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He Went From Being Broke to Selling More Than $1 Million a Day in Real Estate

'Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles' star Josh Altman and his brother Matt built a real estate business that has sold more than $3 billion in properties. It wasn't easy.
He Went From Being Broke to Selling More Than $1 Million a Day in Real Estate
Image credit: Randy Shropshire | Getty Images
Entrepreneur Staff
Editorial Director
7 min read

If you like business lessons, real estate porn and a little drama, chances are you watch Bravo's Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles. Going into its 10th season on Nov. 2, the series follows the highs and lows of agents racing around L.A. to make big commissions on monster deals.

Entrepreneur caught up with one of the stars of the show, Josh Altman, to talk about his rise and fall and rise again in the real estate game.

“I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world and share what I've learned with the entrepreneurial and sales community," he says. "It feels like I’m giving back and has been amazing.”

Here are Altman’s lessons for achieving -- and maintaining -- business success.

1. You can't predict where your next big idea will come from.

"I moved out to L.A. and started in the mailroom of a music management company called The Firm. I would put half of my paycheck away and use the other half to take out the managers to pick their brains. I found out that they were all making extra money on the side in real estate. So I looked into it and found out that there was something called '100 percent financing' that would let you buy a fucking house with 100 percent financing, which was crazy! This was around 2003. My brother and I had no money -- we paid someone to live on the couch in a fraternity house. But we got qualified for a loan and bought a $400,000 condo. We did some minor renovations and in six weeks flipped it for $600,000. We thought we were fucking millionaires!

Related: 10 Lessons this Entrepreneur Learned from Flipping $100 Million in Real Estate

2. Flipping can flip you out.

"We started buying and flipping nicer and nicer places. We were killing it and really knew nothing about what we were doing. I decided to get my real estate license, and I failed twice. The third time was a charm! Then I decided I would stop paying other people and opened up my own mortgage company. I got this huge space in L.A. and I hired all of my friends and it was it was insane. You could just give mortgages away at that time. And as fast as we were making money, we were spending it. It’s embarrassing to talk about it now, but we never thought that it would stop. And then it did. The economy collapsed. Our business completely collapsed. We very quickly went from becoming millionaires at the age of 26 to being flat broke within a year."

3. Remember what you love to do. 

"I couldn't get out of bed for eight months, but I'm lucky enough to have my brother. We motivated each other. We found ourselves on the weekends driving around to check out houses just because it was free. And it was like, 'Look, why don't we just become realtors again? We love this!' So we started doing that and slowly worked our way out of our hole. We sold about $12 million, then the next year sold $38 million, then $88 million and kept building. In a 24-month period, we sold about $500 million residential real estate. We built the business now up to you know selling over a million dollars a day."

Related: Top 10 Real Estate Influencers to Follow

4. Ready, fire, aim!

"That’s my brother’s and my mentality. Yes, that is not the normal order. It’s all about being able to recognize an opportunity when it's in front of you and just take a shot before it passes. I see it all the time when I talk to entrepreneurs -- there is too much time spent trying to perfect the potential of a business rather than just going for it."

5. Put your customers on repeat.

"We’re in the customer business. Everything we do revolves around the people that we sell houses to. Because you know what? They’ve got a lot of wealthy friends who probably want to buy or sell houses, too. I like to think that we were one of the first people who turned our real estate business into a concierge real estate business. We realized that it wasn't just about helping people find their dream house. We’re the guys that our customers can come to for anything they need: getting reservations at the hottest restaurants, getting them at the front of the line for a new watch that nobody can get, whatever they want. We have cultivated all kinds of relationships around L.A. with different people over the years, and those put us in positions to help our clients out."

6. Time is money.

"The worst thing you can do to a wealthy person is waste their time. You can only get so far with 'fake it ‘til you make it' like we did. At some point, you’ve got to become an expert. We pride ourselves in knowing everything about the L.A. market. I study nonstop. I am on MLS (Multiple Listing Service) all day, every day. Wealthy people value smart people and they keep coming back for more as well. Once you make somebody's money, you are on their speed dial for life."

Related: 6 Amazing Tips on Turning Real Estate Into a Real Fortune

7. Don’t let small things spike big deals.

"I tell everybody in any business to always look at the big picture. Don't be small-minded. I see deals get killed all the time over small stupid stuff. A deal with a $200,000 commission dies over $25,000. You’re going to have these people for life and you’ll have the potential to do 10 more deals in the years to come. Don’t worry about making a little less money right now."

8. Learn when to say no.

"In the beginning of your career, you have to take whatever listing or client comes your way. But as I’ve become more established, there’s nothing worse to me than having someone bring bad energy to the table. It just puts me in a shitty mood. I always say this to my agents: You’ve got to make money, you’ve got to eat, but at some point, you're going to get to a point in your career where you can start to avoid these shitheads. I find myself saying that a lot more lately now that I have a six-month-old daughter at home."

9. There are odd consequences of being on TV.

"I’m on a TV show where you see us making money and counting our commissions and all that shit. But you have no idea how many people a day come up to me and pitch me their products. They think I'm on fucking Shark Tank. So you know I'm friends with some of those guys, but it's a different show!"

Related video: How One Entrepreneur Climbed the Construction Ladder to Become a Real Estate Mogul

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