Mark Choey

Meet Mark, the founder, and CEO of Highnote, a presentation and proposal platform designed specifically for service providers. With a background as a top-producing salesperson, team and brokerage leader, computer engineer, and product designer, Mark has a unique insight into what it takes to create great software for service providers who don’t have time to design.


Consistency, Patience & Tequila: ‘Ricky the Realtor’ Shares His Journey to Real Estate Success

Finding the right career is difficult for some, but that wasn’t the case for Ricky J. Alvarez – or “Ricky the Realtor,” as many prefer to call him. He was born into the real estate industry and decided to stay true to his family roots, paving his own way as a hugely successful real estate agent in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Ricky took time out of his busy schedule to share his story with HighNote, and even provided a few tips for anyone looking to get started in real estate.

Hi, Ricky! Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me. Can you start by telling me a little about yourself, and how you decided to become a Realtor?

Sure. I’ve been in real estate pretty much all my life, to be honest with you. This is my sixth year full-time, I’ve been licensed for seven years, and I love every minute of it. It’s such a rewarding industry – the emotions involved, the execution. Ultimately just helping someone achieve a goal and handing over those keys is the highlight of my career and why I love what I do. 

Since I was a kid, I’ve been involved in my family’s business. I always thought they were maintenance people working at apartment buildings, but come to find out they were the owners of those apartment buildings! I think that was ultimately their goal, was for me to be in this industry, and I did eventually land here. So you could say they kind of bred me for the business, it was something they’ve always wanted for me. But ultimately I think it’s something that I needed for myself.

I graduated from Cal State East Bay in 2013, with a major in business administration and a focus on finance. I took some real estate electives. I was working at a pawn shop and waiting tables at Outback Steakhouse while going to school, and finally I decided I just needed to focus on one job and finish up school. I was actually approached by my COO at the pawn shop. They couldn’t pay me enough to keep me there. They saw I was professional and I liked real estate and that was part of my life, so they introduced me to my associate and current team member still today, Joshua Simkin England, and we just got together and just had a ball. And it wasn’t until I was able to actually get really hands on, to go out and do some broker tours, that I really fell in love with the whole aspect of working with people, helping them, not being cooped up in an office. Everything was about being a people person and working with people, and finding what they value in a home, and using that strategy to get them into the place of their dreams. Helping sellers achieve their goal of selling their property, upsizing or downsizing – whatever the case may be – it just really excited me and ultimately drove me to continue and pursue getting licensed in this industry at the beginning of 2014.

…And then it was time to market yourself. How did you go about doing that?

I really focused on plugging myself into every free marketing method around! At that time, Instagram was booming. Facebook was still there, along with Twitter and YouTube. I utilized all of them to promote myself and get myself in front of people. I sent Facebook messages to over 1,800 friends just to let them know I was getting into the industry. So I really just put myself out there as much as I could, and ultimately still to this day, when I talk to young agents, I tell them to utilize free technology – especially now with COVID-19, because it’s harder than it once was to go knock on doors and get in front of people. 

It’s impossible to talk about real estate today without mentioning COVID-19. How have you adjusted during this time? And do you think those changes are here to stay, even after the pandemic is over?

I’m a people person, so I really miss open houses. It’s something that was a vital part of our business, but there are so many different ways we have adapted. I’ve been doing a lot of videos since I started, and I’ve definitely gotten better at doing those over the past year or so – I’m less camera shy than I once was!

I literally started with Snapchat and Instagram, just making short videos to get comfortable behind the camera. And now I utilize videos on pretty much all my listings. I also do virtual open houses. I’ll create a Facebook event page and I’ll go live at a scheduled time.  

I’m a huge fan of technology, it really is the cornerstone of my business, so it was probably easier for me to adapt than it was for others. For me, it was just a quick switch. I knew I needed to still get in front of people. So I decided to utilize social media, video, and marketing tactics to get in front of more folks. And this worked, especially because people had so much time on their hands during lockdown that they were spending more time on social media. So that was a perfect way for me to capture a lot more clients. 

I do feel as though open houses and broker tours are probably not going to come back in full fashion as they once were. And I think that’s because there’s so much technology right now that we’re able to utilize, without folks even having to step in the door. You’re able to really focus on the key features of a home and reach so many more eyeballs online than if you were to host a traditional open house. 

Are you able to interact directly with viewers during virtual open houses, to provide a more customized experience?

I usually start out by providing an overview of the home, and then I might get specific questions in the comments section. Someone might ask how old the home is, what the list price is, the address. Sometimes they’ll ask me to revisit the backyard or the kitchen, so I am able to interact with people in that way, and I can also point them in the direction of going to my website or a custom URL I may have for the property. I’ll also add those who are commenting to my CRM and follow up with them later because either they’re interested in that home now or they may be interested in buying in the future. So it helps with lead generation as well. 

I use my iPhone to do the recording and I’m able to record in 4K so it comes out really, really nice. I also have a stabilizer so I’m not going around shaking my hand the entire time. That adds a better experience for prospective buyers. 

A lot of real estate agents have told me that technology is the difference between a great Realtor and a mediocre Realtor. Do you agree?

Yes! Technology isn’t going anywhere. Agents need to always be adapting, looking for the next best thing. I think if an agent is slow to adapt, they’re going to get left behind. And the thing is, buyers are just as tech savvy as we are; they have the power of their smartphones at their fingertips and they can get online and find houses as quickly as we can. So I think more than anything, that’s what’s really driving our industry, is that our consumers are getting just as savvy as us. So we as Realtors need to separate ourselves from the competition and make ourselves stand out – and that means utilizing things like HighNote. 

For me, I know that I need to better help my clients, and ultimately put myself in a better position to win their business. I think for every Realtor this means using technology, because ultimately that’s what’s going to make us that much more attractive and productive to the consumer, it’s what we can offer them versus what other agents can offer them. 

Speaking of technology… I’d love to hear how you use HighNote!

I was actually just using it this morning to submit an offer! I truly think it’s the beginning of something great. It’s been a game changer, and I’ve utilized it in every aspect of my business. 

HighNote has really helped me solve a major problem when it comes to the awkward time between when an offer is submitted and when you hear back from a real estate agent. There’s usually not much communication there, there’s not much going on. So clients are always wondering if their offer is even being looked at, what’s going on behind the scenes. HighNote solved that for me because now I have the analytics to actually be able to give the client a little bit more information. I’m no longer waiting to receive a text message or email or phone call from the listing agent. I can actually see if they’ve opened up the offer section of the HighNote, and I can relay that information to my client. I can tell them how long the other agent has been looking at our HighNote, and that gives my clients a little more comfort – knowing that their offer is actually being reviewed.

And ultimately, HighNote is just extremely aesthetically pleasing. It’s so much nicer than just attaching a file to an email, it looks so much cleaner. And it adds another level of professionalism, of tailoring the offer to a particular property. It’s just a game changer in how we present offers and how we present information to our buyers and sellers. I’m so glad I added it to my budget this year. 

Here’s another great example of how I used it recently. I spoke to a potential client who wanted to sell their home and sent them over a HighNote with all the information they needed, a little video of me, and all kinds of great stuff. Once they saw it, they were like, “Wow, this is amazing. You really do go above and beyond.” They were a little bit blown away. And no more than 24 hours later, they said they wanted to work with me, they wanted to sign a listing agreement. 

It’s also awesome to hear other Realtors’ comments. Since adopting HighNote, I’ve probably written about two dozen offers, I’ve gotten about 30% to 40% of those accepted. And time and time again, even though I may not receive an acceptance on the offer, the agents always compliment me on the presentation. To any Realtors out there who are reading this, I really do think you should adopt it in your business. It doesn’t cost you much and it just makes your offers look so much cleaner, makes you look so much more professional.

It’s great to hear how you’re utilizing HighNote and other technologies. Now let’s talk about your own creative endeavor, “Tequila and Transactions,” which has also been made possible by technology.

Yes! I launched my own show that I do once a month, and it’s called “Tequila and Transactions,” where we talk about tequila and real estate. I’m a huge tequila aficionado. I love it – it’s a part of not only my culture, but my life. You know, people in California are able to drive up to Napa and see all the vineyards. When I get to my parents’ hometown in Mexico, I see agave being grown on every hillside. So it’s something that I’m very passionate about and I bring on some amazing individuals every month, whether they’re in real estate or anything associated with real estate, just to kind of highlight them, their industry, their passion, what they’re up to.

I know within my network I can bring value to others. It’s been amazing, actually. A couple weeks ago, one of my good friends Daniella Lopez was on the show; she’s a social media/social media marketing guru. So she was on there talking, and literally right after our chat – we went live on Facebook through Zoom – my clients started becoming her clients. So it’s just the power of utilizing technology, getting in front of people, utilizing platforms like Zoom, so that people can put a face to your name; they’re not just seeing your photo or seeing your content with your picture on it, they’re actually seeing the person and hearing the person and being able to kind of create a relationship with them. 

“Tequila and Transactions” is something I really enjoy doing. It definitely adds a fun little spin to the industry, and people can watch and ask questions about real estate and tequila. We have a great time.

Is it a requirement that your interviewees like tequila? Have you ever interviewed someone who doesn’t like it?

I have! It’s funny because I’ve kind of forced them to drink it. People have asked if they can drink bourbon or scotch instead, and I have to remind them it’s called “Tequila and Transactions!” But the cool thing is that every time I have brought someone on that’s not a huge fan of tequila, they’ve really fallen in love with what I’ve recommended that they drink, so we’re able to sit there and enjoy it together. Just like wine, there are so many different types of tequila out there, and folks don’t usually know that until you tell them. So it’s good to be able to educate some people about tequila, have them be a little more open to trying it. 

It sounds like you should start a tequila business on the side!

That’s definitely something that’s going to be in the works for the long-run, but something that I might do when I’m closer to retirement. But who knows – maybe you’ll see Ricky the Realtor’s tequila out there on the shelves soon!

You mentioned earlier in our interview that your parents were the owners of apartment buildings, so you obviously grew up seeing real estate investors in action. Did that influence you? Do you work with investors today?

I definitely know how to work with investors, I know what they’re looking for. I know how to recognize certain things in homes that others may look past, as far as the condition of the property. I can kind of quote numbers off in my head, because I’ve done flips before and have remodeled apartment buildings and homes over the past 10+ years. So I’m really good at just going into a property and really understanding what may need to be done, how much it’s going to cost, and being very realistic with my clients. 

You’ve managed to build a great career in real estate, and I’m sure others would love to hear your secrets. What advice would you give someone who is just starting out?

You know, I have these conversations time and again with young agents and folks who want to get into the industry. I’ve seen people come and go, and it’s extremely sad because I know they had the drive, they had the passion, they had the personality. Ultimately, it just comes down to the fact that they weren’t patient enough to go through the motions, or they weren’t willing to fail. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve failed in certain aspects of this industry, but failure makes you better. And then it helps you avoid those problems in the future. You’re going to fail, you’re not going to win every single listing. People are going to work with you because of you, and that’s it. You can’t cater to every single person, and I think that’s the hardest thing to realize. And it took me some time to realize that, as well. You just have to be authentic. For me, I tried so hard to be professional, professional, professional. But then I said, you know what? That’s not me 24/7. I’m not always professional. Sometimes I’m hanging out with my dog, or having a tequila in my backyard while reading a book, or going camping, or whatever it is I like to do. And I started to showcase those things a lot more, because I want people to work with me because of who I am. I think Realtors at a young age want to please everybody and they get so caught up in pleasing everybody that they’re not focusing on who they should be working with.

It’s about hanging in there and taking the punches again and again. If you were to ask me in my first year in real estate how I was doing, I was probably ready to tell you I was going to quit. My first year was pretty rough, I came into an industry that was just as competitive as it is now. Everything was moving super fast. I wasn’t making any money in my first year, up until probably six months after I got licensed. And I was working extremely hard for those first six months – calling people, texting people, messaging them on Facebook, sending out posts every single day on all my social media platforms, sending out postcards and letters, calling expired listings and getting in front of buyers and sellers, door knocking. Everything you’re told to do in this business, I was doing. And I didn’t see the fruits of my labor until six months later. So if I didn’t stick around, then I wouldn’t have made it to where I am today, and I wouldn’t be as successful as I am today. It took so many trials and tribulations to get me to where I am today. 

It’s also extremely helpful for newer agents to talk to more seasoned agents who have been in the industry for a long time and have outlasted different cycles. I would suggest leaning on those individuals, asking them questions, learning from their expertise. In the early days, I would go to those agents, kind of frustrated, and tell them I was having trouble, that I wasn’t making any money. And they would encourage me to just keep working, to hold on, letting me know that I was almost there.

It was tough because I had exhausted all of my funds. I had tapped into my savings. I was fresh out of college and paying off student loans and credit cards. And I remember that my real estate dues were coming up. I had to ask my parents for a small loan to pay my $800 dues so that I could continue to practice. It was embarrassing. They recognized how hard I was working, and just said to pay them back when I could. They were happy to do it and I don’t even think they expected me to pay them back. It wasn’t until a couple weeks later that I got my first phone call to help my first client. And right after that I got my first listing. Then I sold eight houses in six months, and I was extremely proud of myself. At that point I knew that this was the beginning of something, that something great was going to come. So I just kept doing what I had been doing. That’s one piece of advice I would tell agents as well. A great real estate agent once told me, don’t forget about what made you successful. Don’t forget about what got you to where you are today. Don’t stop doing those things. Because once you stop doing those things, that’s when you’ll stop doing other things as well. It’s going to have a trickle down effect. You have to continue those things, because consistency is key. So to this day, I’m very consistent in everything, with social media and sending out postcards and mailers, I’m still doing all that stuff. The only thing that’s difficult now is door knocking, but ultimately I’ve stayed consistent.

So ultimately, the key words are “patience” and “consistency.” 

Thanks, Ricky! You’ve shared so much valuable information with our readers. We really appreciate you telling your story, and we’ll be sure to raise a glass to you the next time we pour ourselves a tequila!

Be sure to follow Ricky on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter. You can catch new episodes of “Transactions and Tequila” here (and binge-watch all the episodes you’ve missed!) 

To reach out to Ricky for the sale or purchase of a property, contact him at BLVD. Real Estate. 

…And if you’re a real estate agent looking to take your business to the next level, click here to get started with HighNote!