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In the News

Sharon Emerson on Her Start in Commercial Real Estate

Sharon Emerson: The Lean Years

Sharon Emerson
Sharon Emerson, CEO, CCIM

As seen in the Nashville Business Journal

Author: Nevin Batiwalla, Staff Reporter

April 26, 2013

Sharon Emerson tripped and fell into the real estate world in 1996, when she was 31 and didn't know the first thing about selling or leasing commercial space.

Countless cold calls later, she's now [CEO of Momentum Commercial Real Estate Services]. Early on she learned it was a numbers game.

"The more cold calls you make, the more people you touch, the more listings or representations you got. You needed 50 or more contacts a week - and that was split between cold calls, telephone calls and letters."

Q: How did you break in? I was having dinner with Randy Wolcott, who had made the decision to move from CB Richard Ellis [now CBRE] and start his own company. I had started a little home business call Corporate Publishing Solutions, where I did logo design, letterhead, newsletters, etc. (the days before company assistants could do these things in-house) and I did Randy's new company logo. I also was looking to leave the insurance business - my full-time job - and get into pharmaceutical sales. When having dinner with Randy he "convinced" me not to go into pharmaceutical sales, but that I should go into industrial real estate.

Q: What was that first year like? Did you lose sleep over the uncertainty of getting a paycheck. How much did you make and how did you get by? Brutal. My first time to work on straight commissions and juggling money/expenses, etc., was painstaking. I lost a lot of sleep. The good news is, I was young - 32! Randy was kind enough to put me on a "commission draw" based on my pipeline. The only thing worse than being on commissions is seeing a paycheck with a negative balance - for months.

Q: Did you have a mentor or someone to show you the ropes? My only mentor was the boss, Randy Wolcott. But he was one of the top brokers in Nashville (for many consecutive years). He was a financial wizard and had a wealth of knowledge. We spent many hours in the car driving around properties and talking about the history of warehouses, how to get in front of people and to look for signs of need. Is the parking lot full? This might mean the tenant needs more space. Tractor trailers were getting longer in those days so we looked at truck turnaround radius and dock height and shelters. Older buildings had lower clear height; this made it hard to rack high. Does the tenant also own the building? The only way to find this out was to search property information sheets or go to the courthouse to find who owned the building. Then we didn't have Google to tell us who was in the building.

Q: What lessons did you draw from that first year? Time kills a deal. If someone has a need, you need to get on it and stay on it. You want to make money, you have to work your butt off. This isn't an eight-hour job, especially now with emails and texts. You never get away from business.

Q: What was your first deal that you can remember? I tried to go back to my pay stubs, but I think my first deal was Habitat for Humanity. It was an 1,800-square-foot deal.

Q: How have things changed in your industry since that first year? Technology. No Google maps. I had a map of Nashville; I circled areas and identified areas by sections. Then, I drove the area and listed all buildings and tenants in that section. Then I searched property information either online or [by] going down to the courthouse to identify who owned the building. If a particular building had a listing sign, I had to make a call to the listing broker to find out what the building was listing for and the details of the building. I then went back, looked at my map and list of tenants and, like the Concentration or Memory card game, I started matching tenants with available properties. There wasn't access to the LoopNets, Xceligents, CoStars and Google Maps of the world. And, imagine doing most of your calls by a landline; I couldn't afford a cell phone or inevitably my minutes ran out each month.

Q: Do you have any advice for someone thinking about breaking into the business? Talk to seasoned brokers but also talk to those who have only been in the business for one year or less. Both will have very different perspectives. Ask yourself if you want to be in a corporate environment or work for an independent company. Corporate companies can offer help with marketing, co-brokerage, corporate referrals (although they might not go to you first), administrative assistance, etc. But I think a smaller company offers a personal touch. Talk to both, understand what each offers, how you are paid, commission splits, etc. And ask yourself why you want to do this. Don't let it be just for the chance to make money. You have to love this to keep doing it.

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