Teri Gevinson

Launching a real-estate career from Mommy&Me

 

Key takeaway: Never give up, even when you fail. That’s often when new opportunities present themselves

Top 5% in the world at: Sales

Teri Gevinson has left her mark on Florida real estate, and it all started with Mommy&Me classes. Not only did she start both her own real estate and land development companies, but she was also awarded Coldwell Banker’s President’s Award in 2002 for selling the most properties in the state of Florida. Now, she uses both her people and real estate skills as the Co-Founder and VP of Client Development at RAS Legal Group, where she helps bring in clients for the real estate-focused law firm. Despite her success, Teri admits that she wasn’t the most dedicated student in high school. Here, she shares how she first became interested in real estate, the challenges she faced throughout her career, and why she never gives up.
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How She Did it

I worked so hard later in life because I didn't work hard when I was young. I went to the best prep school in the area, but I had no interest in education. I didn't take advantage of all the opportunities that I had. I don't know why, and that is something that I still regret. But when I was in college, I think I finally figured it out.

My first year, I went to this really small school you’ve probably never heard of and didn’t do well. My dad said, “We’re done,” so I came back to Arizona and did one year of community college to get accepted to Arizona State University (ASU). Then, I started working really hard and got straight A's the rest of the time.

In college, what did you want to do for a career?
I thought I was going to be a reporter. I worked at The Arizona Republic, which was a big deal because I had my own column starting my sophomore year. I covered all the sports teams every week. I also wrote a front-page story called "A Day in the Life of Fife" about the governor of Arizona at the time. Having that out there helped me get a job. I loved the whole private investigation part of journalism, digging into things, which I think is one of my strengths in my job now.

How did you get this job?
My dad had a friend who was the President of the Jewish Federation and he was able to get me an interview.

I was the Missions Director for the missions to Israel. I loved that job. It was an amazing experience for me to meet all these community members and use skills that I had learned in college. I had been a part of this community, so I had a connection there. But... I was making no money. I knew it wasn’t something that I could do forever.

Why study social work?
Honestly, it gave me an opportunity to feel better about my degree and having a more advanced one at a better school. My parents always stressed the importance of getting as much education as you possibly can. The Jewish Federation offered to send me for 3 summers and in just that time, I could have a Masters. I never practiced social work, but in many ways, being a realtor has similarities to social work. Some of the skills involved in social work apply to working with people in real estate. Buying a house is usually the biggest investment that someone has made up to that point, unless they're older and downsizing or getting divorced. I think that having the social work angle was why I was able to do so well; everyone knew they could count on me.

Why real estate?
When my husband and I moved into our house, I looked at the closing statement and was shocked to see how much money our realtor made. I said to my husband, “He’s making as much as I make in a year. I need to do this.”

How did you become the top selling realtor in South Florida?
Purchasing a home is often someone’s biggest investment; it’s the most money they've ever spent on something in a short 3-6 week timeframe. I gained loyalty from my clients by being available every second, 24/7. I knew every single house on the market in my entire city, so there was no reason to go to somebody else. There was nobody better.

How did you find clients?
When I first started, I was able to have a great relationship with both of my children. How? When they were babies, that was how I ended up getting a lot of my clients. I thought it was going to be from the Jewish Federation, from donors that I knew. But it was the Mommy & Me classes! I would meet everybody in those classes, and would end up selling them houses. They were all in the same stage of life when it came to needing to buy a house.

Challenges faced?
The biggest challenge was learning how to say “no”. My husband and I would book a cruise and I would have to cancel because if I was working with a client and I left town, they would go with somebody else. How could I walk away from a sale? The challenge was figuring out how to have a life.

Boca Best Realty was then acquired by Coldwell Banker in 1999, but part of the deal was that it wouldn't be different. I got them to agree to let me operate it as if it were still my own company. They were just getting a piece of it.

Why did you decide to sell your company?
I wanted to do foreclosures. The whole world thinks if you're buying a foreclosure, it's a great deal. And they sell immediately. Their main guy would come with me to California and I would be the Coldwell Banker Rep and work with bank-owned real estate. This gave me access to bigger banks.

In 2002, I got in a really bad accident that made me blind on one eye. It immediately stopped my career. Total standstill. How could I possibly go out with clients knowing that I couldn't look them in the eye because I had to wear these crazy sunglasses? I felt like I needed to tell everybody that I was blind in one eye. When I would drive clients around to see houses, I worried that they’d wonder if I was going to get into an accident even though I was absolutely allowed to drive. I wasn't comfortable with clients, and I never did that type of work again after the accident.

Why did you start Ascot Development?
My partner, Garrett, and I saw an article about how there would only be one commercial center allowed in this area in Delray. It looked like it was going to be immediately populated, so we tried to get one of the corners. We worked on it for a year and we won. So we had this shopping center that we owned, called the Delray Marketplace.

We went through that process and realized that it was so hard to get anything approved. So we thought, what if we go looking for big pieces of land? It’s the exact same procedure, but you can get a thousand acres at a time instead of one shopping center. We went and did that in Jacksonville, Fort Myers, everywhere.

What impact did the market crash in 2008 have on your career?
It was a huge hit. We were supposed to close on a second piece of property. They called us up and told us that the market was changing and that they wanted to pay us $20 million less. My partners said yes, but I said no because I didn’t believe them. And guess what? We wound up getting nothing. The market literally changed overnight.

I wanted to move to Maryland to get out of here. I was embarrassed. My husband said, “We’re not running away. We can get through this.”

My partner, Garrett, and I are involved with the clients of the law firm. We have nothing to do with the legal aspects, but we bring all of the clients into the firm. I’m amazing at finding the business and putting together an email to get us an appointment. Then Garrett brings it home. We're a great tag team. It's all about finding a team that works well together.

Did you feel frightened that something like the market crash would happen again in your career? I will never make that type of mistake again. Now, I’m at the other extreme. I’m the first person not to take a chance like that ever again. There's probably a happy medium, and I probably make everybody crazy whenever anything happens now because of that. You have to measure risk and I didn't measure it; I took too many chances.

Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
Hopefully retired and giving back to the community more. I think I'll be very involved in all the different organizations that I'm involved with now.

Advice for your career launch

Never give up
My favorite quote ever is from Winston Churchill:  “Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.” I did want to give up at that point in the market crisis. I wanted to move to Maryland and get out of Florida. When you fail, you think it's over. Nobody could believe what I had accomplished at 32, but then at 38 to have it all taken away was terrifying. I kept thinking about Winston Churchill's quote. And it's true, you can’t give up. I knew I wanted to give my kids the same life that I had, but better.

Listen
You don't have to have all the answers and when you don't know something, admit it. You can't know everything in your 20s, and you don't know a lot in your 30s either.

Join local organizations
Find somebody with experience in your area, a mentor or someone to work with who’s going to bring things to the table that you don't have yet because you’re young. Join the organizations that are available to young people. I think it’s really important to get involved in as many as possible: the Better Business Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, Junior League. It’s a great way to get business, gain credibility, and make amazing contacts.

Never let a man tell you that you can't do something
Never, ever let yourself think you can't do something because you're female. When I was starting out, I thought I needed a man to go with me to the banks. You would never need that today. At the same time, it’s important to have a man involved in your business. By having a mixture, your team can bring different things to the table.

Surround yourself with people who are different
I could never work with three Teri’s. Be a team player. When you go to a company and join a team, don't show-up everybody else because those are the people big companies want to get rid of first. Everybody else is either just as smart or smarter than you, and that is the mindset you need to have going into the job.