From loans to luxury: How this lender-turned-broker took his team to $50 million in a premium real estate market

Mindset & Motivation
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After over a decade in the lending industry, Sergio Gonzalez was burnt out. 

“We had moved up to Santa Barbara, but most of my business was in L.A.,” he explains. “So I was driving back and forth, spending hours and hours on the road. And I just said, you know what? My life is in Santa Barbara, and I wanted to spend more time with the family.”

He was already familiar with the lending side of real estate — loan underwriting, rebutting appraisals, and all the other things that happen behind the scenes. So when it came to pivoting the career path, getting his real estate license seemed like a great way to slow down and start over. 

At least, that was his theory. 

“Coming from the lending space, we were like, ‘Oh, Realtors don’t know how to keep a deal together. They don’t know what it takes to close this deal. All they do is open a door!’” he recalls.

But if Sergio had some misconceptions about real estate agents, it’s not totally his fault. 

“There’s always this contentious relationship between lenders and Realtors, right?” he says. “Who’s smarter? Who knows more? Who’s working harder? Who’s making the deal happen?”

It’s safe to say he’s changed his tune. 

“Making that transition into being a real estate agent, I definitely got punched in the face big time,” he admits. 
It may have been a rough transition, but it has certainly paid off. Now a licensed broker, Sergio heads up his own luxury real estate firm, SG Associates, which ranks #1 in their market. Here’s the story of how Sergio leads with vision, executes with finesse, and makes things happen.

Table of contents

  • First you learn, then you lead
  • 3 keys to success at any stage in the real estate game
  • From open houses to online leads (pretty much overnight)
  • Finding the fast track to growth
  • Making it happen

Watch the full interview with Sergio Gonzalez below!

First you learn, then you lead

When he walked through the doors on his first day as a real estate agent, Sergio quickly realized he needed some help… and he wasn’t going to get it from the other agents on his team. 

“You’re a competitor to literally everybody within the brokerage,” he says. “There’s no ‘kumbaya’ welcome. You can’t just walk in and say, ‘Hey, can you show me your listing presentation? Can you walk me through your farming and how you started? No one wants to give you the inside scoop on how that works.” 

He knew he needed some coaching, so he joined Tom Ferry. “That really set the pace for me in that first year,” he says. 

Reimagining real estate in the 805

After a few years in the biz, Sergio realized he didn’t need to be with a big box company to be successful. 

“I learned that the marketplace didn’t really care what company I was associated with, what sign went up, or how many listings were done by the company,” he says. 

“The value proposition really had to come from me and how I was able to articulate it in a way that built rapport, built certainty, built trust… which then built into transactions.”

So he decided to take a chance to prove his theory: “I said, ‘I’m gonna start a company that no one has heard of, let alone an agent that they’ve heard of.”

He moved his family to Westlake Village, founded SG Associates alongside his wife, Galen; and went to work combining innovative marketing strategies with white-glove service for luxury real estate clients.

By year three, Sergio and his team were seeing hockey-stick growth. 🤘🏼

Now in year five, SG Associates has grown to 11 team members and is the #1 selling real estate team in Westlake Village, CA. And things are only getting bigger and better. 

The SG Associates team makes it a priority to be present and involved in their community.

3 keys to success at any stage in the real estate game

In his time leading a team, Sergio has learned some crucial lessons about the value of time, hard work, and vision. But you don’t have to be a team leader or broker to turn his lessons-learned into big wins. Here are his big three:

1. Don’t waste your most precious asset

Sergio’s not afraid to put in the work — but he’s also not going to waste time perfecting a system that someone else has already perfected. Whether it’s finding a coach or hiring someone with a specific skill set, he believes in getting help when you need it. 

“If somebody out there has the systems, the playbooks… I’m a big proponent of paying them for it,” he says. “And you don’t want to wait too long, ‘cause you’re only stunting your growth and progression.”

As a leader, he knows it can be tough — especially when you want to grow fast.

“You’ve got to have that paradigm shift in your mind that as you want to grow, you have to give things up,” he explains. “You’re giving up money for time. You’re giving up transactions for time. And once you start realizing that time is your most valuable asset, you really start making that shift to, ‘Hey, I can just pay somebody to do this and not have to be in the mix every single time.’”

2. Invest in your vision

Part of Sergio’s success has been his ability to see what no one else is seeing — and do what no one else is doing

His area was home to some of the world’s most distinguished properties. But whenever one of them hit the market, it got the same standard marketing treatment as any other property. 

“I knew there had to be a better way to market luxury homes,” he explains. 

Not all agents have the resources at hand to deliver the custom marketing treatment exceptional homes deserve. So he decided to build his own in-house team of marketing superstars. 

“I found the best videographers, website designers, content creators, and print designers,” he shares. “I found the right people and put them in the right seats to execute my vision.”

As a result, his agents have access to a full suite of creative resources, enabling them to develop unique marketing strategies for every property. 

“We came out strong with cutting-edge marketing,” he says. “And it was expensive, but it was well worth it.”

 Sergio co-hosts a podcast, The 805 Life, that discusses “the truths and myths of real estate in the 805 and beyond.

3. Pick your hard

Getting a team aligned around shared goals and processes is hard work, but Sergio doesn’t shy away from ‘hard.’ In fact, he tackles it head-on with his people. 

“I had a ‘come to Jesus’ with them,” he explains. “Like, ‘If you guys want to succeed, this is what it’s going to take, and here’s what needs to happen. And it’s not going to be easy. You’re not going to like it. You’re going to be uncomfortable. You’re going to fail. You’re going to get punched in the face. I’m gonna tell you you suck. But it’s going to be a matter of how many times you can get punched and get back up and, like Rocky says, keep going forward, right?”

It’s safe to say Sergio doesn’t pull his punches. But he has good reason for it. 

“I don’t sugar coat it. You’re probably going to think I’m mean, or that I’m the worst leader ever,” he admits. “But at the end of the day, it’s always going to be hard. It’s hard converting leads. It’s hard closing deals because you have multiple offers. Well, it’s hard being broke too. So, pick your hard.”

From open houses to online leads (pretty much overnight)

“Over the last five years, we’ve been killing it with the open house game,” Sergio explains. “I’d have four or five open houses going on every weekend, so we were meeting buyers on the daily. We’ve never had to buy online leads!”

That all changed dramatically when the pandemic hit and open houses went out the door. Sergio knew he needed to shift his strategy and systems fast

“I never had to have the systems or the spend or the dialogue skills to convert online leads,” he says. “So I had to quickly sign up for all these lead sources. I had to quickly make sure that I got Follow Up Boss integrated in and get all the tags and the conversion and systems in place.”

Ditching the project management system for seamless lead tracking

As an individual, Sergio had relied on a project management system for tracking leads. But once he started building a team, he knew he needed more. “I want them to be able to track their numbers and have everybody be accountable,” he says. So they switched over to Sisu — which integrates with Follow Up Boss. 

“Now, literally everything is talking to each other seamlessly, which we haven’t had in the last four years,” he says. 

With a fully integrated system, Sergio has clear visibility into all the team’s lead sources

“We definitely want to track exactly where the leads are coming from and what marketing efforts were involved,” he says. “If it’s a mailer, it has a specific call-to-action phone number. If it’s an online lead, it has a specific phone number. If it’s my open house sign or a for sale sign, it has a specific phone number to it.”

Empowering the team with new skills

But Sergio also needed to help his team switch gears.

“The next thing was to quickly make sure we’re having the right dialogue. What are we saying to leads to get them to engage via text, email, phone, video, whatever it may be. How quickly can we get the skills?”

Daily training is now a top priority. “We have a 9:00 am role-play with the team, going over online conversations and objections, because most of the leads that we are doing are through Ylopo or through that service. So they’re very top-of-funnel.”

In addition to training his team on the new systems and skills, Sergio has hired not one, but two  ISAs.

“I’ve got one ISA that makes outbound calls to FSBO, expireds, probates, circle dial,” he explains. “The other is focused on following up with online buyer leads.” 

Getting to ‘all systems GO!’

As for Sergio himself, “I spend a lot of time checking in on our systems, making sure the system is helping everyone do their job more effectively, because we’re still in the process of ratcheting up,” he says. “It’s really just fine-tuning to the highest level that we could possibly get to at this moment so we can turn it up even more.”

He’s also deep into their data. “I get the data I need in my reports so that I know where I need to help — how many dials, conversations, contacts, appointments. We also track the average talk time so we can see if the talk times are too short,” he explains. “And if we need to, we can listen to some of the calls to see where things are going sideways.”

Needless to say, things have changed quite a bit, but you can tell Sergio is making the most of it. 

 “It’s been like a rocket this year,” he says. “We’re taking off to high gear.” 🚀
Making and tracking calls is easy in Follow Up Boss — from dialing to taking notes, from recording calls to analyzing call metrics.

Finding the fast track to growth

Sergio knows he was born to break the mold. “I’m always against the grain for some reason,” he admits. “If you’re doing it this way, then no. I’m not doing it that way. I’m gonna do it this way, I’m gonna do it better, and I’m going to show you why it’s better. That’s who I am.”

It’s clear that that approach has worked for him. But if he had to do it over again, what would he do differently? 

“I think I could’ve probably done it faster,” he says. “Definitely integrating online buyer leads from the beginning, because they’re instant wins, right?”

He admits his initial approach may not have been the most lucrative: “I was so focused on listings and geographic farming and expireds because that’s just where my skill set was,” he explains. “I wasn’t really patient enough. I didn’t want to be committed to the lead source of online buyer leads.” 

Now, he recognizes that not only are the online leads instant wins… they can also be fuel for those other lead sources that he was more familiar with.

“I did it in reverse — not to say that it was wrong — I just think I could have hit that J-curve maybe a year or two sooner.”

Making it happen

“With open houses, listings, farming, past clients, and expireds, we’ve been hovering between $50-60 million per year,” Sergio says. 

So what about now that they’re also leveraging online leads?

“Our big goal is to break that $100 million mark,” he says. “If I can do another $50-60 million through online buyers, that’s my next J-curve. That’s what we’re looking to do.”

He knows it won’t be easy — and as he’s already demonstrated, he’s up for the challenge. 

“The team, they all become your family. You’re responsible for them. So it’s definitely a lot of pressure, and when you think about where you’re at… it’s a lot to cover,” he admits. “And as you grow, it just becomes more and more.” Still, on Sergio’s part there are zero regrets. “But when you look at it from the outside in, you’re just like, ‘Holy sh*t, I’m making it happen. You’re making it happen.”

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