Ben sold over $2 Billion in real estate in his first year. We’ll hear some of his best ways he generates leads for high end homes, as well as hear about his app Rila and how that is helping people with their properties. If you enjoyed today’s episode remember to subscribe in iTunes and leave us a review!
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“Save your cash” – Ben Bacal
Ben Bacal Real Estate Background:
- Real estate agent and co-founder of Rila, a mobile app designed to provide the community with free, unencumbered access to real estate and industry professionals
- Has sold more than $2 billion in real estate
- One of his most notable transactions includes 1181 Hillcrest—the largest sale ever recorded in Beverly Hills at $70,000,000
- Based in LA, CA
- Say hi to him at Rila in the app store or @benbacalestates on instagram
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Theo Hicks: Hi, Best Ever listeners. Welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I’m your host today, Theo Hicks, and today we’re gonna be speaking to Ben Bacal. Ben, how are you doing today?
Ben Bacal: Good. Thank you so much for having me.
Theo Hicks: Absolutely, and I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today and provide us with your real estate advice. A little bit about Ben – he is a real estate agent and co-founder of Rila, which is a mobile app designed to provide the community with free, unencumbered access to real estate industry professionals.
He has sold more than two billion (with a b) in real estate. One of his most notable transactions includes 1181 Hillcrest, which is the largest sale ever recorded in Beverly Hills’ history, at 70 million dollars. He’s based out of Los Angeles, California, and you can say hi to him by downloading his app, Rila, in the app store.
Ben, before we dive into the meat of the conversation, can you tell us a little bit more about your background and what you’re focused on now?
Ben Bacal: Sure. My focus is twofold. I am a luxury agent, and I cater to those buyers that really don’t need these expensive homes, but they just wanna keep on stepping it up… So I’m doing a deal right now on the beach for 26 million dollars; it’s a beautiful beach house. I have a house in the Hollywood Hills for 30 million; the designer did all the James Perse stores across America. I’m working on another property in the Hollywood Hills for 40 million, by a designer SAOTA Design Group. He’s an architect out of South Africa… And hopefully, I’m about to work on some really big deal for 100 million. But my bread and butter every day is deals between half a million up to five million, and I do about 7-8 million dollars a month in those transactions.
My focus these days is helping my teammates learn the ropes and get out there and get leads. That’s my focus, to help them get leads.
Theo Hicks: Alright, so for those of us that aren’t too familiar with these size deals – I’m assuming we’re talking about residential here – let’s start high-level. How are you generating these leads? For example, your 26 million dollar beach deal, these deals in the Hollywood Hills – how are these sellers finding you?
Ben Bacal: Well, it’s been a long process, but I guess I can dial it back from day one. When I first sold my first luxury home for 3 million dollars, I let everybody know up and down that street that I accomplished that sale. I let them know door-knocking, telling them face-to-face, I let them know with a postcard, I cold-called, I sent out a video on YouTube, I did an e-blast letting them know… Essentially, that’s what I did with all my sales. I leveraged the fact that I closed X, Y and Z for so-and-so money, and that enabled me to get another opportunity to list someone else’s house. That’s really the name of the game. I leveraged all the past sales that I did, and people were like “Wow, okay. I’m gonna give this guy a shot.” That’s how I got my foot in the door to get the listings.
Often the sellers say “Okay, maybe I’ll sell”, and then you have to prove to them that you’re not just all talk. So I would get a potential listing, they’d say “Yeah, I wanna sell. Bring me some buyers.” I would then go into my office at my real estate company and announced “Hey guys, I’ve got this style home, in this location. Who’s got a buyer?” And out of all the couple dozen realtors in my office, one person or two people would say “Yeah, I do.” I’d schedule a meeting and show that buyer, and that would be another meeting with that potential seller; he’d see me again, we’d build rapport with each other… And eventually, I’d say to him “Look, what if I was able to take some really cool photos with my professional camera or with my phone, and I can reach a really broader audience, and instead of just bringing one or two people, I’ll bring 10-20 people.” Because that’s what it’s gonna take. And I rinse and repeat, and lo and behold, I end up selling over two billion.
My first year of real estate I made $394,000 in commissions by using that tactic of hitting the pavement, door-knocking, meeting as many people as I can, and convincing them with a smile on my face, and ease of comfort, by just realizing that I’m not this pushy salesman, that I genuinely believe that their house is terrific, and I can connect them to a potential buyer that could pay their price.
I developed those relationships with those people, because this is all about a relationship game. If people like you, they wanna work with you, and if you can further provide a track record of success, then you’re on your way to making millions of dollars.
Theo Hicks: Yeah, thanks for walking us through that entire process, from your first deal and your thought process for how to 1) find leads, find deals that actually sell, and 2) find those buyers. On the first hand, find those leads – you mentioned some of the things that you did after you sold your first home, and one of those was a video… That’s my first time hearing about that; it’s a very interesting, unique strategy. Do you mind telling us what was all included in that first video?
Ben Bacal: Well, it was actually a WhatsApp video. I shot my camera, and then I used WhatsApp to send the video. I basically chose a dozen of my contacts – actually, a few dozen – and I essentially handpicked them, thinking that they would like this pocket listing that I’ve found, this off market deal, this property you couldn’t find anywhere else… And I sent out that video.
But I mainly did it with photos, because right now the MLS and homes.com and Zillow and Trulia – they’re all the same photos. So by just sitting at the MLS and sending content to these prospective clients of mine, I’m not providing any value. They can go on the internet and search for that. So what I did is I literally went to these properties myself and I shot a bunch of photos that they could see on the web, and I shared them on my phone. I texted them or I emailed them to everybody. Then it’s like “Oh, wow, what is this property?”
Some of the properties were actually on the MLS, but they just looked different, because they never saw the fact that it had an ocean view, or that it was beside a Freeway, or it had power lines [unintelligible [00:09:12].06] or that the backyard was actually bigger than what the photos were on the MLS. That really differentiated me, because I was providing value that no agent could find in your house, and I was getting comments on the text that say “This house is awesome, but it’s got this problem”, or “This is a deficiency”, or “This is why it’s terrific.”
That’s what I did, and it got me a lot of reactions, it got me a lot of potential clients, and people were kind of tuning in to me. But it only worked as fast as I could take photos and videos and send to people, unfortunately… But that’s why I’ve built Rila.
Theo Hicks: So you’re taking these photos and these pictures, and you’re sharing them on WhatsApp?
Ben Bacal: Or text message, or email.
Theo Hicks: Okay, so you have a list of these potential buyers. How did you create that list?
Ben Bacal: Just by meeting people. Whenever I’m out and about, whether it’s at a hotel, or if it’s waiting in line at the grocery store, or I’m about to have dinner, if I feel that there’s a potential buyer near me, I’m gonna start conversations with them. Everyone likes to talk about real estate… And I drive that conversation towards “Are you ever thinking of buying or selling a property?” and they become a potential buyer.
I also hold open houses, of course, and I get a lot of leads that way. And of course, these days I’m putting photos of properties that I visit (open houses) on my Facebook, on my Instagram, and most importantly, on Rila, so I can actually get the lead, because my phone number actually shows up that way.
Theo Hicks: Okay, so let’s dive into Rila. It’s a mobile app… Do you mind walking us through exactly what the app is, and maybe you can talk a little bit about the process of creating it, why you created it, any challenges you had creating it, things like that.
Ben Bacal: Exactly. First of all, it can be found on the App Store. It’s on iOS only. Like I said, the way I was successful as an agent when I started is I would literally go door-to-door and find these properties that weren’t for sale. And then I know where to distribute that content, tell people about it. So I’d take photos on my old Nokia phone, and eventually my older iPhone and even Blackberry – I’d take these photos and I’d start sharing them with my network. I’d be like “Look at this house I’ve found on 1221 [unintelligible [00:11:35].08] Street” and I’d share it.
Then I’d get maybe one or two texts back from the 30 texts that I sent out with that photo, with like “Oh, where is that?” But I’d send that also to realtors as well, not only to my own buyers. And then from that photo I would get a potential lead through another agent and their buyer. I’d then show up to that property, show that client the house; maybe it worked out and I got it sold, I went in escrow. Chances are it didn’t, but it got me through the door, and it showed the seller that I really [unintelligible [00:12:04].03] and I’ve got buyers.
So what Rila is is a place where you can essentially go out to any open house or any off market property and you can post that photo into an area, and buyers, if they see that photo, and that photo takes them to the listing – because it will take them to the listing – I get the lead. So literally, instead of paying for leads through Zillow, Trulia, Homes.com, all you need to do is go out to open houses, take photos, and if a buyer sees your photo and they click on it, you get the lead. It’s that easy.
So this whole project Rila is to empower agents, and go out and earn as much business as they desire. All they’ve gotta do is go out there, like I did, and shoot content, and create listings. And the more photos that they put up, the more leads they’re gonna get, and it’s all free. The idea for consumers is that, like I said before, you’re providing value, because you’re showing them photos that they can’t see anywhere else. That’s the magic, and that’s why I was so successful.
It was in Forbes a couple days ago, and the Real Deal talked about it and had an article about, saying it’s the Instagram of real estate, except the difference is instead of following people, you’re following places. Buyers are following areas of interest that they like – Connecticut, Beverly Hills, Cincinnati, Chicago, Florida, Miami Beach – and your photos that you take out there, as you’re posting them, they’re dropping in the feed, and you’re dropping like breadcrumbs of potential leads.
When I’ve got open houses now in L.A. – they’re on Tuesdays and Sundays – instead of leaving empty-handed, I’m literally going to these open houses and I’m creating listings, I’m creating all these photos you can’t find anywhere else. The idea here is to empower all the agents.
I went out there, we were literally just sitting at our desk, forwarding existing content that’s on the MLS. Bring value to all these customers out there by showing them what these properties actually look like, and your contact number is gonna be right there.
So for me, when I go get a pocket listing – how are you gonna tell people about it? You can take a couple pictures and put it in an email and blast it – sure, that could be useful… But here, you can take ten pictures, you can actually create a listing in under a minute – it literally takes like 30 seconds to create a listing – and then you always have it in your profile section; there’s a share button right on that listing, so you can share it with the world, on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and so forth.
Theo Hicks: Is this strictly in L.A, or if I’m an agent in Cincinnati — is there a Rila in Cincinnati as well?
Ben Bacal: Yeah, when you log into the app it says you can follow three different neighborhoods – Beverly Hills, Los Angeles and West Hollywood – but you can go into your profile section and you can follow any city. We have actually thousands of users using it all over the country, and you can get to thousands of more buyers and sellers by simply creating a listing and then pressing the Share button. There’s a little arrow… And that shares directly to Facebook, and Twitter, and your email, your text…
The idea is that it’s all crowdsourced, so it’s never been done before… Where you go take a dozen pictures, and then other people will be in that open house and they’ll take photos, and it’s all gonna contribute to one listing. Then that makes your job easier. So only your name is gonna show up next to that photo to get the lead, if that makes sense.
Theo Hicks: Is this something that from a business perspective you’re trying to get a lot of potential buyers to use the app, or is your goal to focus on getting a bunch of realtors to use the app? Or both.
Ben Bacal: No, it’s both. It’s very much a consumer app, but it’s all about free leads. The whole idea here is all these MLSes and Zillows – it’s so expensive. These fees are exorbitant. Collectively, it’s costing agents millions of dollars. But why? I mean, they’re cheating.
Theo Hicks: Yeah, it’s like — you can advertise on there, and be the top of the list, things like that…
Ben Bacal: Oh, it’s so expensive. Beverly Hills is like $10,000, and the cheapest area of Los Angeles – $1,500 every month. They lock you into a six-month contract, you get maybe one good lead a month, but the rest are just spam and [unintelligible [00:16:17].11] And what’s worse is we’re uploading our content to the MLS, and they’re selling it to Zillow, they’re selling it back to us, and now they’re just trying to cut us out of the business entirely.
Theo Hicks: Yeah, exactly.
Ben Bacal: So what Rila is trying to do is put the power back into the agent’s hands, so it will never go to Zillow and Realtor.com. It’s literally going from the agent directly to the consumer, and then the consumer directly back to the agent. So we’re cutting out the MLS and the Zillows that are trying to kill our livelihood, and we’re empowering the agent to get out there and make as much money as they can just by taking photos and sharing them with their database via Rila. That’s free. All free.
I created this for myself, because I have a couple hundred listings on there, and I’m able to go into my profile and share those all day long. So instead of going home and playing Fortnite or watching my favorite TV show, I’ll go home and I’ll spend that two hours – or even an hour – and I’ll just add content to different listings that I saw, and I’ll share that.
For new agents getting in the business it’s almost impossible. I’ll tell you why… Because the top agents in all these brokerages are favorite, and they’re given the best splits, they’re given the resources to succeed. They can leverage the fact that they did all their sales, which is what I do, yes… But for a new agent, how do you get in the business? You’ve gotta spend money on Zillow, thousands of dollars… We can’t afford that; we’re just trying to get our feet wet, right? So this is what I did to start – I went out there and I hustled and I door-knocked and I cold-called, and I did the hard work, I put myself at risk and I made myself feel really uncomfortable. When you feel uncomfortable by saying [unintelligible [00:18:03].04] things happen in life; you start meeting people and connecting.
Now, if you’re not that type of person and you don’t wanna do that, and you’re going to open houses, don’t leave empty-handed. Create listings from those open houses. Literally, create a listing. You can’t do that on Instagram, it doesn’t create a listing; it doesn’t have your contact number, it doesn’t have a description, it doesn’t have a map associated to it, it doesn’t have any real estate… It’s all dogs, cats, girlfriends, girls in bikinis, guys in their underwear. It’s too everywhere. This is an app built by a realtor, for a realtor, so you can literally get out there and promote yourself via sharing content, sharing photos of homes you see. So agents are essentially helping other listing agents broadcast their listing, if that makes sense.
Theo Hicks: Yeah, 100%. Once I’m done with the interviews today I’m gonna look up in Tampa and see what properties are on there. Alright, Ben, what is your best real estate investing advice ever?
Ben Bacal: My best real estate investing advice ever is to save your cash. I think there’s great FHA loans now. You can probably get a loan and put down 10% or even 5%… So since you save up some money, go to those opportunity zones, those areas that are a little seethy, because the world’s only getting bigger… So go buy any property you can and rent that property, and you’ll see a couple years later it’s gonna go up in value, and then you’re gonna refinance that, cash out, and you’ll maybe save a little bit more cash from another sales transaction you did, and you’re gonna go buy another one. And you’re just gonna keep on doing that until you’re 60 years old, 80 years old, and you’ve got 200 of those that are just cash-flowing… It’s called champagne money.
Theo Hicks: There we go, the champagne advice. Alright, Ben, are you ready for the best ever lightning round?
Ben Bacal: Yes, lightning round. Let’s do it!
Theo Hicks: Alrighty. First, a quick word from our sponsor.
Theo Hicks: Alright, Ben, best ever book you’ve recently read?
Ben Bacal: The PayPal Wars.
Theo Hicks: If your business were to collapse today, what would you do next?
Ben Bacal: I would sell shoes on the internet. Collectible shoes. I’d buy them on eBay, sell them somewhere else.
Theo Hicks: I actually used to do that in college, with Nikes.
Ben Bacal: Oh, you did? There you go… I’d sell something.
Theo Hicks: What is the worst deal you’ve ever done?
Ben Bacal: It would be — god, they’re like, every other deal. Just kidding. [laughter] The worst deal I’ve ever done… I’ve just had a bad deal two days ago. There was a homeless man sleeping in the house and I couldn’t get him out of the 50 million dollar home. He kept on messing up the deal, because was always showing up every Sunday.
Theo Hicks: That’s a unique one. And then lastly, what’s the best ever place for the Best Ever listeners to reach you?
Ben Bacal: Instagram, @benbacalestates. That works. I answer to everybody, so I’m really good at that. If anyone wants to reach out to me, it’s @benbacalestates. Check me out there. You can also see the article on Forbes about Rila, too. It really explains what we’re trying to do.Theo Hicks: Fantastic. Alright, Ben, I really appreciate the conversation with you today. Lots of solid information. Just because you’ve been selling multi-million-dollar homes doesn’t mean that you can’t apply some of these lessons to your business. Something that stood out to me that I think everyone can apply is the way you were generating leads.
You do a deal, and then you essentially let everyone know that you did that deal… And you’d use that by doing door-knocking, doing face-to-face, doing postcards, cold-calling, you make videos, you e-blast… But then the biggest thing you focused on was taking those photos that people couldn’t find on the MLS, Trulia, Homes.com, places like that, and showing those with your potential buyers or potential sellers, and that kind of helped you evolve into starting Rila, which is available on the iOS store. I’m definitely gonna check that out after this call. Essentially, agents can post pictures, and the pictures turn into listings. So it’s the Instagram of real estate, as Forbes called it, but instead of following people you are following areas.
And of course, your best ever advice, the champagne advice, which is to buy property, if you can leverage the FHA (low down payment), rent the property out, refinance, pull that cash out and do it again until you’re 60-70 years old, to have 200 properties that are cash-flowing, and making that champagne money.
Again, Ben, I really appreciate it. Best Ever listeners, thanks for tuning in, and we will talk to you soon.
Ben Bacal: Thank you so much. Terrific! Bye for now.