RE/MAX’s Dave Liniger Chats About His New Book, “The Perfect 10”

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Fifty-five years ago, Dave Liniger was on a path to nowhere.

Although he was intelligent, Liniger was a self-professed slacker and failed out of the University of Indiana. His next choice was to join the United States Air Force, where he fought in the Vietnam War. Those five years in the Air Force gave Liniger the time to mature and effectively harness his passion for real estate.

Dave Liniger | Credit: RE/MAX

“Thank God the United States military was there,” he told Inman. “I spent two tours overseas, and it gave my boy brain a chance to mature and catch up with everybody else.”

Once he caught up with everyone else, Liniger decided to stretch his potential and start RE/MAX — one of the first companies to break away from the 50-50 commission split. His decision spurred criticism and contention, with many of his competitors setting the clock on Liniger’s downfall.

“The industry didn’t like [RE/MAX] because I was offering to pay agents far greater than what they were being paid on the old 50/50 scale,” he said. “They were trying to put me out of business, and they didn’t have to try too hard. I was doing a pretty good job doing that on my own.”

“I was frustrated. I was making all the mistakes,” he added. “The recession started, and then the oil embargo hit. I lost my financial backers. I had two choices: I could go to the naysayers and say, “I give up,” or I could keep going. I wouldn’t surrender.”

Linger said his journey to rock bottom carved the path for the best discoveries and growth of his life and laid the foundation for a 50-year history that no one thought he could achieve. Now that Liniger has stepped back from the limelight, he’s ready to share all that he’s learned with a new book, “The Perfect 10.”

The book’s debut coincides with RE/MAX’s annual R4 Convention in Las Vegas, where Liniger and newly minted RE/MAX President Amy Lessinger will officially kick off the company’s 51st year in business.

“This is 55 years of an 18-year-old kid that woke up, went to college, failed out, went to war, came back and said, ‘I’m going to start a business, I’m going to have a wife and children, and I’m going to be a success,’” he said.

Inman: What was the inspiration behind “The Perfect 10?” 

Liniger: When I started RE/MAX, it wasn’t a success right away. I thought it would be. I thought I was an entrepreneur, but I had no real leadership experience except for what I learned in the military in Vietnam. I thought I had the right dream.

I was frustrated. I was making all the mistakes. The recession started, and then the oil embargo hit. I lost my financial backers. I had two choices: I could go to the naysayers and say, “I give up,” or I could keep going. I wouldn’t surrender.

I began to discover personal development. I went to my managers, there were eight of them. One woman, seven men. Their average age was almost 20 years older than me. I sat down with them and told them to be honest — What do you like most about RE/MAX? What do you dislike the most? It takes a pretty thick skin to listen to that. They were tough, but I didn’t want to lose.

They were kind, but they pointed out my lack of managerial and leadership experience in real estate. I had to build the right team. It was magic, and the company survived. I didn’t stop there — I started taking every course I could take even though I really didn’t have the money. I learned from the best and the brightest, and when we started hosting RE/MAX conventions, I hired those same people to teach our agents.

My passion is creating a better way for men and women in the real estate industry to make more money and have more freedom and independence. So this book is all about the lessons [Gail and I] learned in our personal experience and the lessons we also learned from the best minds in the business on entrepreneurship, leadership, scalability, personal development, and franchising.

This is 55 years of an 18-year-old kid that woke up, went to college, failed out, went to war, came back and said, “I’m going to start a business, I’m going to have a wife and children, and I’m going to be a success.”

I read an excerpt from your book and appreciated what you said about learning from “The College of Hard Knocks.” There’s only so much we can learn in a classroom. Some things we simply have to experience. Considering where the industry is right now, what are the specific opportunities people have right now to learn, grow, and set themselves up for long-term success?

There’s an 80/20 rule in the industry. Twenty percent of the agents do 80 percent of the business. We currently have 1,500,000 Realtors and 50 percent have not closed a single transaction in the last 12 months. We’re an industry with a very low barrier to entry. Everybody’s got a mother, a brother, a next-door neighbor, and a best friend who might use us because they like us and trust us. Not because we’re experienced and a top producer.

This reminds me of what people say about Charles Darwin and his thoughts on the strongest of a species surviving. But that’s never what he said. He said the most adaptable of a species survives. More than 100 million years ago, dinosaurs were the strongest creatures to ever walk the planet. Are they here today? No. But guess what’s still here? The mosquito.

So when people used to ask me why RE/MAX was so incredibly successful, I said it’s because we hire the most experienced, talented salespeople in the industry. We don’t emphasize beginners and part-timers. We’ve been through eight recessions and nine presidencies; two of them are outright crooked to downright stupid. I’m not calling parties. There were some good Democrats and some good Republicans, but in reality, we live through all their bullshit.

For example, Reagan, in his infinite wisdom, said “We’ve got to stop inflation.” I’m a Reagan fan, but as a Realtor, to see mortgage rates go from 7 percent to 17.8 percent in a year was devastating. How the hell do you sell real estate? You have to be adaptable. Yeah. Then you go through the other recessions, and in 2007, the number of transactions dropped almost 50 percent. Again, the most adaptable that survived.

You have to be resilient. You have to be adaptable. You have to continually embrace change. You can’t say, “No, no, no, I don’t want to change.” Go to Inman [Connect], go to the National Association of Realtors meetings, go to the convention of your franchise, and listen to the people who are still succeeding.

Listen to the street fighters, listen to the crazy ones — they just don’t quit. They don’t say it’s too tough. They say, ‘If it is to be, it’s up to me. I’m gonna go to it. I’ll find a way to do it.”

How are you remaining adaptable? Your book mentions that you read five to six books per week. What recent read has had the biggest impact on you? 

“Atomic Habits” has been on the bestseller list for almost four years. It is the most logical look at how habits build our lives. Another one is “The Compound Effect” by Darren Hardy. The compound effect is that we make minor decisions day after day that add up over a lifetime. These decisions determine whether you’re a success or a failure. It’s easy to read, easy to comprehend, and hard to implement.

It’s about doing 100 things 1 percent better. Not doing one thing 100 percent better. Everybody wants the magic of, “I want this tomorrow.” But change takes time.

Speaking of change, RE/MAX has experienced a lot of it lately. The franchise turned 50 last year and recently dealt with the loss of former CEO Nick Bailey. How do you think RE/MAX can remain adaptable and chart the path toward another 50 years?

The truth of the matter is we are an industry that is undergoing unbelievable change more rapidly than at any time in the last 50 years. All industries — I don’t care whether it’s farming, education or medicine — have to figure out how to keep pace with the change. You can’t be afraid of it. You can’t block it out. You can’t be an ostrich and put your head in the sand. You can’t do today’s business with yesterday’s methods and expect to be in business tomorrow.

You have to be open-minded and open to ideas that are foreign to you. You don’t necessarily have to be the first one to change because a lot of the changes happen, and they peter out, but you’ve got to be aware, and you’ve got to be wide open and listen to both sides of the argument. Don’t let your own personal prejudices or your own personal experiences dictate how you’re going to respond.

The litigation explosion, the technology explosion, the artificial information explosion—they’re all changes. You just adapt. You read, you study. You don’t have to learn hundreds of ideas. Learn one or two and implement them, and then learn one or two more and implement them, and you continue your growth.

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