Rebecca Donatelli is the team leader of the Rebecca Donatelli Team with McDowell Homes Real Estate Services. She started in real estate in 2015 and launched her team in 2017. In 2018, her team was the fourth top producer in the company and she was in the top 7% of all agents in Cuyahoga County.
Growing up, what did you see yourself doing?
From the age of 15 or 16, I really wanted to teach high school math. That was my whole thing. I had this awesome algebra teacher in high school, and I was like “This is what I want to do.” So, I went to John Carroll for Education and Math, but my senior year of college I went to my advisor and I started crying to him and said “I can’t go to class. I physically can’t pick myself up and go to my class.” At that point I had a very small handful of classes that I needed to complete to graduate with a math and education major. My advisor said “Are you sure you want to stop now?” And I just said “I can’t do this.” So I ended up graduating as an English Lit major. I took an extra year of school and didn’t want to do anything with that either—just wanted to graduate and move on and try to figure out where else to go.
I was a store manager when I was in college for a total of 5 years. I knew I wanted to do something in sales, but retail was just not a long term thing for me. I worked at Justice, which used to be Limited Too. Super fun, I loved it. I had a great group of girls, but retail just wasn’t a long-term thing for me. So, I quit that and I took a job as an account manager at an insurance company for 5 months. I hated it. So I took three months off work completely. I sat down with my mom one day for lunch and she said “Have you ever thought about real estate?” I said “No . . . I watch HGTV, but that’s about all that I know.” The commission freaked me out. But my mom is my best friend, she knows me very, very well, so she put me in touch with a broker, and it kind of just fell into my lap. That’s how I got here. I didn’t know since I was a young girl that I wanted to get into real estate, I just didn’t really think twice about it.
What has been your greatest success since starting your business?
My greatest success is probably starting my team. My second year in business I started a team. I was 26. I had heard all about the teams when I got started, but I didn’t know anything about having a team, I didn’t know what that meant. All I knew was that the top producers all had teams. So from day one I said “I want to be able to start a team, whatever that ends up meaning for me.” It was my second full year, I just got so busy, and I realized that I needed some help. I was afraid that if I tried to take on all these clients I was going to lose my customer service, which is what I pride my business on. So I hired my first agent. That didn’t work out for me. I hired out of desperation, and I didn’t take the time to figure out if they were a good fit for me. It taught me a lot about what I was looking for and what I wasn’t looking for. Now I have two amazing agents that are kickass, excuse my language. That would by far be my biggest accomplishment to this day.
What were some unforeseen obstacles that you had to overcome to get to the point of building a team?
Being a newer, younger agent is hard. The average agent is a 54-year-old woman. So being younger and newer in the business, you’re up against these agents that have 20 plus years of past clients and all these other things that they’ve built for themselves. I barely knew anybody, I don’t have any family in the business. I just had to pound the pavement and figure it out. One of the biggest obstacles is proving yourself as a young, new agent. It’s very hard, and the way that license numbers are written is that the first four numbers of your license are the year you were licensed. The first four numbers of my license are 2015, so people can see that I’m new.
So they can immediately see if a person is brand new to the business.
Right, and they are quick to make judgments about you. It’s tough.
What piece of advice would you give to women who are brand new to the industry?
Get a mentor, for sure. Find someone that you trust in the business that has a good track record, whether that means joining a team or just having someone that you can shadow. For me, that was huge because I couldn’t have even told you the difference between a colonial and a ranch. That was the extent of my real estate knowledge. In all truthfulness, I really just didn’t know anything. You have to learn how to get the business. It’s hard to figure that out on your own. So my biggest piece of advice is to get a mentor that you trust and that has a track record. Just take your time and shadow them, so that you’re not completely alone.
In a commission-based business are people willing to be helpful if you go to them and say “I’m just starting out, will you mentor me?”
That’s a good question. I am fortunate enough to be at a company where we act like a big team. There are some offices where they don’t want to know anything about your business and they don’t want to help you. It’s just about connecting with the right person. Talk to enough people, and you’ll know when you talk to someone if they want to help you. That’s why teams are really awesome for newer agents because the point of the team is to get that support. It’s important also as a newer agent to interview at different places. Don’t just put all your eggs in one basket. Take the time to talk to people in different offices. Different offices offer different things. Different brokers have different personalities. That’s the beauty of the business—there are different types of companies and every agent can align themselves with one that works for them.
“It’s about making a brand for yourself and sticking to it.”
Is there anything else that you want the Girl Gang to know about you and your business?
One other thing that I will add is that is that I’m also involved in the real estate industry. So outside of having my team and selling, I’m very involved with my local board. I sit on my local board of directors. I’m the young professional network chair of my local board. I think it’s important to have a voice in the industry that you are in. A lot of agents have things to say about the industry, but if they’re not willing to get involved to try to change it, they can’t really say anything about it. So I’m very, very involved, nationally as well. I am in the young professional network on the state and national level. Having that involvement and being passionate not only about the sales but about the industry as well is super important. I’ll give you an example—we just got a law passed in Ohio that says you have to be licensed to be a home inspector. To do home inspections, you have to get a license.
That wasn’t a thing before?
No. You could go into a house and do a home inspection for someone. I could go. I don’t know anything about electrical work. As a member of the local and state boards, I got to go to the Senate and talk about this issue and personally work on getting this law changed. I also blog for the National Association of Realtors and for Inman.com which is one of the largest online real estate resources available. Having a voice is huge.
So you mentioned before that your business has been really social media based, and that it’s helped grow your business a lot for your team. How do you primarily use it? What’s your favorite social media?
My favorite social media has become Instagram. I love photography, it’s a huge hobby of mine on the side, and I love real estate, so it is perfect. I never thought it would be a main source of business for me. In fact, I met one of my agents through Instagram. Now, I travel the country to speak about using Instagram for your real estate business. It’s become a whole thing that I never even thought a free social media could become. A lot of the connections I’ve made around the country are from agents I’ve connected with through Instagram, and we exchange referral business. One agent sent me a $400,000 listing in Cleveland, and she lives in Pennsylvania. She sent it to me, I threw her a quick referral fee. That’s it. It is huge. I don’t think enough agents are using it. And it’s totally free.
So how do you set yourself apart on Instagram?
I kind of came up with a “look” for my account, if you will. If you look at my account, you’ll notice I have a lot of super vibrant colors. That’s just one thing that I like for my brand. It’s about making a brand for yourself and sticking to it. One thing about me is that I love coffee. I always have coffee with me. It’s become this funny thing on Instagram where, because I always have coffee, it ends up in a lot of my pictures. So I’ve become known as this Cleveland realtor who loves her coffee, and it was totally by accident that this happened. There was an agent out of Tennessee last year she posted a picture with her laptop and her cup of coffee, and she wrote something like “@rebeccadonatelli.realtor this picture reminds me of you.” This girl that I didn’t even know thought of me when she took this picture. Now, she’s always going to call me if she has someone in Cleveland. And that’s just something that happened by accident, but I went with it, and it works for me. It’s become part of my brand. It’s really just coming up with something that works for you and sticking to it. I make it a part of my schedule every day to go on Instagram.
Name a woman past or present who you admire.
One of my favorites is Barbara Corcoran. I actually just finished her book and passed it along to my team. I admire her most because she started with nothing. Her book is called How I Turned $1000 into a Billion Dollar Business. She was told she wasn’t good enough. She powered through every “No” that she was told. I just think that is so awesome, because you hear so much rejection in this business, and the agents that make it are the ones that are willing to stand back up and keep moving forward. 80% of first year agents fail out of this business. To be in that 20% of people who keep moving forward is awesome. She is my celebrity person who I admire. I also have to name my broker. She had a small team at another company, and she started her own company, and I’ve been able to watch her grow. I know it’s the cliché answer, but I have to say my mom, too. She has her own law practice, and she works with kids with special needs. She is incredible. Every major decision that I make for my business, even though she doesn’t know anything about real estate, I go through her, because she always seems to know everything. She’s definitely the number one out of all those people who I admire.