September 15, 2021

My Real Estate Story, Part Two

You can read My Real Estate Story, Part One here!

Sweet springtime in Chicago, 2015.

On a high from my first buyer, Bryan, I scooped up a few more buyer clients. There was Matt, who I knew from the University of Illinois. Then, Stacey, who I met at an open house (I was hosting one for a colleague at her listing on Mohawk Street). And Mitchell, who I went to high school with. Amanda, from church. Harold and Tania, from another open house…

I was, of course, a total rookie — and still a college kid! — but these first clients trusted me to guide them through the purchasing process. Along the way, I learned lesson after lesson.

(For example, while on showings with Mitchell, I rolled right into a car on the exit ramp from LSD to LaSalle. Lesson learned: Drive carefully and cautiously, especially when you have clients in the car. I quickly mastered the art of chatting AND navigating.)

Overall, things were good: closings, showings, and new opportunities galore. But something had to give.


I found myself laying on the floor of my Lakeview apartment, staring at the ceiling, listless. A breeze floated in through the open window — still chilly for June.

It had been a landmark bad day. Not one, not two, but three of my active deals fell apart, from sunrise to sunset. For a brand-new agent riding high on a few months of beginner’s luck, the trifecta loss stung deeply.

That summer, I crashed and burned. My issues with food returned with a vengeance, making me want to stay home more instead of networking out and about. My budding relationship (with a guy who I later sold a condo to, go figure) came to a screeching halt. My college almost did not let me graduate — I stunningly failed my final course, “Introduction to Email Communication.”

Was it the deals? No. It was more than that. It was me giving my work and my circumstances full control over my emotions and my perception of myself. (Something I still struggle with!)

I took two months off from real estate. I spent a lot of time reading my Bible, seeking counsel from my parents, and figuring out whether this career was for me or not.

At summer’s end, my phone buzzed next to me. I let it go to voicemail, then played it back. I was astonished to hear the voice of my therapist from a few years prior, wondering if I would interview to be their listing agent for the sale of their Old Town condo.

Okay, I breathed. Let’s do this.

September. A Thursday. Golden hour in the city. Sunlight poured into the living room, bossa nova songs played on a speaker, and buyers sauntered through the unique space, falling in love with the 22-foot ceilings and hand-carved kitchen tile and private terrace.

By the end of that weekend, my sellers — yes, my therapist! and her husband — received multiple offers and accepted an all-cash contract $25,000 over their asking price. They were ecstatic, and I was back!

That autumn would mark my very first anniversary in real estate, and even though I took the summer off, I was determined to make up for lost time. I plunged head-first into the deep end, ready to generate new business and rise up in the ranks.

But most importantly, I gained a new perspective. It took a full year, but I finally understood something critical about my industry (and about life, really): It will work out if it’s supposed to work out. The deal. The relationship. The [insert anything here]. God is in control. Not me!


It wouldn’t be my real estate story if I didn’t write about So You Want to Buy a Condo.

Home-buying seminars had always been a thing. But the existing ones were stuffy and long. I wanted to build something different, something approachable with no strings attached. Chris, my lender, was on the same page.

Over lunch at Chipotle in the Loop, Chris and I put together the blueprint for our seminar. The last step was the name. I brainstormed for days, but nothing felt right.

“Buying 101?”

“Home Buying Happy Hour?”

No… it had to be more specific to the city.

“So You Want to Buy a Condo.”

It was silly, but it stuck.

Our inaugural “So You Want to Buy a Condo” was at Old Town Social, a now-defunct bar on North Avenue. We invited as many contacts as we could, luring them with the promise of a free drink and lots of information. Our marketing worked — we had an audience of 25 that first night.

I can still flashback to the moments before the class started. Paralyzed with the fear of public speaking, I asked the bartender for a cup of hot water to calm my nerves. (I brought my own teabag — honey lavender stress relief. So lame.) I sat at the bar with my best friend, reading the same Bible verses over and over.

Miraculously, I made it through that first event. There were a lot of “ums” and more than a few slip-ups, but it all paid off. We had a buzz going! People liked us. They liked the content. We’d do it again!

As it turned out, this little class grew and grew. By 2016, we’d said farewell to Old Town Social and hello to WeWork, the hot new co-working space in town. The word was out — instead of 25 guests, we’d worked our way up to 75+. My pre-class jitters never faded, but I found a routine. I’d read the scripture I needed right before going on stage: 1 Thessalonians 5:24. That was that! I was ready.

One of my best friends’ fathers called me out of the blue one afternoon.

“Hey, Mr. A!” I exclaimed, glad to see his name on my phone.

“Mel — got an idea for you,” he began. “How would you like to teach your condo class at my office as a lunch-and-learn? We’d love to have you.”

I agreed, of course. This was the beginning of a new era. Not only were we teaching seminars for the public at WeWork, but we were hitting up offices as well. NCSA (thanks to Mr. A), Uber, Deloitte, Salesforce, Grubhub, Glassdoor, PwC, Slalom, Aon, EY, Jenner & Block, Sprout Social, Advanced Resources, Morningstar, Hyatt, SpotHero, Havas…

These seminars were a slow-burn, a long-game. Our guests were hardly ready to buy right away. But I was meeting so many potential clients, people that wanted to learn and maybe even keep in touch with me. The power of education!


2016 was the year that SYWTBAC took off, but it was also the year of many other big moments in my life and my career. I won Coldwell Banker’s Rookie of the Year award for my sales in 2015 (even with my summer hiatus!), I went on my adventure abroad — a trip to Paris — with my best friend, I moved into my first condo in the Gold Coast, and then I met Andrew.

Andrew. My husband, my best friend, my daughter’s father. We met on Hinge and went on our first date in June 2016. We kept it casual that summer — we’d meet up for drinks, go on walks, or hang out at my place. But it soon blossomed into something more. (If my memory serves me right, we became “official” around Halloween. Boo!)

I could write a book about Andrew, but how does he fit into my real estate story?

He was curious in the beginning — always asking me about the deals I was working on, the clients, their personalities. And as our relationship progressed, he began to demonstrate just how much he wanted to support and encourage me in my business: glue-dotting and labeling my snail mail newsletters with me, listening to me verbally process ideas, cheering me on as I applied for (& won!) the coveted “30 Under 30” national title, praying for me before SYWTBAC — even though I didn’t let him actually attend one until 2018 🙂

Andrew was there for me in every way, and so were many others. My parents, my family, my friends, my small group, my business coach, my mentor, my managing broker. Over the last nearly eight years, I’ve really seen just how much other people have played a role in my career. These people were my first “team,” before I had a team. But that was coming next…

I knew Courtney as the friendly, always-laughing blonde with the best hair. We’d crossed paths at Park Community Church a handful of times, and ironically enough, she met Andrew before I ever did. But other than that, we hardly knew each other.

In March 2017, a Facebook message from Courtney popped up. She had been considering a career change — from audit to real estate! — and wanted to pick my brain. We made a plan to go to lunch at Doc B’s on Walton (honestly, this place is underrated!) later in the week.

What happened after that lunch meeting? Courtney signed up for the real estate licensing class. Passed the exam. Started interviewing at brokerages. Invited me to lunch once more (back at Doc B’s, but this time, with wine!). Gave notice to her employer. Agreed to join me at Coldwell Banker.

And the rest, of course, is history!

Courtney, my very first hire, has since become one of my closest friends. It’s been four years now, and in that time, we watched each other get engaged, married, and pregnant. If you can believe it, we had our babies just seven days apart, her Finn and my Holly. We have shared tears (I think the first time was me, sobbing my eyes out in our then-managing broker’s office over a deal gone awry), sweat (we used to go to the same fitness studio!), and laughter (a lot, a lot). We’ve prayed for one another, celebrated each other, and grown together.

God knew exactly what He was doing at Doc B’s.

Courtney and I spent 2018 having fun and hustling hard. We’d meet up at Coldwell Banker’s Lincoln Park office, our bags and belongings strewn across the table, brainstorming ideas and setting up showings and planning events and following up with leads. As she took on some of my clients, she discovered a knack for buyers — and they raved about her.

By the end of that year, my biggest career move yet was on the horizon. I shared my secret with Courtney, and she was instantly in.

It was time to shake things up.