Sonia Booker is a powerhouse on the real estate scene. With a strong voice and a powerful message, Booker has one of the most positive and confident networking skill sets in the business. She is now in demand all over the country, as she works to spread her “wealth-building movement.” Think Realty interviewed Booker about her plans for 2017, the key to working with some of the most influential people in the sector – even if you don’t have the first connection with them, and what drives her in her personal and professional success.
TR: You’ve been in real estate more than two decades. How did you get started?
When I first started in real estate, I actually owned an Allstate insurance agency. I partnered up with another agent and I would go out, find properties and buy them. He would then do the repairs and oversee the construction crew. When we sold our investment properties, we split the profits 50/50. We both were so invested in the projects, and both of us had something to lose as well as something to gain. We did about a dozen transactions this way.
I think that business relationship really helped me see how to get started in real estate on the right foot.
If you want to partner successfully, find someone who has something you don’t have. And be sure that you offer them something that they don’t have.
Everything I have done, including the real estate flips, the buy-and-hold projects, my involvement in commercial developments and even my private equity fund, I have done through building relationships.
One thing that is most important to me, about my time in real estate, is how involved women have become in the real estate sector over the past 20 years. When I first started investing, the room was full of men. Now, in my experience, there are nearly as many women active in the field. A few years ago a woman came up to me at an REIA meeting and said, “You know, watching you out in the market has made it OK for women like me to invest in real estate and be real estate investors. You’re a pioneer.” That was probably one of the proudest moments of my life. It just made it that much clearer to me how important it was to constantly be forging relationships and helping others – men and women – grow in this business. And when it comes to women specifically, the conversation was a huge driver behind the authorship of my most recent book, “Self Wealth for Women: An Inspirational Book and Journal” – written for women to address the challenges we face when building wealth.
TR: So how do you find and develop good, productive relationships in real estate?
One of my early and longest-lasting partners was the best anyone could have ever asked for: the late Herman J. Russell, founder of HJ Russell & Company. Most people know him from his work on the Coca-Cola Building, the Georgia Dome and his work with Delta Airlines and other airports. I worked with him for nearly 12 years. We did over 400 condo conversions, developed hotels, apartment buildings and managed over $50 million in assets during this time. I asked him then, “Why are you giving me so much when I’m such a newbie? You own these buildings! What am I bringing?” He said, “I want you to feel just as involved in it as I am. That way, you’re going to work just as hard, and you’re going to have the ownership of the success with the project.”
In my relationships today, I approach everything the same way. I build my teams and partnerships around their skill sets, so every person feels very involved and feels a sense of ownership. Here was this person who was so generous to me, so I try to create a sense of community on my projects.
TR: So what is the “secret sauce” to initiating a good partnership?
When you go into any relationship and you’re asking for someone’s time, you need to tell them what you bring to the table. You may think you don’t bring anything, but you need to figure out something specific to offer. For example, I’ve worked with people who knew nothing about real estate but they handled my social media or my newsletter publication in exchange for their involvement and my mentoring. They bring those skills for my time. You have to be willing to provide value on your end. In addition, you need to be very upfront about what you are trying to gain.
When I first showed up at Mr. Russell’s office, I would have done any job he’d asked me to do. I had to show I was willing to work and provide him with value, too. If he had said, “Hey, shine my shoes,” I would have done it. Just to show I had skin in the game and was willing to get my hands dirty.
When you’re starting out, that willingness to work, that specificity about what value you can bring, and total honestly about what you’re trying to gain is the key to creating a good partnership. Even when you have a lot of experience, success and lots of people want to work with you.
TR: A lot of new investors feel like they don’t actually bring anything to the table in a real estate partnership because they need to learn everything. How should they go about forming these partnerships?
Always take a self-assessment before you start anything, whether it’s an investment you’re doing on your own, or you are trying to build a productive relationship in the business. In my book “Real Estate & Wealth: Investing in the American Dream,” I go into a lot of detail about how this self-assessment should work. As a starting point, let’s say you need to clarify what resources you have available and what you have to offer.
- How much do I have to invest?
- How much am I willing to invest?
- What is my credit like?
- What is my skill set?
- What don’t I know?
- What do I need?
These questions do not just apply to the money in your bank account, but also to your time, your education, skill set and your network. No matter what field you are currently in. For example, a lot of people say to me, “I don’t understand the numbers in real estate. I’m scared of the numbers.” Once I know what they do understand about real estate, I know what they need from me and what I can do for them to make that partnership productive for both of us. Just be up-front. Be willing to give what you have. Do everything you can to show you’re prepared to work hard for yours and your partners’ success.
TR: You do a lot of motivational speaking and writing in addition to real estate. How does it all fit together?
Early in my investing career, I just bought properties and lived in them. I would find a property, live in it a few years while I renovated it, then sell it or keep it as a rental property and move on to the next. I think I moved about 20 times before I got married. It was a lot of fun because I put my heart and soul into those properties.
When I was still living in each investment property, I used to have seminars in my living room in whatever house I was living in at the time. I’d tell people what I was doing. I didn’t even charge anything. I just told people, who asked me what I was doing, to come over and I’d explain it to them. Every Wednesday people would come over and after about 18 months or so, I wrote a step-by-step guide about what I was doing [in real estate] so I could give it to people instead of having people over every Wednesday. After the first book, I continued to write, then I started getting asked to speak. At my core, I’m a real estate investor and an entrepreneur – not a speaker or an author. When my first book became an Essence bestseller, though, I had to figure out how to still get to eat, breathe and sleep real estate (because that’s what I love) while getting my message out. It’s clearly a message that resonates and one people need.
Also, I should say I don’t really think of myself as a motivational speaker. I think people find inspiration in my message, and maybe even a little hope that a little girl from Mississippi could amass wealth through real estate. If I could do it, then anything is possible for them, too!
TR: Tell me more about that message, please!
Basically, a couple of years ago I realized with all the real estate deals I was making, along with the training and speaking, I was creating a wealth-building movement. For example, one lady emailed me and said, “I have three daughters. We listen to your radio show. We learn all your information. We are working together on a real estate transaction, and I want to thank you so much for changing our lives.” Another woman emailed me to tell me how she bought an investment property to send her son to college. When he graduates, she’ll give it to him paid off, free and clear. What a leg up in life, thanks to what she did with information about investing in real estate! It’s important for people to understand how real estate is a great wealth equalizer because it doesn’t really require any advanced degrees or even a lot of money to start. You just have to get the knowledge, and then you can be really successful. It’s so important for people to know that.
Sonia Booker is among the nation’s top ‘Go To’ thought-leaders on wealth creation and real estate investing. She has been featured in O Magazine, Entrepreneur and Black Enterprise, among other publications. She can be seen contributing to major networks, including FOX and NBC, sharing her wealth-building tips and advice. She hosts the Sonia Booker Show on Biz 1190 AM every Saturday at 9:30 a.m. EST, which you can stream over the internet at http://biz1190.com. Contact her at 1-855-SONIA81 or TeamSonia@SoniaBooker.com for more information.