A. Gary Anderson
Graduate School of Management

What It’s Like to Sell Residential Real Estate

Real Estate Agent Michael Saldana ’09 is his own boss in an industry he loves, which included an appearance on HGTV’s “House Hunters”

During an episode of HGTV’s “House Hunters” reality show, Michael Saldana ’09 led a newly engaged couple through three properties in the Los Angeles area.

The groom-to-be wanted a condo, and the bride-to-be wanted a house; they both wanted a 1,000 square-foot home close to public transportation with inside washer and dryer and no stucco. On “House Hunters,” buyers see three properties alongside a real estate agent and then pick one to purchase. Real Estate Agent Saldana showed them a fixer-upper condo well within their budget, a remodeled condo with no inside laundry, and a more expensive single-family California bungalow. “I don’t want to start our family off in a lot of debt considering we’re going to get married soon,” said the woman as the pair made their decision. “We should stick with the … fixer-upper.”

Michael Saldana ’09 featured in an episode of HGTV's "House Hunters"

It was a fun “show-business” experience for Saldana, but his journey to successful real estate agent—including this stint on national television—started with a disappointment: Six years previous, Saldana had been let go from his job as a leasing consultant for a national development and investment company in Stanton, California, and he knew he needed to take the next step.

“I signed up for real estate licensing school,” says Saldana.

Today, Saldana has established his career as a residential real estate agent and he works with Keller Williams Pacific Estates in Long Beach, California. He wears many hats, he says. The first “hat” is as a salesperson generating new business, nurturing relationships, and meeting his sales goal of 12 closed transactions in 2024. The second “hat” is extensive marketing. “I’m also a CEO,” he says of his third “hat.”

With years of experience on the job, Saldana shares insider details about his HGTV star turn, along with what it’s like to be a self-employed real estate agent.

When you were laid off from the leasing consultant job years ago, you really liked the work. Why?
I got to know the tenants. I took work orders in the leasing office—including plumbing leaks, and broken ovens, etc.—I notified them about packages and invited them to community events. I developed relationships with the residents, and they even gave me small gifts during Christmas. Plus, I liked working weekends because I enjoyed my time off on the weekdays going to the gym, mountain-biking when the trails weren’t busy, and running errands.

When did you know real estate was the right choice for you?
In 2015, I closed my first deal and received my first commission check for $3,300. It was the largest amount of money on a check with my name on it. It took me one year of work to earn that commission: I did cold-calling, door-knocking, holding open houses, posting advertisements on Craigslist for first-time buyer programs, and reaching out to friends and family. It was tough. There is a lot of rejection, stress, anxiety, dejection.

Michael Saldana '09 hosting a workshop

Being a real estate agent is 100% commission with no base salary; you don’t earn a paycheck until you close a deal. That part of the job scared me at the beginning. So, the moment I received that first check, it proved to me I had the perseverance for the job and the service skills. But, I still had so much to learn. Being a real estate agent is being a small-business owner. You’re your own boss. Everything falls on you. It can be overwhelming at times because there are so many things to think about. What I’m beginning to learn more recently is that following a yearly business plan definitely helps keep me accountable. Always have a business plan.

You mention CEO as one of your “hats.” What does that mean in practical terms?
As “CEO,” I think about where I should invest money to generate more business and whether it will be profitable of not. For example, I paid for advertising on Zillow for the past seven years, and I was averaging about two sales a year from that advertising. In the last two to three years, Zillow has netted me only about one sale a year, and the return on investment is barely there. Most of my business has come from past client referrals and past clients selling or buying another property. So, I decided to cancel my Zillow advertising. My plan next year is to re-invest that advertising money on events and marketing to past clients and referrers so that they continue to remember me when they think about real estate.

One of your specialties is working with first-time buyers. What advice do you give them?
Most first-time homebuyers have no idea what to expect when purchasing their first home. It’s so important to sit down with them for a homebuyer consultation and discuss their goals, their ideal home, their financing, market conditions, and what to expect on their homebuying journey.

My advice for first-time buyers is to consider purchasing a duplex and to live in one unit while renting the other unit. Especially with higher interest rates now compared to two or three years ago, the affordability percentage of a median-priced home has gone down. I know people want privacy and don’t want to deal with being a landlord, but they should think of this as a plan to get into a single-family home in two to five years when they’ve built some equity and can
refinance and cash out some of that equity to put a down payment on a single-family home. They’ll have a rental property in their portfolio, and hopefully, earn positive cash flow to cover the new mortgage.

What’s your take on the Southern California real estate market?
It is a challenging market in Southern California because of the rise in interest rates over the last two years. In January 2022, they were about 3.65% on a 30-year loan. As recently as December 2023, it was about 6.65%—double in two years.

My brief assessment of the Southern California market is if interest rates fall to 4.6% by the end of 2024, it will be a competitive market for buyers, and buyers should expect to write above asking offers and sometimes not get their first offer accepted. Right now, interest rates are about 6.65%, and some of the buyers I’m working with are competing against four or five other offers. I expect the competition to heat up in 2024 if rates fall.

How was your experience on HGTV “House Hunters”?
The opportunity came about in 2018 when a buyer—an engaged couple—I was working with suggested we apply for shooting an episode. We filled out a questionnaire and did a video audition, and we ended up getting picked. It took five days to shoot. As the agent, I selected two vacant properties the buyers had never seen. So, on camera, you get their genuine reaction seeing those two properties. The third property is one they already bought, but we didn’t start shooting until they had closed on that property, and they did a good job appearing as if they were seeing it for the first time. They knew how to express their likes and dislikes about the characteristics of the homes, and sometimes, they weren’t on the same page, which made it fun TV. The producer was good at coaching us to feel relaxed, but there were times we did six or seven takes of the same scene, and that part was exhausting. But it was a good experience overall.

Michael Saldana ’09 in an episode of HGTV's "House Hunters"


What advice do you have for folks interested in either starting or changing a career to real estate?
Go for it. Save enough money to cover six months of living expenses and then go full time. Your goal the first year should be to close one to three transactions or more. That will build your momentum and you should gain an understanding of what life is like as a real estate agent and if the career is for you. Another route is to do it part time, and don’t quit your full-time job quite yet. There is an agent in my office that is a teacher and does real estate part time. He’s closed eight to 10 transactions this year, which is amazing for a part-time agent.

How have you been active as an alumnus with UCR?
I am a proud Highlander, and I keep in touch with UCR. For 10 years, I have been part of the UCR Los Angeles Alumni Network; I’m currently the chapter’s historian, and I previously served as president. I have met a phenomenal group of friends through the network. We organize local events that cover professional, social, and philanthropic events, and we host about four of these events per year. Some examples include MBA introduction and first-time homebuyer events, going to Los Angeles Dodgers games, concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, and volunteering at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. Our goal is to grow our alumni group by meeting new and existing alumni and connecting with each other. Sometimes, there are career opportunities or information shared that can help a new graduate or assist in a career change for seasoned professionals.

Michael Saldana volunteering with UCR Los Angeles Alumni


What does the future hold for you?
I’m working on getting my certified residential specialist credential. It’s the highest credential awarded to residential sales agents. There’s an educational element to it, and the sales volume requirement is 150 total transactions. I’m halfway there, and my goal is to complete that requirement in five years. It’s both a personal goal and a career milestone, and it would mean a lot to me.