Join Tracey Velt of REAL Trends as she interviews Donna Palm, Broker/Associate of RE/MAX Alliance Group in Venice, FL.
Donna has mastered the art of dreaming big dreams and living life to its fullest. Her journey from homelessness and living in her car, to owning two successful RE/MAX real estate offices, becoming an inspirational author and speaker, as well as her many other entrepreneurial ventures including owning a hair salon and becoming one of the first female industrial electricians in her local union, is an inspiring story of perseverance and triumph over challenges.
Tracey Velt: This is Tracey Velt, Editor of Publications for REAL Trends. We partnered with QuantumDigital to give you a peek into the secret lives of real estate, where we pull back the curtain to share the personal passions, philanthropic efforts, community spirit and industry insights from real estate leaders, trendsetters and legends.
Today we’re talking to Donna Palm, broker-associate of RE/MAX Alliance Group in Venice, Florida. Welcome, Donna.
Donna Palm: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.
Tracey: Absolutely, so let’s get started. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about your business?
Donna: Sure. I’ve been doing real estate for about 15 years now. I used to own two RE/MAX offices. They were named RE/MAX Gulf Shores. I sold my RE/MAX offices to the office I work for now in 2008. I sold them to RE/MAX Alliance Group right before the market crashed, so I got very lucky on that.
I do real estate sales and listings, of course. Most of my customers have been customers for years, and I do a lot of referrals from both past customers and from other RE/MAX agents. I also have investment properties now, and I buy and flip houses and have runoff properties. I also wrote a book that went No. 1 on Amazon last fall.
Tracey: Wow. That is a lot. The funny thing is that you mentioned at one point in your life you were homeless and you’ve accomplished so much since then. Tell me a little bit about your rags to riches story.
Donna: Yes. Don’t ever give up hope because, years ago when I was in my early 20s before I was married and had children, I was homeless for a while. I always was a hard worker. I worked four jobs at the time. Sometimes 20 hour days, seven days a week. I did not have enough money to get first, last and security deposit for an apartment. Also, I had a hundred-pound Doberman at the time and no apartments wanted to accept my dog.
I lived in my car for about six weeks in November and December in Chicago, so it was a little bit chilly. Luckily, I had my dog to keep me warm [laughs]. Luckily eventually, I earned enough money to find an apartment and get my life going, so never give up hope.
Tracey: Yes. You had mentioned too that you had an “Aha” moment at that time. You were not in real estate yet. Tell me a little bit about what your career was and what prompted you to rise above your situation.
Donna: Actually, I’ve had many “Aha” moments in my life. At that point in life, I was living day-to-day in mundane jobs. A while after that I had an opportunity to become a union electrician and go through the apprenticeship program. I was only the third girl out of about 1,500 men in my union back in the 1980s and it was long before the sexual harassment law days.
People used to call me a pioneer and it was pretty tough [laughs]. That which does not kill us makes us stronger. Basically, my career as an electrician, I was an industrial electrician. I worked in nuclear plants, chemical plants, oil refineries and ran heavy equipment like cranes and skidloaders and trenchers and things like that.
That part of my life actually built muscles for me. It made me very strong, very independent and it really gave me a lot of strength for the changes in my life that were to come. I’m actually very grateful for that time.
Tracey: Tell me a little bit about those changes.
Donna: I think some of the greatest lessons to learn is that you have to plan your life. People just go on a whim and never really put any structure to it. In the book– that’s a very big part of the book, I actually explained how to put structure to your life. How to blueprint your dreams and how to actually achieve your dreams. One of the biggest things people need to understand is failure is normal.
Failure is something you learn from. Don’t ever be afraid to fail because failure is not who you are. It doesn’t make who you are. It doesn’t make you personally a failure. Failure just shows what your results are and what you’re committed to. If you’re not actually committed or you’re not doing the work, you’ll end up with a failure. It’s just basically a chance to reboot, redesign and make a difference in your plan and what you’re doing.
Tracey: Yes. The book is Dream Bigger, Live Better. It logs your experience and offers some inspiration for people going through adversities. What did you find was the greatest lessons learned through the process of writing that book?
Donna: I think sometimes what happens is you get stuck in the everyday life and you just start spinning out and you feel like there’s no hope. You don’t realize there’s something on the other side. What you need to do is just stop, take a breath and just breathe. Just start reassessing your situation. Start reassessing what you’re doing because like I said you’re not your results.
Your results are just a measurement to show what you’re committed to and how effective you are. You need to be forgiving of yourself, care about yourself and be loving to yourself. You can create whatever life you want. I’m living proof of it. I went from being a hairdresser to a veterinary technician, to a union electrician, to a real estate broker, to an author, so you can change your life at any time. You can always take a do-over any time in your life.
Tracey: That’s wonderful, so what are some other tips you have for sales associates, who might be struggling with adversity or stuck in a rut? What can they do to redesign their lives? Is there a step-by-step or some tips that you can offer?
Donna: I think most people are very surprised about my background, my history and the fact that I did it all alone as a single mother. Most people don’t understand that what I’ve been through being an electrician, moving to Florida and changing my life. If I can do it anyone can do it.
Tracey: That’s great advice, definitely. Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about real estate business. What would the people in the real estate industry be most surprised to learn about you?
Donna: I think people forget that as a basic life, we are all so much the same. We are so similar, we all want the same things. We all want love, we all want purpose, we all want meaning to our lives. We all want to make a difference and our separations between us– different types of people from different areas and just different backgrounds. There’s still one commonality with us, we are still all the same.
We are the same heart, same soul and I think people forget that sometime when they start judging each other, and they’re not as forgiving as they should be. I think if someone is going to go out and try and do good in the world so to speak, they need to follow their heart and go follow what speaks to them. It might be animals, it might be people, it might be children.
Wherever you feel like you can make a difference in something that has purpose and meaning to you, that’s what you should go for. That’s what you should go do and make a difference in people’s lives. Even in real estate we make a difference in people’s lives, they don’t realize that buying a home is one of the most important things anyone ever does– that’s a dream.
You’re fulfilling people’s dreams just by selling them homes and giving them places for their children to grow up, so just even on our careers we’re making a difference.
Tracey: Great, so tell me what tips do you have for other brokers who are looking for purpose and have a desire to give back to the community? What strategies do you have for them? What are some ways that they can really look inside and outside to figure out their purpose?
Donna: My outlook from the time I was young until now, I realize now how much more structure should be put to it. When I was young I just basically went on a whim, as I got older I noticed the more success I had came from the fact that I had planned ahead. The fact that I had dedicated myself to what my choices were. I didn’t follow my feelings as much.
I mean feelings are great. You have to take them into consideration, but as an example if you want to go at the gym in the morning and you wake up in the morning you just don’t feel like going to the gym. You need to break through that in order to be committed and in order to have success.
Sometimes you have to break through your feelings in order to have success and I think that’s something that came with age.
Tracey: Great advice, so how is your outlook on professional success changed over the years?
Donna: I think it is extremely localized even in our area, it can be so localized just by town, by area, by subdivision. Right now it seems like the market is going very well and fairly steady. In our personal area here, we have a ton of new construction coming in and new construction is actually slowing down some of the sales of the pre-owned homes shall we call them.
I do believe the interest rates are going to go up a little bit, but our interest rates have been so low for so long they’re due to go up. I think if they go up a little bit, I think it’ll stabilize the market a little bit more.
Tracey: Yes, absolutely. As you look forward to 2017, what news or trends should brokers and sales associates be prepared for?
Donna: You’re going to laugh at me, but one of my favorite sayings that I have in my book is, be a cockroach. When I say be a cockroach, I mean be adaptable. If you read my book you’ll see the story I have in there about the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the cockroach. The Tyrannosaurus Rex obviously, is not still around. He was the one that was the big, fierce, strong, mean creature.
He had these little tiny cockroaches that probably got stepped on by the Tyrannosaurus Rex, yet the Tyrannosaurus Rex could not adapt and he died. That little baby cockroach is still around. They always joke and say if there’s nuclear holocaust, the only thing that’s going to survive is a cockroach. If you’re going to be a cockroach, I would take it as a compliment. [laughs]
Tracey: Great, well thank you Donna. We really appreciate having you today.
Donna: No problem, thank you so much for having me. You have a great day.