Make way for the rookies

by Jason Porterfield

Beginning a new career is often a struggle. That’s particularly true in a multifaceted field like real estate: Agents have to handle clients and deal with detailed paperwork all while facilitating complex arrangements with inspectors and lenders. New agents may be uncertain of the next steps they need to take — especially in a post-COVID environment marked by rising interest rates, a limited supply of homes and high demand.

But plenty of rookie agents are thriving despite those challenges.

For Rhonda Wong-Calace of Coldwell Banker Realty, the onset of the pandemic was the catalyst to become an agent in 2020. Having left behind a career in advertising, she was furloughed from her job in the Lutheran General Hospital gift shop when a friend talked her into taking a real estate class.

“As it turns out, I took it and I fell in love This was the first time I listened to an instructor and enjoyed something,” Wong-Calace said. “It was what I was meant to do, and I didn’t know it. It just took me a long time to figure it out.” She took the test, she said, and the rest is history.

Alejandra “Ale” Perez of RE/MAX NEXT left a career as a loan processor for a mortgage lender to become an agent after buying her first home four years ago. This November will mark her two-year anniversary in the new field.
“When seeing the houses, I always had so many questions,” Perez explained. “I just really admired the differences. Like, ‘Wow, there’s a solid home’ and ‘Under this one is a home that just needs some love.’ I really fell in love with what you run into all the time as an agent, and I just said, ‘I think I can make this my career.’”

John Vinicky, an agent with the Ann Monckton Group at Baird & Warner, had a similar introduction to real estate when looking to buy his first home in 2018. Around that time, he was feeling burned out after spending close to a decade working in retail.

“I really enjoyed the whole [homebuying] process, and it made me kind of curious, so I went and got my license,” Vinicky said. “I wanted to work in an industry where I could [collaborate] with people, because I really do enjoy the connection, especially with clients.”

Encountering obstacles

Vinicky became licensed in July 2019, initially joining Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. His background in retail, along with his “go-go-go” personality, equipped him well for interacting with clients, but he spent his first months in real estate feeling somewhat lost; he didn’t have a single transaction during his time at that first brokerage.

“The biggest challenge of being a rookie is that you really don’t know what you don’t know,” he said. “From day one, after getting your license, you could be working on the other side of a transaction with an agent [who has] been the top producer for the last 30 years.”

“It’s about being able to problem-solve and find out what you need to do and how to find answers,” Vinicky continued. “It can definitely feel a little uncomfortable to start. You know how to write a contract, you know the loose framework of it; but if you’ve been in the industry for any length of time, you figure out that it doesn’t always go to plan.”

Putting lessons from training into practice isn’t always easy, either. “The old saying is that we’re just door openers, but it’s a lot more behind the scenes,” Vinicky said. “After you get your license, I feel like you forget 90% of what you learned in pre-licensing, and you have to learn how to create a business.”

Similarly, both Wong-Calace and Perez found that building confidence was the most difficult aspect of being a rookie agent.

“There’s so much to learn, obviously, if you don’t have a team in place already,” Wong-Calace said. “Just having confidence when you go out with your first client [is key] … You’re going to help them get their offer or sell their property.” To build credibility, Wong-Calace suggests taking all the classes that your brokerage offers in the beginning. Additionally, she said, “Learn from anyone you can.” Soon, the self-assurance will follow.

Perez also struggled with emphasizing her own credibility to clients. “It’s a big financial decision,” she said of purchasing a home. “It’s hard just having the confidence to let people know that if they are buying a home or selling their home that they are making a smart decision. Sometimes if you tell somebody, “Oh, I just became an agent …’ you feel like maybe they don’t trust you enough to [follow] along.” She explained that believing in herself was a challenge.

Although Perez now appreciates her time spent in lending, she had grown tired of being on the “boring” end of transactions — while the agents and clients across the desk were enjoying themselves. Although the knowledge she gained from lending gave Perez an early edge in real estate, finding clientele remained a challenge as she started on her new career path. Eventually, though, she said, “I was lucky enough to get the business and people did trust me.”

Training and mentoring

Perez gained her footing through the NEXT Agent Mentorship Program, which was provided by her brokerage. Taking place across six weekly sessions, the course covered various topics to help familiarize new RE/MAX agents with not only homeselling, but also the fundamentals of running a business.

“Basically, they take you from the beginning to the end of a transaction,” Perez said. “That was definitely a huge help.” Instructors Alejandro Trujillo and Mike Opyd would also review every meeting and email specialized feedback to the participants. “I would check to see if I was doing it right,” Perez said, noting that, to this day, she still goes back to those emails for guidance.

Wong-Calace, though, found mentorship through a personal connection. When she started out, her first mentor was her brother’s former agent.

“We connected over LinkedIn, and she took me under her wing,” Wong-Calace said. “It was wonderful. On my first contract, she spent over four hours at 11:30 p.m. with me trying to get everything right.” They went step by step until Wong-Calace learned how to fill out a 7.0 contract.

Wong-Calace’s brokerage, Coldwell Banker, also offers classes and education sessions. She signs up for those that are in-person so she can meet other agents. Additionally, her managing broker, Jiji Caponi, makes a point of being consistently available to offer help when needed.

“She’s always there,” Wong-Calace said. “I can call her, I can text her, and I’ll always get an answer. Jiji is always in the office, so I can always go in there and talk with her, too.” Having an accessible managing broker to provide answers right away is so important, she explained. “I got really lucky.”

Vinicky went through training with his first brokerage and again with Baird & Warner.

“It’s a really good starting foundation to understand what you have to do in this industry, compared to what you learned in your licensing classes,” he said. “You have to mold both of those.” As Vinicky put it, in licensing class, you are essentially learning “not to go to Realtor jail.” But when it comes to becoming profitable and finding out what’s going to work for you, additional training is helpful. “Baird & Warner was really great for that,” she notes.

Vinicky didn’t have a specific mentor, but joining the Ann Monckton Group in La Grange gave him access to more-experienced agents who were ready and willing to share their expertise.

“When I joined Baird & Warner, I joined to be a part of Ann Monckton’s team,” he said. “That was really the kind of the mentorship that I needed. I was exposed to so much so quickly that it kind of added almost years of experience instantly.”

Baird & Warner provides online training options for agents that cover topics like maximizing your CRM, as well as explaining different potential tools. Vinicky also said that he values the weekly meetings for new agents that his brokerage holds at the La Grange office.

“The more that you’re exposed to and the more that you understand, the more capable and comfortable you are,” he said. Whether or not you’ve been involved in a certain transaction, having conversations with other agents can help prepare you for similar processes. Vinicky described those sorts of talks as “‘This is an experience that I had’ or ‘This is the situation that popped up.’” Rather than waiting to come across something for yourself, openness among colleagues can teach new agents what to expect.

Marketing to stand out

Figuring out the best way to market themselves can sometimes holds a rookie back. Each agent must find the right formula, whether it’s a robust social media presence or more traditional tactics, like holding open houses. It may also be a combination of methods.

During her first full year of being an agent, Wong-Calace brought in $5.9 million in sales. And as of the end of June 2022, she was already more than halfway to hitting the same mark; she expects to eclipse last year’s numbers. And though Wong-Calace attributes that success to her “workaholic” nature, her personalized social media presence also helps set her apart.

Wong-Calace readily admits to being a foodie, and she frequently posts pictures of enticing restaurant meals to her Facebook and Instagram accounts. Her new website even includes restaurant recommendations for the city and suburbs. Facebook plays a big role in her marketing efforts, although she tries to make her posts more about herself than about specific properties.

“Once in a while, I’ll say, ‘Hey, I sold a home.’ Because I’m still new. I don’t have a new listing or a home sold every single day, right? If I did, people would be sick of hearing it.” Plus, Wong-Calace doesn’t want to be that kind of a person. “I try to make [my pages] interesting … I try to get myself out there so that I am top of mind.”

Perez’s marketing also leans heavily on social media. Facebook and Instagram are the main platforms she uses. “Social media is big right now,” Perez said. “I like to keep it to my personal life, along with my real estate life, kind of putting myself out there as a person making a living, who has a family.” Perez feels that being a member of the Millennial generation helps her connect with the age group that’s currently dominating the market.
That format seems to be working. Perez closed last year with $4.2 million in transactions. She has set the same amount as her goal for 2022 and is halfway there as of the last week of June.

Vinicky closed out last year with $8.3 million in transactions, while the team, as a whole, did a total of $16 million. He is already at about $9.3 million for 2022 and is pushing to eclipse $15 million. Baird & Warner’s powerful CRM is a cornerstone of his marketing efforts when it comes to initiating newsletter and email campaigns, while social media and video help him connect further with clients on a more personal level.

“I feel like [social media] makes a transaction more comfortable for all parties involved,” Vinicky said. “If you can relate and see that your Realtor is not a house-selling robot, that they’re human beings, too, then you can connect with them.”

It’s those types of connections that can help newly licensed agents build their network — and find early success.

Expert Sources:

Rhonda Wong-Calace
Broker, Coldwell Banker Realty,

Alejandra “Ale” Perez

John Vinicky
Buyer Agent, The Ann Monckton Group,
Baird & Warner, La Grange

Read More Related to This Post

Join the conversation

New Subscribe

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.