Motivation & Personal Growth: I'm Thankful for Going from Hippie Waitress to Millionaire

We asked readers to tell us whether they had something special to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. Here's one inspiring story.

November 1, 1997

Twenty-three years ago, Karen Bernardi, a self-described ''foot-loose hippie,'' drifted to Boulder, Colo., from her home in Plainfield, Ind.

She was plagued with money problems. Without a college degree, she had trouble finding work besides bartending and waitressing. She was in debt. At one point, her car was repossessed and her water cut off for nonpayment.

In 1983 some friends suggested that she try selling real estate. She enrolled in a six-week training course.

Today Bernardi is among the nation's top-producing residential salespeople, with a 1995 gross commission income of more than $1 million and an estimated 1996 gross commission income of more than $1.5 million, based on a projection of 300 closed transactions.

Among other things, Bernardi is thankful that she eventually found her calling.

''I'm grateful for everything,'' she says. ''My life looks better today than I ever thought it would be.''

Her outgoing personality helped, but that wasn't the key factor in her success, Bernardi believes. It was determination and willingness to work hard. ''A lot of people don't succeed because they have too many choices,'' she says. ''I didn't have a lot of choices. I didn't go to college. I couldn't type. Real estate was the only chance I had to make it. I was willing to do things that most people weren't willing to do--like cold-calling or knocking on doors.''

Even so, her success wasn't automatic. For the first few years, she worked part-time and continued waitressing in the evening. When she switched to the RE/MAX franchise network, she was so pressed for money that she asked the owner of her company if she could live and work in one of his properties until she could make it on her own. She had to call clients from her home office while sitting on the floor--until she earned enough money for furniture. Within five years of starting in real estate, her commission income jumped to $200,000 annually.

In 1989 she met real estate trainer Mike Ferry, who taught her to organize herself better and to focus on listing and prospecting--while leaving administrative and service work to trained assistants (Bernardi calls her staff of 10 assistants ''licensed partners''). Her sales volume shot through the ceiling. For the last four years, her gross commission income has exceeded $1 million annually, she says.

Earlier this year, Bernardi purchased her own brokerage, Century 21--The Bernardi Group, in Boulder. She and her sales team have a goal of hitting 1,000 closed transactions annually by the end of 1998.

''It's not the money. It's the challenge of doing something that has never been done before,'' she explains. ''I have to see how high I can jump.''

Be Different--Be a Success!

Some of Karen Bernardi's success tips:

"Quit making excuses. All of us have something we can blame for our lack of success. Get beyond that attitude. Convince yourself that you can be successful despite the obstacles."

"Pick your role models carefully. Mediocre people will try to give you lots of advice. Ignore them. Model yourself after successful people who are where you want to be."

"Do things differently. If every salesperson in your market is holding open houses, you should be out knocking on doors instead."

Walt Albro is a former senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine.

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