An entrepreneur at heart, Jonathan considers it his greatest achievement to deliver exemplary service and keen expertise as he helps his customers achieve their real estate goals. Motivated by a strong work ethic and a true passion for the real estate business, he has developed an extensive knowledge of the Northwest Florida real estate market.
He puts that knowledge to work for his customers, securing the best deal for his buyers and highest sale price for customers selling their luxury properties. To date, he has closed over $700 million in sales, and for the second consecutive year, Jonathan was named the youngest member of “The Thousand Top Real Estate Professionals,” as published in The Wall Street Journal – inking him in the top one-half of one percent of the more than 1.3 million REALTORS® nationwide by individual sales volume. Jonathan graduated from Florida State University at 19 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. He devotes the same uncompromising dedication and work ethic to his customers in every transaction.
Umar Hameed 0:06
Are you ready to become awesomer? Hello everyone. This is Umar Hameed, your
host and welcome to the no limit selling Podcast, where industry leaders share
their tips, strategies and advice on how to make you better, stronger, faster.
Get ready for another episode.
Hello everyone. Today I have the privilege of having Jonathan Spears here.
He runs the spears group. Jonathan, I am jealous. You’re in Florida is 80 plus
degrees. Welcome to the program. Yeah, thanks so much. Thanks for having me.
You know, if you were a decent guy, you’d shut the shutters that are behind
you. So I couldn’t see the sunshine. But that’s okay. Welcome to the program.
And one of the reasons I was excited to chat with you is you started in this
business in 2010. Yeah. And it was after the financial crash of Florida was
still probably in disarray at that point. Absolutely. So you started when you
were 18? What made you decide on your 18th birthday to get your license?
Jonathan Spears 1:14
So for me, I went to college early. I was a fast track through school. My
nickname was Doogie Howser. And at the time, I had no idea who that was because
I was too young to remember. But that’s I was coming out of college. And I
remember, you know, watching Lehman Brothers collapse. And my my studies were
specific to finance and business. And so my pursuit was you potentially go into
a larger market, larger city, alternative area to kind of grow in
entrepreneurial spirit. And at the time, we were still knee deep in the
financial crisis, Florida, in particular, Northwest Florida was being affected
pretty heavily by the Gulf oil spill. And
Umar Hameed 1:58
go ahead, I’m sorry, that I was just kind of reacting to the, you know, the two
major catastrophes, oh, yeah. One, just globally, everybody. And then the other
one that oil catastrophe was was massive. So you got two things going on? Yes.
How do you find your niche in that space? What was interesting, because at the
time, you know, if you would have said, Hey, I want to get into real estate,
arguably is the worst time to get into real estate, the least amount of
Jonathan Spears 2:24
activity in the market, the largest contraction we’ve ever seen, was that year
2010. So I started at the bottom. And hindsight, 10 years later, it was by far
the best time I could have ever chosen to gotten into real estate, because the
level of problem solving through transactions, whether they were foreclosures
or have a PhD in it, I got a PhD in it. Absolutely. And, you know, we apply it
to deals we do today. And it was a really good experience.
Umar Hameed 2:53
Jonathan, so you’re into the market, it’s not the best time, there must have
been a moment in that journey, where you looked in the mirror and said, What
the hell am I doing here? Like, did you have one of those moments? And if you
did, how did you keep going?
Jonathan Spears 3:05
I can tell you, when I looked in the mirror, all I saw was my baby face. And
that’s what everybody saw. So I had to fake it till I made it till I was able
to make it and ultimately, you know, I go to showings fresh out of college
classes. And they would say, you know, are you in high school? Like, how are
you? What are you doing, and very quickly, I realized that my gift and my
ability to provide value to prospective customer was knowledge and
understanding of the market and nanba articulate that really well. And so I was
able to ultimately dip into the business by learning the business and being
boots on the ground with data, especially because the type of buyer profile we
were seeing and being in Florida, you’re almost exclusively a second home, or,
you know, investment style property market, our area in particular.
Umar Hameed 3:54
So I’m a Canadian, and Canadians love Florida. So lots of snowbirds coming out
Jonathan Spears 4:00
Oh my goodness, the biggest issue for me with Canadians at the time was trying
to find them financing. You know, RV just
Umar Hameed 4:06
to get a mortgage here for somebody that’s not in the country.
Jonathan Spears 4:09
Yeah, absolutely. Yep. And, you know, people were not necessarily flush with
cash in 2010. They saw opportunity, certain investors with where the market had
been in 2005 2006, slashed in half, or by maybe two to 300%. I mean, it was it
was brutal. But where I saw opportunity was being able to help somebody build a
portfolio of inventory that allowed a certain level of cash flow. And that’s
where I started my career, and I just kind of leaned into it. I worked for a
top agent in the market at the time. And I believe that was a great entry into learning
the market because like we talked about earlier, you know, people can get in
their own way. And I certainly didn’t have all the answers and I was hungry for
knowledge. So be able to get under somebody else’s wing that not only has lived
through the hype of a market, but also pioneering the low lows was advantageous
and, and also gave me just a perfect base foundation to work from,
Umar Hameed 5:13
what was the name of your mentor there that you worked for?
Jonathan Spears 5:16
I worked with a guy named David Connor. And he operated with a company called
White Sands Realty.
Umar Hameed 5:21
So David, there was probably a couple of moments where he gave you some advice
at critical times, like what were two or three pieces of advice that he gave
you that really helped you lean into this. So
Jonathan Spears 5:32
some of the best pieces of advice, and he gave me a lot was to slow down and
pay attention to the details. And as salespeople, we’re so busy on our
treadmill, trying to handle leads and contracts and all the above, especially
when you’re starting out, you don’t have a team of people doing that for you.
Typically, you know, you’ve got folks that rely on you from point A to closing.
And for me, I was flying by the seat of my pants, I was in a reactive style
business, which we’ll talk about a little bit later. But you know, ultimately,
we were fielding calls on listings that David had that were foreclosures and
the profile on the other end were investors.
Umar Hameed 6:11
So gave you this piece of advice for a lot of people getting stupid advice like
that is what do you mean slow down. So getting that advice, and actually having
it be meaningful for you wasn’t like immediate, you said, okay, whatever you’re
saying I’m doing where did it take you a little while to really kind of go,
okay, slowing down is better,
Jonathan Spears 6:26
it still takes me a while to figure out the slowing down is better, because my
tendency is to is to fly and we keep moving. And the reality is, is when you
slow down, you begin to understand the detail of what you’re doing and all of
the mechanics of a transaction, whether it was understanding a certain
paragraph in our florida state contracts or understanding the process that a
bank would require in order to submit an offer successfully, because you could
you could write up an offer, you could have a ready, willing and able buyer,
and your offer never get reviewed, because you missed a blue signature on the
form. So there were there were a lot of details involved in that type of
transaction. And like I said before, I was so thankful to really get my start
in that field. Because that experience as it mirrors deals that we do today
seems so much more difficult.
Umar Hameed 7:18
Brilliant. I was actually doing this really amazing interview. And if you get a
chance, go back on the podcast. The woman’s name is Elaine Northrup and she
started 47 years ago in this business. And you were saying that he started it
was like a contract was two pages in the handshake. Yeah. And now it’s like,
you know, a volume of text worth the contract, which is like, quite
complicated. Yeah. So at 2016, you decided to get an admin person? And my guess
is that when you got that admin person, you wish you would have done it sooner?
Jonathan Spears 7:49
Oh, my goodness, yes. So what’s interesting, just to kind of give you a more
specific timeline, when I got my license, I didn’t start selling immediately.
So in 2010, I got a I got a real estate license, I was essentially hired on as
an assistant. And I worked doing broker price opinions for banks, essentially
just plug and play with data. But then I would plug and play with data, I was
able to start to process and understand the data that we were fueling on to
some of the largest banks in the nation. And that same data that provided value
to them was data that I was able to put in my memory bank that I could remember
to a perspective by it became your superpower, it became my superpower.
Absolutely. So after doing that, for for probably a good two to two and a half
years is when I really started to get the opportunity to transact. And by
transact I mean, you know, taking phone calls, fielding leads, and starting to
transition to sales full time. And the market also started to grow with me as I
started to grow, which was also very helpful. But we started to see that that
contraction begin to level out and slowly but surely, expansion.
Umar Hameed 9:03
So were you chomping at the bit to kind of get in front of clients? Because I
know sometimes you’re like doing the background work. And what was that
experience like like wanting to move forward? But your mentor saying no, no,
slow down, learn this stuff really well, like, What’s that like?
Jonathan Spears 9:16
Well, I think he was brilliant in the sense that he understood if he was going
to help propel my career in that specific direction that I needed to have a
very solid base underneath me and the market at the time was still very tough.
You know, today, I feel like one and one out of two people I meet in our area
are transacting real estate. I mean, they’ve licensed it’s, it’s probably the
bread and butter in terms of career, we’ve got a population of, you know,
15,000 people in Destin and you know, you’ve got four or 5000 licensees in the
area. So it’s pretty robust. And, you know, for me, having somebody at the helm
was able to be there for advice and help me navigate certain scenarios was
imperative to building my career. Brilliant. So
Umar Hameed 10:09
2016, you start building a team? What was the vision you had versus the reality
that you found being a leader getting a team?
Jonathan Spears 10:18
Well, let’s go back and just talk real briefly about reactive selling versus
Unknown Speaker 10:22
Jonathan Spears 10:25
I work for this company, White Sands realty for five years. So essentially,
from 2010, to the end of 2014. And at the time, the inventory we were
transacting on was really, uh, all all areas of the market, all sectors, all
price points. But most prominently, you know, sub 500,000, which for our market
is, you know, below the median, um, what I gravitated to was the luxury end of
the market and what I enjoyed, understood and could articulate with the high
end. So, it started, if I was doing bank bpos, we get this stray luxury
opportunity, you know, that stray million dollar foreclosure and I would just
delve into it. And, you know, I started to see my eyes light up and inside
internally, I knew that that’s the direction that I wanted to go in. And so I
started studying that market, not exclusively, but I had such a broad knowledge
base from that superpower, as you called it earlier of information that when I
did get the opportunity to potentially represent somebody in that space, I was
able to do it very well. And it’s snowballed. So I essentially transition from
being an assistant to a single agent. And when I decided to transfer over at
Sotheby’s International Realty, um, it was a big step for me to go from
reactive, where I was answering phone calls and somebody else’s listings,
right, you, you know, being dropped into an empty space and saying, alright,
sky’s the limit. Let’s see what you can do. And having to be proactive. So I
went from my phone ringing off the hook, because the office would forward
phones to me exclusively, to jumping into a large pond where I was the very
small fish trying to figure out okay, how am I going to get one of these
minnows, and that required me to pick up my phone and make calls. And so none
of these were has incredible tools, resources, but also a name that’s
recognizable in the luxury space. So I saw the opportunity to be able to
leverage that in particular to to grow my business. And I think I transitioned
in January of 2015. The year prior, I was 23 years old. I did 24 million in
sales with 54 transactions. What was huge? Yeah, yeah, it was. Thank you so
much. It was solid. Um, you know, that year that I transitioned as I was
actually 22 when I switched when I switched over the year, I changed the
Sotheby’s, I turned 23 in January, and I didn’t sell anything from January to
April. It was crickets. Yeah, oh my gosh, for me, it was just such a shock to
go from that reactive form of selling and ultimately prospecting right? Going
from reactive to proactive prospecting and in trying to penetrate a market that
everybody’s after. And being you know, Doogie Howser young with the baby face.
Um, but that year, that first year with Sotheby’s, I was so low, and I did 47
million in business. So not only that do almost double the production the year
prior. But my average price point went up by double. So the transaction volume
was about the same 50 to 55 transactions, I was doing it all by myself. I was
the Top single agent for the company that the entire firm that I was at. And I
think the guys that own the firm, were just kind of like wide eyed, like, Who’s
this kid coming in here and disrupting everything. And for me, you know, the
perspective of growth was a very simple denominator. And that was time. And I
had to find a way to leverage my time, which is why I decided to go with a team
Umar Hameed 14:16
All right, so let’s back up. We’re gonna come back to the team in a moment.
Certainly, you’ve got several months without any sales. Yes. So there must have
been a few moments during that journey where you’re like, What’s wrong with me?
Did I make the right move? So tell me about one time you kept going? Because a
lot of agents no matter what business you’re in, give up at that point, What
kept you going?
Jonathan Spears 14:36
I think for me, you know, I had a lot of belief in myself. And I knew that, you
know, the prior year at 24 million, that was the year I decided to make a
change because I how produce the top producer, the individual that I was
working for, and I did that on half a split, right. So not only was I
incentivized financially, I’m out of my own, you know, I have These great
opportunities at my fingertips. But I had to figure out like in the trenches,
okay, how is this going to work, and it wasn’t going to work with people
magically calling me, you know, my marketing was was great, but I didn’t have
any listings, you know, so I saw an opportunity to leverage the southern B’s
brand in particular, whether it’s, you know, with buyer’s or seller’s, but more
prominently with sellers. And I started to make the calls, cold calls in
particular, to agents, and or excuse me, not agents to clients and owners that
had properties that thought I could inject some value with them on. And you got
to think we’re in an ascending market at this point. So you call somebody in
the sales pitches, and hey, I’m Jonathan, I’m with Sotheby’s, I have this
incredible tool belt, I went back to that superpower of data. And I said, Hey,
this is Jonathan Spears, I just want to let you know, we sold a price a, we may
have been somebody in my office, I said, We sold a property in your
neighborhood, and it was a record for the last 10 years. And they start going
What do you mean record? You know, I thought we had record unemployment, what
you What’s going on? And so it opened up a dialogue to create a relationship.
And so I focused on creating those relationships. And slowly but surely, I
started to see this snowball effect.
Umar Hameed 16:17
So how much money should you put minus just say, a little bit a lot? When you
went on your own at Sotheby’s your bank account? Was it healthy enough for you
to kind of breathe easy? Or was it like, Oh, my God, this has to work soon.
Jonathan Spears 16:30
Um, it was it was a it was healthy enough. But you know, the old saying is
nothing is ever enough. And so, so I wasn’t starving. But in my mind, that was
my mentality every day when I woke up is I hadn’t eaten. And I’m hungry. That’s
a good place to be. So let’s go
Umar Hameed 16:47
to 2016. You are deciding I need some more agents with me. What made you pick
the first agent? And did you make a good move or a bad move? Don’t name names?
Jonathan Spears 16:56
No, I won’t. I definitely won’t. So I’m 2016. So I had an assistant. And I was
looking to slowly but surely grow both in influence on the listing side. But
also seeing as I accumulated listings, and my focus was serving sellers at the
highest possible level, I would get buyers that would inevitably come in. So
there’s an old saying in the market, that he who controls the listing controls
the market. And in that regard, I had control of certain sectors of the market
at the time, but I wasn’t, I wasn’t able to really spend much time working
buyers. And so I realized that in order to capture market share, and do more, I
needed to have some additional help to do so. And I really thought that my
assistant could do that. And so we tried to play with scenarios where the
assistant that I had was working leads and you know, trying to close business,
but then something on the left side may fall through the cracks. So this trial
and error process begin was able to begin, um, for me when I hired my first
independent agent, which was late 2016, somebody who had prospected, me, and
they said, hey, look, I see you having a lot of success, I really want to have
a coffee, let’s talk. And I ended up just saying, Yes, we had a coffee. And I
saw an opportunity not only with this agent, being able to feel leads, but also
being able to bring new business in an influence and an area of the market that
I wasn’t already in. And so that that team strategy really developed where you
pull your head out of the sand and you go, Okay, I can only do so much by
myself. And really, as a single agents, we operate with blinders, you know,
that we can only see what’s in front of us, and you hire one other person and
the dynamic perspective shifts. And the influence not only grows, but there’s
that compounded effect. And I started to see the success of that and slowly but
surely wanted to grow it.
Umar Hameed 19:06
So the job of the leader is I think threefold. Number one is to have a kick ass
amazing vision that other people go, I want to be part of that. A second one is
culture, how do we build a culture where people go, I feel at home, and I
wouldn’t want to work anywhere else and the people get attracted to it. And
number three is long term shareholder value. So the culture piece of it, what
is the culture you’re trying to develop in your company, so that no matter who a
customer deals with, they get the same feel? Right? How do you think about
that, and how do you execute that?
Jonathan Spears 19:36
So culture really comes from the top. When I affiliated with Sotheby’s
International Realty, their culture was a shock to me, because I came from a
very small office. The mentality was just so different. And it started to
really ingrain in me, um, you know, just like the the old same leaders
Essentially, he last right, like you put your pipe, I started to see that from
the top down. And so I have two competing brokers, they’re not really
competing. I see them collaborate. And that culture of collaboration in
particular is what essentially leads to a team. On my team members are not
employees, they are valued partners. And so my mindset had to shift with the
culture in particular, is that, hey, this culture of collaboration, and the
mindset is, these are not, you know, buyer’s agents or listing agents. These
are, these are partners, and this is a partnership.
Umar Hameed 20:36
Let’s say Southern bees will pick another area of the country, wherever they
want to go, let’s say Boston, they could have two teams in Boston that both
have 10, let’s say for admins, six agents, yes, but a vibe of each team would
be dramatically different. Absolutely. Even though they were in southern B. So
what’s the vibe of your team? And how do you ensure that that stays even when
you get more people coming in?
Jonathan Spears 20:59
So first of all, our southern visa affiliate in Boston is amazing.
Great teams there. Um, but I agree with you completely there. You know, our
team is completely different from other teams within our own firm, you know,
our sales volume accounts for almost 20% of the business that our firm does,
which is, you know, something I’m very proud of. And, you know, when you look
at the way you operate a team versus the way you’re competing broker may
operate a team, it’s going to be different. Inevitably, we all have different
leadership styles. And so I had to really figure out who am I as a leader, and
you know, what is it that I really see in terms of a vision? And you had
mentioned earlier? How do you get a team member to buy into a vision? And so my
first and foremost goal was to be a top producer in the market. And so 2016
Yes, yep. 2016 was the year that I became the top producer for our entire
market, not just Sotheby’s, but the entire Northwest Florida market as a whole.
And I was very young, you know, 24, being a market leader, you know, average
age of an agent, in general is mid 50s. So I’m half the age of the average,
people looked at me, and they’re just kind of scratching their heads going, who
is this guy, and I sort of loved that. And I saw it as an opportunity to, you
know, collaborate with other agents outside my team, um, you know, co listings
and opportunities that really opened doors to get in certain segments of the
market. But as I kept going back to, to the need to grow with the team, um, I
just it was, it was purely from collapse in my own business where I was able to
shoot bullets to certain areas that we weren’t doing well. And these blind
spots that we could avoid. And that was adding certain team members,
Umar Hameed 22:49
brilliant, know where the gaps are filled prior to
Jonathan Spears 22:51
Umar Hameed 22:53
Jonathan, if there was one piece of advice, somebody’s thinking about starting
a team right now, what would that one piece of advice be?
Jonathan Spears 23:01
If you’re looking at starting a team, right now, you have got to focus not only
on the value that somebody would, would bring to your team, but the value that
you would bring to your team member. And I think that’s the month that we have
to stay in as a team leader, because there’s so many different dynamics and
situations that you’d get into. And like you had mentioned earlier, you know,
today, I’m a better leader than I was in 2016. And 2022, I’m going to be a
better leader than I am in 2000. Inevitably, my goal is to grow both internally
and externally. And that value piece is so important for not only retention,
but also culture. And so when you think about somebody that you would hire and
you’re looking at at, you know, how are they going to fit in? It’s really how
are you going to fit with them? And how are you enhancing their life and their
business? So that’s what I look for in building a team. I’ve slowly but but
surely built one that’s extremely efficient, one of the top teams in the nation
of real trends, but you know, that’s how we continue to grow. We’re slow to hire,
I say quick, the fire I mean, I’ve I’ve retained almost everybody we’ve hired
over the last five years, which I’m very proud of.
Umar Hameed 24:14
That is brilliant. Jonathan, thank you so much for sitting down with me. I
learned a lot and I’m going to keep an eye on you see how you guys are doing.
It’s my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me Umar.
If you enjoyed this episode, please go to iTunes and leave a five star
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