, causing thousands to leave the industry. Perhaps agents should have practiced due diligence and warned their clients about using exotic debt instruments to purchase these properties, but it's easy to Monday morning quarterback. The agents just didn't understand the gravity of the situation.
Q: What were the highs and lows of your real estate career?
Nunez: The highs was getting a chance to work with Rob and Carla Masse of Team Masse Real Estate Group in Tampa, Fla. They really helped me get through some of the more difficult times in my real estate career. They also helped me not only understand the industry, but also how to run a business. If it weren't for them, I don't think I would have made a single sale as an agent – they became my mentors and good friends.
I also had some great sales while helping clients buy and sell their homes. I worked with some wonderful people that made working in real estate at times enjoyable; however, I had just as many lows. In my first year in real estate, I didn't make one sale. Even working with Rob and Carla, I had plenty of struggles where deals fell apart and was still having a hard time making consistent income.
Working in a distressed market didn't make things any easier. I tried finding other jobs – even jobs that had nothing to do with my degree. The only thing I could find was working at a luxury luggage store in the mall. That lasted about six months, and I became discouraged and demoralized.
There were moments when I just didn't know what else to do. I just couldn't catch a break. That's why I decided to write this book. I wanted to tell my side of the story – it is a side of the story that you don't get in many real estate books.
Q: Your book cites social media's role in real estate. What do you see as the positive and negative impacts of social media on real estate?
Nunez: If you want to be a real estate agent – which I don't recommend – you have to use social media in one way, shape or form. The problem is that very few agents use or understand social media. There is one statistic that I cite in the book where over 90% of agents don't even blog. If you want to practice real estate, you have to go where consumers are going to shop, and that is the Internet.
Social media gives you the chance to promote yourself to a number of people through blogs, video, Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools. The traditional ways of marketing – such as plastering your face on bus stops or sending out paper advertising – is just not enough anymore. If you brand yourself correctly, and you work hard enough, then social media can bring you some great results. But even then, there is no guarantee that social media will work for you because the real estate industry is in such disarray.Â
As far as the negatives of social media, I think that we are losing that human touch, the intimacy of having a real conversation with someone. Everyone is glued to their smartphones, talking to virtual people while the real world passes them by. It's ironic in a way: Social media is bringing us closer together, but we're also becoming distant, because we spend more time in front of a screen then in front of real people. Social media is a two-way street.
Q: What are you working on now? Are you still a real estate agent?
Nunez: Right now, I am no longer practicing real estate. I'm actually finishing up my second book, titled ‘You're Fired: When Can You Start?’ The book can best be described as sort of manifesto for twentysomethings and thirtysomethings who are coping with the financial crisis, and discusses the struggles that my generation is going through, such as high unemployment, student loan debt and a hostile economy. It also discusses the current state of the economy, as well as what people can do to avoid the pitfalls that can lead them to financial ruin, while also encouraging people to pursue their passions. I'm also looking to get into fiction, and I'm working on my first novel.