As soon as she managed to get on her feet, with two residential houses purchased after arriving in her dream country, Angela Baltaga was amazed by the financial possibilities of the US real estate market. This is how she decided to embrace the role of an investor in the most serious way, until she became one of the most well-known Romanian businesswoman in Seattle’s Real Estate.
Natalia Ghilascu: Dear Angela, since you left Moldova 20 years ago, the country where you were born, you have become one of the most popular realtors among the Eastern european community in Seattle. What brought you to this industry?
Angela Baltag: It was a long road! I came to the USA as a Software Engineer on a working visa. I was good at my job where I was developing 3D software in C+, and the job paid well. But after several years in, I realized that my passion was not programming. It was literally in my face, all along… My husband is really dedicated to this profession. He lives, breathes and sleeps computer programing, so to speak. He puts 10 hours at work and then comes home and for another 4-6 hours is coding for his personal projects. I realized that to be excellent in your domain you need to be almost obsessed with what you do.
Real estate wasn’t an intentional choice from the very beginning. Our third house that we purchased was an investment house. In the process of making our purchase decision, I was assessing our options, analyzing the market trends and calculating balance sheets. This gave me the opportunity to see real estate not just as a home for a family, but also as a financial opportunity for investing. This different perspective really excited me.
Also, as immigrants, we didn’t have our parents nearby, nor extended family support and help with raising our children. We had to balance our career aspirations with the wellbeing of our family and kids. We wanted to give our kids the opportunity to try various school clubs, experiment with various activities, and figure out who they are as they grow. This requires being available at various times of day to drive them from one place to another, field trips, or even to routine doctor visits.
Most of this fell on me, as is usually the case for moms. So, I needed the flexibility to be able to interleave my work and tak care of our kids throughout the day. Real estate gave me this freedom. But of course, this “freedom” came at a steep cost in the form of longer working hours, starting earlier and finishing later in the day, and working through every weekend.
N.G: Currently, realtors in the US have an important status, helping clients buy or sell their homes every day. How did you manage to establish yourself on the American real estate market?
A.B: Even though it sounds cliché, it really is all in caring about my clients, and lots and lots of grit! People think real estate is a sales job, being paid fully on commission, and the mediocre agents do indeed focus on reaping the most out of every transaction. But this is a very shortsighted way of thinking. In contrast, I don’t see myself as a salesperson.
I’m my client’s advocate first and foremost. For example, I had a client that came to me to sell his house and buy a newer bigger house. A regular agent would say – “Wonderful, I have 2 transactions lined up!” Instead, I wanted to know why does he want to sell? Does he need to wait a couple of months to avoid the capital gain tax? Does it make sense to plan for the Spring Market and net more money? Or, does he really need to sell it?
After talking to him and asking questions, I suggested another option to him- keep the current home as an investment house, and I explained why this financially makes sense in his specific case. He was genuinely surprised and asked me: “Why didn’t other agents tell me that? Do you realize that you lost a sale and a very good commission?” Yes, I do realize that, but I’m my client’s advocate first and then his sales agent second. I told him we can always sell the house later if he decides that he doesn’t like to be a landlord. And this is the main idea here, the more successful my clients become, the more successful I will become by helping them along the way.
N.G: What are the major challenges in the US business sector? I presume negotiating skills are essential…
A.B: I agree that negotiation skills are very important. However, understanding my clients’ needs first is by far more important. Negotiation is often thought of as a tug of war, but it’s really not a zero-sum game. You can always haggle and put a deal together. Instead, getting the right deals for your clients is what really counts. My job is not to sell them along, but rather help them achieve their goals, and sometimes even to stop them from going into transactions that might cripple them financially.
N.G: What were the most unusual clients you have had the opportunity to meet and what important qualities does your job entail to become a successful business woman?
A.B: I once had 3 young couples buying a house together. They were looking to create a communal living arrangement. They wanted to take care of this “communal family” together; pay the mortgage together, home school and take care of the kids together, and even had a schedule of who is making dinner each day.
Finding a large enough house with 7+ bedrooms that had many parking spaces within their budget was really challenging. Ordinary houses aren’t suited for this. I had to think outside of the box. So, I thought of finding them a property that was designed for business, and we ended up buying a custom-built adult care family house on a beautiful piece of land. They were very happy about it.
Although these clients were unique in their needs, they were quite representative in that their needs aren’t typical. All clients have some unique needs that aren’t common and are very important to them. I say a successful agent must be caringly creative and passionately resourceful.
N.G: What were the most expensive transactions you have had in your business experience and how much is this service required in Seattle?
A.B: What is my highest transaction? This question always amuses me. My highest sale was $2,000,000 and lowest at $125,000; and I often work harder for lower priced transactions because not many options are available in that price point and we compete with cash investors too.
I know many agents like to brag that they choose to sell only half-million-dollar homes and up. In my opinion, this is the wrong way to think about it; those agents spend most of their time hoping to find those clients. I choose people first, not their price point. I never refused service to a client based solely on their budget. Success isn’t measured by the highest transaction, but by the bottom line, and this is how I am in the top 2% of performing agents in the US.
N.G: What types of homes are most popular in Seattle? Do Moldovans also come to live in million dollar homes?
A.B: Homes priced $500,000-$700,000 are the most popular in the Seattle area; these homes sell fast. It may sound strange for readers in Moldova, but these prices are considered affordable here. This area is booming with high tech jobs that pay well.
With this in mind, yes Moldovans do buy homes at $1M and over. Most of them work for local tech companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, or at local offices of Google, Apple, Facebook. I have read somewhere that the most expensive home in Moldova is priced at about $1,500,000. I was joking with my husband that we can afford to buy the most expensive house in Moldova. But do we want to? Our life is here in the US. Wealth is very relative, after all.
N.G: What do you see to be the biggest challenges faced by Moldovan immigrants when they buy their first home?
A.B: As most first-time home buyers, Moldovans too don’t save enough money for a down payment. I remember our first home purchase with my husband, we didn’t have enough money for a down payment either. We didn’t have parents here teaching us to save, work on our credit score, and help with a down payment.
What I like most about working with Moldovans is their desire to know everything. It’s time consuming but it’s also fun! They are not afraid to ask questions. I have clients coming to me years in advance and meeting multiple times to ask questions about the process, what to expect, and how to get ready.
N.G: What keeps you most active in this job and what business lessons have you learned in all your years of experience?
A.B: What do I like about my business? It’s never boring, that’s for sure, I always learn something new. Each transaction is different, and each client is different. I like thinking out of the box, finding solutions for all the issues we have in the transaction. Having happy clients that become lifelong friends is priceless!
The most important lesson is to put your clients’ needs first, before your own. This doesn’t mean that your clients are always right, or even that they know what they want. Keeping their best interest at heart at all times is super important to get to success. It’s important for any business owner.
N.G: Have the trends in the real estate sector remained the same or have changed for the past 10 years?
A.B: There are undoubtedly lots of changes, but the two usual trends overall are very stable – real estate prices go up, and technology accelerates our work. Now pretty much all of the information, transactions, signatures, money transfers, not to mention communication in all forms, are all done online. And not only online, but also on the go, from our mobile devices. It’s incredible how much faster and more efficient it enables us to be! But at the same time, dangers have also evolved and moved online, with wire transfer fraud, identity theft, transaction scams, and lots of other sham schemes that online communication enables.
Think of it, for most families a house purchase is the biggest financial transaction in their lives. Would you be ok with an inexperienced doctor for a critical surgery? Of course not! Likewise, having a knowledgeable real estate agent is a good idea well beyond just a good purchase cost. A smart agent will help you solve and recover from pitfalls and problems, but an experienced one will guide and help you avoid them before they even get a chance to occur.
And speaking of finances, house prices are the top appreciating asset over the long term, outcompeting every other asset class. What this means in simple terms, is the sooner you buy a house, the better off you’ll be in the long run. Owning a house is more than just having a place to call your own, you also automatically get wealthier even while you sleep there. If anything, the biggest regret my clients have is not having decided to purchase a house earlier.
In the end, I wish your readers good luck with real estate and their overall life path wherever they aspire to go, but also not to count on just good luck but also be smart about it. Always work with successful agents and partners that help you become successful!