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Once-reluctant realtor finds success

Course on flipping homes gave Roxbury native start in the business

India Glenn
Once-reluctant realtor finds success
Elizabeth Dawan-Abdullah. COURTESY PHOTO

The prospect of a career in real estate initially did not capture the attention of Keller Williams realtor Elizabeth Dawan-Abdullah. But an early liking for entrepreneurial work inspired within her a lasting desire to create grassroots change through real estate.

In a recent interview with the Banner, Dawan-Abdullah, whom colleagues and clients call “Elizabeth the Realtor,” describes some key insights about selling and owning property.

Dawan-Abdullah entered the real estate business as a home flipper. With the assistance of a business partner, she started This Is My Home, LLC, a company specializing in finding, purchasing and repairing properties to rent on the market.

The entrepreneur first discovered her passion for understanding and working with buildings while double majoring in Accounting and Business Administration at Northeastern University in the 1980s.

“I had always liked buildings,” Dawan-Abdullah says. “But, at the time, I didn’t think I wanted to be a landlord and I didn’t know anything else to be.”

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree, Dawan-Abdullah remained eager to work with buildings, but uncertain about the path forward. Then, one fateful night, Dawan-Abdullah awoke to hear a man on TV discussing home-flipping.

“I was like, that’s who I am,” Dawan-Abdullah remarks about her revelation. “That’s what I am.”

To comprehend the basics of property renovation, she enrolled in a home-flipping school in California and subsequently flipped three out-of-state properties. Once her business partner left the property-flipping industry, Dawan-Abdullah controlled their shared flipping business in his absence.

After reflecting upon years of experience in the field, Dawan-Abdullah encourages people interested in flipping homes to understand three things.

First, to turn a profit while flipping homes, people should understand a property’s value before and after renovations as well as the costs required to fund a lot’s rehabilitation.

Second, people should purchase promising properties with haste to avoid losing the lot to another buyer.

Finally, flippers must understand the different expectations and needs of a contractor team in order to predict accurately the total costs for renovation.

The initially reluctant home-flipper also offers insight into a few of the advantages and challenges of owning a property.

Owning property increases financial security, she says.

“I will tell anyone, the advantage of owning a property is keeping the amount that you pay out of your income steady,” Dawan-Abdullah says. “Because if you are a tenant, the landlord can increase the rent at any time. You are not in control of your financials.”

She also believes that owning property lays down a secure financial foundation for future familial generations.

As for the challenges, Dawan- Abdullah notes that some people enter property ownership with too many other financial responsibilities. As a result, many lose control of the property either through foreclosure or the premature sale of the property.

Working for Keller Williams

Dawan-Abdullah’s experience with searching for homes on the market made it easy for her to start work as a real estate agent for Keller Williams, one of the world’s largest real estate firms, in 2015.

Dawan-Abdullah says the firm’s approach to work management enables agents to focus on their jobs in the field.

“At Keller Williams, we are partners, as opposed to another type of firm, where people volunteer some of their time to work at the front desk or answer the phones,” she explains. “But we pay a fee so that the people at the front desk and the people who cut the checks have full-time permanent positions with benefits.”

Another central feature of Keller Williams’ business model is its profit-sharing philosophy, she says. A seller, buyer or landlord enters into a contract with broker in exchange for support and resources from Keller Williams. A portion of the profits made from either the sale, purchase or revenue of a property goes directly to the broker. The broker then distributes the rest among all other associates involved in a sale.

Because of the time-consuming nature of hashing out the technical details of a particular deal, Dawan-Abdullah strongly urges people to use real estate agents.

“It is a full-time job to try and find these people,” Dawan-Abdullah says about the tenant vetting process. “The landlords have other things to do. The landlord is going to tell me what they want and I will try to find what they want.”

Since properties in the Roxbury and Dorchester neighborhoods where Dawan-Abdullah does much of her business often sell quickly, she says her business model centers not around selling properties but instead around the general real estate needs of the community. She says she helps community members navigate anything from finding reliable tenants to affording the home of their dreams.

Dawan-Abdullah describes herself as a person who deeply values relationship-building. She travels door-to-door to establish connections within the community and understand local real estate needs. This work is tough, but she prefers the in-person contact.

“I wasn’t making a good enough connection over the phone,” Dawan-Abdullah says. “So I decided I would focus on my physical location.”

Dawan-Abdullah  was born in Roxbury and grew up in Dorchester. As an added benefit of close ties to the community, she says she hears about listings directly from community members.

What’s next?

Looking ahead, Dawan-Abdullah expects to continue working as a home flipper, landlord and realtor for the indefinite future.

“I’m not here to make you hate me,” Dawan says about her role as a realtor. “I’m not just trying to sell you something and get out of here. I am trying to say, okay, this is what we are going to do moving forward.”

She concludes with this company catchphrase: “I want to be you and your family’s realtor for life.”

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