Updated: Jul 31
Let’s admit it, getting a grip on your business finances can be hard. How do you even know where to start? What if, you could get some practical advice from a successful REALTOR® who’s been in the business for over 20 years? Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Today we are talking with author, speaker, broker and NAR Vice President of Advocacy, Leigh Brown.
Leigh shares the lessons she learned in her years as a top-producing broker. In her signature way Leigh gives some practical advice to get a grip on your finances, and a few tips on how we can cut unnecessary expenses today. This episode is a treasure trove of information and wisdom you do not want to miss.
Listen to the podcast here
Getting A Grip On Your Business Finances With Leigh Brown
I am getting ready to talk to Leigh Brown, extraordinaire, speaker, author, all-around great person, and host of Crazy Shit in Real Estate podcast. You know her, I'm going to give you a little bit about her and then we're going to talk to Leigh. Leigh has written three books, Outrageous Authenticity, The 7 Deadly Sins of Sales, and Peeling the Onion. Many of us know Leigh for her accomplishments as a highly successful realtor and a best-selling author. She is an award-winning educator, influencer, innovative CEO, and a must-see international speaker. She actively educates professionals in every realm of business leadership and relationships. She is the consummate do-it-all professional.
Welcome to the show. With me is Leigh Brown. Thank you, Leigh, for being with us.
Renee, I am so excited to be on this brand new, exciting venture of yours. Thank you for having me.
Thank you so much. Before we started, I did a read of your bio. A little bit of your bio and all of the wonderful, awesome, and extraordinary things that you have done and that you're doing. Can you tell us a little bit about how you started? How long you've been in the business? What you're doing now?
I got into real estate because I had to land in something and stay there. I grew up as the child of a realtor. My dad became a realtor in 1978. That meant as his kid, I immediately started going to open houses, doing flyers, and going to the office and broadened the showings and the whole bit. Like many kids of realtors, I said, “There's no way I'm going to do that.” After college, I landed in a couple of different places. I became a stockbroker and moved to Manhattan, which if you hear the way that I taught, means people do not respect you up there because Yankees are prejudiced against Southern accents, even though they're drawn to it.
That didn't work for me, but it gave me a great financial background. I went to sales next, where I belonged. I sold chainsaws for a premium company, Husqvarna, which is premium chainsaws, weed trimmers, and lawnmowers. I was the only woman on the salesforce at the time, but the corporate structure didn't fit me because I had to fill out all these forms. Every time I would hit my sales goals, they would change the formula and say, “We got it wrong,” which was moving that ceiling to where you could never go anywhere. Talking to my dad, I said, “I'm not happy.” He's like, “Come home and get into real estate.” I came back to North Carolina and joined him, that was several years ago, and here I am. I love this business and I'm grateful to my dad for always being in the back of my head saying, “Come home, you belong here.” My family listened.
That's where you started and transitioned to where you are now, several years you've been in the business. I've seen you in so many different places. I'm like, “How is she doing all this? She's writing books, she's on committees with our trade association, she's hosting a podcast.” All of the things that you're doing. Tell us about the Leigh Brown world. What are you doing right now?
First of all, if you want something done, you ask a busy woman. You're the same as I am. We see a project that we can accomplish, we add it to the list where you can go down and crush it, which leads us to what I’ll chat about here about your financial future. It's about crushing things out. Where I am right now is medium-aged with multiple streams of revenue, trying to decide what I want to do with my life. Like many professional realtors who get good at real estate, it gets a little boring. I know that some of you all that are reading this, if you're newer, you don't believe me when I tell you that real estate can get repetitive. It can, which is why you see so many team leaders and brokers out there finding new ways to achieve different goals in real estate. You'll see me do another book. There's another one coming fall of 2021 and another one in 2022. You'll see me do some more things in the public speaking and the instructing space. You'll see me do a whole lot more with real estate investing because I am building my empire because who knows what's next? I know that I've got to make sure I've got the financial stability to do whatever that is.
If you want something done, you ask a busy woman.
Let’s talk about your podcast. Crazy Shit in Real Estate is a great name for a podcast. I want to know more about how you created it and what it is that you do on the show. I've listened to it, and it's so good.
I'm entering year five in August 2021, and I can't believe I've been doing it that long. It came out of the fact that anytime realtors are around each other, it's this whole, “You all are never going to believe what happened to me.” The minute somebody tells a story, the next one is like, “You think that? I've got this.” We are the worst story kings and queens and we love to one-up each other. I'm like, “Our stories are good,” then you think about how many times realtors were approached by want to be realtors, “I want to get in your business. I love this,” then they go to pre-licensing class.
You remember a pre-licensing class teaches you nothing about the business, you fill out a HUD statement and now we have CDs. They give you the laws of the state which hopefully you never have to encounter, but they don't teach you about the practice and how to make things keep moving forward no matter what. I said, “Let's take those stories and teach something to the public because they watch HGTV like it's candy, they drink it all day long. HGTV only shows house hunters with three houses and they buy one. It will show Property Brothers where it costs $1,000 to renovate an entire house. They don't see the things that we see.”
I started the podcast as a way for realtors and consumers to tell their stories, lenders, inspectors, appraisers, and to tie a bow at the end of each episode about what it means to be the professional who comes through all of this because there's always another side. It's fascinating to me because when I started the show, it was primarily realtors listening to it because that's who knows me. They enjoy the stories because they've lived them too, but the audience has shifted. As of now, we are heading into our fifth year of the podcast and it's my passion project. I've got my first sponsor. It's literally been something I do because I love us. Seventy percent of my audience is now consumers. They listen to this because they're like, “Are you for real? Tell me more.” They love hearing about the realities of our business. Now, they're starting to learn.
There are different kinds of realtors out there. I get so many requests. “How do I find a realtor like this in my market? How do I find a realtor with that perseverance?” Most realtors and lenders market themselves as perfect. Everything's going to be great and everything's going to be wonderful, but as it turns out, the consumer wants somebody that's genuine and real and can keep moving when there's a dead guy at the open house. It’s one of the top three episodes from the podcast, that was in season one, Steve Westmark in Minnesota. That's probably every realtor's nightmare. You're holding the open house and your seller is dead in the master bedroom. That's the kind of stories and shit.
Let's switch gears a little bit. Your depth of expertise is so great that there are so many topics that I can cover with you. For this audience, we want to talk about retirement, what that looks like. I heard that you were on the Founding Committee for the Center for REALTOR Financial Wellness. Is that true?
Yes. All of you readers, if you are a member of the National Association of REALTORS, go to FinancialWellness.realtor, it's a rabbit hole of information. The way I came to be involved in that project when you're a volunteer, you had the opportunity to meet the people who make giant changes in our profession, either on behalf of the entrepreneurs in it or on behalf of the public that we serve. In 2017, our National President was Bill Brown from Oakland, California. Bill and I are very good friends, but when you're a regular member, the president feels like they're much higher level.
Bill had announced in 2016 that one of his initiatives would be to do something for realtors who don't own their primary residence and investment property because Bill's a lifelong investor. His dad was in real estate, his brother Kevin's in real estate, they understand all the facets. He said, “Our members need to understand how to build up a stable financial future.” When he said that was one of his initiatives, I'll walk right up to him and raised my hand, and said, “I want to help with this,” because I have a background as a stockbroker. I've had those licenses and I know how this works, and I'm also an active investor myself. This is a big lesson we should all learn in life. The task is the ask.
We teach this in the Women's Council of Realtors all the time. So much of what you get to do in life depends on whether or not you ask. I asked to serve, I was allowed to serve and to give back and help create this tool. The way that we designed financial wellness was you as a member login and tell the computer where you are in life. Do you have savings? Do you not? How old are you? What's your threshold? What do you have saved? The system can create a pathway for you so that you can continue to grow and expand your financial freedom.
Real estate is one of those amazing spaces where every billionaire you talk to will tell you a large part of their holding is real estate, but most realtors are panicked about getting started in investing, which means they're also panicked about talking to clients about it. Financial wellness was designed as a tool to take some of the fear out so that you can move forward at the place where you are on the journey. The system will give me different advice than it gives to you, will give different advice to a brand-new realtor, will give different advice to somebody who's 70 years old and trying to play catch up.
We had the manager from the center on this show. The title of the show is The Financial Wellness Tool Every Realtor Should Know About, it's with Brittany Schanck, who is the current manager there. If you have not checked out that episode here on the show, please read the episode. Brittany walks us through everything there is to know about the Center for Realtor Financial Wellness, how to use the platform, upcoming webinars. Leigh, to know that you are a founding member of that committee, it fits you. You're so awesome. Let’s get into some real talk about real estate agent retirement. According to NAR studies, at that time, when the center was being created, half of the real estate professionals were not saving for retirement. Why do you think that is?
I bet it's lower now because we've had so many new people enter the business and with the inventory scarcity that's happening. A lot of realtors are living in a state of financial panic, which is why they're not saving for retirement. Realtors are interesting in the way that they approach their entrepreneurial life. They're optimistic. Any realtor on the planet that gets somebody under contract is like, “I got this. I'm going to go sell another one.” Their optimism carries on to another sale, then in their head they've got $7,000 coming in. As they're thinking about that next sale, they spend the $7,000, if not, spending $8,000, because they're optimistic about the next sale. They do get the next sale and, “I got another one. Now I've got $12,000 coming in and I'm on a roll.” Because they're on a roll, they got $12,000 coming, now they spend $15,000.
Realtors are not looking at the big picture of their own finances. They're so good at looking at somebody else's math. They help them with mortgages, payments, and negotiations then they're watching the closing statements. In their own finances, they go to an ATM and they're like, “Let me see how much I have in there. I was close.” They're not balancing checkbooks and watching the numbers. They're not thinking about quarterly taxes, brokerage splits, websites, leads, and all the expenses that come up because they're always thinking about the next sale. Real estate can be a trap in that way because you can get another sale. It's the business where you can go out and find more business. If you make enough phone calls and knock on enough doors, there's a numbers game aspect to it.
Because you can do that, sometimes you wind up digging yourself continually out of a hole. To fix that and to create the correct financial savings future, you have to strip off the Band-Aid and be super honest with yourself. You've got to be the one that does sit down and balance your statement and say, “I have to stop spending money on Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, and Peacock,” whatever the streaming services are, which by the way, those are bleeding you because you thought you were saving money over cable. Have you lost your ever-loving minds? Get rid of all of it.
That's the thing to start to siphon your money away from you when you don't look at it and you don't look because you're afraid of the reality, but you have to look at it. We're medium-aged. This shit isn’t going anywhere unless I pay for it. I'm not paying to make this go away because I have earned these wrinkles. I pay extra for my hair because I wear it every day. That's a specific choice. I'm choosing this over this because I'm looking at the numbers to see what is going to make sense. Once you get over the fear, you can start to plan. That's when you start to realize that our business provides the best retirement strategies on the planet.
I have a list that I have seen as a Director of Operations, working with real estate teams, some of the teams I've worked with have done over a billion dollars in their life of sales in the time that they've been in business. On my list are these things that you can do to ensure that you have a paycheck beyond your last closing, profit share, revenue share, depending on your brokerage, equity in your brokerage, or in some other business that you may own a part of. Real estate investing has to be on your list. As an agent, there's no reason why you're not doing some real estate investing. Good old-fashioned saving into a Roth IRA, stock dividends, and annuities. That is the list I've created, most of these I do myself. There's no reason why as an agent, we can't. If you're a team leader, an agent, or a broker, you should be doing 2, 3, or 4 of these. There's no reason why you can't. What do you think that we can do on a practical day-to-day basis in our business? You're saying about getting rid of some stuff.
Figure out what you can control and do right now. It doesn't have to be anything wild and crazy, but you have to take the first step.
The first thing that I recommend, and this is going to sound crazy, is to call your credit card company and say, “Mastercard, I lost my card. I was at the grocery store and I dropped it. I'm scared of the COVID, so I didn't pick it back up.” You can make up any story you want, left it in the bar, or dropped it in a rental car, it doesn't matter. What Mastercard's going to do is look at the splits and send you another card out with a new number. What's going to happen is all those automated charges are going to start to kick, credit card declined, account no longer valid. As you get those notifications, you have to say to yourself, “Self, do I need this? I’m not even logging into that.” You can start slicing and dicing.
One of my coaching clients finally did this after four years of me hammering him, he cut $473 a month out of his expenses. It was all under $100. It was all the little piddly shit that adds up and he was shocked at how much was slipping through his fingers because he was not paying attention. You have to do that first. As you're doing that, go ahead and set up a second credit card because you should have a personal one and a business one. Start segregating those expenses. That's also going to force you to think very carefully about where your commission dollars are going. You can do that without spending any money. That's the first step towards getting your finances in your hands. The second thing you got to do, set up an automated draft, whether it's to a Roth IRA or a Simple IRA or to a money market account, I don't care what it is. Set up some kind of an automated draft, $50 a month. If you do something as little as $50 a month, all you got to do is look at the super amazing impact of compound interest. That $600 the first year, ten years later, you would have $6,000 except in any of those vehicles, it will have grown a little bit and you'll have something.
It's not necessarily that you're going to be a billionaire. We don't all have to be billionaires, but we have to be smart about what we do have. Set that up. In fact, while you're setting that up, go ahead and buy yourself the book, Rich Dad Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki. It’s a critical book to read to understand investing. If you have kids, there's a game you want to buy and it's called the CASHFLOW game. It will cost $79, it’s pretty expensive for a board game, but you've got kids in your house, sit down with them and make them do that game with you because they'll start to see the money as a finite source.
As parents right now, I must speak to all of you who are a medium or medium plus, and you young parents need to learn from us. The biggest mistake we have made is to swipe everything. Our kids don't understand that money is finite because they think we can swipe it all. When we were kids, there was cash and there were checkbooks. Renee, you probably remember when you were little too, you thought, “Mama, you can write a check,” because she had checks. You thought that indicated that you had money and your mother probably said to you, “That doesn't mean we have anything.” Those are tapping into an existing bucket.
As parents, we have to do a better job, and that game can teach you that. Spoiler alert, when you're teaching your kids about wise money habits, they're going to start to impact you, too, so you can have a scalable impact with your family as well as on yourself. It is fun family time that doesn't involve devices. When we were playing as a family, my daughter drawn the job of being a teacher, so she didn't make any money. She drew the card that says, “Take a friend out for coffee, pay $10.” She's like, “I don't want to pay $10.” I said, “Sister, you love going to Starbucks with your friends.” She's like, “But it's just.” There was a little light bulb that went on because she was realizing she had to fork the money over and it wasn't my money, it was hers. There was that beginning of understanding. Those are the first things I would tell you.
The most complicated concept I'll give you is what I go over with my agents. If somebody comes to me, I'm going to recommend four bank accounts. Go to your local bank for checking accounts. This is not a Bank of America or Wells Fargo thing, this is a First National Bank of my hometown thing. They'll open accounts for you and they won't charge you. I call it the 40, 30, 20, 10. Here's how that works. You get a commission check for $10,000 because we're going to do money that's easy to break up. Forty percent of that goes into the 40 account, so $4,000, that's your business account. That's what you have to spend on websites and signs and lockboxes and car expenses, online leads if you're dumb enough to buy them, personal notes and stamps, and all the things that go with your business. Thirty percent is your personal account, $3,000 goes there. That's your mortgage in your car, your fingernails, your pocketbooks, and whatever you want to spend it on.
That's less than the normal ratios that you see out there. I lived through the Great Recession and I am not going back again to the place where I was so panicked about paying my mortgage. I lived below my means. I drive a Ford. I'm not driving a Mercedes. I'm not driving a big, expensive, depreciating asset and stop it with the expensive leased cars. Twenty percent is my tax account, $2,000 goes right in there. I'm ready for quarterlies and I'm ready to pay the feds. Spoiler alert, you're going to have to pay your state DOR as well as the IRS. Always pay the state first because they're the ones that can shut down your privileged license. You can do a payment plan with the IRS, but not your state DOR. Ten percent is my tab account. That goes to the Lord because the first fruits belong to the Lord, and when you learn how to give a portion of what he's given to you back into his care, all of these other buckets will stay full. If you're not a believer, maybe that's your food pantry or your battered women's shelter or something where you can do some good in your community, but you have to be thinking in terms of abundance.
When you put your money into buckets where it's going to have to live a specific life, you're suddenly going to realize it's doable. You're not going to be overspending yourself every month. If you get into a pinch and you got to rob Peter to pay Paul, you've only got these four buckets to play with. When you get a call from the Little League that says, “Come sponsor my pumpkin's team.” Realtors love to say yes, “Yes, I'll sponsor everything.” It puts your name on all these places where it has no impact. You instead look at that 40 account and say, “I love you, but I'm out. My budget is accounted for.” They won't hate you, they'll say, “I'll try next year.” You'll say, “Call me next year.” If they send you a piece of business in the interim, you might say yes next time. If they do not, you can say, “That wouldn't have been a wise use of company dollars,” because you got to think about your dollars as company dollars.
This is the best thing you can ever do for yourself. Your money is wild, it's like a wild teenager. If you don't give it boundaries and you don't ground it when it misbehaves, it gets wilder and sneaks out after dark with a black leather motorcycle jacket on and a Marlboro hanging off, running out with the wild people in the world. Your money has to be given boundaries and kept under control so that it can grow and do great things, but have some boundaries so that it comes home. You're going to go pull your son and be like, “Don't be the wild teenager now.”
That's so simple but so much truth.
It’s got to be doable.
That's the thing, we can do it. It's not that we can't do it, there’s an impossibility because we get so locked in our habits and in taking care of everybody. I've got to take care of my agents, my sister, her kids and my kids, my husband, and my life. You got to take care of everybody, so then your money's running away. There's some guilt there for some things that we've done or ways that we spent in the past and then we don't want to address those issues. A lot to deal with our money is our money mindset issues around it because everything that you said is completely doable.
Our money comes from how you were raised. I grew up on a farm, we didn't have extra money. We got new clothes once a year, we didn't get Kool-Aid, we bought Flavor Aid if you remember the off-brand of Kool-Aid, and we would water it down to make it stretch. That's how I grew up. I have an innate fear of money. I'm always afraid that there's not enough. I have to deal with that psychological past that I have with money. For me, the way to deal with it is to get it under control and not let it control me. For too many of us, we had from our past experiences and then your fear controls you. Screw that, I'm too old to let fear control me and let anybody determine my destiny except for me. This is what you have to do. Figure out what you can control and do it right now. It doesn't have to be anything wild and crazy. I'm not suggesting that you go out and spend $4 million on apartments because you're not there yet, and that's fine, but you have to take the first step.
Once you take the first step, the second step is going to appear, then the third, and then you start developing revenue streams. We all know that to build a financially stable future, you cannot have just one revenue stream. You need to have seven, it’s the magic number. That's going to be a combination of passive and active income, then you get to make choices. You don't want life to make choices for you, that's not why we're in real estate. We're in real estate because we want some freedom. You've got to also acknowledge that to have freedom from the fear of money, you have to take charge.
Talking about the income streams. The one that I was going to talk about is The Richest Man in Babylon. This is the one that talks about the income streams, and it's so awesome that you mentioned that because these are foundational pieces.
What year was that written? Was that written in the ‘30s or something? It's an old book.
If you're a realtor, you need to be moving every few years and take advantage of the tax rules that benefit you.
Yes. The Richest Man in Babylon talks about having multiple streams of income and foundational pieces of information, you keep hearing them. Ladies, if you want to be successful, success leaves clues. Leigh is highly successful, which is why I know that I'm touting you as the end all be all. There are so many agents who are like you, who are fantastic, who have been in the business for twenty years or more who are doing this successfully. Also, who have multiple streams of income, who have read Rich Dad Poor Dad, who are teaching those foundational truths to their kids, so it's generational as we go through. We don't have to stress about retirement. There are steps that we can take to be successful as we retire. That brings me to one of my last questions for you. Let's say I can't do an apartment complex. I'm not big enough to be in a passive deal. Maybe I have to start with a small duplex, 1 or 2 of those that I can get my hands on. Is there room in those four accounts practically to start saving to invest in some properties?
There is. It's a matter of the choices that you make. We don't all make great financial choices. I’ll use Starbucks as an example because so many people go to Starbucks every day and spend $5 on their preferred blend. That adds up over time. There's a lot of financial gurus and you'll see them all over the internet. “That doesn't add up.” Yes, it does. If you look at that 40% account, that's your business account. If you're a new realtor, you might be spending every penny of that trying to get your business established. Building into growth space. I am in the maintenance space because my business is old and established, and if you want to know where that is, it's ten years in the business. Once you've been in for ten years, your phone will ring and you can choose to grow and continue investing in a bigger picture.