Start local and become an expert. As an aspiring investor, your ability to make a profit will be entirely dependent on your ability to identify opportunities others can’t see. Start by tracking the value of your house or one specific house, then track the values of houses on the same street. Then track the values of houses in the same neighborhood. Soon, you’ll be able to identify differences in how prices change with each sale and with each season with an understanding of why.
Ihad the pleasure to interview Min Alexander of Auction.com. As chief operations officer, Min leads a team of 800 real estate professionals who manage the sale of more than 140,000 exclusive listings annually and are focused on creating new homeownership and investment opportunities across the country. Her team has facilitated more than 380,000 residential real estate transactions since 2009 and leads the industry for innovation, performance and compliance.
With over 18 years in the real estate industry, Min has a proven track record of managing residential real estate investments and driving sales performance and revenue, focusing on quality, innovation and customer experience in diverse business operations. Min holds a Bachelor of Arts from Duke University and a Master of Business Administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “real estate backstory”?
Myfamily immigrated to the U.S. from Korea when I was 4. My first memorable experience of being in America was seeing my uncle’s house in Raleigh, North Carolina, and it made a lasting impression. Coming from our small apartment in Seoul, it was the most beautiful house I had ever seen, and I remember all the hope and excitement I associated with that house. Since then, I’ve been passionate about real estate and the opportunities it can create — opportunities for new beginnings, homeownership, community, and wealth creation.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that’s happened to you in your career so far? What lesson or take away did you learn from that experience?
I bought a convenience store called Lucky Corner in Cambridge, Massachusetts when I was 26. I quickly learned that being a business owner means that no job is too small if you care about your business. I found myself doing everything from stocking sodas to printing lottery tickets and developed an appreciation for every role needed to make a business work. The experience was eye-opening.
Are you currently working on any exciting new projects? How do you think that will help people?
An exciting new project my team and I are working on is an application of machine learning to predict optimal real estate prices. We are partnering with Dimitris Bertsimas, Professor of Operations Research and the Associate Dean for the Master of Business Analytics department at MIT. Our model incorporates forward-looking macro-economic indicators and demand signals to create dynamic pricing strategies, which has the potential to save time and improve outcomes for sellers and buyers.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Auction.com is working to make real estate investing more accessible to everyone. Residential real estate in the U.S. represents over $33 trillion in value. We want to empower working professionals, entrepreneurs, and current investors — at various levels of experience — to find exclusive listings on our platform.
We recently launched a new feature in our app to enable buyers to bid on foreclosure auction properties without having to attend a courthouse auction in person. The feature enabled Verna, a new buyer in Tennessee, to bid on and win her first property on our platform. She was so excited and we were so excited for her.
Auction.com stands out because we combine real estate, technology, and access to create opportunities for buyers.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Someone I am very grateful toward is Mark Roberts, the founder and CEO of Off Wall Street, a hedge fund research company based in Cambridge, MA. Mark was an early investor when I launched my first real estate fund in 2010. I was a new fund manager without a lot of experience and Mark believed in me. Since then, he has a been both a good friend and mentor. His example inspires me to mentor others to help them reach their potential.
Ok. Thank you for sharing that. Let’s now jump to the main portion of our interview. The real estate industry, like the veterinarian, nursing, and public relations fields, is a woman-dominated industry. Yet despite this, less than 20%of senior positions in real estate companies are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what do you think is the cause of this imbalance?
Real estate companies are similar to companies in other industries. The likely reason there are fewer women in senior positions is that working women often need to balance nurturing their professional careers and nurturing young families. It comes down to limits on one’s time and energy. This is a real challenge, especially in an industry where it is essential to keep pace with innovation that is developing at a faster pace than ever before. My three children have always had a working mom and it has not been easy for our family. When my younger daughter was in pre-school, she wrote a short story titled, “Where’s My Mom?” about a baby bunny who can’t find its mother. My husband tried to convince me it was a fictional story, but I wasn’t so sure. There are many times I wish I could have attended more school events and spent more time with my children at home. At the same time, I’m proud of the opportunities I’ve created for them, and the example I’ve set for them to find their passion and to work hard at something they are good at.
What three things can be done by individuals, companies, and/or society to support greater gender balance moving forward?
I believe that individuals, companies, and society can all contribute to support greater gender balance.
Mentorship is key. Most working women face professional challenges, politics, and pivotal crossroads in their careers where an experienced mentor can help them navigate their path.
Companies can also provide a stronger support network by offering more flexible work schedules, and continuing education opportunities to keep skillsets relevant and current.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I believe that men and women executives have equal challenges. Personally, I have benefitted from being a woman in business as much as I have been challenged by it. Anytime I find myself feeling disadvantaged, it usually starts with too much self-awareness of our differences.
When I was in business school, I took a course in organizational development where we had a lesson on the three inferiorities in a business setting. They were: being a woman, being a minority, and being short. I happen to be all three, but up until that point, I had no idea I was perceived to be inferior by anyone. The point of the lesson was to be aware of these perceptions, and to adjust your style to the audience for increased credibility. I feel challenges for women are similar. We need to be aware of these challenges to effectively navigate opportunities, but it can also be harmful to overthink the challenges or over attribute setbacks to them. It is much more empowering to stay focused on the fact that we are all the masters of our own destinies.
Can you share three things that most excite you about the real estate industry?
The Pace of Innovation. What I love most about my work is applying technology solutions to real estate needs for powerful outcomes. Ten years ago, most buyers would have been uncomfortable buying real estate online. Today, 95% of buyers use the internet to search for homes. On Auction.com, we bring over 140,000 exclusive listings to buyers through our platform. The access and opportunities have never been greater for real estate buyers and sellers.
The Focus on Data and Transparency. As online real estate was emerging, Zillow started a movement to decrease information asymmetries in the real estate market through data and transparency. This continues to be a key focus for our industry. I’m very proud of our efforts to empower buyers and sellers through real-time data for better informed decisions.
The Effort to Democratize Real Estate. Our entire industry has been moving toward self-service models for buying and selling real estate. This trend will continue and will make real estate more accessible.
Can you share three things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement three ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
1. Foreclosure law reform. Most laws governing foreclosures are implemented at a county level without uniformity. The differences require time and effort for borrowers, lenders, and stakeholders to navigate. More uniform legislation and processes with the borrower and lender’s best outcomes in mind would benefit all parties and communities.
2. Streamlining valuation tools. Accurate valuations are a challenge for most stakeholders in our industry. Most valuation methods and tools are backward-looking based on comparables without consideration of forward-looking demand or macro-economic data. Machine learning and AI applications will increase our industry’s ability to set property values with greater accuracy.
3. Innovation in title products. The process to search title records has not innovated at the same pace as online real estate. As a result, the risks associated with liens and encumbrances decrease efficiency in our industry. Blockchain or a similar disruption will result in tremendous improvements by creating transparency and de-risking transactions.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their teams thrive?
The best advice I can offer is for leaders to be ego-free and embrace feedback. Having a 360 view of your stakeholders is the key to success for all leaders and teams.
I spent my 20s thinking I knew everything. I reacted very differently to constructive criticism back then. The more experience I gained, I realized everyone is on their own growth journey and the best teams are both transparent and supportive to help each other be the best versions of themselves.
At Auction.com, we have a group called “Team Ignite” that consists of team members who are directors and up. We meet once a month for coffee and donuts. In these meetings, it is required to speak your mind on what is going well and what is not going well. In our first meeting, I wanted to hide under the table after hearing all the ways I could be doing a better job to support my teams. When I reflected on the meeting, it made me proud that we had created a strong level of trust in our leadership team where everyone could speak their mind and work toward solutions.
One of my favorite quotes is by Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It’s the courage to keep going that matters.” Team feedback and transparency helps us focus our efforts on conquering our business goals.
Ok, here is the most important question of our interview: As a real estate insider, in your opinion, what are the five non-intuitive things one should know to succeed in the real estate industry? Can you please give a story or an example for each?
1. Start local and become an expert. As an aspiring investor, your ability to make a profit will be entirely dependent on your ability to identify opportunities others can’t see. Start by tracking the value of your house or one specific house, then track the values of houses on the same street. Then track the values of houses in the same neighborhood. Soon, you’ll be able to identify differences in how prices change with each sale and with each season with an understanding of why.
2. Start networking. As a real estate investor, it helps to create a network of professionals who can help you source deals, get funding, find reliable contractors, and keep a pulse on the local market. There are numerous online and local resources available for anyone starting out. LinkedIn offers numerous real estate investor groups by region and investment type.
3. Plan your funding. You need money to make money in real estate and it helps to work with people you know and trust to fund your deals. I started working with Michael Lindgren, the Chief Lending Officer at Cambridge Savings Bank, over ten years ago. He and his team walked every potential development site and celebrated each complete project with me. They understand the local market and they understand my goals as an investor. It helps to create these relationships before you’re ready to invest.
4. Create a strong support network. The right property at the right price and good funding terms are half of the effort. The real work begins if you need to renovate, lease, or market and sell. Relationships matter and you will need a short list of contractors, brokers, real estate attorneys, and other professionals you can rely on.
5. Learn from your mistakes and don’t give up. What makes real estate investing both fulfilling and frustrating is that you have to learn as you go. Each investment is different with unique challenges and opportunities. I have a very long mental checklist of all the mistakes I’ve made that I add to with each new project. This long list of mistakes that I’ve learned from is what makes me a great investor today.
Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea might trigger!
I would love to see more women invest in real estate to gain financial independence. Women have a great ability to see the potential of something early on and to realize their vision through creativity, planning, and hard work — these are important skills for success in real estate.
How can our readers follow you online?