Building a Real-Estate Empire

Where do I begin?

I want to build a real estate business. Do you have any suggestions?

~ Will H.

Dear Will,

Thank you for writing to us. Your question is very interesting; or to be more precise, how you chose to phrase your question revealed quite a lot. You didn’t ask, “How do I get into residential real estate?” or “How do I get into commercial real estate?” or “How do I assemble a portfolio of rental properties?” You asked a very general question and that was revealing.

As an answer, we would like to share a lesson from the Biblical festival of Passover, whose highlight is the important ceremony called the Seder. The observance of the Seder revolves around reading from a book known as the Haggadah, or “telling.” However, rather than tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, which could be done quite well by reading from the second of the Five Books of Moses, the Haggadah is full of seemingly unrelated pieces, many of which focus on how to keep the vital lessons of the Exodus alive, vibrant and relevant to all generations.

Towards the beginning of the Haggadah, we read the questions of four sons, generally translated into English as the wise, wicked, and simple sons, along with a son who doesn’t know how to formulate a question. In fact, we are being taught that all of us have parts of all four sons inside us, with one or another coming to the forefront at different times. Each of the first three sons asks a question about leaving Egypt.

Within you, Will, as in within us, exist all four sons. Our task in life is to work towards being the wise son. When we approach something completely alien to us, we are often in the position of not knowing even the language necessary to formulate an intelligent and useful question. For this reason, one of the rules we instituted for everyone wishing to attend a Bible study class in our California congregation was staying silent in class until you had attended three weekly sessions. Now, many of the students were incredibly brilliant and successful scientists and professionals in business, medicine, and entertainment. They could speak with erudition on many topics and we greatly enjoyed Shabbat meals in their company. Yet, they were new to Bible study, the Hebrew language, and ancient Jewish wisdom. They needed to acquire vocabulary and to assimilate basic concepts before speaking in class.

The next step as they began to absorb information in this new field of study, usually consisted of their asking broad questions. That is the type of question you asked us about building a real-estate business. The trick, for our students and for you, is to move towards the type of question the wise son asks. In the Haggadah, his question is, “What are these testimonies, and these rules and these commandments that God commanded you?” The Hebrew words denoting these three categories show that the wise son has spent time learning as much as he could master about the basics of the field and that he understands the complexity of what he is asking.

Will, we recommend that you read, research and, if possible, tag along with someone in the specific real estate field you are considering. You may find that you are drawn to commercial deals, or that you enjoy selling, or that you work best on financial details. You will discover that real-estate is a huge area, with many subcategories. You will need to become savvy about taxation, regulation and legalities in your country and region. As you learn more, you will fine tune your questions and be ready for real answers.

When you eventually achieve your goal of building a profitable real estate business, from time to time, younger people will approach you for guidance. One way you will employ to decide how much of your valuable time to give to your young interlocutor will be to listen to how he or she asks questions. Those who demonstrate that they did their homework before knocking on your door will receive the most generous and enthusiastic help from you.

You will have noticed that we side-stepped the wicked son. All of us have a bit of him in us too. It is that part of us that wants to ignore the hard work needed to succeed and to pull down those who do better than we do. It is our human tendency toward laziness and quick fixes. It is that voice inside us that tells us that we can’t achieve and that the deck is stacked against us. Silence that voice! Onwards and upwards.

We look forward to hearing where your explorations lead,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin


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