Jobs They Love: Realtor
Lucky are they who look forward to Mondays with joy in their hearts! Meet the folks whose talents and passions are happily matched to the jobs they have.
Shawn Li is like that one really best friend – the smartest guy you know – who will actually go with you to the car lot to look at cars and make sure you don’t shell out your life savings on a “special deal” for the vintage 1967 Fathom Blue GTO convertible in the back lot, fun as it would be to tool around in.
He’s the friend who actually cares about you. So, he’ll make sure you get the best price on the shiny new apple red hatchback known for its reliability and low maintenance that fits both your lifestyle and budget to a T.
He’s the wingman you want to have around when you have to navigate those big, real-life decisions for the first time, like buying a house. Lucky for you, Shawn Li is also a successful realtor! He has worked at 8Z Real Estate in Denver’s Front Range communities for nine years as both a buyer’s and a listing agent. And he loves what he does.
This Colorado native has a degree in political science and journalism and has worked in the hotel and hospital industries where he honed his natural talents for making people happy and well cared for. What sets Shawn apart as a realtor is his skill at finding creative solutions. If a property is right for you, he’ll find the best way to get you into it and make it an enjoyable experience for everybody.
Shawn is his own best promotion. He’s married to his high school sweetheart and has three cool kids and a fluffy dog who all live together in a comfy house filled with love and laughter in a neighborhood at the base of a sage-scented ridgetop where mountain goats roam. I mean c’mon!
How did you get into the real estate business anyway?
When I was in high school, my stepfather, David, encouraged me to read a book called “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” By Robert Kiyosaki. I became obsessed with it. There was a section about real estate investing that fascinated me and led me to buy several more books about owning rentals and commercial real estate. I made it my goal to buy my first place as soon as I could after turning 18. Hot on that goal, I bought a condo at age 19 (so close!), converted it to a rental a few years later, and repeated that process several more times by my 30th birthday.
I then decided to transition this real estate passion into my career: first in commercial real estate then in residential. It was a bit daunting becoming my own business owner with no salary or security like you have with a corporate career. But I took the leap, and with the help of my company, managing broker (Amy), Keith Van Horn (seriously), my family, and especially my wife (Valerie), I have built a very successful real estate career.
You once worked as both a butcher and a river rafting guide. Which of those experiences has best enriched your skill set as a realtor?
That’s a great question -- 100% being a raft guide! Being a butcher has a ton of customer service aspects which translate quite well. However, being a raft guide, you are taking tourists down a river, doing an incredibly difficult task that they probably have never done before, and getting to have fun even when they are afraid.
It’s a scary proposition to go into an unfamiliar activity that can literally kill you. Stress makes people do strange things and you get to see all of that on display as a raft guide. I once had a parent jump into one of the gnarliest rapids in Brown’s Canyon [CO] to rescue her son who fell in the water a moment before. I was able to get him back in about five seconds, but I looked up and realized she was jumping in the river and had to swim a super-dangerous stretch. She got very banged up, but I was able to pull her back into the boat, too. That is really similar to being a real estate agent. You are helping people complete unfamiliar tasks that are scary and can have major impacts on their lives.
Understanding the importance of the role and being able to communicate effectively with people who are stressed can sometimes be extremely challenging. People can do irrational things in those situations.
Aside from price and location, when buyers talk with you about what they’re looking for in a new home, what words or phrases ring bells for you?
Something quite interesting that is a bit tricky to work through with buyers is what they say they want vs. what they actually want. I sit down with buyers, and we make a list of wants and needs. But out in the market, people walk through a home that “feels” perfect but might not meet any of their “needs.” My job then is to help them prioritize their “needs” with a home that “feels” perfect for them.
Once they know what they are giving up in order to have this home, they sleep better at night. Maybe they work from home and this place has the greatest views, but no space for a home office. I make sure they think about the fact that they'll be working from the dining room or from a coffee shop and is that going to be OK to get these views.
What I really listen for is pain points that are in a buyer’s life that they are trying to alleviate with a new home, and just make sure that they don’t lose focus on that and settle for something that is not going to solve that problem. Otherwise, they will call me in a year and tell me this home doesn’t match what they needed.
What does 8z mean?
Talk about pain points! I cannot tell you how many times I have had to explain that a): it isn’t A-Z Real Estate, or b): 8-Ounce Real Estate. But what it really means is super cool. Every zip code in Colorado starts with “8” and we are a real estate company that specializes and only sells in Colorado. So, it is a very creative way to say Colorado Real Estate.
What is it with these lucky socks we see you wearing on Instagram? What is your fave pair?
A few years into my career, I was trying to find a fun way to incentivize myself, and something I really liked were funky socks. It has become kind of a superstition for me when I get a deal under contract. I buy myself a new pair of unique socks that I don’t wear until closing day. There is no connection to the client or the deal or anything. Just a cool pair of socks that I am wanting.
It’s been well over a hundred deals since I started doing this, so I feel like I need to find a nonprofit to donate my insane sock collection to. My son is my main beneficiary, currently. If I had to pick my favorite pair, it’s probably my Allen Iverson NBA socks. He was my second favorite player growing up and definitely the top when it came to style. I will probably wear these until they fall apart and are beyond the ability to be donated.
What does the alternate-universe Shawn do for a living?
Alternate-universe Shawn is definitely a lawyer – and probably a contracts lawyer (exciting, right?). I have booked my LSAT a couple of times but never went forward taking it. Each time, the universe seems to put a lawyer in my life who convinces me that it’s a terrible decision. However, contracts, law, and public policy are definitely the things that fit more naturally into my skill set than just about anything else.
Is this a good time to sell and trade up?
This is the $1 million-dollar question that I get asked all the time!
I am not punting on this question, I promise, but I am going to give you a non-answer. If you are staying in the market, meaning you are selling something and then buying something else in the same market, the timing doesn’t really matter. If prices are going up like crazy, you’ll get a lot more for your place, but then you also must buy a place a lot higher as well. The same is true in a slower market.
The thing that is way more important than worrying about market conditions is your personal situation.
It is hard to time buying a new home. Do you have enough equity to buy a new place? Do you have the right timing in your job to qualify for the new loan? Are you in a stable enough place that you’ll be able to stay for a couple of years at least (for tax and equity reasons)? Those things are difficult to line up, and if they do, then it’s a great time sell and trade up. The market will take care of itself.
There are always new challenges that present themselves when we are in good markets and bad markets that we must navigate and now is no different. But with the right representation, buyers and sellers can overcome any challenges. Remember, though, real estate is just like planting a tree. Know when the best time to plant a tree is? Ten years ago. Real estate appreciates over time, so the earlier you can invest, the more you can take advantage of that growth over time.