Maggie Li: From Business and Finance to Real Estate

In the latest Tips From the Top, we sat down with Maggie Li of Keller Williams Boston Southwest. Li incorporates her 13-year corporate finance and business knowledge into real estate and shares her successful story on how she climbed to be one of the top in the industry.

REAM: What inspired you to become a real estate agent, and how did you get started in this profession?

ML: Growing up, I often heard my mom talk about real estate with my dad. My mom always wanted to buy real estate and invest but my dad was more on the conversative side. He believed that the housing market in China would go down soon, so he kept asking my mom to wait on buying properties.

Unfortunately (to my parents), the housing market skyrocketed in China since it opened its markets in the 1980s and my mom missed the best time to buy her investment properties. I learned that investing in real estate is smart way to accumulate wealth.

I got my start in real estate by doing rentals. There are a lot of international students in Boston, so when I started, I would help them find rentals near schools.

REAM: Did you have a career in another industry before embarking in real estate?

ML: Yes, I have a master’s degree in marketing analytics and an MBA. I worked at Eversource as an analyst. My last job before real estate was at a boutique marketing firm in downtown Salem as a marketing director.

REAM: Why did you decide to make a career change?

ML: My previous job was crunching numbers and building models all day long. I could do the job, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. I love meeting different kinds of people. That’s why I decided to switch to real estate. I felt I could utilize my previous marketing experience and my bilingual skills to help guide people with similar backgrounds as me.

REAM: What’s your best tip to give to a new agent as they are beginning their career?

ML: Don’t be shy. When some people become real estate agents, they’re very secretive. They don’t post on their social media or they only tell a few close friends or family members. If you decide to go into sales, you need to let the whole world know about that. You need to show people who you are, what you have and why people should choose you over others.

REAM: What are some of the habits you’ve developed that have led to your success?

ML: Follow up and set up boundaries.

I receive so many leads from different channels every month. Following up with clients is key. People have different timelines. Sometimes they might not need help right away, they just want to browse properties online. Sometimes they are ready to jump in. Having a good CRM system is really important.

Set up boundaries.

I grew up in China. In my culture, it’s hard for us to say NO sometimes. However, after living in the United States and doing real estate for many years, I learned you need to set up expectations and boundaries for your clients. For example, if their budget makes it difficult to purchase a house in a particular area, tell them upfront. There is no need to waste each other’s time. If you don’t respond to texts/calls after 10 pm, let them know that. If your clients don’t agree with the boundaries you set up or they have different expectations, they are not your clients. PERIOD.

REAM: What do you think are the most important qualities for success as a real estate agent, and how do you develop these qualities in yourself?

ML: I think in order to become a good real estate agent, you need to be a good person first. You have to have a good heart, good morals and good ethics. It’s easy to make a lot of money in real estate in a short period of time. And some people get lost in that. They start to become greedy and do things unethically.

Also, you need to be patient and have a good temper. In the beginning of my career, I got frustrated very easily and spent a lot of time talking about my frustration to my husband and my mom. Over time, I learned how to manage my frustration. I don’t get frustrated very easily now. I will approach things differently. Instead of getting frustrated, I will look for alternatives to solve the issues.

REAM: Who are your real estate mentors? How do you seek to emulate them?

ML: When I first got into this industry, my boss at that time was my mentor. Her father is a developer in China so she has a lot of knowledge about construction. Throughout my whole journey, I would meet big agents here and there and ask them out for coffee to pick their brains. Beginning last year, my office hired a team leader. She had 20 years of experience as a real estate agent, and decided she wanted to coach agents. We meet twice a month to talk about my goals and problems.

REAM: Can you share some examples of challenging transactions you’ve handled in the past, and how you overcame them?

ML: Most of my deals are smooth. However, there were a few transactions that were stressful. I will give you two examples:

Last August, my buyer was purchasing a condo. We were supposed to close on the 31st, so my buyer didn’t renew his lease. When we did the final walkthrough, however, the seller still hadn’t moved out. Her moving company had failed to come. If we couldn’t go on record that day, my client had no place to go that night. After speaking with my client about a few options, I called our attorney right away and asked her to come up with an addendum, withholding an amount from the seller in case she damaged the property during her move. We also charged the seller a cleaning fee since I figured even if she was able to move out that day by 5 pm, she wouldn’t have the time to clean the place. After signing the addendum, we let the attorney record the property and my buyer was able to move in that night without paying extra for an hotel.

There were some open permit issues on a property another one of my buyers was purchasing. The seller agreed to close all the permits before the closing. However, a week before the closing, when I called the city, those permits were still open. I asked the listing agent to close them, but she ignored me. I had to chase the building inspectors to ask him to close all the open permits. Luckily, those permits were not very hard to close. They didn’t require any contractors to get involved. Otherwise it will be a much longer process.

REAM: How do you stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends, regulations and changes?

ML: I love studying. I always try to find opportunities to learn new things. I like to talk to other Realtors, lenders and real estate attorneys about what’s going on in the industry. I subscribed to NAR’s research report, I read’s real estate news, etc. I will also go to seminars or conferences hosted by AREAA (Asian Real Estate Association) or GBAR.

REAM: Is there anything else you would like to add?

ML: Building up an online presence is very crucial to our business now. I have a website and I have a lot of good reviews on Zillow. A lot of people go online to find Realtors now so make sure they can find you online as well.

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