As the CEO and founder of Compass Real Estate, Robert Reffkin has used modern technology to revolutionize the real estate industry. Now he’s demystifying the ins and outs of the home-buying process and sharing tools that will help you buy or sell a home with confidence.
Robert earned his undergraduate degree from Columbia University in just over two years. At 25, he became a White House Fellow, serving for a year as special assistant to Treasury Secretary John Snow. When Robert returned to banking, he spent five years as a VP at Goldman Sachs and a year as now-president and COO Gary Cohn’s chief of staff.
Robert has always been passionate about helping people make their dreams a reality. In 2008 he raised $1.3 million to help the Success Charter Network open its first school in the Bronx. He is also the author of “No One Succeeds Alone” and the founder of America Needs You, a nonprofit that provides career development and mentorship to first-generation college students. No matter how big your dreams are, Robert proves that with the right strategy, you can achieve anything.
She set an entrepreneurial example for him, too: She started running a day care when Robert was an infant and, eventually, became a real estate agent.
Together, Robert and his mother sought out youth programs that nurtured his intelligence and ambition; through A Better Chance, a nonprofit that connects talented students of color with top boarding, private, and public schools, he earned a scholarship to the prestigious San Francisco
University High School, which he began attending in 1993. While a student there, he started sharpening his business skills at the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship; using money from his bar mitzvah and babysitting, he started a successful DJ company, Rude Boy Productions, at age 15.
In 2008, he raised $1.3 million to help open the first Success Charter Network school, in the Bronx. In an even more audacious move, he completed 50 marathons, one in each state, to raise $1 million (he donated a portion to the nonprofits that had helped him in his youth and used the rest to launch his own nonprofit, America Needs You, which provides mentorship and career development for first-generation college students).
Human beings are only as effective as the tools we use. Prior to the launch of Compass (originally known as Urban Compass) in 2012, Robert and cofounder Ori Allon spoke to real estate buyers, sellers, developers, and agents, all of whom felt dissatisfied with the existing platforms and apps that dictated workflow and organized crucial information, from property valuations to client management. The tools available were complicated and disjointed. In an industry that generates trillions of dollars each year, the technology didn’t reflect that value—or the urgency with which buyers needed to act in a fast-moving real estate market.
Real Estate Lingo
HOMEOWNERS’ ASSOCIATION (HOA)
An organization of homeowners, residing within a particular community, whose purpose is to ensure the provision and maintenance of community facilities and services to benefit all of the residents.
A loan using your home as collateral. The amount is often the purchase price of the home minus the buyer’s down payment.
MULTIPLE LISTING SERVICE (MLS)
A regional database that allows real estate agents and brokers who are members to access and add information about properties for sale. When homes go on the market, they’re entered into the MLS by the listing agent; a buyer’s agent can then use the MLS to compare similar listings in an area, along with past sales prices and other statistics.
A right to keep possession of a property belonging to another person until a debt owed by that person is dissolved.
An open house allows you, as a prospective buyer, to get up close and personal with a property. It’s also an opportunity to meet the seller’s agent.
The process used to determine loan approval. It involves evaluating the property, as well as the borrower’s credit history and ability to pay the mortgage.
Between a Real Estate Agent, Broker, and Realtor?
A REAL ESTATE AGENT IS…
anyone with a professional license to help people buy, sell, or rent a variety of properties. They acquire a real estate license by doing a certain number of training hours (as mandated by each state) and completing a written exam.
A REALTOR IS…
a licensed real estate agent who’s also a member of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). Members subscribe to the standards of the association and its code of ethics, which real estate agents may not.
A BROKER IS…
a licensed real estate agent who also has a broker’s license, which allows them to operate a brokerage and legally screen and hire other agents to work for them. To become a broker, the real estate agent must have a state-determined amount of experience, pass the state’s broker exam, and receive additional education on ethics, contracts, taxes, insurance, real estate investments, construction, property management, and brokerage operation laws.
It really doesn’t matter whether you hire an agent, a Realtor, or a broker. The most important thing, regardless of title, is that they’re experienced, know the area well, and have a solid reputation in the industry.
ROBERT’S 8 PRINCIPLES OF Entrepreneurship
The only limit to your potential is ambition; don’t build a low ceiling for yourself. Dreams give your life and work meaning and generate the energy and creativity to actually achieve them.
Time, as the old adage goes, is of the essence. Entrepreneurs can’t afford to operate lethargically. Deals fall apart, opportunities slip away. Above all else, though, you need to be a fast learner. It’s about growing as you go. Learn from reality.
Study what’s worked before, observe what’s working now, and get a beat on the future by listening to customers. Ask what they want, then test new ideas to get honest feedback. Innovate selectively without making every aspect of your entrepreneurial endeavor an unnecessary struggle.
Treat every challenge as an opportunity. Be thoughtful and clear-eyed, but use your imagination to envision how something will succeed rather than reflexively finding reasons why something won’t work. Surround yourself with people whose instinct is to look for solutions.
Collaborate without ego.
No one succeeds alone. High-functioning teams deliver the best results, which means you need to be a quality collaborator, not a ruthless tyrant. Regardless of your accomplishments, be humble, reliable, responsive, and curious. Recognize others. Seek blunt feedback and listen attentively when you get it. Obsess about opportunity.
It’s hard to earn a customer’s trust and easy to lose it. It takes continuous effort to understand people and satisfy them. Anytime you see something that might matter to your customer, it should be incredibly important to you. Caring is a competitive advantage. If you’re not preoccupied with the possibilities, you’re not doing your job.
Maximize your strengths.
You aren’t great at everything. Focus on what you do well and become even better at it. Hedge your shortcomings by surrounding yourself with people whose strengths complement your own (and actually delegate to them). When everyone is set up to succeed, they’re less likely to feel discouraged. The entire team will accomplish more.
Bounce back with passion.
Character is revealed in tough times. Resilience and grit aren’t changeable qualities. If one dream falls apart, the solution is to come up with another, then use everything you’ve learned from defeat and failure to make it come true.
Real Estate Apps
the Compass app provides cutting-edge connectivity and interactivity between you and your agent, who is freed up to advise you by their own streamlined agent-facing app.
This app includes the ability to draw your search radius on a map as well as a “Hot Homes” feature, which focuses on properties that have an 80 percent chance of accepting an offer within two weeks of going on the market.
The official search tool of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), this app benefits from ties to the multiple listing service (MLS). Thanks to agent-driven data from the latter organization, listings often update faster than the competition—refreshing every 15 minutes—and display when they last updated.
Users can access more than 110 million homes, and in participating markets, the app allows you to unlock and tour some unoccupied homes without an agent escort or making an appointment. The app also provides foreclosure data, as well as pre-approval assistance.
The Trulia® app goes deep on local data, letting you use 34 neighborhood map overlays to see crime rates, shopping and dining options, schools, commute times, and demographic stats. You can also customize your geographic search by drawing borders on a map with your finger.
With this app, you can grab a curbside photo of a home to access its sales history, market information, interior features, and investment potential. You can even save and share your photos with your agent. Plus, you can message your agent (or anyone else) through the app—even if the recipient doesn’t have Homesnap downloaded to their phone.
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