After 21 years in the Marine Corp, Wade Covington decided to try his hand at real estate in 2015. In 2022, just seven years later, the Osage Beach, Missouri-based Century 21 Prestige Real Estate agent closed 84 transaction sides and $24.506 million in sales volume, good enough to qualify for the 2023 RealTrends + Tom Ferry America’s Best Real Estate Professionals agent and team rankings.
RealTrends recently caught up with Covington to discuss how the lessons he learned in the Marine Corp have helped him in real estate.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Brooklee Han: Can you tell me a bit about how you got started in the real estate industry?
Wade Covington: I am a retired U.S. Marine. I joined the Marine Corps in 1992 right out of high school and spent 21 years going all over the world, doing everything, and traveling to 14 countries and all over America. I was very fortunate that when I retired from the Marine Corps I was able to achieve a business degree and that was the whole reason I joined the Marine Corps because I was definitely not prepared to do that when I was in high school.
So, with my business degree and having learned so much about the management of people and resources in the Marine Corps, my idea was that I would join the corporate workforce as a manager of some sort. I couldn’t find a job right away, so I ended up digging ditches for a while, but then Lowe’s picked me up as an assistant store manager right outside Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I did that for about three years and then I decided to go get my master’s degree.
At that time, I was placing combat vets that were wounded in service for Fort Leonard Wood. If they thought they had a good candidate, they would call me and I would interview the vet for a position at Lowes, so when I resigned I called them to tell them I was going to go get my masters.
Unbeknownst to me, they then called someone at Century 21 and told them about my history and that I had a business degree, and then one day out of the blue, the broker over there called me and asked to meet.
After that meeting, I went home and told my wife that I was going to do real estate. My wife cried because she was so scared, but that was 2015, and by then, I felt like the market had rebounded and it was a good time to get in. So I go my license and started as a new agent with Century 21 Prestige, which is where I still am today.
BH: Prior to that meeting, had real estate been on your radar as a career option?
Covington: I have always been a planner, and I have like five different contingency plans going at once. But I loved going to college and was looking forward to doing more research and writing paper for a masters, but real estate was one of my contingency plans, but I wasn’t very serious about it as an option because I didn’t know what it would look like and I still had a daughter to put through college and I still needed to make some money even though I was retired from the Marine Corps.
BH: Do you feel your time spent in the military has helped you become the agent that you are today?
Covington: I blame it on ADHD, believe it or not. Some people would kind of label it as a challenge, and as a child, I was very hyperactive and I was on Ritalin and got in trouble all the time and struggled with my academics because I couldn’t focus. But it really served me well in the Marine Corps because I tend to thrive in chaotic environments.
When everything is coming at me, I can think clearly and come up with a plan very quickly, so I was very successful in the Marine Corps because of that. I think that has also attributed to my success in real estate because often times, you have all these problems coming at you at once that you have to solve.
But the other side of things is the organization part, and all of the writing and managing of contracts, and I’m not great at that stuff. My first year in business had seven contracts and it was out of control. I didn’t know how to manage it, so I went to my wife, who is a massage therapist and great at organizing and I asked her to retire and help me with my business. She is the reason I am able to do all of the transactions I do each year as an independent agent.
One thing I definitely got from the Marine Corps was being exposed to so many different cultures and people from those all over the world, to the different environments and cultures within the United States. I’m from a farm town in Illinois and am very different from someone that grew up in Carlsbad, California. That taught me how to work with all sorts of different people and find common ground and learn how to communicate effectively.
BH: What are some other challenges you have faced as you have grown your business?
Covington: One of my biggest challenges was that I didn’t have a real estate background. I was starting at 40 years old in a new field, and I started with the exact thing I try to avoid with new agents — I was given a cubicle and some onboarding training and then I was left wondering how I sell real estate. I didn’t know where to start.
And the experienced agents at the firm would come over and introduce themselves but would tell me not to ask to go on listing appointments or out with their buyers. They made it clear they would not be sharing clients or knowledge, which is the opposite of the environment in the Marine Corps, where you want to teach everybody everything so that you can all lift each other up.
Now, I have a mentorship program where I take new agents and I show them everything, because I want people to succeed. If we have successful agents in the company, that means that our company will succeed.
I think another opportunity missed by many agents is learning from failures. They think the value is only if they are getting a commission check, and they don’t try to extract the value out of the failures.
I lose contracts, stuff falls apart. I have clients get upset or mad, but I think the difference has always been that I look to see what knowledge I can get out of it from the next time.
BH: So how did you go from sitting in that cubicle trying to figure out how to sell real estate to being a top-performing agent?
Covington: I used to tell one of my professors when I was getting my HR degree that just because someone has an HR degree, it doesn’t mean they will be good at HR. There is a lot of nuance to the communication and interaction that can’t always be taught, and the same goes for real estate.
Growing up, I picked up a very effective way of communicating with people from my father, and it is just a ground level of respect. That, coupled with my personality, just happens to be a good combination in this industry.
So, sitting in that cubicle the first thing I did was learn about lead generation site, and I just registered for everything. It didn’t matter if they charged a huge referral fee, I just wanted to get some transactions happening.
The second thing I did was I came across a Broker Price Opinion company. I had no idea what they were so I had to Google it, but basically, they would pay me $75 to go out to a property, take photos and basically fill out an appraisal report. I did that for about three years while I was getting started. The money wasn’t good, but it was very valuable knowledge and experience.
The third thing I did was I put my communication skills and some of the boldness I learned through the Marine Corps to work for me. My broker was telling me about these things called FSBOs and I had never heard of them before, but she explained they were for sale by owners, and as an agent, you want to try and flip that to a listing.
There were a couple of FSBO signs on my way into the office, and one morning I saw a guy standing outside one of the FSBO houses, so at the last second I pulled in, and even before I got out of my truck he started waving me off, saying ‘Leave me alone, I don’t want a real estate agent.’
But I just asked him to tell me a bit more about his house, and 20 minutes later he was shaking my hand and telling me he’ll see me at 2 p.m. on Wednesday for a listing appointment. And the next morning I got another one — same thing. By the end of the week, I had gotten three listing appointments from FSBOs.
Then the final thing I did was working my sphere of influence, and not in the ways they go through in training with just sending out postcards and things, but I realized that I knew a lot of people. I was the admin at the Marine attachment on the base and I also had 111 employees at the local Lowes and was tapped into the market directors at other local branches.
So I started thinking about it, and I am like, I need to work these connections. I emailed everyone I could think of on Facebook or via email and then I mailed out 310 postcards to everyone else, but it didn’t end there. I would go on base and stop by the Marine attachment and just talk to people, and then if I had 15 minutes between appointments, I’d go into Lowes, even if I didn’t need anything and just wander the aisle until either someone spotted me, or I saw one of my former employees, and we would just talk.
I sold five houses out of that Lowes, and that didn’t come from a postcard. It came from me consistently visiting that place. But once you stop going there you are forgotten — out of sight, out of mind.
BH: You are no longer living in the immediate vicinity for Fort Leonard Wood. How have your community engagement strategies changed since relocating?
Covington: Back in 2017 when we moved out to the lake, it was like I was back at square one — I was back in that cubicle trying to figure out how to sell real estate somewhere new. So, my wife joined a CrossFit gym and I started doing advertising with the local radio station. We started a community involvement strategy, and those three things generated sale after sale, just by introducing us to people in our new community. It wasn’t just the Chamber of Commerce, but building a social circle in some niche, like at a gym and having an advertising partner.
But the community involvement is something I think I am prouder of than anything else we have done. We had been trying to come up with something, and I wanted to do a reading program, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it work.
So one day my wife Jessica comes into my office and tells me that she has an idea. In school I was hyperactive and always getting in trouble for losing school supplies, and my wife grew up poor and went to school without supplies, so she was embarrassed and I was in trouble, so she decided to do a school supply program. We use Century 21 bags with my names on them and all my information and we fill them with composition books, pens, pencils, crayons — all of the basics — and then we put a gift bag in with some Century 21 swag and bring them to the schools and hand them to the teachers.
We have had teachers cry because they spend so much of their own money on school supplies. I had no idea it was going to have such an impact, but we have now given hundreds of bags across 15 school districts — basically every district I sell a house in.
Then this year we started a library program, and we asked librarians what books they need. Jessica buys them each five books and we give them to the library. We have also done things for school for the deaf and things for programs for children with autism.
BH: What is your best piece of advice for a new agent starting out?
Covington: You have to come into work. The industry has a misconception that when agents get their license that they have all the time in the world to do whatever they want, that our calendars allow us to just relax and make out own schedule.
In reality, if you are not coming in and you are not busy, then you are not going to generate business. I tell new agents that they should be able to generate one listing and one buyer just by existing as a person in your community within your first three months. If you can’t do that, then you are definitely not doing enough work. You have to hustle.