For Neema Bardi, CEO and founder of the brokerage Atlas, a career in real estate began with an addiction to Legos.
“I built tons and tons of different [types of] real estate. I built the White House. I built the Taj Mahal. I built the Empire State Building. This kind of developed my love of building and development and the whole real estate space,” said Bardi.
“Then, I started going to open houses with my parents,” he said. “ I told them to start taking me to open houses and, I guess this love for real estate just kept developing and developing. I probably read every real estate investing, syndicating, and brokering book there is out there. And so this love for real estate drove me to study real estate at USC.”
Starting out and building a real estate team
A serial entrepreneur, Bardi started a few companies “while a student in college. Actually, those companies didn't have to do with real estate, surprisingly. One of them was a mobile charging company. We grew to over 20 employees. Another one was real estate syndication. So we worked with companies like Burger King and Starbucks and all those companies were great.”
“I saw a massive opportunity on the brokering side of real estate, so as soon as I could, I went and got my salesperson's license and I started working as a real estate agent at a local firm here in LA,” said Bardi. “When you first get started working at these firms, the way they tell you to get started is to call your family, call your friends, and say you're a real estate agent and someone in your network is bound to buy a house.”
“And so,” he continued, “I absolutely hated this approach. I'm this young college student. Who's going to buy a house from me?” Instead, “I did a hundred cold calls every single day. And in my first three months, I ended up breaking the record for the most transactions closed by a new agent at the firm that I was at. Keep in mind, the firm has about 1200 agents. They do over $5 billion in sales a year. So I was like, ‘Wow, this is absolutely insane.’”
It was at this time that Bardi put together his first team and developed his marketing strategies. “We noticed that there was a modern way of selling real estate. So yes, it started off with me cold calling, but in addition to just cold calling and teaching our teammates how to cold call, we started advertising. We were selling with Facebook and Instagram ads. we were leveraging different tools — anything we could get our hands on.”
“We even hired VAs to follow up with clients for us. I just built tons of different things to help me hack the system of being a real estate agent.”
“And something that I really loved using was RentSpree. Like, that's a magic trick,” said Bardi. “Doing things that are very tech-forward, making people's lives easier, are a lot of the things that we leveraged and that helped us.”
Eventually, Bardi became frustrated by paying a split to the brokerage, “and so, I was looking at how can you keep 100 percent commission? And it turns out the only way that you can really keep 100 percent commission with no hidden costs and fees is if you become a broker yourself. So I decided to get my broker's license and became one of the youngest brokers in California to get a broker's license.”
The birth of Atlas, the 100% commission brokerage
“And that,” according to Bardi, “is what organically led to the birth of Atlas, a virtual, commission-free real estate brokerage. We give every agent at Atlas access to a platform that automates their Instagram ads. It lets them search homes with data that we scrape and index using artificial intelligence.”
“It puts your life on autopilot as an agent. My vision for it is to have every agent at Atlas perform as well as my team performed at Rodeo. And we've been surpassing that. and it's really because we're leveraging a lot of the tools, and building different ways for these agents to succeed. So it's been awesome,” he said.
According to Bardi, the biggest hurdle to obtaining a broker’s license was working with clients as an agent at the same time. “Trying to figure out times to study and take the courses and everything that you need to do to get a broker's license, was very challenging. But again, we had an amazing team and I would go through and study every single night. I barely slept, I have to say, while I was trying to do that because I was working throughout the day and real estate is a nonstop job.”
Then, obviously, with starting a brand, the biggest challenge for us was making sure we had a really good product. So we spent a lot of time talking to agents. We're not just like, ‘Hey, we're commission free. Come join us and you're on your own.’ We give you access to a portal that we spent so much time on and we've recruited great engineers and a whole team now of people who have built these tools to help agents.”
“Our head of product, Jen Whitesman, went to USC with me. She also studied real estate and comes from a very big tech background, as well. So she worked on some notable tech companies and she's been leading the charge on the product. We have an extremely talented design team and design lead. We spend a lot of time knowing our customers and so knowing agents and what agents really care for and want, and all that work has gone into our brand.”
“If you ask any Atlas agent today to define Atlas in one sentence, the one thing that you'll get from every agent is ‘the brokerage of the future’ or ‘the modern brokerage’. And it's funny, no one even mentions the fact that we're commission-free really in the one-liner.”
“It just comes to how we've handpicked our team and how we're moving forward and everyone is all within the same mission, to empower real estate through technology and through innovative business models. So it's been awesome.”
Personalizing the agent experience
At Atlas, we ask the agent what they want to do. And so we give you a whole personalized experience based on the type of agent that you want to be. So we give you specific and geared training, and resources and point you to different tools that we've built on our portal, to allow these agents to go where they want to go.”
“We as a whole don't have a niche, it's really up to the agent. We're here to empower agents to do whatever they want and give them freedom in multiple ways. Even with the ways that they get paid because they get 100 percent commission, but also in the way that they want to conduct their own style of real estate. So it's been cool and awesome to see.”
Meet in the middle
Bardi’s number one book recommendation for real estate professionals is Never Split the Difference. His one piece of advice that he wishes he knew when he started his career was how powerful technology can be.
Finally, the most underrated part about the business of real estate is “The grind. You give people the tools, but there is such a human interaction that needs to be done in the field. So, just really being able to get out there, be a people person and wanting to work hard is, I guess the hardest part,” said Bardi.
The rental market is ‘extremely hot’
Because Atlas is a virtual brokerage, Bardi lives a “virtual nomadic lifestyle. It’s awesome because renting gives you the freedom to move place to place very easily, without being tied down to a home, a really expensive base.”
“We've been seeing, and our agents have been extremely busy with, lots of rentals. I see a big trend and a lot more home buying from millennials, but I also see a big trend in short-term rentals coming. And so I think what would be cool is RentSpree for short-term rentals and maybe integrating with Airbnb in these other platforms. I think that'd be awesome. especially for the landlords because, again, you never know who's going into your property until you get your RentSpree report.”
“Someone told me once, everything for rent eventually is for sale, so when you go after the rental market and you develop these relationships with people, you never know — You can turn renters into buyers down the line. You can teach them how to buy. You can help landlords that want to sell their place and buy something else.”
“I studied a lot of real estate development and something that we helped people with was showing them how they can get more revenue and generate more income by selling property, doing a 1031 Exchange, and buying something else. It's awesome just teaching people this and conducting real estate and teaching people. Creating those relationships are key.”
The future of Atlas
When asked where he sees Atlas going forward, Bardi said, “I see us making the lives of agents the easiest that they can be, leveraging different tools.”
“Real estate agents generate $100 billion in revenue. And so when you think about this as a whole, and think who's serving these agents, you really need to cater to these people. I mean, if you look at the economy, agents drive a lot of that, so, it's mind-boggling to me that there is such a lack of technology, such a lack of even community in a lot of places.”
“And so we are trying to develop the best community moving forward with how the world is moving today and, making it, one of the best places to work and be. That's really our goal.”