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Closing The Deal: A Broker's Journey To Securing His First Sale

When Oakland native William Waters, 32, was in his 20s, he thought he would have a long career in logistics. But he soon realized that it wasn't the best fit. He realized the work came with long hours and little flexibility, and he couldn’t travel as much as he would have liked. He started his own freight brokerage company, but he ended up calling it quits after not being able to make much of a profit.

Marcus & Millichap associate William Waters with his wife, Siulin

He wanted to be his own boss and found a new career. His mother had always encouraged him to get into real estate. He thought about quitting school and starting a career in residential real estate when he was in college, but wanted to finish his degree in business administration and focus on playing soccer at the collegiate level.

After his company was shuttered and with a nudge from his brother and a friend, he jumped into the commercial real estate industry in January 2017.

“Commercial real estate is a good marriage of my financial background and my entrepreneurial spirit,” said Waters, now an associate at Marcus & Millichap’s Oakland office.

Four weeks into his new career, his old boss called him offering him a job at the Port of Oakland with benefits. It was really tempting and could help pay off his debts, but Waters couldn’t be swayed. Sticking it out has paid off. He closed his first real estate deal in September: a $2.5M sale of a six-unit multifamily property in Berkeley.

“I feel great because I’ve gone through the turmoil of being offered these great positions with nice packages and choosing what is closest to heart to me, which is the freedom and entrepreneurial spirit to go after something that I want [rather] than abiding by someone else’s rules,” Waters said. “Since then I haven’t gone back.”

Marcus & Millichap associate William Waters and his mother, Gena

Getting into commercial real estate and becoming a prolific broker isn’t easy. Many first-time brokers wait more than a year for their first deal to close. That could mean a year without getting a solid paycheck since many work for commission.

“It is a challenge to recruit talented people. We do have a robust economy with a lot of sales jobs that pay and anything pays well in comparison to zero,” Marcus & Millichap Oakland Regional Manager David Nelson said.

For Waters, it meant a year of perseverance.

“I was racking up the credit cards to pay my phone,” Waters said. “Finally something comes through and such a weight has been lifted. I can enter the market with more clout.”

A Battle Of Perseverance

Marcus & Millichap associates Jarrod Senechal, William Waters and Max Kandel and writer/editor Jeffrey Fuchs in the back row with Regional Manager David Nelson and associate Timothy Richardson in the front row during an Oakland Athletics' game

Most people get into the industry because they have an entrepreneurial mindset and want to be in a job where they have the freedom to be their own bosses, said Nelson, who hired and trained Waters.

“If you make it, you can make a tremendous amount of money,” Nelson said. “For the right personality, it’s a fantastic job. You help clients create and preserve personal wealth and that can be really gratifying. And you are rewarded handsomely and can make a good living.”

Becoming a broker in an industry that relies on relationships can be hard for a new broker without relationships.

“The idea of coming in with no experience and no knowledge in the first place is daunting,” Nelson said.

Nelson, who has been in the business for 15 years, said the process hasn’t changed much since he started.

“For me personally it was the self-belief that I didn’t believe I would fail,” Nelson said. “I believed I would succeed.”

He is able to teach new agents about the process after having gone through it himself. Marcus & Millichap also offers an extensive training program for first-time brokers, who benefit from previously established relationships at the firm.

Because Marcus & Millichap has noncompeting managers, Nelson is able to truly mentor new agents instead of compete with them for deals in the marketplace. 

Getting That First Commission

Marcus & Millichap associate William Waters' first deal at 2629 Piedmont Ave. in Berkeley closed in September.

For Waters, patience and perseverance paid off. Waters ended up partnering with Marcus & Millichap Senior Managing Director Investments Jon A. Holmquist to sell a six-unit multifamily asset in Berkeley.

Before they could sell the property, they had to sell themselves. Gaining the exclusive rights to sell the asset was very competitive against several brokers that already had large footprints in the area, Waters said. 

“Jon had tons of background and credibility and I was offering hard work, grit and due diligence to do my best for them,” Waters said. “We had an amazing meeting and got to know them on a personal level.”

The owners ended up going with Marcus & Millichap.

“My son Tyler and I interviewed five different teams of commercial Realtors in preparing for listing my five-plus apartment complex in Berkeley,” building owner Nick Thurlow said in a testimonial statement. “We ended up choosing Jon and William, mostly because it seemed to us that they were the most professional team, by far.”

Waters said he hit the ground running and can’t even remember the number of phone calls he made during the process.

“It got scary for a couple of weeks when we didn’t have any offers, but we stayed with it,” he said.

Proposition 10, which would repeal a longtime law regulating rent control, has made the buyer pool really slim, Waters said. But the offers came, and Waters and Holmquist ended up selling the property, which is a block from UC Berkeley, to a Japanese investment firm for $2.5M in September.

Marcus & Millichap Oakland associate Paul Hicks, Oakland A’s mascot Stomper, Marcus & Millichap Oakland agent candidate Lawonna Matthews and associates William Waters, Max Kandel and Louis Kwok in the back row with Operations Manager Ariana Wynn, Public Relations Director Gina Relva and associate Brenda Goodrich in the front row during a company outing to the Oakland Coliseum

“I was thrilled ... because you just don't expect when it happens. It's totally random,” Waters said. 

He said closing his first deal has added another level of confidence about the deal process, what owners are concerned with when their property is on the market and how to manage client expectations.

“They were very good at moving the process along without disrupting my tenants and neighbors,” Thurlow said. “They were extremely efficient, and I think they ended up having three or four showings … before we had several offers to choose from, ending with a sale at full asking price.”

Nelson said watching Waters secure his first deal and succeed was part of why he became a manager.

“I’m proud that the process worked and that Will was the candidate I thought he was when I hired him,” Nelson said. “On a personal level, it’s extremely rewarding to see somebody begin to have success. Will is a great person.”

Marcus & Millichap Oakland associate William Waters with his uncle Ed, grandmother Helen, aunt Cynthia, cousin Teresa, brothers Stephen and Daniel and father, Steve

The next challenge for a young broker like Waters is to keep the momentum going, Nelson said.

“One of the biggest challenges new agents face is being able to leverage that first listing into more listings. It’s the process of not just getting one now, but repeating that two more times and three more times,” he said. “It takes a few years to get established.”

Waters is now working on some off-market deals. Many owners are holding their breath to find out what happens with Prop. 10 and prefer to stay off-market because it allows owners to better control the deal timeline, Waters said.

“Being able to learn what it takes to get to the closing table supplied me with more raw experience that you need to get to your next deal,” Waters said.

Despite the challenges that Waters will continue to face as he establishes himself in the industry, he plans to keep at it and encourages other newcomers to do the same.

“If you’re comfortable with being uncomfortable, this business is for you and you can make it. Just keep going,” Waters said.