Melanie, tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got into the business.
I have always loved houses, interior design, and architecture, in fact, I pursued a degree in interior design. Once I got out of college, I was starting down the path into the design world, but the economy wasn’t great, and it turns out, that commercial interior design can be boring. You’re sitting behind a desk and it’s not very exciting at all. There’s not a lot of truly creative design work going on.
I ended up in a sales role for a lighting company and I found I really enjoyed the sales process! I was the account manager for Home Depot. In that role, I was able to be creative, we were designing and collaborating on all kinds of lights. In addition to being in the creative process, I was also working as a liaison between our company, Home Depot, product development, and companies in China. I was involved in so many pieces of it, even things like shipping and transportation. As much as I loved being able to work with so many people, I realized I didn’t love the corporate atmosphere and the politics. Ultimately the company was sold and my job was eliminated.
I would imagine you had a lot of opportunities with that type of experience.
Yes, absolutely! Although I was interviewing regularly, I started to question what direction I really wanted to go in. At the time, we had just bought a house and I had a friend who was a realtor. After going through that process, I said to my husband, “I’m not going to interview anymore. I’m just going to get my real estate license.” We were about three months away from getting married at that time. He was surprised, but this is what I wanted, so I pushed forward and never looked back.
So, you always liked Real Estate, it fit with your background, and you decided to jump in.
I realize that I like working for clients and at the end of the day I like having more control and being my own boss. I am now approaching nine years. I love that the business is so entrepreneurial. I love that I can have my hands on many projects, although I am working with my coach on not having my hands in ALL the things.
Real Estate gives me autonomy. I get to pick and choose who I want to work with and work for. I have a lot of energy and a big appetite for constantly doing and learning new things. There is no end to that in the Real Estate industry. No deal is ever the same. No time in the business is ever the same. No team member or current situation when building a team is ever the same. There’s a never-ending possibility of reaching new heights and also learning new things.
It sounds like you like the variety and strategy required when running your own business. Real Estate is very entrepreneurial, and it can be a new challenge every day.
Yes, it also allows me to impact people in a more meaningful way than while I was working with the lighting company. I have a direct impact on my clients’ livelihoods and how they live or build their wealth. Whether it be with my clients or agents, I get the chance to assist. So there’s an aspect of being able to help people in a meaningful way.
You clearly have a lot of pride in your work. What helps you find meaning in the work that you do?
It’s exciting for me to help someone find a house, make a smart financial decision, and build equity. As I continue to grow the business and create more opportunities for myself, it creates a lot more opportunities for other people. I’m able to bring people onto my team and provide a salary. Being able to pay people a salary off the business I’ve created is crazy for me to think about. It’s a great responsibility and it’s also very impactful and meaningful.
It’s amazing to me. In many ways, I still feel like I’m this new, baby agent. We recently interviewed for an operations position. One of the people that I was interviewing implied they were looking for someone who could be a boss and a mentor. That was strange because there’s this whole dichotomy where I still feel like I’m the one being mentored constantly. There’s also the perspective of what I’ve accomplished, and to be able to give that to other people is an awesome feeling. I get joy and satisfaction knowing that people that work with me will experience more because they’ve elevated their lives, goals, or mindset through our interactions.
You mentioned helping people make smart financial decisions. What does that mean to you?
Well, it would be different in every scenario. Just like every deal is different, the financial decisions will look different for every family. Some people have a very high appetite for risk, while others do not. If someone wants to get into property or real estate investments, then fantastic! I’ll be your guide and discuss that with you. If you want to make a sound decision on your next purchase, I’m going to let you know what I think is going to work for you. If a family is looking for a long-term home, I’m going to make sure that they understand what they’re purchasing.
The market is starting to shift from a point where people were buying anything and quickly. In the most recent market, you would see houses with detention ponds, properties on busy roads, or units that have structural issues selling fast. Those same properties used to sit on the market and have to take a 20% price difference for an equal comparable, and now we are seeing more of a return to that.
We are definitely coming out of a market where people would do anything just to get a house.
Right. People were rushing to get a house because inventory was so low and demand was so high, we were seeing crazy over-asking prices. When demand comes down just a little bit, or inventory increases just a little bit, now, those same homes are going to sit longer. We are seeing more and more price reductions right now.
How do you ensure that your clients are making smart financial moves in this new market?
I am looking at the property’s condition. I will look at all of the factors on the property with my clients instead of just focusing on getting them under contract as a way to close another transaction. In this manner, I become a consultant to my customers. I’ll say, “These are all the things that I think we should consider or look out for.” Part of the way that we truly build trust and confidence with our clients is by providing those considerations. You know when you walk through a property what will impact its resale value.
I know that you are really involved with Airbnb investing. When did you get involved with that?
It occurred by chance around 2016. One night, my husband and I were sitting out on the back porch and I love to dream and think big. I asked him, “If you could buy a house anywhere, where would it be? What would you want?” I loved the idea of owning a property that we could rent out and also use to visit places we loved.
After that, we made a list of our criteria, and I started scrolling through Zillow. We were looking at several different areas around Georgia that were within a two-hour drive from where we live. Naturally, I saved a few things and put them to the side without thinking much about it.
Six months later, Zillow sent an email notifying me that a house I had saved was sold. That awakened something in me and I started scrolling through the available suggestions. I found a little cabin that had been sitting on the market for a long time and happened to be in the perfect location. It was around $120,000. I called my husband and we went up there to look at it. At the time, I didn’t care much about using it as a short-term rental. I just wanted to rent it enough to pay for all of the expenses so we could enjoy it. I determined if we could rent it for one week a month, it would pay for all the expenses.
It sounds like at first you were just thinking of getting a place that your family could use as opposed to taking just advantage of the short-term rental market.
Exactly. The property needed a lot of work, but overall we kept it pretty rustic. Once finished, we put it on the Airbnb market, and the response way exceeded our expectations. It was booked all the time and we ended up making a lot of money. I sat back and was like, this is awesome. I started playing and thinking more about where else I would want to have a property. We looked into a beach house and bought another cabin in Tennessee last year. They’ve seen similar success.
It seems like everything fell into place.
Kate will tell you that I have an attraction mindset and energy. If I’m going to take 50 listings, they’re going to appear for me once I set my mind to it. I’ll let the universe do it’s work. Same thing with the cabin. It’s going to happen when it’s supposed to happen. I just realize that the longer I’ve been in this business, the more I expose myself to more, the more I am able to do. Not only do I have a goal for what the business achieves every year, but I have goals for how much income I want to produce long-term from the rentals we acquire. The ultimate goal is to replace one of our incomes.
What are your thoughts on long-term vs. short-term rentals?
We have two long-term and three short-term rentals. I love our long-term rentals because they’re pretty much no work for the income. It’s very easy for me to get a renter. Those properties are appreciating like crazy, I make sure I buy in markets I know really well that will hold their investment. The fantastic thing is that we have seen so much growth in the rentals that we were able to pull money out to allocate towards other investments.
Then, with the short-term rentals, I love the creative process. I’m buying things that are run down, and need some TLC. I am finding these little diamonds in the rough where I get to redesign and make them cute and desirable. It gives me a lot of energy and sparks joy.
That brings about your background in interior design. You get to lean into that with your short-term rentals.
Exactly. It allows me to tap into my creative side. Every time I get done with a project and it’s on the rental market doing well, I get bored. I’m ready for something new. So I’m almost flipping the property, but then it’s a short-term rental which allows me to enjoy the long-term benefits of it.
How do you manage all these properties?
I am currently self-managing all of my properties with different software. We have come up with a system because all of them are long-distance. We’ve got Tennessee which is two hours away. Our Blue Ridge cabin is an hour and a half away, and then our Pond Beach beach house is 6 hours away. If you only work with Airbnb or with VRBO, then you can set up management and notifications in their system for reservations and work orders. I started using a service called Guesty, which manages calendars across many platforms. The biggest headache is keeping on top of the calendars when guests are checking in and out for maintenance and cleaning. Guesty has it automated, which has freed up a lot of time. Setting up an appointment, a new booking, or when there is a check-in, an automated message is created. It’s a much better system than hiring a short-term rental manager. They will usually take between 10% to 30% based on what I have seen.
If someone wanted to get into Airbnb Rentals, what advice would you give them?
Do your research to see if it is an option. There are a lot of things changing because the market was so saturated. There are a lot of vacation rental towns that are getting new rules and regulations. Make sure you are not looking in an area that is going to become unfriendly toward short-term rentals. When I first started in the short-term rental market, I did my research on Airbnb and VRBO to look at what my competition was charging. Now there are different websites you can pay to get all that information. You can outperform or underperform the market based on the service you provide and the product that you provide.
There are more outside factors affecting short-term rentals than there are in long-term rentals. It’s much more nuanced.
Yes, you can make a lot of money, but there are a lot more variables to check on. You have to provide necessities such as toilet paper, paper towels, and other items. Then, you have labor costs with cleaning and repairs. When inflation increases, fewer people rent or vacation because they’re trying to save money. Vacations are an elective expense that can dwindle in times of economic hardship. It will be interesting to see how the market changes will affect these rentals. What will be affected and how? It’s all speculation right now.
It sounds very intriguing. I know your team has gone through a lot of changes, and you had a new baby recently. Your buyer’s agent had a baby, too. What was that like for both of you to have a baby so close to each other in such a demanding business?
Yes, we each had a baby within a month of each other. If you asked my admin, she would probably tell you a very different story. I just roll with the punches. I put about six items under contract while in the hospital having my baby. I found a way to make it work, which is something I’m working on with my coach. A great attitude has gotten me to a certain point of success, but, to my detriment, not everyone works that way. That is why I went so hard on the investments. I got to a point a few years ago where I was so tired of answering my phone and putting out all these fires and being everything to everybody. I felt I had to get out. I just want to have enough income that I can stop answering my phone. And that’s really what drove me to continue. I’m working on that balance.
I’ve seen a lot of business owners get completely burnt out because of the constant firefighting. How do you combat those feelings and find that balance?
I keep on tasks that will lead me to my ultimate goal. I am regularly answering the question for myself, “If I do this, is it furthering my overall goal or is it threatening it?”
Something might be a short-term win but could be a strategic loss long-term. I’m consistently looking at things that might feel good short-term, like putting someone under contract or getting something done. I realize that I can get so overwhelmed with the idea of training people and wanting to give them the answer that it can hinder me long-term from building out the systems I need.
I love the idea of short-term gain vs. long-term loss. We all have this finite resource of time. Some things may seem faster to just do them yourself but long term it will ultimately cost you.
I consider it like parenting. If I always put my children’s shoes on for them, they’re never going to learn for themselves. Helping them is a short-term win for the time saved at that moment, but it’s a long-term strategic loss. So I will ask myself the question, “What am I doing that feels good at the moment but is a long-term strategic loss?”
How would you say that your mindset has changed in the last twelve months?
I would say that my focus has been a lot more on team-building and leadership qualities. I want to make sure that I can support the people that I’m bringing into my world while balancing the continued support for my business. That’s been a major shift in the last twelve months. I think for the longest time, I just treated the business as an extension of myself and not as its own organism.
I’m focusing more on empowering the people around me. There is a strange sadness that comes as I’m continuously taking things off my plate. Seeing the success my team is making is a fantastic thing, but it’s no longer just me. Our recent event had many people in attendance that I had never met. They had a relationship with Mindy and that’s a great thing, but it can be difficult to wrap my head around sometimes.
As your business grows, your identity and role change. The way you feel satisfied, fulfilled, and successful have to be met in a new way.
Exactly. I’ll bring back up the parenting example. You start by putting their shoes on and then they put their shoes on by themselves. It’s great that they are putting their shoes on themselves, but they don’t need you in that way anymore. There’s a little sadness in that, but it’s an important step to grow.
What’s the most important lesson you have gathered from working with YPP?
Consistency over time. The more that I consistently do over time, the more that life rewards me. I was consistent with building my organization and my rental business. In doing so, my mindset has improved as well. I understand myself a lot better now thanks to my coaching. Understanding the way my brain works, where my strength zones are, and how to interact with people that I work with has helped me become a better leader.
What is a book that you think everyone should read?
Think And Grow Rich, and I love The Alchemist.
If you could put anything on a billboard, what would it be?