Second Careers Are Sweeter

Many people find their way into real estate as a second career after realizing how much they love houses, people, and helping people with their home buying dreams and home selling goals. Melissa Chan, Broker/Owner of Help-U-Sell Alpha Paladins Realty in San Jose, California, is exactly that person. 

Melissa received her college degree in Canada, majoring in sociology and administrative studies. After many years working for IBM as a Purchasing Manager, Melissa found her position eliminated and she was downsized out of a job. While casting about for her next move, she was contacted by a friend who was an insurance agent. She began working full-time in the insurance business and procured her license to sell insurance. 

By selling insurance out of a pre-existing Help-U-Sell office, Melissa’s interest in real estate grew organically. Equipped with her own ample home buying and selling experiences, she began to quickly see the benefit of being well-versed in both real estate and insurance, and saw a good opportunity for not just a career, but for a business.

“My husband and I always enjoyed looking at open houses together. We have moved a couple of times, and I had a lot of relevant experience with the questions that came up. I like to talk to people, and I was happy to help with questions about home buying and selling. So I got my license in 2007 and became an Owner of Help-U-Sell Alpha Paladins Realty at that time,” she explained.

In order to have a broader, organic reach, Melissa still maintains her license to sell insurance and runs both businesses together. Melissa explains, “There is a lot of crossover from one business to the other. My insurance clients will usually have real estate questions and vice versa. When they are ready to move with the purchase or sale of a house, they are already thinking about me because I’ve been an ongoing, trusted resource.”

Since the pandemic, Melissa has been exploring other means of marketing to spread awareness of her business and started testing a different internet marketing program. “We already know more people than ever before are looking at their cell phones and computers for their home searches, so my partner and I wanted to try that out. I think it is important to experiment with new tools, partially because we’re in such uncertain times and not as many people are willing to list their home. We have ridden the wave of dramatic market shifts before, it just means we make bigger efforts to compensate for the phone ringing less than normal. However, the calls we are getting are more serious inquiries. I am using this time effectively by spending more time calling all of the leads we do have and checking in on past clients,” she added.

One of the other attractions of being a franchise owner for Melissa is the name recognition, branding,  and reputation Help-U-Sell Real Estate. “I believe the name of Help-U-Sell is important. People don’t always know me, but they have heard about Help-U-Sell before, especially here in California. Home sellers here are not afraid to comparison-shop, so the trusted name helps. I would say 70% of the time I make a listing presentation, I win the client. We get a lot of compliments and people are often impressed with our work.”

While California is a notoriously higher-end market, San Jose is particularly more expensive compared to some other California cities. Melissa elaborated, “We are in an incredibly tough market for first-time home buyers because single-family homes are generally in the $1-2 million-dollar range. It is simply out of the question for many potential buyers. Brand new, 1600 s.f. townhomes are going for $850,000, I am helping a friend buy one right now. Venture into the west San Jose market and you won’t find anything for under $2 million. We still have helped a lot of people, because I do everything I can from staging to taking pictures to hosting individual open houses.”

The Help-U-Sell Alpha Paladins Realty office has four people including her spouse, her business partner, and one agent. Although business has slowed down because of the shut down, Melissa’s office recently ranked in our Top Producers list, so her diligence is paying off. “I have been spending a lot of time with my mother since the quarantine, helping her with daily life. I’ve also recently learned to bake banana pecan (or walnut) bread, which I make while I am calling all my clients.” Sounds like a sweet way to run your business! 

For those interested, we convinced Melissa to share her newly perfected recipe below.

Banana Walnut/Pecan Bread Recipe


1)  1/3 cup sugar (or light brown sugar) – (you may increase the amount of sugar, but I prefer less to be healthier)

2)  1/3 cup unsalted stick butter (at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, best melted and cooled)

3)  1/2 teaspoon salt

4)  1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5)  2 large eggs

6)  3/4 to 1 cup whole wheat flour

7)  3/4 to 1 cup all purpose flour

8)  1/2 cup shelled walnuts or pecans coarsely chopped

9)  1 teaspoon baking soda

10)  3 to 4 large overripe bananas (use fork to mash)

11)  1 teaspoon olive oil

12)  1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon


1) Preheat Oven to 350 degree F and lightly grease your loaf pans (I use 2 of the 8’x4′ loaf pans), set aside

2) In a large bowl, combine sugar, butter and olive oil either with stand or hand-held electric mixer fitted with a wire whisk or hand mixed with a rubber spatula

3) Add the 2 eggs, one at a time, beat well after each addition, set aside

4) Mash all 3 bananas in a separate bowl by using a fork, then add vanilla extract, hand mix well with the spatula

5) Add above 4) to the number 2) a large bowl, mix well either with the electric mixer or hand mix with the spatula

6) Get a separate large bowl, combine the whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon, hand mix well with a spatula

7) Combine number 6) to the original large bowl until no flour pockets remain, either mix well with the electric mixer or hand mix with the spatula (no need to overly blend)

8) Fold in the walnuts or pecans with the spatula

9)  Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pans

10) Bake from 50 to 60 min at 350 degree F (A toothpick inserted into the bread will turn out clean when the bread is done)

11) Cool in the pan for about 10 min before turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing

Work, Persevere, and Shine

John Metcalf, Broker/Owner of Help-U-Sell Inland Valley in Lake Elsinore, CA, began his real estate career in 1989, becoming versed in residential and commercial real estate, business opportunity sales, and brokerage management.

Equipped with a strong sales and entrepreneurial spirit, John has owned and operated several small businesses prior to real estate. Ranging from sales of home security systems and home theaters, to children’s clothing, a laundromat, and even a post office, John eventually settled into real estate.

“In the past I would buy a business, build it up, and sell it. My wife, Cerita, got her real estate license and started working with a traditional real estate company. I’ve always liked sales and have always been selling,” John said. “It occurred to me that real estate commissions were far greater than alarm company commissions, and I wanted to be involved. Cerita was already experienced, so I became licensed so we could get into business together.”

After spending several years in the traditional real estate model business, John and Cerita noticed the market was changing from the consumer standpoint.

John explained, “The 6% commission was being heavily questioned, especially in a high real estate market like California. What value were they were getting for 6%? Brokers and agents were competing over lowering commissions, and it seemed like a race to the bottom. Consumers sought another solution to selling. It was getting harder to stay competitive.”

They researched alternative business options. He shared, “We wanted to get ahead of the game. Help-U-Sell started in Orange County, which was a primary reason we chose it; People know and remember the brand here. We often hear folks say they sold with Help-U-Sell 20 years ago, and they seek us out again when they are selling the next house. That sort of name recognition has made it easier to obtain new business. The brand name sticks because people remember the savings.”

While there are misconceptions about a set-fee business model, John is quick to set people right. “Help-U-Sell looks like full service – because it is. We’ve been offering full service with a set-fee for two years now. Our office is comprised of Cerita and I, plus one agent. We plan to bring on one more new agent in the coming year. Last year we closed 26 sides. We set our goal for this year to 30 and we’ve changed some tactics that bring in new leads and business.”

John further elaborated, “When you explain to clients that the set fee is not a catch, we always get a great reception. We recently put our office in a storefront that is busy with lots of organic foot traffic. Having a storefront is huge for us. It is by far the best and smartest thing we’ve done and we did it completely on a leap of faith. We amplify this by offering notary services, and we have people’s undivided attention when we are helping them. We’re number one on Google searches for notaries in our area, and that links to our website, too. One thing that is priceless: the expressions on people’s faces when they learn about the set fee. ‘You sell homes for $6,000?’.  We know they will be back. We’re not in competition with the companies that list for 1%. We know their services can’t come close to ours. No one else does what we are doing.”

John also utilizes the OMS platform that is a part of the Help-U-Sell system. “We make sure to do the Center of Influence postcard mailings every month. We are in constant contact with our clients in one form or another.” Leads also come from working in the community and being involved with groups like the Women’s Club, and volunteering for cancer walks or cleft palate repair organizations. John is also known for being a reserve firefighter for 20 years. 

California can be tenuous and not just for real estate. John said, “When we bought the franchise, the market had shifted. It was very strange year with nature: between brush fires and the worst rains we’ve had in 25 years – there were at least eight evacuations. Residents have been through quite a lot, but will always be buying and selling homes. When the market is down, it’s actually an advantage for serious brokers and agents, because everyone else is a part-time real estate agent. Those folks don’t know how to handle a soft market. The upside of terrible environmental circumstances is a mass exodus of agents. People who know how to work continue to persevere and shine.” 

The housing market covers a broad spectrum. “This is an affordable area. People with young families can get a house for about $380,000. Prices have increased a lot over the last 10 years and jobs in San Diego and Orange County are not as attractive as they once were, but it’s still a great option,” he said. “There is more inventory today than there was a year ago. Average time on the market is about 70 days and that’s healthy! “

When not selling houses, John and Cerita spend time with their five grandkids, and enjoy boating off the river, and scuba diving. “When I learned about Help-U-Sell Real Estate, I believed the platform was the wave of the future. I think it is still ahead of the game. We made a great choice.”

“People Appreciate What We Do”

Kurt Steffian, Broker/Owner of Help-U-Sell Coast and Valley in Santa Ana, California, spent several years of his career in corporate finance for a Fortune 500 Company before making a change to real estate.  

“I provided lease financing to corporate America, supporting their IT departments’ equipment financing requirements, assisting mostly CFOs and CIOs. I always realized that ‘Corporate America’ doesn’t care about you.  As I grew older, I became open-minded to other possibilities of making money, but with a focus on life balance and being happy. I realized I could do something else and wanted to choose the next chapter wisely,” Kurt said.

He added, “I was initially attracted to real estate because I love working with people; that is enjoyable to me. I started out at a big brokerage with over 1000 agents. There were immediately noticeable drawbacks to being in a larger, faceless company and little help available for a person learning the real estate industry. Of course, I took classes. I once asked my manager questions, and he replied, ‘Why did I hire you?’ and walked away. I stayed there for two years, but it wasn’t an ideal experience.”

Having developed a love of real estate despite the “big broker” experience and wanting to be on his own, Kurt researched alternatives with the intention of purchasing a franchise. “Believing in the service you are providing is the most important tool to the sales representative. All of the real estate franchises offered the same model. I was searching for a customer experience I truly believed in and wanted to offer to the consumer. As if by fate, I ran into the Help-U-Sell Real Estate booth at a National Association of Realtors convention. I immediately understood the vision and value proposition. Help-U-Sell made sense to me!” Kurt exclaimed.

He continued, “For starters, I like that you can run this business lean. Since I previously worked for large brokers, I know how scattered and impersonal it can be firsthand. With every client, I always know where they are in the process because I handle the process from start to finish.”

“Secondly, we are unique compared to traditional brokerages. This business model makes sense to clients. When people call to inquire, they usually decide to move forward with Help-U-Sell over the phone. That’s due to the fact that we are ‘the best value in real estate’, and I offer an unconditional satisfaction guarantee. If they can find anyone who would do a better job, they are free to cancel the listing contract at any time prior to us selling their home. We are a full service brokerage, the same as any other Realtor. Our clients quickly learn our services are not standard, because we offer more for less. Every listing gets a custom URL and web site, additionally we use Matterport technology for state-of-the-art photos and videos. We host open houses and broker previews, and are always open to suggestions for additional marketing. We offer a total commitment to the client in support of our unconditional satisfaction guarantee,” he said.

“Finally, Help-U-Sell reduces the time I spend on my marketing efforts for expired and FSBO listings. The programs within our platform are easy to set-up and implement. The marketing is superior and there is a lot of brand recognition, especially here in California where our office representation is very high,” Kurt added.

To keep the business top-of-mind in his community, Kurt has strong relationships with professionals in other industries with a mutual interest. He elaborated, “I actively cultivate relationships with probate attorneys and divorce attorneys, and get a steady stream of referrals. They refer to us because everyone likes saving money, and we make them look good by offering their clients the best value and superior service during what is likely a trying time. Saving your clients money is never a bad thing, especially in California where much of the state is in a higher-priced market and they would stand to lose a lot of money from a 6% commission traditional sale.” 

Considering the Southern California market, he further clarified, “You commonly see properties sell from $400,000 to $700,000, which is a huge range. Inventory is a little tight right now, and you will see a two bedroom condo list for $700,000. Consumers are getting wise to a smart choice: pay an arbitrary percentage for commission, versus paying for services that are actually being rendered. We listen to the client and tailor ourselves to the consumer need. Our competitive advantage is obvious and the value proposition is clear to home sellers. People appreciate what we do. Meanwhile, we’re getting the job done and still making a profit. Help-U-Sell is the future of real estate.”

Michelle and Kurt Steffian

Kurt is hoping to close 50 transactions this year. “My goal is to complete a deal every week. However, I also have other priorities and being happy is one of them. I have a great family life and spend as much time as I can with my wife and children.”

“I do not understand the word ‘can’t’”

Roberta (Bobbi) Pickens, Broker/Owner of Help-U-Sell Treasure Coast in Hobe Sound, FL, is used to blazing her own trail. She learned how to stand tall early in her career in industries once dominated by men like medical equipment sales and oil/gas refinement. “There were no women in sales in either industry, so making headway was a challenge. But I was a tough cookie, and learned to handle myself with confidence. Men and women bring different skills to workplace, so I needed to play on those strengths. I was quickly a top saleswoman in these industries and promoted to regional management positions,” Bobbi said.

During tough times she branched out, sharing “I got into real estate because the oil industry is cyclical. We were in a down cycle and facing layoffs. There were no budgets for new refining equipment, or research and development. With a son in college, I needed something else to do. So I trained for my real estate license, worked for a small builder in Chicago and enjoyed it. I moved to Arizona, and got my license there. I researched possible franchises opportunities and found Help-U-Sell and John Powell (coach, long-time corporate executive, and franchise owner). I met with him to review what I wanted and liked, asked tough questions and got John’s ‘always straight’ answers.”  

Based on that meeting, Bobbi purchased a franchise in Hobe Sound on the east coast of Florida and opened Help-U-Sell Treasure Coast office in June of 2004. “The market was thriving and my business was doing great. Then cue the hurricanes! First came Frances, followed by Jeanne, both were direct hits and eight weeks apart.  That was a crazy time, as there hadn’t been any hurricane activity in this area for over 50 years. We were hit hard. There were a ton of blue roofs everywhere, so many houses were covered in tarps. People wanted to view and buy the properties, but we couldn’t show them. I switched to selling lots in a partnership with a developer during this long recovery period. When the market was good, Help-U-Sell was well received as the new kid on the block. When the market crashed I had to let the franchise go. Homes just were not selling. I kept busy on a smaller scale, selling real estate for friends and their relatives, and making sure people in difficult situations got the right help by doing a lot of short sales,” she explained.

In 2016, the Help-U-Sell Corporate Office reached out to previous owners, inviting them to come back and Bobbi happily returned. She said, “It was a great time to re-open. I wouldn’t want to be doing this as an independent in this market. Business picked up nicely this year, and doubled over last year. I hired a licensed assistant, Samantha (referred to as Saint Sam), who handles administrative details and is the buyers’ agent as we build the business. I recently sold all my inventory, but we have six or seven listings coming up, so the pipeline is nicely filled. I’ve been getting buyer leads tied to my Facebook advertising. I just didn’t have time for them, which is why I got help.”

The market has a wide margin of housing prices in Martin County versus Port St Lucie, where buyers have choices and flexibility. Bobbi stated, “In Martin County, you’re looking at a lot of waterfront and high-end properties that can go as high as $28 million. There’s not nearly enough housing in the lower price markets. We are seeing properties in all price ranges: one came in at $1.7 million and the newest is at $180,000. People from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and the Northeast are selling their homes for $500,000 or more, coming here and buying a $300,000 -$400,000 home here instead. We are attractive to home sellers with the middle ground and above average values because the savings really stands out for them. Port St Lucie offers bigger homes for the price and it’s easier to find buyers homes within their budget that they will love. “

“Living Magazine” ad example

After the recession, many people moved out of state. Creating exposure was a priority for Bobbi. She explained, “I took a shotgun approach. I had my mobile office wrapped immediately and that gets a lot of attention. I advertise in the coupon books called ‘Living Magazine,’ they go to every mailbox two times monthly in both counties.  The half page ad explains what we do and what a seller gets. The full page ad has the listings and ‘just solds’. Sellers like seeing their home in the ad. When people call from the half page ad, they usually just ask us to come out. It rarely takes more than 3 minutes to get the listing appointment.”

Mobile office…wrapped!

Elaborating further, she said, “The market is changing constantly so you expect the ups and downs and you need a reason to be. Because this isn’t a big market, people need to see how busy you are. I don’t do flashy ads, just a straight-forward, matter-of-fact approach because there is no con. When I come to a listing appointment after a competitor, I always ask what they are getting for those extra thousands of dollars. That usually seals it in our favor.”

It has been a challenging year for Bobbi. Her longtime partner, Phil, suffered a stroke after open heart surgery in February. As the caregiver, she oversees his therapies and doctor appointments but reports he is progressing nicely. Additionally, her mom died in June and she is the Executor of her estate. “In honor of my mother’s passing, I sponsored the first two sessions of a new program with Love and Hope In Action. A friend is teaching culinary job skills for their homeless clients at LAHIA, so they can be re-enter the workforce in the food service industry. We live in a great community and I love that so many people are committed to improving the lives of others. I plan to have them cater some events planned for the office.” 

People persevering also aptly describes Bobbi: “Whatever’s going on, I can handle it. I concentrate on what needs to get done, put my head down, and do it. I do not understand the word ‘can’t’, but I have learned to say ‘no’ to listings that are unreasonable and refer to the ‘Realtor’s Serenity Prayer’ [God grant me the serenity to accept the listings I can sell, the courage to refuse the listings I cannot; and the wisdom to know the difference]. I really enjoy helping my sellers through the journey of selling their homes. Everyone has a story.  I love disrupting the marketplace. Thank you Help-U-Sell. I love this model and I’m glad to be home.”

Ahead of the Curve

Not quite a year ago, Jeff Hedberg of Help-U-Sell Real Estate Masters opened his office in Port Huron, Michigan, but he did so with decades of real estate experience before opting for the set-fee business model Help-U-Sell created. Jeff chose real estate early, he was only 21 years old. “I won a sales contest in college, in a class that was taught by a broker, and the door to real estate opened for me,” Jeff remembered.

In 2013, it was time for reinvention. “I had the largest office in St. Clair County, and at one point I had 40 full-time agents. I loved working in this area, but I wanted to live in Florida. So my family moved and got settled, while I planned on setting up a real estate office there. The call of family brought us back to Michigan sooner than anticipated. I sold my previous business to a competitor, and had to wait out a non-compete clause,” he said.  

This time around, Jeff wanted to do real estate in a different way. He continued, “I think the industry has been broken for a while and brokers have gotten away with overcharging people for a long time. I started checking into Help-U-Sell, partially because I wanted the brand recognition and I liked the model, and didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. Once situated, we just started with word of mouth publicity.”

An important element of success for Jeff is having associates with the same commitment to serving clients. He added, “They share that sense of loyalty and drive to do right by our clients. Whenever I meet with a potential new agent, I ask, ‘Do you believe you are worth 6%? Do you believe the industry is going to change?’ I have three agents with me, two of whom are experienced, and one is just starting out. I don’t do co-listings; I currently have 21 listings myself, with many more in the pipeline. At a minimum, I’m anticipating 50 units for the year, and I will achieve that. I am currently number two in closed units in my county and number five in overall sales and listing volume.”

While pricing and inventory are common obstacles in many markets, Port Huron is more nuanced. Jeff explained, “The challenge for us is that Port Huron is a 180-degree market. There is a river here that separates the United States from Canada. The median house price is $175,000 but it can commonly be as modest as $118,000, when compared to prices in Venice, Florida, where I just moved back from; Houses there average about $280,000. We see a lot of first-time buyers. I’ve already saved people over $128,000 in commissions in my first seven months. I am confident we can capture 30% market share in three to five years.”

Building a business takes time, but Jeff is confident sellers will catch on quickly. “I’m not short-term focused. I have not yet captured the volume I know I’m capable of achieving. When my business was here originally, I had 33% of the market share and closed $110 million in volume. After the economy crashed, the business model changed and there was a definite shift in expectations from the consumer standpoint. Home sellers wanted full service brokers at a reasonable rate. Consumers are putting pressure on the 5-6% model, and this is a fair way to do it. It’s hard to argue with that,” he stated. 

“What I like right now is knowing I am ahead of the curve, and that I will be competitive in advance of other brokers in this area. They are fighting the change. I’m here now and the race will be won in two or three years. Not offering a low set-fee is greedy and short-sighted. We can easily give people what they want once we have their attention.”

To get that consumer attention, Jeff has changed his old marketing practices also. He continued, “There was a time when I was paying for five full pages of newspaper advertising every week, but now I’m taking a different approach. I often use the ‘just listed’ and ‘just sold’ postcards from Excel printing. I made a heavy investment in signage, and it’s worth it because people tell me they see my signs everywhere. Client testimonials drive traffic back to my website and create a lot of viewings. I am also fond of the ‘good, better, best’ brochure. Nothing quite illustrates our offering as succinctly as that.”

Part of great marketing is having the presentation down. “I have perfected my elevator pitch, and have developed several tailored versions which shows the traditional fees, and people saving two or three times the amount using our services versus a competitor. When I am in front of a client, I don’t lose the listing. Sometimes home sellers will get guilted into using a friend or family member who dabbles in real estate part-time. The question I always ask those folks is ‘If this person is a friend, why are they not charging you a friendly fee?’ The savvy seller wants to save money,” he said. 

Subject to many influences, real estate can sometimes be a precarious industry, which Jeff anticipates. He said, “There are always highs and lows. When times are tough, I do what I’ve always done and more. I pray, and make it a point to give more than I take. To the victor goes the spoils.”

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