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Origin Stories: Kimberly Stepp On Transitioning From Entertainment To A Career In CRE

This series delves into the myriad ways people enter the commercial real estate industry and what contributes to their success.

Kimberly Stepp is the principal and co-founder of Stepp Commercial, a multifamily brokerage firm. Her husband, Robert Stepp, is also co-founder. Stepp has worked in commercial real estate for over two decades, but prior to making a move into the field she planned for a career in entertainment.

Stepp received an associate degree from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and came to Los Angeles to pursue acting. Her background in entertainment prepared her for commercial real estate by giving her a high tolerance for rejection and familiarity with hard work, both of which helped her keep going during the earliest days of her career. 

Kimberly Stepp and her son on vacation.

Bisnow: How did you get introduced to CRE?  

Stepp: I grew up in South Florida and when I graduated from high school, I moved to New York City and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and worked on Broadway. In 1994, I booked a TV game show in Istanbul.

I eventually ended up in Los Angeles in 1997 to continue my career in entertainment. I worked on multiple films and TV. That industry is tough and one day, I had an argument with my agent and decided to try my hand at real estate. I signed up to get my real estate license at Fred Sands School of Real Estate thinking I could use my entertainment connections to sell homes.

Right after I started, a woman there told me that I needed to reach out to Darrell Levonian at Charles Dunn Co. in Westwood. I left him several messages before he finally called me back for a meeting. I showed up in a lime green suit and I had zero knowledge of commercial real estate. I sold myself and somehow I got the job.  

Bisnow: What was your first job in CRE?   

Stepp: In my interview at Charles Dunn, I asked what the pay was and Darrell told me it was commission only. Captivated by the office and impressive building I was in, I took the job, studied for my license, and went through the firm’s training program. For income, I worked as a bartender at night, living off that money as well as some residuals from my previous career in entertainment. It wasn’t until a year and a half of hard work later that I made my first sale, a six-unit apartment building in Marina del Rey. I made 25% of the gross commission and was motivated to keep going. 

Bisnow: What kind of education, certification or official training do you have in CRE? 

Stepp: Now, I have a California broker’s license and attend real estate seminars and multifamily forums for continuing education regularly. 

Bisnow: What is one skill you wish you had coming into CRE?  

Stepp: I wish I had more knowledge of Excel so I could use it when underwriting my own deals.

Kimberly Stepp with her family.

Bisnow: What were you doing before you got into CRE? If you changed careers, did you bring anything with you from your past career that has helped you thrive in CRE, or, on the flip side, anything you had to unlearn in order to succeed here? 

Stepp: Being in entertainment most of my life before falling into CRE, I was very familiar with rejection and hard work. I also had to get along with a diverse set of personalities — many of them were very demanding — in all parts of the industry. I think that going through what I did with the entertainment business really helped prepare me in the CRE world. I learned how to keep going despite a significant amount of rejection in order to attain my goals and realize success. 

Bisnow: Can you remember a moment where you felt in over your head or you worried this industry wasn’t for you?

Stepp: I think in the beginning when a new broker is working so much, conducting endless cold calls, and not making any money, the thought of quitting crosses your mind. The good thing is that I was able to look around me and surround myself with successful people who wanted to see me succeed as well. That, and my drive to make my first sale, kept me going. When things started happening, it was such a thrill. When I look back now, I know that all that hard work I put in early on paid off. 

Bisnow: What were your early impressions of the industry, good and bad? How has your impression changed?  

Stepp: I had no idea what to expect and it was exciting to challenge myself.  I was nervous but felt I was in a good place with the firm. 

Kimberly Stepp with her husband and Stepp Commercial co-founder, Robert.

Bisnow: Have you had a mentor or sponsor? How did that person shape your future in CRE?  

Stepp: I was fortunate enough to have Hamid Soroudi mentor me shortly after I started at Charles Dunn. He told me he was going to make me his partner and show me how to succeed in this highly competitive business. He was instrumental in my growth as a broker and was a great teacher, giving me actual lectures and quizzes on weekends and nights. We had opposite strengths and he was the top producer at the firm. I was extremely fortunate to have this advantage in the beginning of my career. 

I always highly recommend finding a mentor who is at the top of their game. Emulate what they are doing to find your own success. 

Bisnow: What is a key lesson someone taught you, either kindly or the hard way?

Stepp: Always be honest in deal-making. There is no downside to integrity.

Bisnow: What do you warn people about when they join the industry?  

Stepp: It takes very focused hard work to succeed in this industry. Working 80-hour weeks in the beginning is not uncommon and is all part of getting your business off the ground.

Bisnow: If you could do your career all over again, what would you change?  

Stepp: I would’ve perhaps started my own company sooner, but generally it all worked out. I enjoy the daily challenges of this profession and helping my clients build wealth.