real-estate-agent-shoes

My Shoes – A True Story

Be prepared, this may be a long story, but one I need to tell.  My name is Christian Amacker, I’m the owner of Management 1 Tri-Cities Realty & Property Management, in Kennewick WA.  I’ve been living behind a wall of fear for more than a year, and I’m tired of it.  I wrote this article just as much for myself as I did for you.

I have a pair of shoes that are significant to me.  They’re my Real Estate Shoes.  After serving 4 years in the Army, then 4 more in the Navy, I decided in 2003 I’d try my hand in the over-inflated, hyper-competitive, high-dollar Southern California Real Estate Market.  I already had two suits, but picked up a few more on sale at the mall or inexpensive suit stores.  I bought more than a dozen shirts and two dozen ties from stores like TJ Maxx and Ross.  For my shoes, just because of their great return policy, and I needed ones that would last, I bought a pair of not-too-expensive leather Kenneth Cole shoes from Nordstrom.  They’re a good leather, and I knew from old “boot polishing” days in the military that I could keep them looking good for as long as they’d hold together.  Now that my wardrobe was complete, I was ready to sell homes.  So I printed some flyers, stuck them on a few hundred doors, stared at the phone, and did “desk time”.

For anyone who’s ever tried those ideas above, they’re sort of like the Real Estate Lottery.  You can hang door flyers, sit at the office front desk, and essentially pray that someone either calls or walks in looking for a Realtor.  It happens… occasionally, but never to me.  So I became a little disheartened.

One day, the owner of the Real Estate Company (large, 16 offices) crossed paths with me in the hallway and stopped for a minute to talk.  He asked me “How’s business going?”  I nervously replied, “Well, I’ve only been here a month or so, and I don’t expect to get rich overnight, but considering that I’m new, I figure this is just part of the process”.  He said “No”, and that he’d recognized my talent during my initial trainings and was going to share a secret with me that would jump-start my business faster, and possibly even ahead of all the other new agents, as well as some of the seasoned experienced agents too.  Now, for this article, I won’t say what that secret was, but I followed his advice and became “Rookie of the Year” for a 16 office Real Estate Firm with 10 months left in the year.  My second year, I did a quarter-million in commissions and earned a “President’s Award” from them at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, CA.  My Real Estate career was on top of the world and couldn’t get any better.

Over the next year I bought two additional homes, one to upgrade myself into, and the others to use as investment properties.  This was 2006.  Things kept going pretty good until sometime in 2007, I don’t remember exactly what month, but home values began to move past the “softening” stage into “dropping”.  My first real clue that something was about to change came after a handful of my own potential clients started to pull back from selling and instead suggest that they were thinking of renting the home for a few years instead.  I considered, already having my own 2 rental properties, I could manage a few of these properties as rentals, “baby-sit” them for a few years, and then sell them when the market came back in one or two years (lol).  So I began taking on a few rentals, and not long after that, the bottom dropped out completely.

Having become a new property manager around late 2007, I was there for the whole downhill wave.  I had a successful website, and due to being at the right place at the right time, I began taking on rental properties at around the rate of 5-8 per month.  At the end of my first year, I had 75 properties, all single-family residences.  Now, needing help with my rapid growth rate and the need for more manpower, I hired my father to work with me.  I knew it was important to have an employee you can trust, and none can be so trustworthy as your own parent.

In part, due to my attractive and affordable Flat-Fee pricing structure, my Property Management company grew very fast.  Within another few months, my father and I had brought on another 50 homes, bringing the total to 125.  That’s when I got sick.

In early 2009, I contracted a very nasty and persistent intestinal bacteria called “Clostridium Dificile”, also called C. Dificile, or C-Diff for short.  Anyway, if you notice the Latin root of the word Dificile, it obviously translates to “Difficult”.  My day went like this: I would essentially have very painful abdominal symptoms, nausea, and cramping any time food made it into my intestines.  While I underwent a variety of tests and examinations, it lived up to its name and was very difficult to treat.  So essentially I would starve myself all day because my stomach hurt, then by the time my intestines were empty and I felt a little better, I wasn’t in pain, but still very hungry.  Eventually I would give in, eat, and repeat the sickening and painful process all over again.  I explained to people that it felt like I had been repeatedly beaten in the abdomen with a baseball bat.

Five or six months into this illness, I KNEW I needed to hire someone to help me run the company.  I was spending much of the day in the bed, on pain meds and antibiotics, knowing I was dropping the ball on my work.  If I didn’t bring someone else on, it wouldn’t be long before I would start losing clients. So that’s when I responded to a Craigslist ad for an Accountant.  I interviewed her, explained my health, the situation with the company, and discussed her qualifications.  The Accountant, who I’ll leave unnamed in this article, proclaimed to be a university graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting, and having worked for two similar, but differing property management companies; one as a bookkeeper, and the other as a Controller.  She said all the right words and made me feel perfectly at ease… but little did I know that she was already a convicted felon, having served prison time for theft of funds and embezzlement one or two years before.  I hired her on the spot and within weeks she had a copy of my Driver’s License, signature, and full access to all the company accounts.

Fast forward 6 years later, I get a random Audit Notice from the California Bureau of Real Estate.  Ok, that’s not great news, as California Audits are known for being a big pain in the butt… even if you don’t have any violations… but even worse if you do.  So I did what any prudent business owner does and hired a professional Consultant to come in before the Audit, help get things in order, and to make sure the Audit process went through as smoothly as possible.  That was the idea.

When the Consultant arrived, she asked to see copies of bank statements for ALL bank accounts associated with the business.  Over the years, there had been about 10 or so different accounts opened, all for various purposes.  Some were used for only a short time and then abandoned, but left opened if needed in the future.  So once the Consultant looked at the bank statements, she immediately noticed one account with unusual activity.  When she asked me what it was for, I said I didn’t know, it was one I thought was inactive.  The Consultant then decided to test the Accountant by asking a few questions that only a real accounting graduate would know, but the Accountant became flustered and unable to answer anything.  After a little more poking and prodding, the Consultant confronted the Accountant and asked her if she really did have a college degree.  The Accountant said “No”.  The Accountant went further to admit that she had begun using the account in question as her “personal account”, but had no explanation as to why she needed it.  It was also noted that certain deposits that were supposed to go into Trust Accounts had been deposited into her account.  She had given at least one of my field Property Managers some deposit slips, so that if the Property Manager took a check or payment far from the office for any reason, she could just walk it into the closest bank and deposit the funds right there, instead of having to drive 20 miles to the office.  The Property Manager didn’t know which account she was being told to deposit to, and the Accountant was spending whatever money she could get in it.  So now we knew she had been stealing, we just didn’t know how much… yet.

Now, as the Owner and Broker for my Property Management Company, I became terribly panicked because I knew the upcoming Audit would nonetheless hold me personally responsible for any actions of my Accountant and that odds were high that I would lose my license for not supervising properly (even though I was sick for 3/4ths of the time the Accountant worked for me).  When we added everything up, it looked like more than half a million dollars was missing from the Tenant Security Deposits Account.  My stomach wrenched in my body.  I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I began feeling a strong depression that was competing heavily with my obsessive worry, and I just didn’t know what to do.  How was I going to replace so much money in less than a month, by the time the audit was scheduled? I lost 50 pounds almost overnight.

My first scrambled efforts were (1) to contact several of my wealthy clients and seek either a loan or investment in my business, or (2) to possibly sell the company and use the proceeds to repay the losses.  I knew one way or another, if I couldn’t actually save my company, I’d find a way to get my clients their money back.  Officially, I had just under a month to solve the problem.  Do I tell my clients, cause an immediate mass panic and exodus, or do I keep quiet and try to solve the problem first?  I chose the latter, and I was going to solve the problem any way I could.

I won’t go into the gory details, but even after some hands-and-knees-on-the-floor begging in tears (to a wealthy client… and to God), I was unable to borrow the funds or get an investor.  My final option was to sell the company, or risk being put on trial for the actions of my Accountant (yes, I did fail to properly supervise her, and that’s my stupid legacy, but it’s not a felony crime).

I reached out to one of my local competitors, who coincidentally, a few years earlier, asked if I was interested in selling my company for cash.  At the time I said “no”… but now I NEEDED to sell.  Fortunately for me, he was still interested.  So after a few weeks of negotiations and attorney revisions, we struck a deal.  I would close my company on July 3, 2015.  All of my clients were notified, as many personally by me on the phone as possible, or by email for anyone that I wasn’t able to reach directly.  I spent a week on the phone, day and night, explaining what I could to everyone, letting them know their account was short by about a thousand dollars each… but if they would transfer to the other Property Management Company, they would be reimbursed with $600 cash up-front, and four months worth of free management; a sign-on package valued at one thousand dollars… only thirty dollars less than I owed them.  Because the Accountant’s bookkeeping records were so mixed up and difficult to understand (I even hired a forensic accountant who also failed at reconciling the numerous, intermingled accounts) I had again underestimated the amount of funds missing.

At the time, we were managing close to 500 individual rentals and the majority of them took the deal.  From what I know, only a few declined, or just let it go as “water under the bridge”.  July 3rd, 2015, I shut my doors for good went into a deep depression, still anticipating the upcoming Audit.  Everything I had built and worked for was gone.  Not only was I broke, I had lost my company and it’s provisions for my family. So knowing what I did about Audits, along with advice from my Attorney, I decided to surrender my California Real Estate License. — I was broken, I was devastated, and I knew for sure that I didn’t want to work in Real Estate, a profession I had excelled in, ever again.  There were days upon days that I prayed that I would go to sleep and not wake up… but that was just as depressing when I’d think about how it would change the life of my wife and our four boys.  So I prayed and kept living.

The Audit date finally came, taking about 2 weeks to complete, and was nothing less than humiliating, terrifying, and deeply depressing.  Over five hundred thousand dollars was found to be missing.  Fortunately, for me, and marginally uplifting, was the fact that the Accountant’s activities and embezzlement was well documented and could be proven with the bank account and debit card records.  You can mix papers up, but you can’t hide from them.  The paper trail always tells the truth.  I felt better, like now I was off the hook for any crime, as everything clearly showed how I responded, and by restoring most of my clients missing funds.  And don’t forget about the bank statements and debit card activity that directly identified my Accountant as the thief.

So, by now, you’re ready to ask what I call the “Five Hundred Thousand Dollar Question”.  What happened to the Accountant?  Well… nothing, at least yet.  Since I had restored the majority of my clients losses, and even though I had to sell my company to do it, there ended up being a very small amount of unpaid damages with most of those clients just letting it go.  Some of them praised me for my efforts to “save them”, while others were much nastier.  For myself, I consider the event having similarities to rape or other violent crime.  As the one who lost the most, I am the most significant claimant… but like you hear certain crime victims say, I just don’t want to re-live everything again (not to mention, my Accountant “spent” the money, so it didn’t appear as though there was anything left to recover).  Two weeks after firing her, we learned of her felon status; now knowing that she’d had years to prepare for this day, everyone was sure she’d have concocted something, somewhere, to point the finger back at me.  But I just don’t feel like having to defend myself against a Felon in Court.  Also, as a Christian and a person of Faith, I believe God has assured me that He will be her Judge, and that for my own personal health and sanity, I should move forward and not let this be my defeat. Go and raise my children close to family.

So in December of 2015, I legitimately obtained my Washington Managing Broker’s License, formed a new Company, Management 1 Tri-Cities Realty & Property Management… and (the best part of all) moved my children closer to our family.  My wife and I (and our children) were alone in California (my dad and brother moved back to Mississippi, where I’m originally from), and we had both been praying for a door to open so that we could move closer to her family in Pendleton, Oregon.  But this wasn’t going to happen as long as my business continued growing like it had always been (even thought we didn’t seem to be making much profit..??).  Well, it wasn’t quite the door I expected, but one definitely opened.  So despite the terrible hardship 2015 was for me, my wife, and my children, and after walking through the fire, we were blessed with an opportunity to live in the beautiful Tri-Cities where we have access to family and friends all over the two-state region.  So there’s my testimony of faith and blessings.  You never know what the Lord has in store; I just wish I didn’t let myself get as depressed as I did.

If you’ve made it this far, that’s the story of my Real Estate life before Washington.  I ran a good business in California.  I employed my father, my youngest brother, and other good people.  I was preyed upon by a convicted felon “predator” who knew I was sick from the beginning, was unable to adequately supervise the business, TRUSTED HER, and she jumped at the opportunity to steal.  My fight against C. Dificile lasted 4 years, but by the time I regained my health, damage was already underway that would continue for 2 more.  She played tricks with, or just failed to provide statements as requested, so I never knew how much was missing. Now, I’ve learned more valuable lessons than I’d wish on my worst enemy, but I won’t allow history to repeat itself.  I have a new business plan here in the Tri-Cities.  I intend to take deeper, more transparent steps to insure my business is protected, in addition to my clients and any funds belonging to them.

Management 1 Tri-Cities Realty & Property Management is being managed cautiously, responsibly, and with professional third-party oversight.  I intend to keep my client volume low, so I can choose to work with the type of client that makes me happy, and not the ones that keep me awake at night.  My Flat-Fee Property Management model is more affordable than any Tri-Cities “percentage-based” operation, and my Discount Home Selling Commission will save Home Sellers ten to fifteen thousand dollars (or more) over any local competitor.  And as an Honorably Discharged Army and Navy Veteran, I can assure you that I do not cut corners or sacrifice quality for low prices.  I’m just more efficient than ever and have learned numerous valuable lessons that help keep my overhead below and efficiency above the competition.  I’ve also learned ways to protect my clients better, even more than before.  I always prided myself in protecting them, only to get shot in the back by my own trusted Accountant.  2015 was the worst year of my life, one that will never repeat itself.

So there it is.  There’s my story of success and tragedy, but I hope it’s not over yet and ultimately ends on a happy note.  If anyone doubts my honesty, trustworthiness, or business ethics, please feel free to google my old business reviews, you’ll see the vast majority of them are “great” or better.  In the end, a few clients thought I was lying and falsely accused me of knowing about, allowing, or participating in the theft, so please take those with a grain of a salt because they’re either inaccurate or just plain false.  Lastly, I’d like to mention that I still live in a bit of fear, especially after publishing this article, due to having had my life threatened, seriously, eyeball to eyeball… by my Accountant’s boyfriend.  He claimed to be “a bad person who knows other bad people all over the country”, and I have “no idea” what he’s “capable of.  Any effort on my part to expose my Accountant for her embezzlement would result in him “have someone kill” me.  I took him seriously.  But I do write this article with more faith than fear.  I know he’s watching me due to some recent comments on social media… so yes, I’m still a little scared, but this information is on record and I’m still not going to let this be my defeat.  I’m a twice-Honorably Discharged Veteran Army Soldier and Navy Sailor, an excellent Realtor and better Property Manager, and I’m not going out with a quick punch.  This is me standing up, proclaiming my story publicly, and whatever happens next is in the Lord’s hands.  God bless you for reading this far, and please pray for my family as we recover; and for my enemy, the Accountant and her boyfriend.  Together, they have a beautiful little boy, and I hope he grows up to be better than his parents.

So back to my Kenneth Cole shoes from Nordstrom.  I’ve walked miles in them, literally.  Miles and miles. They’re about 13 years old, but they’re still in good condition and they still shine.  If you ever meet me wearing a suit, odds are, I’ll have them on.  They are good shoes, probably the best I’ve ever had.  They’ve gone with me through success, failure, and hopefully back to success again.  If you’re looking for a great Realtor, or an even better Property Manager, give me a chance to interview with you.  I hope to earn your trust and business as I move forward.  If you live here in the Tri-Cities of Pasco, Richland, or Kennewick, send me a Facebook friend request… I could use some new local friends.  And if I happen to be wearing my black leather Kenneth Coles, please don’t judge me until you’ve walked at least a mile in them.

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