Try to imagine the best-selling real estate agent in the world.
Do you think of a New Yorker in a skyscraper who befriended a group of investment bankers? Perhaps a sleazy Londoner directing oligarchs to multi-million dollar mansions?
Who you imagine it’s probably not someone like Ben Caballero.
Little about the aesthetic cries of world-class Caballero: The lightweight 83-year-old works in a nondescript apartment building in suburban Dallas. His office is fitted with gray carpeting and suspended ceiling tiles. He shares the building with a waste management company.
But the agent’s numbers don’t lie:
- In 2020, he set a world record of 6.4k home sales, presiding as listing agent on ~$2.46 billion in sales volume.
- This year it is about to sell ~6k houses in Texas – a rate of about 16 sales per day.
In an industry teeming with whales, Caballero has become a near-mythical force – a real estate megalodon. And he did so without relying on mega-mansion sales and high-flying clientele.
All he did was come up with an idea that made home builders’ lives a little easier.
Caballero’s real estate career seemed doomed even before it really got started.
In 1960, he moved to Dallas on a whim: his car broke down on a trip from Oklahoma City to Houston, and he loved the friendly people helping him on the road so much that he decided to stay forever.
Caballero was 21, fresh out of the Air Force, recently married, and had about $500 to his name.
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Dallas was booming. Newcomers flocked to mid-size apartments that sprouted through the city’s neighborhoods and suburbs like elms, and Caballero realized after an unpleasant experience with an apartment-finding company that he could start his own. company.
Right after Thanksgiving that year, he started apartment seekers, a service that has helped potential tenants find rentals in Dallas. The company made money by taking a commission from the landlords and not charging the apartment seeker anything.
Caballero (shown in photo) was the subject of a press in 1962 (The Dallas Morning News via America’s Newspapers)
At Christmas, Caballero felt immense pressure. The ads he placed in the local newspaper did not bring in any customers. He and his wife had to carpool with friends to visit relatives in Oklahoma City because they couldn’t afford gas.
“The day after Christmas, I say, ‘Well, I have to go back to Dallas,'” Caballero recalled in an interview with The bustle. “They said, ‘Why? You have nothing to do.’
But shortly after New Year’s Day, the calls started coming in. Real estate is a seasonal business and apartment seekers were on the hunt again. It was a small lesson but taught Caballero to pay attention to the vagaries of the industry and use them to his advantage.
Soon, Caballero became a local real estate heavyweight.
- He used his company’s funds to finance the construction of an apartment building, partnered with another builder, and eventually started his own construction company, producing custom homes while holding a real estate license.
- In the late 1980s, during a depressed home sales market in Texas, he started a guaranteed buy-back business in which he pledged to buy the old homes of potential buyers if they didn’t sell them. not when they were closing a new house. Caballero sat on the houses until he could sell them for a decent return.
For years he ran his businesses with great success. Then, at an age when he should have been retired, Caballero had his best idea yet.
Invent a new sales system
Caballero has exploited a weird quirk in the way new homes are marketed and sold.
- house builders usually just want to build houses and don’t care as much about the work of selling them. They are rarely tech-savvy and often disagree with agents, who find builders desperate in cold markets but avoid their calls in hot markets.
- Real estate agents typically don’t understand the nuances of new homes, like how delays change closing dates or that new homes have more complex contracts than existing homes. They also like to work with their own lenders, another diversion for builders.
“It’s just a complicated relationship,” Caballero said.
Housing in Houston, Texas (Getty Images)
Sometimes the reluctance to go to real estate agents leads builders to make surprising choices. As Caballero discovered, many builders wouldn’t even use the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), the primary mechanism by which buyers’ agents discover homes.
So his first foray into becoming an agent for builders involved a simple accomplishment: convincing an executive at residential construction company Lennar to let him list some of their inventory on the MLS.
Caballero’s work with builders grew from there. In 2007, he launched a platform, HomesUSA.comwhich streamlined the builder-agent relationship.
It works like this:
- The program makes it easy for builders to enter data about the homes they want to list. After a quick review by Caballero, the information is uploaded to the MLS.
- Caballero uses the software to monitor data and trends and provide feedback to its customers. He works much faster than the average real estate agent, uploading new homes or updating MLS information in less than 30 minutes.
- An automated lead capture service connects builders directly to potential buyers, reducing the need for a buyer’s agent commission.
As simple as the program may seem, it has proven to be a significant innovation for builder customers who build hundreds, if not thousands, of homes each year in Texas, which has led the nation in new homes, per capita, for years.
“Nobody (else) does it”, real estate agent Nav Sing Told The bustle.
He added, “I could go to 10 to 15 builders and say, ‘I’m going to put your houses on MLS. (But) there is more than that. The feedback he gives them and meeting deadlines are important. »
Zachary Crockett / The Hustle
Caballero account ~60 builders among its customers, including giants like Toll Brothers.
Kelly Hoodwin, vice president of sales and marketing for automaker Altura, says the streamlined process helps Altura’s sales team and saves them money in the long run. Caballero estimates savings for its customers at ~$1k-$1.5k/residence.
His Rolodex of Great Builders and the rapid growth of Texas, the capital of the United States, resulted in an unprecedented streak:
- From 2004 to 2021, Caballero sold ~48k houses worth ~$17 billion.
- The Guinness Book of World Records honored him once in 2016 (3.6k sales), again in 2018 (5.8k sales), and again in 2020, for his sale of 6.4k houses.
Other prolific agents in the United States might sell a few hundred homes in a year, and none topped $2 billion in annual volume like Caballero, which outsells many of the best in the country. brokerage.
Even Zillow, in the first full year of its failed iBuyer experiment, couldn’t keep up, selling around $1.7 billion worth of homes in 2020, compared to Caballero. $2.46 billion.
Zachary Crockett / The Hustle
Similar to his sales totals, Caballero’s methods differ greatly from most agents:
- There are no open houses or home visits on Saturday mornings. Caballero works from the office – with 32 mostly remote employees – updating lists, tinkering with improvements for the software and honing relationships with builders.
- Caballero charges builder clients a flat fee per home, rather than taking a 3% cut from the sale price, as most of the seller’s agents do. It is paid when a house is listed rather than when it sells. (Caballero declined to discuss his rates or annual earnings.)
Every afternoon around 5:30 p.m., Caballero’s software updates him on new homes listed under his name.
At a rate of 6,000 sales per year, he averages about 16 ads per day. The median residential agent, according to the National Association of Realtors, closes 10 homes in an entire year.
The next big idea
Caballero is aware that he is unlikely to break his 2020 world record anytime soon, given the drop in demand from buyers in the face of rising interest rates and falling housing starts, which had hit their peak. highest level in more than a decade at the heights of the pandemic.
But his business still has appeal in the gloomy real estate markets.
According to Hoodwin, Caballero’s customer with Altura, builders might be more likely to use it when demand is lower. The market was so hot last year that many builders, including Altura, did not use real estate agents. (Caballero sales in 2021 fell to a pedestrian of 4.7k.)
Caballero poses in his office with his Guinness World Record (Mark Dent)
Caballero also worked on taking his national service.
His plan is to create a version of his program that can be licensed to homebuilders anywhere. The resulting proceeds could mean many more sales for Caballero and a bigger impact in the real estate industry.
No matter how big his business, he has no plans to turn his simple suburban office into a skyscraper in New York or London.
“I don’t need this,” he said.
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