Tracey Velt, publisher of publications for REAL Trends interviews CENTURY 21 CEO Nick Bailey 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.
Tracey: Okay, so tell me a little bit about how you got into real estate, I know you were an agent with Century 21 years ago. So what prompted you to get into real estate and transition into other careers?
Nick: So real estate for me started when I was very young, even to the point of single digit, 10 years old type of thing. I just always had a fascination with housing and real estate and I lived in an area at the time that had a lot of new construction and I used to just wander through new houses. And so just always kind of had a love for real estate even from the physical presence of it. But that translated over the years when I had an opportunity to invest in commercial real estate. When I was 17, I bought 2 commercial properties. And after I graduated from high school, before I went to college, I bought my first house at 18. And so those were those initial first steps that really got me hooked and I knew real estate was going to be in my blood for years to come. And from there I ended up getting licensed at 21, while I was going to college. And what’s ironic about that is I was 21 years old when I got licensed, I started with Century 21 and literally fast-forward 21 years, to the day, August 16th, 2017, I stood in front of the employees and they announced my new role with Century 21. So just ironic how many 21s were in there and it was probably somewhat meant to be.
Tracey: Yeah, that’s wonderful. So did you have any relatives or anybody in real estate? You said you were fascinated at 10 and you lived kind of in a new construction area but was there anything else, any family members involved?
Nick: Not at all. That’s what’s strange is—I don’t know how I got the real estate DNA bug because it didn’t come through the family; other than my parents were self-employed and had businesses and they had investments in real estate but weren’t directly involved from a practitioner perspective at all. And so not sure where it came from but for some reason, it just caught my eye and it stuck. And so being able to start as a real estate agent and shortly thereafter had an opportunity to work with a partner and we opened a real estate brokerage together. And that experience from agent to brokerage was about five years. From there had an opportunity to relocate and that’s when I went to work at RE/MAX International in a Management Consultant role and grew through 11 and a half years and had the pleasure of receiving six new different job assignments or promotions and led me into various leadership roles operating as a franchise or in regional leadership. And then from there moved into the technology world of Market Leader acquired by Trulia and Zillow. So it’s been a really neat 21 plus years in the industry to be able to now have the lenses that I can look through as an agent, a broker, a franchise, or a software provider. And also then a consumer technology company. That’s been the coolest part of my journey is being able to experience so many different facets of the industry.
Tracey: Definitely. That’s really interesting. So I didn’t know some of the– I knew some of this information but not all of it, so. And tell me a little bit about your experience at Zillow and Market Leader and how that will translate into your position at Century 21.
Nick: Great question on that. I think both afforded great experience and learnings. They will even help me in this role because within the industry there’s a lot of noise right now. And I think a lot of brands and brokerages, if you will, have somewhat of a– or in an identity crisis, and it’s what are these new companies– and you hear the word disruptors and a lot of things happening in the space, and it’s questioning the value proposition of not only the agent but the brokerages, brands, a lot of different sectors. And so the first part is the experience at market leader was primarily how real estate professionals depend on technology and interact with software platforms. And what we know in the vast majority of agents don’t go deep within the software, but they do rely on technology to make their lives more streamlined, easier, and allow them to scale to work with buyers and sellers, save time, and so that was critical. I also learned from thereon what many agents don’t do or don’t want to use. And so one of the biggest challenges in the industry for brokerages is adoption. And they invest heavily in these tools whether it be time, training, and dollars, and then have a hard time getting their associates to adopt them. And so as I look at software and tools and technology in the industry, sometimes we drive so hard in the direction because we’ve invested so heavily that we start to miss what the agent really wants or needs. And so that was a great learning on understanding the space, number one, but number two, making sure that if we still have the customer or the agent at the central focal point, you will stay aligned with innovation.
Nick: On the Zillow side, well it’s interesting about that is the consumer, and we’re living it today that agent wants and consumer demands collide. And I think that’s a lot of that’s due to many in the industry. Seasoned veterans have what I call in the last book hangover, which is the value of what they justified their earnings and commissions were wrapped around data and what’s inside of books. And I started that way. I started with [inaudible] last books. And at the same time, I think that we are completely on the back nine at the data conversation, and consumers are saying, “We want a better experience when we go to buy and sell real estate,” because you look at survey after survey, whether it’d be formal or informal, even talking to your friends that have recently bought and sold, and, generally, more than 50% of the time, people will say wit a headache and they don’t look forward to doing it again. And that tells us that we’ve got a lot of room to improve the consumer experience, especially in a time when I think we’re in a consumer movement. And what I mean by that is companies are taking consumer anxiety away whether it’d be shopping with Amazon, whether it’d be transportation with Uber, whether it’d be how we interact with entertainment via Netflix. All those things have made people’s lives easier and it creates an enjoyment of use, and there’s still a lot of room of improvement that we need to do for buyers and sellers. So that’s where I saw that the consumer, working with a site like Zillow, like Trulia, and what they wanted to get in their search experience is sometimes not balanced with what the agent wants to allow the consumer to have visibility into that experience. And those two are still at odds today in a big way.
Tracey: Definitely. Over the years, I’m sure you’ve learned some lessons, so tell me what are two of your greatest lessons learned over the years. It could be leadership lessons or perhaps just life lessons.
Nick: I would say number one lesson that I’ve learned over the years is the impact of leadership. And I know that word leadership is tossed around a lot. Here’s why I think it’s one of the greatest lessons. It’s because most people look to try to emulate great leaders and I’ve worked with some, I’ve witnessed some and at the same time, I’ve also learned some of my greatest leadership lessons from people that in my eyes were not great leaders. And you look at them and say I’ve learned just as much from them as others that were great because I’ve realized that as I grew I never wanted to do what they were doing in a negative way. That’s been a great lesson to help me grow is to not only look at what great leaders are doing but to look at what leaders are not doing well or not doing great. That’s been a big lesson that’s helped me. The second one as a great lesson I would say, especially in this industry, is reputation. Because I believe that at the end of the day whether you’re an agent, broker, vendor, brand, however, you’re involved in this industry at the end of the day, all you have is your reputation. And I’ve seen people that had great careers and great reputations and are well respected and I’ve seen folks that had not done that well. That’s a lesson that I continue to learn and I continue to strive for is I want to be one of those folks that has a lifelong industry reputation that’s solid.
Tracey: All right and let’s talk accomplishments. What do you feel, and this can be a personal thing, what do you feel is your greatest accomplishment to date?
Nick: If I say personally it would probably have to be at a high level I’d say work ethic. At a tangible level, I’d say it’s my family, my wife and my two boys. I started dating Hannah when I was in eighth grade and we’ve been together ever since.
Tracey: Oh, that’s great.
Nick: And through the years, yeah it’s awesome. It’s just as much fun today as it ever has been. But that couldn’t be the case without a really good focus on making sure that they’re a priority and I’ve heard from several others. There’s one industry leader that is now retired that I had an opportunity to get to know. I had dinner with him one evening and he said his number one regret is the travel and his career albeit extremely successful was at the expense of his son. And his advice to me years ago was figure out a way to do both because if he could do it all over again he would. And you hear this a lot. It’s somewhat cliche about work-life balance. But I make it known that if I want to leave an event early or change a flight schedule because of my son’s baseball game or something that’s happening with one of my wife’s races that just becomes a priority. And as soon as you make it a priority everything works out. But it’s difficult at time to balance and make those conscientious decisions when there are pressures on the business. Especially in certain positions. That’s number one on the personal side. Number two that I’m probably proud of is my age. Doing things young. and that– I’ll give you examples of it. I bought my first car when I was 13 and started driving when I was 14 and bought commercial buildings at 17. First house at 18. And those were all really big risks for someone at my age, but it also came with great responsibility that I had to rise to the occasion. And I’ve always had a drive for wanting to be much younger within my peer group. Because you still have more drive at that point, but you get to learn from all the lessons that your peer group– whether they were successes or mistakes made. And so that’s always been a driving factor for me.
Tracey: Okay. And you said you have two boys. And what are their names and ages?
Nick: Jackson and Max, 12 and 8, respectively.
Tracey: All right. And you said your wife’s races. So what does she– does she run, or what does– what does she race?
Nick: Yeah, I’ll tell you, Hannah is such an inspiration to so many. In the summer months and when the weather’s nice, she rides her road bike 60 to 80 miles a day. And she has run a number of marathons and she just has this grit and drive and she’s really good at it. But even a couple of times a summer, just a few weekends ago, she rides from our current home in Denver to our home in Vail. And that’s 160 miles with 14,000 feet of incline. It takes about 12 hours. And so her determination on that is incredible to watch.
Tracey: Yeah. That is incredible. Wow. I can barely run in Denver with the altitude, so.
Nick: Well, that’s what– fitness is a passion of mine as well. And the days that she says, “Hey, I’m going out for 80 miles,” and I think, “Eh, should I go for a run or the gym?” And the answer is yeah. It has to be.
Tracey: So what childhood or teenage happenings shaped the person you are today? And it could be a college thing as well. But I’m looking at the younger years of what you feel shaped who you are.
Nick: I think part of it was growing up in a family and having parents that were successful in business, but it didn’t come easy. That they worked for everything they had. And that translated to me. And so when I said when I was 13, I wanted to buy my first car, my dad’s question was, “Well, how are you going to pay for it?” And that was the question he asked every time in my life, whether it was buying a new car because I love cars or when I bought my house, well, how are you going to pay for it? How are you going to pay for it? And I always had to work for it and earn it, which was a really good lesson because they didn’t just hand me everything. And so that created work ethic at a very young age.
Nick: So at eight, nine years old, I was figuring out how to do the typical thing that young kids do to earn money, whether it be mowing lawns or do things around the neighborhood. And then when I did start driving at 14, I started detailing cars. Washing cars. So I would go– half of the bankers would– I’d go in while they were working and take their car back to my house and do a full detail clean. So I had this– during the summer months at a young age, at 14, 15, 16 years old, I had a car wash detailing business. And so I always found ways to take what was accessible to me and make it a money maker to drive to what I wanted, which I wanted to buy a car.
And I looked at going to college and what you had to pay to live on campus. And I looked at it and said, “Well, that’s a down payment on a house. Why not do that?” And so I bought a house two blocks from the college. Had to rent out a couple of bedrooms for a couple of years until I could afford to live in it on my own. But it turned out to be a great investment. And so it was kind of that work ethic and drive. And also I just had that inherent need at a young age to try to be responsible. I’m probably less responsible today than I was when I was 15.
Tracey: Oh. All right. So we know what your wife does in her downtime. So what do you do in your downtime? What are your passions and hobbies? You said fitness was important to you.
Nick: It is. Well, I got to keep up with her. So I’m busy chasing her. But yeah. Fitness is important for both of us. It’s been a big part of our lives for well over a decade. And also, we’re avid skiers. I love golf and scuba diving. So we enjoy a very active lifestyle.
Tracey: Right. And did you grow up in Denver?
Nick: I’ve lived in Denver most of my life. The birth certificate says Wyoming because of my father’s transfers. But I’ve lived in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. Only these three states. And 75% of it’s been in Colorado.
Tracey: Wow, some beautiful states, for sure. And all very outdoorsy places, so I could see where you get that love of the sports that you participate in. So tell me what inspires you.
Nick: Well, and they’re great family activities, as well. I mean, I looked at my kids and I said that– I knew my oldest was getting close this last year and being a better skier than me and he absolutely is. And so my wife grew up skiing as well with her family and so we’ve catered our hobbies around: what can we do with our kids and each other? And we continue to do that for a lifetime.
Tracey: Yeah. That’s great. So tell me what inspires you, a story by the time that impacted you concerning your personal or professional life but kind of an aha moment perhaps that you had.
Nick: I had one that sticks out. It was shortly after I had joined RE/MAX and they had put together a mentoring program. And at the time the CEO of the company, his name Jeff Jesperson and he became my mentor and he was kind of known as the quiet guy in the back office and I was the only one that had him. And within several months, and in the job that I had, I was at the time 27 years old, so it was about a year after I started there. And I was working in a consultant role, or franchise consultant type role within their mountain state region and he began to mention me. And there about 15 other individuals that were my peers in other regions doing similar jobs. And I will never forget one day I went up to his office for my mentoring session and sat down and he had this stern look on this face, and I thought, “Oh, oh. What’s wrong?” And he looked over and he said, “We’ve had a number of meetings now over the last six months and I’ve watched you. There are things that I’m impressed with you and I see certain leadership.” But he said, “I look down through the 15 other people that have the same job as you and quite honestly I don’t see any difference. I don’t see anything that makes you stand out.” And I was blown away. Because I thought I was working hard, in my mind, as many do. I thought I was working harder and trying new things and I thought I had the ability to outwork others but yet still be collaborative. And he didn’t give me advise or tell me what I was supposed to do but he told me I needed to go figure that out if I was going to continue the want and drive to be a leader. And I’ll tell you, I went back to my desk and I think I just sat there for 30 minutes and steered straight ahead. And what I realized is it wasn’t about waving my flag, it wasn’t about me trying to compete against my peers for the next promotion, it was about how I needed to learn to be more knowledgeable, faster, and ultimately be a go-to resource. Because once you work in an environment like that and you become somewhat of a trusted go-to resource, that means you’re doing your job better for the customer but you’re also creating leadership within your peers. And that was a lesson that took me many, many months to really understand, yet it was a turning point in my life from a professional perspective. And plus, I was new to a corporate world. I had been self-employed as an agent and a broker, and so I had been in a corporate environment for about a year. And so the combination of those two things has he lit a fire under me to say, “I can do better but I have to figure it out.”
And to this day when people ask me– when I work with people and they ask me advice, and, “How did you get to where you are today at your age?” I go back to that story right there every single time.
Tracey: That’s a great story. So obviously, I know you’re pretty self-motivated, but what are you driven by? What really drives what are some of your specific motivators?
Nick: I think this one’s really easy. Pure and simple. Winning. And I like to win but I also like to see people around me win. Whatever that looks like. And so are there times when I want to win and beat the competition and be the first to cross the finish line? Yes. I ran my first race just a couple of years ago and I knew that I wasn’t going to be across the finish line first, but winning for me was making sure that if I was going to run a race, that I made sure to complete it. I never walked. I had a decent time, and so I was competing against myself to win. So winning comes in a lot of different packages, whether it be your personal goals or winning against the competition, but I like to win. It’s fun.
Tracey: Right. All right. Now we have one fun question. So three things you can’t live without and you can’t say family, friends, or phone.
Nick: Okay. Three things I can’t live without. One, a good haircut. That’s really important and as I look at relocating now because of a new role, that’s a stress. So that’s one. I’m going to say two is washing my car. I can’t live without that. I love cars and there’s nothing better than a sparkly, clean car, plus the personal accomplishment of when you do it yourself versus just run it through the carwash. It’s very satisfying so I can’t live without that. And probably the third part, we’ll go back to the fitness piece because when times you’re stressed or don’t feel great or something, and even Hannah will come home and say, “Would you go for a run even for a couple of miles or just go to the gym for 30 minutes?” it’s not only good for your health but it changes your outlook and it creates drive, and that actually came from my late-20s. I’ll never forget riding on a plane and there was an article about habits of these Fortune 500 successful CEOs, and I was reading the articles on these individuals and I was trying to pull out the common threads, and it was interesting. Every single one of them had some type of fitness activity. And that’s when it became a game-changer.
Tracey: And it seems like a lot of the leaders I interview say of that and reading. They do an enormous amount of reading. Those are the two things I’ve found in my interviews that are definitely two factors that they are two habits that they have.
Nick: They are. And I wish I read more, and I read what I need to at this point, not what I want to, and at some point maybe that priority will change. There are no excuses for why I don’t do it more. I just haven’t prioritized it as much.
Tracey: Books on tape. Well, not even tape anymore. Books on– Books on phone.
Tracey: Well, yeah. What do you find–?
Nick: And I put them on the 2x setting so I can get through them in half the time.
Tracey: Right. Yep. I know several people who will do that running or biking. If they’re just going around the neighborhood or on a stationary bike they’ll do it on the 2x and get through books quicker.
Nick: Great way to do it.
Tracey: So what do you find is the hardest part of leadership and who are some of the leaders that you respect?
Nick: I might come at this at a different direction. I don’t necessarily think leadership is hard. I think leadership is part of your DNA. I don’t think leadership is necessarily taught. Now I do believe that leadership you can refine I think that you can, as a leader, refine your skills, and your process, your approach. But I always kind of laugh when I see stuff that’s, courses on how to be a leader. That would almost like me taking a course that says how to be a professional football player. I’m decent and coordinated but I didn’t get the DNA to put me on the field in the NFL. So I think the same holds true for leadership. I think that there are just certain parts of it that you’re born with. So when you have that skill, that’s why I don’t think it’s necessarily hard. This also reminds me of a story that I remember. True story, when I was in third grade, every month they would put up a star of the month in the classroom and it was on the bulletin board and had your photo and then the teacher would write something complimentary about why you were chosen as the star of the month. And it was about halfway through the school year and I was chosen and I was a quiet kid in the younger years, that quickly when away. But the teacher wrote on my star when I read it that the reason I was receiving it was due to my leadership and I didn’t even know what leadership meant at that point in third grade. And Mrs. [Romari?] was my teacher and she came to me and she said, “Leadership comes with great responsibility because, Nick, you don’t realize that people are looking to you and will do things that do or follow you when you don’t even know they’re doing it”, and I’ve never forgotten that from third grade. I can remember sitting next to her desk when she told me that because I didn’t understand what leadership was and I had no idea that there was anyone interested in following what I was doing. So that’s kind of something that has stuck to me when it comes to leadership and I’ve grown through it, of not forgetting that people are watching when you don’t realize they are if you are a natural born leader and don’t make it hard. So that’s been my most impactful. Second is my mentor, I mentioned Jess [Jesperson?] earlier. Been very impactful in my life. He’s been my mentor for over 15 years. I just saw him last weekend and we spent time together and what I learned from him has he challenged my thinking but didn’t ever tell me what to do and it’s been that way for 15 years. And he’d call and say, “Have you thought about this. Have you thought about this”, and I’d give him a response and say, “Well, consider this. Maybe you need to go to the mountains by yourself for a day and write down pros and cons”. Really good leadership lesson there, challenge people’s thinking, don’t just give ’em directives. And then maybe on a higher level, I would say leadership wise would be a Ronald Reagan, not necessarily, not politically driven but Ronald Reagan because I think he was absolutely tough as nails when it came to how he got things done. His demeanor and his humor allowed him to connect with anyone. So really neat to see someone that can drive results and be awesome and connect with people in the process. So those are probably three examples that come to mind.
Tracey: That’s great. Alright, three things on you bucket list or if you don’t keep a bucket list, three goals that you have for this year? And these are more personal goals I think.
Nick: Yeah, and I would say that mine, whether it be bucket list or goal list is quite probably a blend of both. I’m big on written goals. I have a saying that a written goal is a goal half achieved, and so I’m big on that. One is to finish my pilot’s license. I started that, and my instructor warned me that because of travel and job responsibilities, time would never be on my side, and I laughed it off and said, “Ah, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. When I start something, I always finish it.” And I’m several years into it, and because of the job responsibilities, he was absolutely right that time has not been on my side. So, anyway, that I want to make sure that I do. The second one that’s maybe bucket list, I’d love to retire at the age of 55. And, third, is not to be a crotchety old man. I see people get in their later years, and they get bitter. And Hannah and I talk about this all the time. We want to be the retired cool people in the convertible Ferrari, having the time of our lives.
Tracey: That’s great. I’m trying not to interrupt too much when you’re talking, because of the podcast part of it, but I wanted to laugh as soon as you said that. And tell me a little bit about your kids. You said to watch their games, is it, they play sports, or are they in any activities?
Nick: They are. So my oldest, Ted’s played– super interesting guy, the oldest one. He’s 12. He’s played competitive baseball for a number of years. This summer, he and his team went to Cooperstown, and people that know about youth baseball and 12-year-old baseball, it’s in New York, and it’s like the Disneyland of baseball [inaudible]. Since he was about four or five. So that’s an activity. So even though he’s got an athletic side and he’s getting into golf, loves skiing, but he’s got two other components, which is art and music. And in third grade, he won the state of Colorado art project for all schools. And so, it’s been really neat to watch his artistry just kind of form. And we’re amazed. We’ll walk into a restaurant that’s got the paper on the table, and they’ll bring you crayons, and he’ll just start drawing. And it’s like a piece of work. So he’s got that side of it, and then he plays the saxophone. So, he’s very musical. And he’s excelled in that. So, he’s not our high drive kid, but he’s got this high talent level. And, then, my youngest is the jumping around, involved in everything, ride the bike, play with his friends, backflips on the trampoline, plays lacrosse, and is wicked smart.
Tracey: That’s great.
Nick: But he’s young. Activity-wise, as an eight-year-old, he’s still finding his way. But, his favorite activity is skiing.
Tracey: Okay. Yeah, I have an 11-year-old daughter, and she’s in competitive volleyball. So we do a lot of traveling around for that.
Nick: Yeah, so you know exactly what I mean. Chasing the kids, and then comes baseball season, and our lives are over.
Tracey: Yeah. And our son, he’s 21, so he’s a senior in college, but he played travel baseball for a long time. And he played football in college until senior year. He got a really bad concussion his junior year, so he had to quit his senior year. It was his fourth, so. They medically told him that it was not in his best interest to keep going, and it was a good thing that he stopped. But he misses it.
Nick: I’m sure, and I’ve heard, with youth athletics, there are some that obviously have more danger than others, but that is tough. You don’t want him to get hurt, and you want him to do well, but there’s risk.
Tracey: Definitely. But I’ll tell you, it’s been, I think it’s so important for kids to have something that they love and something that they’re passionate about, and that gives them a lot of discipline in their lives, because it has done wonders for him in his grades and his drive and his ambition, so.
Nick: I completely agree. And I look at golf for my kids and how they’ve– we allowed them to say, hey, go try everything, and so they’ve tried every sport, getting involved in things, and then you pick what you like or what you don’t. And the one thing that I think is neat, when I see my kids at their age playing golf is it’s such a neat sport that they love it. They just can’t get enough of it. But at a young age, it teaches a phenomenal amount of respect and discipline and etiquette. Because I see some teenagers when we’re out on the course, and they may get paired up with two older gentlemen, and they shake hands, they interact, they know how to respect the course and the rules, and it just teaches young kids some really good life lessons that I think puts them in a good space when they have to interact with adults.