From Serbia to Success: Tijana Jones’ Journey in Real Estate

Real Estate Agent Magazine sat down with real estate professional Tijana Jones of Kuper Sotheby’s International Realty. Tijana’s journey from Serbia to the United States reflects resilience and determination, shaping her into a successful realtor who uses her diverse skills and multicultural background to help her clients.

REAM: Can you share the story of your journey from Serbia to the United States and how you overcame the challenges you faced during this transition?

TJ: I come from very humble beginnings. My parents only had me, not necessarily because they did not want any more kids, but because they couldn’t afford any more children. Serbia is a small Eastern European country and was under a communist regime for a good part of my childhood. Despite my parents struggling financially on many occasions, they made sure I always knew I was loved and they always had a positive attitude, no matter what (which is something I adopted, too). I survived a war in my 5th grade. Shortly after, my parents decided that my only chance at a decent life was not in Serbia, which is a war-torn, poverty-ridden country. They saved for many, many years to be able to afford for me to come to the United States when I was 17.5 years old – as a foreign exchange student. To send their only child to a completely different country (and continent!) was not an easy decision for any of us. Yet, I understood the gravity of the situation and their sacrifice, and I decided right then and there that I would overcome any obstacles I encountered, and that my parents’ selfless sacrifice would not be in vain.

I remember landing in the USA at 17.5 years old alone. Since I came as a foreign exchange student, a local host family basically adopted me for a year. I had a place to live, as well as food and transportation. Yet, it wasn’t quite the same – I was scared of being without my parents and not having parental support. However, the second I landed, I felt like I could breathe with my lungs full! I fell in love with American culture. I started my senior year of high school 9 days after I landed. It wasn’t easy at all, as I did not know the language very well – I knew basic English, but nothing more than that. I also ran out of the money my parents gave me just 2 months after my arrival, and I almost failed my first semester of high school because of bad grades due to me not understanding the lessons. I really buckled down and studied the language, and not only did I graduate from high school, but I was a great student at New Mexico State University! I even got some scholarships based on my good GPA.

From then on, I had about 1000 failures and obstacles, but I also got up 1001 times. Life is full of ups and downs, and I am grateful for it all – as it molded me into the person I am today.

REAM: What inspired you to transition from a career in photography to real estate, and how have your photography skills benefited your work as a realtor?

TJ: Since I was little I have always had a love and an eye for architecture. Serbia and Europe in general, is full of architectural masterpieces, and I always admired seeing the same.

After I became a family photographer, one of my best friends at that time asked me to photograph her home listings, as she noticed that homes with professional photography sell faster. That is when I fell in love with real estate, as I had to tell every home’s story through photography. It was also then that I decided I would become a realtor one day. Five years later, I indeed became a Realtor! I can truly say that real estate is my passion and my calling. I do not regret my college degrees, even though they are not in real estate. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management and an associate degree in Business Management. Both degrees, as well as photography, help me in real estate, and I am a firm believer that every skill is valuable to have!

I became an expert in several photography platforms/programs, which enhances my real estate marketing. Since I have an eye for photography, I can also walk into a home and tell my clients what needs to be done or moved for optimal home presentation. This is a very valuable skill set when I am on the seller’s side.

REAM: You have earned several prestigious designations in real estate. Which designation do you find most valuable, and how has it enhanced your ability to serve your clients?

TJ: I believe in constant education and self-improvement. Even now, after 7 years of being a Realtor, I still take several new classes per month to keep up with the latest real estate trends and negotiation tactics. My two proudest designations are being a member of Real Trends Top 1.5% Agents in the USA continually since 2019 and winning first place in customer service awards. I always say that excellence in customer service is my biggest reward and what I strive for every single time. Seeing that my clients recognize my efforts and leave me 5-star reviews that in turn lead to awards is truly humbling. It makes all the sleepless or difficult real estate nights and days worth it! The Real Trends Top 1.5% Agent awards also mean a lot to me because it is very difficult to earn that particular award. It shows that my clients trust me with their biggest possessions and monumental life decisions. To me, that is a huge honor. I believe my clients appreciate that I have these awards, as it further solidifies that they are making the right choice when choosing me as their agent.

REAM: Can you describe a challenging transaction and how you navigated it to achieve a successful outcome?

TJ: I have had many, many challenging transactions so far in my career. Even though no one particularly enjoys challenges in any area of work, I believe that great real estate agents truly show their expertise during difficult transactions, when things are hard and everything is falling apart, rather than when things are going smoothly. Many agents can handle easy transactions, but not many can hold it together and overcome obstacles when the odds are stacked against them.

Two particular transactions that stand out in recent history are: I represented buyers who were denied a loan a week before closing! It took us all by surprise. Their lease was expiring, and they were going to be out on the streets as they didn’t have another rental lined up, but they very much wanted the home. I personally called other lenders, explained the situation, and we were able to find one lender to make it work and close on the loan in two weeks! I also negotiated the closing extension with the sellers and secured early occupancy for the buyers so that they wouldn’t have to stay in a hotel for a few days until we closed. While we closed a week after the original closing date, everything ended beautifully. They were impressed with my relentless drive to save their loan and get their home, as well as with the fact that I didn’t “just put them in a hotel” but successfully negotiated early occupancy for them. They just finished painting their home, planted their garden, and are settling in quite nicely!

Another recent situation I had was a very complex short sale transaction. My client (seller) was told he would have to foreclose on his home. He also had the option of a short sale, but no other agent informed him of that until he found me! Short sales are better for sellers as they minimize the financial repercussions compared to foreclosure. Many agents do not want to deal with short sales because of the extensive paperwork and additional steps. I always operate with the question: What is best for my clients? I will always do whatever is best for them. After a 4-month extensive process, losing one buyer, finding another one, and facing market uncertainties, I am happy to say we prevailed through it all, successfully completed the short sale, and my client faced minimal credit repercussions. He is delighted that this chapter is closed and is looking forward to his next one!

REAM: How do you manage to maintain a balance between your professional and personal life?

TJ: I honestly do not have a balance at all. When I first started in real estate, I did not take any vacations for 4 years. I have also shown homes and put them under contract every year on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, my birthday, and even New Year’s for the past 4 years! I tell my clients that it is almost a good luck tradition if we put an offer in on a holiday, as I have had all “holiday offers” accepted for the past 4 years.

I often struggle with the feeling of guilt because I work so much. However, I am the sole provider for my family of six, and if I do not work, we do not eat. I also want to show my kids that their circumstances at birth (or at any time) do not determine their outcome—they will shape their own destinies through their actions, work ethic, and the path they choose. I try to be a great example for them. That being said, the evening routine of putting them to sleep is my sacred time with my children. I also try to squeeze in playtime each day, although it is almost never at the same time. However, my kids know how hard I work, and they appreciate playtime whenever it happens, regardless of the time of day. My husband stays at home with them, which helps keep them on schedule and provides structure at home.

I am known for my 24/7 availability for my clients. I have answered phone calls, texts, and emails at 1 am and 3 am for international clients (due to time zone differences) and shown homes as early as 6 am and as late as 10 pm, as those times worked for my clients. I always tell my clients that as long as I am not unconscious, I will pick up the phone or call back within two hours (if I am already with clients or on another line). My clients love my promptness.

REAM: Being fluent in five languages is a remarkable skill. How has your multicultural background and language proficiency helped you connect with a diverse client base?

TJ: My multicultural background and language proficiency have greatly helped me in real estate, particularly with international clients. I connect with people easily, no matter their racial or religious background. I also have a deep understanding of many different cultures due to my travels, as well as knowledge of different languages, which helps me build stronger relationships and better serve my existing clients. This ability allows me to tap into the large segment of growing international clients, as the United States continues to attract a significant number of international buyers seeking real estate opportunities. According to NAR statistics, international buyers purchased approximately $78 billion worth of US residential properties last year, which is quite a market segment.

I have also expanded my professional network due to my language proficiency. I directly engage with international developers, investors, and fellow Realtors from other countries, which helps me discover additional real estate opportunities that I otherwise wouldn’t have had.

REAM: What motivated you to move from North Dakota to Texas, and how has this move impacted your career in real estate?

TJ: I was blessed to be North Dakota’s number one agent across all agencies for several years in a row. It was very hard to leave the thriving business I had built, which was almost entirely referral-based at that point. One day, I was reflecting on how blessed I was to have grown up in Belgrade (Serbia). Even though we didn’t have money to visit many paid attractions, the city has many green spaces, beautiful nature, parks, and lots of free things to do. I realized that my kids were missing out on those experiences because of two things: the cold weather in North Dakota, which lasts 7-8 months out of the year, and the lack of amenities where we lived.

Even though the city where we lived in North Dakota is growing, it cannot compare in amenities to Austin. I truly believe that out of all cities in Texas, Austin is the perfect one, which is why we chose it to be our home. It has beautiful weather most of the year (although summers do get brutal for about three months). I would rather have three months of sauna weather and the rest of the year perfect than eight months of cold. Our topography here is beautiful! We have tons of greenery, parks, bodies of water, and hill country views—Austin is just breathtaking, in my opinion!

Despite being the number one agent in North Dakota, no one knew me here when we moved, and I had to start all over again. While I did have the knowledge and experience as a seasoned agent, I had to start from scratch in forming my clientele. It is still a work in progress, and I expect it will take several years to fully become a referral-based business. I am absolutely up for the challenge. I love Austin’s diverse architecture, and we have many real estate opportunities and choices here, which gives my clients greater flexibility and opportunities to find their dream homes.

REAM: Can you share more about your involvement in volunteering for children and animal organizations and why it is important to you?

TJ: Volunteering is important to me for a multitude of reasons. I very much enjoy helping others from all walks of life. I volunteer for organizations that align with my values, offer services to the community, or teach skills everyone should have access to. I have had so many experiences and learned so much about life in general by hearing many people’s stories. Most importantly, it is a great feeling to do something for someone, knowing it will better his or her life.

My first volunteering experience happened many years ago when I was living in New Mexico. Every school year, we would outfit underprivileged kids with new school supplies and clothes. I would help them try on clothes, choose shoes, and select school supplies. Seeing the smiles on those kids’ faces is something I will never forget! From then on, I have volunteered and been involved in numerous organizations. I have a particularly soft spot for children and animals, but I also volunteer for adult organizations. For example, I will be serving meals to the homeless at the Charlie Center in a few weeks. One of my favorite all-encompassing Austin organizations is Generation Serve. They offer a multitude of opportunities (for the whole family, too!)—from park and community space cleanups to making meals and hygiene kits for people in need, to serving in animal shelters and senior centers. It is a great way to involve the whole family, which I think is particularly important.

REAM: What are some of your favorite activities or hobbies that you enjoy when you’re not working, and how do they help you unwind?

TJ: My favorite hobbies when not working are photography, cooking, and home remodeling. I love photographing not just my family but also beautiful landscapes, pets, and nature. Being in nature brings me peace and lets my mind unwind. Cooking helps me stay creative—I particularly like beautiful food platings and baking. I have always had an eye for aesthetics, which spans from cooking and fashion to home remodeling.

REAM: Looking ahead, what are your future goals and aspirations in your real estate career, and how do you plan to continue making an impact in the industry?

TJ: Looking ahead, my future goals and aspirations in real estate are to help as many people as possible not only secure their dream homes but also build generational wealth and investments through real estate. This way, they can hopefully spend more time with their kids one day (that is my goal, too) without having to worry financially. I love educating my clients, so my long-term goal is to become some type of real estate educator as well.

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

TJ: I would like everyone to know that, no matter what life has dealt them in the past, that does not define their future! So far, I have overcome many odds—war, adapting to a completely new environment, language barriers, financial hardship, divorce, and past experiences of physical and sexual abuse—and I have still kept going, and will continue to do so! Set your goals and be relentless in their pursuit! If I can do it, so can you!

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