Tommy Choi looks back to move forward

by Emily Mack

Tommy Choi’s Facebook page is an industry gold mine.

Choi is the co-founder and owner of Weinberg Choi Residential; he’s also the treasurer of Illinois REALTORS®, and his profile is a hot spot for the latest real estate events, not only in Chicago, but also on the national stage. He’s always posting with a smile — and, sometimes, with advice.

Just the other day, Choi wrote a status about how asking for a glass of water has helped him win more listings. “By simply asking for a glass of water before starting, they are subtly reminded that you’re a guest in their home, which lowers any tension,” Choi said. But that’s not his only nugget of wisdom.

On July 11, Choi posted a picture of his old journal from 2013. Look closely and you’ll see, scrawled in blue pen, his 2014 sales goal: $30 million in total sales volume for Weinberg Choi Residential. Fast forward to 2022, and the team pulled in $75 million during the first six months of that year alone.

Now, however, halfway through this year, Choi shared that his team is at about $40 million: a year-over-year decrease of almost 50%. “I was feeling a little disappointed,” the post read, reflecting on the Q2 data. “Then I found this old notebook of mine.”

The rest said:

“My 2013 self would be blown away with our 2023 mid-year numbers. He’d be ecstatic! Then I remembered the importance of perspective being anchored by gratitude. If you’re also feeling down too, know you’re not alone. This market is a weird one, and it’s okay. Remember, we often overestimate what we can do in a year, and underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade. Take pride in your journey today. Keep pushing, you’re doing better than you think. Your future self might need this reminder one day.”

Choi’s was an honest and empathetic acknowledgement of this year’s tough market — and it blew up online. Shared alongside the pic of his 2013 notebook, Choi’s heartfelt paragraph earned hundreds of comments and likes from his peers. Everyone appreciated the candor.

Speaking with Chicago Agent, Choi said that for months now, colleagues have been sharing their anxieties with him. “People who’ve been licensed for three years and people who’ve been licensed 20 … they’re all coming to me saying, ‘Hey, I have zero deals in the pipeline. I don’t know when I have any coming in.’”

It’s a bleak moment for many Realtors across America — not that you’d know it from their sunny social media posts. “On social media, everyone highlights deals. They see everyone else’s wins and use them as mile markers along their journey. And that’s not fair,” Choi said. New Realtors who joined the industry during the pandemic-era boom may especially be feeling a bit of real estate whiplash. “Younger agents are saying to me, ‘Did I just get lucky?’” Choi said.

So, he hopes that his viral post, and others like it, will help struggling agents realize: “It’s not just me, it is the market.”

But at this point, Choi is used to it. He entered the industry in 2006, and, just two years later, the market crashed. “This isn’t foreign territory to me … today I’m more established as an agent and business owner than I was at that time … but all industry veterans have gone through so many ups and downs.”

Understanding that, he said, “We can’t compare our numbers to someone else’s. Even being down year over year, you’re comparing it to one of the greatest real estate markets we’ve ever seen. Instead, he suggests agents compare their year-over-year business to the year-over-year market. “Right now, the market for closed units is down 40%, so if your business is down 40%, you’re in line with the market. If you’re down less, you’re ahead!”

Remembering that, it’s important to relish the little wins. That’s what Choi’s old journal entry reminded him of.

“We’re at the mid-way point of the year and [naturally] you reflect back on the last six months, whether you’re tracking units closed, families served or sales volume … but often we don’t linger enough in that moment of accomplishment,” Choi said. He noted that he sees a lot of people let their ego rob them of their gratitude, remarking, “They instantly focus on, ‘Well, that was the first half, this is the next half! I’ve got to do bigger, better!’” That’s also a fast track to burn out.

Choi preaches gratitude — not only on social media, but to his team as well. He encourages agents to celebrate every moment, every sale, before they move on. Journaling helps. And for Choi, sharing the entries online can help, too.

“I post to be vulnerable and transparent,” Choi said. “I want to create that space where people are reaching out, even to top-producing agents, to say, ‘Yeah, my numbers are down, too.’ Not that we need a group therapy session,” he joked.

But sometimes, people do. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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