Nicole Slaughter Graham is a freelance journalist and writer based in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Finding Real Estate Success Amid Life Struggles
Broker-owner Harma Hartouni persevered through personal hardships and draws from those experiences to build up and support the agents and staff at his company.
April 26, 2021
Harma Hartouni, broker-owner of Harma Real Estate in Los Angeles, Calif., is no stranger to adversity—and adaptation.
He was born in the United States, but Hartouni's family moved back to their homeland of Iran when he was still an infant, which is where he spent his childhood. At age 23, Hartouni immigrated back to the U.S. with his brother, sister, and mother. As the eldest sibling, Hartouni became the primary caretaker in his traditional Middle Eastern family. He knew he needed to start bringing in a viable income, yet, obstacles stood in his path.
“I was a 23-year-old gay man who didn’t speak English and wanted to sell homes,” Hartouni says.
His family, though, had other plans for him: dental school.
“In my culture, you become a doctor, an engineer, or a lawyer,” he says.
The thought of dental school made Hartouni cringe. He realized that it would take too much time to bring in the necessary income to help support his family. He needed something else, and fast. Even though his family—the only source of support he had at the time—did not condone his profession, he chose a career in real estate anyway.
The hardships that fostered Hartouni’s unmistakable resilience and work ethic started well before he ever reached the U.S.
While driving in Iran when he was 18, Hartouni was in an accident where he slammed into a car, and then was hit by another driver, which resulted in two broken legs.
“It took me a year to learn how to walk again,” he says.
The setbacks Hartouni faced in his early life, though, made him the businessman he is today.
“It’s easier to deal with adversity in business when you’ve been through so much personally,” he says, citing that his accent and sexual orientation preventing him from obtaining employment at various stages in his life.
He pressed on, however, like many immigrants.
“You don’t take rejection personally,” he says. “I learned that in America, there’s always a door for something else. You just have to find it.”
He soon found the opportunity that would catapult him into a long and successful real estate career.
“I was broke,” he says. “I begged a real estate agent to hire me as an assistant and he said he’d give me $2,000 a month to put desks together and answer phones.”
As Hartouni garnered more responsibility in his position, he says he fell in love with the business.
“I started loving the process and the art of the industry,” he says.
Hartouni’s tenacity and drive helped him reach the top of his market in sales. By his third year in the business, he was being recognized at awards ceremonies and was known as a top performer, but he wanted to learn how to scale his business and become profitable.
“I was being recognized but I still had no money, and I quickly started learning that it’s not about how much you make. It’s about how much you save.”
Hartouni applied his work ethic to learn how to manage his budget and finances. He hunkered down and tracked his numbers and expenses, all the while, learning how to scale his business.
After becoming a broker in 2006, he built out his team. In 2009, he was recognized as a REALTOR® Magazine 30 Under 30. Eight years later, he was overseeing 1,200 agents across his Keller Williams brokerages. Realizing that he could not be as hands-on as he wanted with so many agents under his wing, he sold all but one brokerage so that he could better focus on his agents and their needs. Today, he manages around 500 real estate professionals.
Hartouni is laser-focused on providing direct support to his team, channeling what he learned through his own hardships into his business. He says he realized early on that active listening was more important than speaking in order to be an effective leader, though, he admits, it was not always his strong suit.
“I wasn’t always a good listener. I talked too much,” he says.
Earlier in his career, a competing team lead told him that he was too focused on his own success and needed to focus more on the needs of his agents, which involved active listening. “If you just listen and genuinely care about people, you can connect with them and they’ll know that you care,” he says.
With empathy stemming from all that he’s faced personally, and a listening ear, Hartouni has cultivated a loyal and hardworking team. From his managing broker to his front desk staff, all those who work with Hartouni have been a part of Harma Real Estate for many years—some more than a decade.
Hartouni concentrates on building mutual trust among his team, and he ensures his individual team members work well together and support one another. For these reasons, he’s slow to hire and recruit. Taking this approach, he says, signals to his team that he is interested in creating an environment that works for everyone.
As a leader, he wants everyone to succeed and be happy in their chosen role. To do so, he’s an accessible mentor. If an agent or staff member comes to him seeking advice or mentorship, he provides it without question. He also understands that those who work for him have lives outside of real estate—so, he makes it a point to get to know them personally and shows them that he cares for their overall well-being.
“The adversity I faced shaped me into the leader I am today,” he says. “I build people up because that’s what I needed.”
Hartouni chronicles his journey in his newly released memoir, Getting Back Up: A Story of Resilience, Self-Acceptance, & Success.