Hana Cha – Building Success: Insights from a Real Estate Development Advisor

Hana Cha, a trailblazing real estate advisor and broker, has become a transformative force in California’s luxury real estate market over the past years. As the founder of HANA., she has left an indelible mark on projects exceeding $4 billion across the Americas, cementing her status as a luminary within the industry. Click here to learn more about Hana Cha.  To learn more about The Assembly, click here. 

 

Show Notes

Welcome to the Agents Who Crush It In Real Estate podcast where you’ll hear the good, the bad and the ugly of how real estate agents overcame challenges and grew their business. Check out the Episode Notes at CrushItinRE.com/podcast. Here’s your host, Lindsay Favazza.

Lindsay Favazza: Welcome back to the Agents Who Crush It in Real Estate podcast, where we dive deep into the stories of the most successful realtors in the industry. I’m your host, Lindsay Favazza. Today, I will be interviewing a trailblazer, a visionary, and a transformative force in the new development segment of real estate, focused in mixed-use and resort residential new developments. I am talking to Hana Cha.

In just over a decade, Hana has risen from a sales receptionist at a new development high-rise to a leading real estate advisor and broker, leaving an indelible mark on projects exceeding $4 billion across America. Today, we’re going to uncover the secrets behind her rapid ascent in this competitive industry, her unique strategies that have cemented her status as a luminary, and how she’s infusing purpose and authenticity into every aspect of her work. Buckle up, as we get ready to learn, get inspired, and maybe even transform the way we approach real estate ourselves. Welcome to the podcast today, Hana.

Hana Cha: Thank you so much for having me, Lindsay. What a pleasure it is to spend the morning with you today.

Lindsay Favazza: I know. You had reached out to us, and we looked at your stats and your resume, and we’re like, yes, we have to have her on the podcast. I’m so excited. We’re finally here, and we’re finally doing it, and everyone gets to hear your story. Why don’t you start at the beginning? Tell us how you got into real estate, maybe what you were doing prior that led into that, and what those early days and stuff like that were like for real estate for you.

Hana Cha: Of course. I got into real estate with zero plans to get into this industry. I moved to L.A. from Seattle after university. My first job after school was at Sony Pictures International. I was working in entertainment thinking that was my path. I was there for about three years when I realized, “Wow, this just isn’t how I want to spend my life.”

As I was looking for different opportunities, and I was all of barely 23 years old, I was meeting with people and just having conversations just about, like, “What am I supposed to do? I’ve only had one job. I have no idea. I don’t know that many people in L.A. outside of the entertainment industry.” I was on my way to lunch one day to actually meet somebody who was in real estate that a mutual friend connected me with. Again, no background in real estate, have no idea, but just wanting to be open to having conversations with people that knew what they were doing with their lives.

On my way to lunch, I actually got into the elevator and met the developer or the owner of this building I was in the elevator with. Literally, from the ground floor to the 23rd floor, we had a brief conversation. He asked me who I was there to meet, and so forth. We happened to be, we’re going to the same office. This lunch turned into a, I’m meeting this woman to have a conversation about real estate, and now the owner of the building is joining us. We all went to lunch.

Lindsay Favazza: No pressure. [laughter]

Hana Cha: Really that’s how it started. I was intrigued by her story. I was intrigued by what the developer was telling me. Again, no background in any of it other than, wow, there’s so many cool things I could learn. I’ve already met two amazing people. Why not? Obviously at the time, because I wasn’t licensed, I was telling them I was looking for an opportunity, they offered me a job to be the receptionist at this building. This project had just launched to market for sale. This was in 2008, right? It was not the greatest of times, but again, having no background, I don’t know what that means.

Lindsay Favazza: That was normal to you back then. Then everything else after that seemed fine, I’m sure. [crosstalk] [laughter]

Hana Cha: That’s how it started. I took the gig two weeks later. While I was in that role, I signed up for my real estate course online. I did the exam, did all of those things. Then from there, it was really, I don’t want to be a receptionist forever, what do I do now? After I got my license, do I start selling?

It was really working in that team and learning about new developments that I realized, okay, there are so many different components and players that make up a sales team. You have your transaction coordinator, you have the sales concierge, your bona fide assistant. Then you have your junior salespeople, your senior salespeople, then you have your sales manager. It was like me just absorbing as much information as I could, going, “Okay, I can do that job. Can I try that job? I want to do that. I think that I can do that better than that person can. I want to do that on the next project. That’s how it all started.

Lindsay Favazza: That’s amazing. What were some of those roles that you had? You went from receptionist to? What was the path?

Hana Cha: I went from receptionist to transaction coordinator. Like most states, I feel like new development contracts are very different than your standard, here in California, your C.A.R. forms or your NAR forms. It’s paper pushing, but for me it was like, okay, this is really going to give me the opportunity to understand the transaction component of it and what’s involved in buying real estate.

I went from a receptionist to a transaction coordinator. I learned so much about new construction financing, Fannie guidelines, resale requirements. There were all of these different things that typically when you’re selling or buying resale, you don’t have to think about these things. There was a whole nother world of nuances and details that I was exposed to. Then after being a transaction coordinator, I realized the salespeople were making so much more money, to be honest. I was like, I want to try.

Lindsay Favazza: I want to do that. Hey, nothing wrong with that.

Hana: Yes. I convinced my broker at the time, they had a full sales team, but I was like, okay, can I just have one or two days on the sales floor and I’ll continue with the transaction coordinator role. I’m not going to stop that, but I want to try selling. I think immediately when I started selling, I fell in love with it. I also realized, I was really good at it. I went from a part-time salesperson, to the next project we were on, I was full-time sales.

At that point, I had mastered contracts and I understood all of the financing stuff. I was able to sit down with buyers and agents that were coming into this building and have that conversation of like, “What’s different, what’s involved, next steps. Here’s what we’re working towards.” That allowed me to get into my next role, which was the sales manager. As a sales manager, you really touch everything. It was a big job for me at that time because I was almost 25 at that point.

Lindsay Favazza: That’s a young sales manager.

Hana Cha: Yes.

Lindsay Favazza: It sounds like you had all the experience to back it up at that point.

Hana Cha: Yes. I definitely, I said, “I’m not going to stop learning.” I played a utility player too. When our sales admin was out, I was at the reception desk, taking appointments and doing admin work. If our transaction coordinator was overwhelmed, I stepped in and I helped her if we needed, somebody on the floor. I think that just being open to, “Okay, I can fill these different roles because I’ve done it and I understand.” Also, I never really had an ego, like no job was too big or small. I just wanted to get it done. I think that’s really what helped me to excel and thrive in that space.

Lindsay Favazza: Yes. It sounds like you were an MVP because you were able to really help in so many different places. That must’ve been a very valuable person to have around.

Hana Cha: Yes. Yes. Yes. I think it was a lot of fun. It was a lot of learning for me. I think every time it was truly a learning opportunity. Even now, it’s like, sometimes I still play the utility player and it’s like, God, things have changed and you’re always learning.

Lindsay Favazza: You think that if you had started in sales, it would have been the same. Do you think you would have felt like it would have been harder to get caught up? Do you think the path, obviously like hindsight, the path that you took is the path that you got you where you are. Do you think it would have been harder for you if you had started right from the sales position?

Hana Cha: Maybe not harder, but it definitely would’ve been different because I do think there was so much I learned coming from that entry-level stage where, my first year in real estate, I probably made $18,000. It wasn’t like I was seeing big money and I genuinely worked hard to– Then the next year I made $30,000, the next year I made $60,000.

I worked my way up and that definitely gave me a sense of, okay, it’s hard work. It’s multifaceted, I truly don’t believe– Everybody says, “Just get your real estate license. Just get your real estate license. You could be a realtor.” I don’t know what those people are thinking and why they would give anybody that advice, but I don’t think that’s the case. [laughter]

Lindsay Favazza: It’s not that easy. You don’t just start selling all these homes.

Hana Cha: Exactly.

Lindsay Favazza: They don’t just fall from the skies. Especially now.

Hana Cha: Exactly.

Lindsay Favazza: You definitely have a focus, obviously, in the developmental side. Talk to us about that. Talk to us about the nuances of that. Then I also want to hear about some of the bigger projects that you’ve worked on because I know that there was one like a Ritz-Carlton experience, there was stuff like that. Tell us a little bit about that world.

Hana Cha: I think because I started in development and it was such a multifaceted industry, I never really wanted to leave. I will say, I did have a little eight-month period where I did try resale. I did all right because I had, at that point, a handful of clients that I had sold to in these high-rise buildings. I was getting referrals that way, but new development to me was just so much more dynamic. I felt like I had to use my brain, I had to stretch my brain, I had to think outside the box. It was so much more fun for me in that every day was a different day.

I have worked on a couple of different Ritz-Carlton projects on the West Coast. I’ve been involved on a Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Six Senses. A lot of the brand names, which I feel like most agents see as the trophy projects, I have touched. I will say those projects are way harder than non-branded because with the branded projects, you have a lot of corporate politics and you’re dealing with the brand itself. It’s not just the developer and the development team who’s your client, but you have to include and report to all these other people.

Lindsay Favazza: What is a development project? What is the phases of that? When do you get started? How does it all work? How do they bring you to the mix? How does that go down?

Hana Cha: When I first started the industry, it was really a matter of when a project is ready to launch for market, developers will go and look for listing agents or listing teams, essentially, and then you pitch for the listing. Over the years, I have gotten involved at a much earlier stage. As a development advisor now, a lot of times developers will reach out to me long before a project is ready to sell on market. I get involved as early as, after land acquisition and they’re going through feasibility and trying to understand what they need to build and who they need to build for.

I go through a series of what we call design development to identify exactly who the target demographic is, what the market needs. Is there certain retail components that would help residential sales? Is there retail components that would help the local community grow in that particular pocket? Then we’ll look at everything from floor plans, programming, what sort of amenity spaces does this buyer profile want and need? What are people willing to pay for? Where’s the price threshold? All of those different things.

Lindsay Favazza: I’m a marketer, so in my mind, what you just described is they don’t just build what they want to build. They start out–

Hana Cha: Some do.

Lindsay Favazza: Some do, and then they probably sit for a little while because they didn’t do research, but it’s so smart to think that they’re like, “Okay, we now have this plot of land. Let’s do all the research up front as to what would be the best use case for this land.” Like you said, is it a mixed-use? Is it just residential only? What are the components of it? That you get to be involved in that process. You’re more than just listing and selling these units, you’re hand in hand with them from the beginning of the process. That’s so cool. I didn’t realize that.

Hana Cha: Exactly. So much of my business now is more of that than selling because I think that we’ve had some great times in the market where developers could build anything they want and it would sell. It’s obviously no longer the case. There is a lot more thoughtful planning that needs to happen upfront. Developers, especially when you’re working with institutional developers, they do a much more thorough due diligence period where they’re identifying– It’s all about research and data.

I think it’s good that they do that, but also those developers tend to get– I call them financial mechanics because they forget that they’re still, at the end of the day, trying to build homes for people that are looking for a space to live in. I think that is so important. Look, there’s so many developers out there that are still building whatever they want without taking into consideration what the market needs, what-

Lindsay Favazza: That’s crazy.

Hana Cha: -the people need. Yes.

Lindsay Favazza: You don’t build a product based on what you want. You have to build it based on what your clients want.

Hana Cha: Unless you plan on buying it, all of it.

Lindsay Favazza: Then that’s probably not going to work out very well in your business plan. [laughs]

Hana Cha: Exactly.

Lindsay Favazza: I want to get into the client relationship side of this then because I have to assume that your clients are very, not difficult, but they’re harder to get their attention. They’re not a typical seller where it’s like, you have a great listing appointment, and boom, you’ve got the listing. This is a little bit different, and I’m sure, highly competitive. How do you tell the audience that’s listening today, if there’s someone there that is thinking of themselves, “I would love to do more development kind of work. How do I get in with those people?” What is that advice that you can give to them?

Hana Cha: With developers, and if you’re initially trying to establish some rapport and build a relationship with them, I think it’s, first and foremost, really important to ask them the questions and understand what their business goals are. That’s first and foremost, because, obviously, at the end of the day, every developer wants to sell everything as fast as they can for as much money as they can. That’s the obvious.

Asking the questions of, “What is it that would make your partner or your partnership with me invaluable?” I think it’s really listening and understanding what that means. I also think it’s so important to be knowledgeable beyond just your local market as it relates to real estate. It’s important to understand what’s happening in the community, how it’s changed or evolved.

If there’s gentrification happening, what is missing? How do you bring additional value to the developer that is just beyond price per square feet, and what the comps are? I think being able to have those conversations and helping the developer understand that what they’re building is really affecting that entire neighborhood and beyond.

Lindsay Favazza: You were talking about how the builders are building for the clients, and you’re trying to get them with those builders. If you come to them with what the neighborhood’s looking for, what that research is ahead of time, then you probably will have a little bit of a leg in the door because then they can see that you’re-

Hana Cha: Exactly.

Lindsay Favazza: -thinking in that same way.

Hana Cha: Exactly. I feel like developers always know another developer, and the best way to get new development projects is referrals. When you can focus on one developer client and really give them your 110%, your full undivided attention, and bring knowledge to the table that they don’t have, that’s when they’ll say to their other developer friends, “Hey, you have to work with so and so. Have a conversation with this person.”

Lindsay Favazza: How would someone go about trying to get those types of clients? Is it you see a development starting and you go in there to try to talk to them, or do they already have someone at that point and it’s too late? How do you get in front of those people? What’s the lead generation component to that?

Hana Cha: I’m just going to tell you from my experience. After my first three projects which I worked on with the same developer that I met in the elevator when I got into the business, after that, it was now, “Okay, they’re done. They have no more projects. How am I going to figure out what the next project is?”

I was just really on the ground in the weeds and I would drive through the city and anytime I saw some construction happening, I would stalk it. I would drive around all the time. If I saw somebody there, I would walk in, have a conversation, figure out who the GC is, see if the GC could connect me to the owner, and just get as much information. There were times where I would see certain projects fenced off, and I would do everything I can to find a hole that I can stick my head in and go–

Lindsay Favazza: I’m just picturing you being– more than likely in heels. I can’t see your feet, but you’re probably wearing heels, and you’re probably dressed to the nines, and you’re just poking your eyes through. [laughs]

Hana Cha: Yes.

Lindsay Favazza: Hello.

Hana Cha: Like, “Anybody there? Can I talk to anybody?” Also, too, I think every major city now has some real estate newsletter or website or thing, and stay on top of that. If you know how to pull city records, I would go in and see who has submitted permits or if there’s a new project coming online. I would say it’s multi-prong, but trying to get FaceTime, even if it’s at a construction site.

Look, if you go into a construction site a couple of times every week and you’re seeing the same construction guys, there will be a time when the GC is there with the owner or the developer, and they’ll say, “Oh, my God, this crazy girl has been here every day for the last month. [crosstalk] Please talk to her.” That’s how I got started. I was relentless. I didn’t care.

Lindsay Favazza: I love that. I talk to a lot of agents, and I’m training with agents all the time. One of the biggest things I hear, and usually it’s more in the marketing sense, where they don’t want to put stuff out on social or they want to be careful of what they say, but they have this imposter syndrome that they are concerned about.

They’re afraid to say that they’re doing something when they’re not, or to fake it. Fake it till they make it is something that a lot of people really worry about because it’s like, “What if someone calls me out and I don’t have those sales, or I haven’t worked with a developer before?” What’s your advice to people like that, that are scared of that, or what can they do to get over that fear, I guess?

Hana Cha: I don’t love the term, “Fake it till you make it,” but there is a sense of truth in that. I think when people say– Well, the way that I hear, “Fake it till you make it,” it’s really continuing to ask the questions, and almost relaying that even though I don’t have that experience, I know people that do, and I have the resources, and I am accessible, and I have the tools to figure out exactly what we need to do and how to get you in the right place.

I think when you have those honest conversations, then they can see– Developers love hungry agents, right? They love that passion that certain agents bring forth because everybody has to start somewhere. You don’t just get your first development project, you don’t have 10 under your belt all of a sudden. You have to start somewhere.

When you’re able to have those conversations in a way that is meaningful to the developer, the person that you’re having the conversation with, and really bring this sense of authentic tenacity, like, I will do whatever it takes. I’m connected to this entire network. I may not have the answers, but I know how to get the answers.

Lindsay Favazza: I love that. We have an agent in our company that she now sells 50 to 60 homes a year without an eye. She tells a story of how when she started, she would say, “We have sold this amount of homes,” even though she had it, like the company had. She’s like, “I would fake, I would say that we have, and then they would just believe that it was me.” [laughs]

Hana Cha: Right. No, totally.

Lindsay Favazza: It’s pulling, just like you said, it’s pulling on the experiences of your resources, not necessarily your own, until you have your own to fall on.

Hana Cha: Right. When I with the agents that I know whether I have long-term relationships, or I have worked with them or not. If you’re connected with me, I always say, “Look, I have just become an additional resource, an additional tool in your tool belt.” If you come across a development project and you don’t know, hit me up. I would love to answer any questions. I would love to help you go through the steps you need to, to get in front of this person.

Lindsay Favazza: I love that. Where are you today in your career? Are you still mainly focused on sales? Are you in more of that leadership role where you’re helping? Tell me what your day-to-day looks like now.

Hana Cha: Today, I’m not selling as much. I say that I’m really not selling. I can’t say at all because I do have projects I am selling.

Lindsay Favazza: You got to keep a little bit. [laughs]

Hana Cha: I always bring on, and this is my whole model, is depending on where the project is and what market it is, because I do have clients all over the country, and I’m not licensed in every state in the US. Depending on where the project is, I do identify the right agent or the right agent team to get in front of the developer, and essentially, partner with them as the listing agent or the listing team on the ground. A lot of developers have in-house sales agents, too. I hate using the term sales training, but I do a little bit of sales guidance, what I call-

Lindsay Favazza: Mentorship or–

Hana Cha: Exactly. How to work through a sales program. Especially with some of these bigger projects, you’re selling them for five, six, seven years. It’s not one listing that you sign for six months and hope it sells. Most of my business right now is the advising and consulting work through the early stages and bringing it to market to help best position and identifying the right pieces and partners to essentially run an entire sales program.

Then the other pillar of it, last year, I just launched an online program called The Assembly, which is essentially an agent’s guide to getting into new development, taking you through how to pitch a developer and the different nuances that it’s important to touch on and through all the different phases of design, development, presales, financing, marketing, market positioning, all of that. Anybody that signs up for the assembly, just like I said before, I’ve become an additional resource and tool. There you are. You may not have any experience in selling new development, but I have a ton. Guess what? I’m going to tell you exactly what you need to do.

Lindsay Favazza: That’s great. I’m assuming you’ll make sure that we have all that info so that if anyone that is listening today wants to sign up for that, they can and that they can reach out to you.

Hana Cha. Absolutely.

Lindsay Favazza: That sounds great. We’ll make sure to put that in the show notes so if anyone’s interested, they can check that out for sure. That’s awesome.

Hana Cha: I love it.

Lindsay Favazza: Tell me, we’ve only got a few minutes left here, but I want to hear two last questions because this is very fun and very interesting to me. First question is, and I love to ask this question because I feel like it really is an entertaining question, usually. Tell me what is a crazy or memorable, maybe. Maybe it’s not crazy, like funny, but maybe it’s just the most memorable thing that’s happened to you in real estate.

Hana Cha: The most memorable. God, I’ll share a funny one. I’ll share a funny one with you.

Lindsay: Okay, great. Those are the best.

Hana Cha: When I was selling one of my first projects, and I was probably maybe three years into this business, and I want to say quite naive still. It’s much more naive than I am now. I was dealing with my first billionaire family, and they were in LA, they were foreigners, looking to buy a couple of things as investments. I was touring the oldest son to this family, and completely inappropriate, this is way before the MeToo movement and way before any of this stuff.

Lindsay Favazza: I can imagine. Yes.

Hana Cha: I’m touring this guy, and we’re on top floor, like a penthouse in a building, and we’re looking out at the views, and he’s loving it.

Suddenly, he turns over to me and he just asked me, “If I buy this penthouse, can you wear a French maid outfit and clean the apartment for me?”

Lindsay Favazza: You’re like, “Bye.

Hana Cha: I’m out of here.”

Hana Cha: Also, Lindsay, I wanted to get the deal done. In my brain, I was like, “Oh, my God,-

Lindsay Favazza: That’s crazy.

Hana Cha: -what a dick,” right?

Lindsay Favazza: Yes.

Hana Cha: I just made an awkward, “Ha, ha, ha.”

Lindsay Favazza: Did he buy it?

Hana Cha: He bought it. Well, I said to him–

Lindsay Favazza: Then you just ghosted him after that. You’re like, “I don’t care about referrals. I don’t care.”

Hana Cha: I said to him, “I look much better in a kimono than a French-made outfit.”

Lindsay Favazza: Oh, that’s good.

Hana Cha: I’m not even Japanese, [laughter] but I was just taken aback, and then we just laughed it off. Everybody laughed it off. The agent who was there was mortified.

Lindsay Favazza: I’m sure.

Hana Cha: I made that comment, and we all just laughed, and then immediately changed the subject.

Lindsay Favazza: Oh my God.

Hana Cha: He did buy. He bought a couple of things. It was fine, but that wouldn’t happen today. [laughs]

Lindsay Favazza: No, they wouldn’t Yes. That would be very risky to do today. For sure. Yes. That is so funny. It sounds like you were thinking on your toes there and made the best of it. I love that. Final question is more in the realm of marketing. What do you do to market yourself, especially where most agents, they’re on social media, they’re sending out postcards, they’re doing that stuff? With the development work, is there other ways that you can get your name out there so that these people will know who you are before you’re peering through the gate at their development? What are some of those things that you do?

Hana Cha: For me, myself, at this point, I don’t market myself too much. 99.9% of my business does come from referrals.

Lindsay Favazza: Referrals. Got it.

Hana Cha: Yes. For new agents that are trying to get into this space, I would say the number one thing is to talk about it. To talk about it with your existing clients, with new clients, with your colleagues, with anybody. Even if the conversation is, “I want to get into new development, I saw this new building, I saw this thing going under– it’s under construction. Do you know what’s happening? I want to get in front of the owner. I want to get in front of the developer.”

I think creating content, all of that is great and supplemental. Having conversations, like actual conversations, talking to people about this is the most impactful way because you just never know. I believe that the universe is so purposeful in who it connects and how these things happen. The universe can only bring you what you’re asking for, right? In order for the universe to bring it to you, you have to put it out there. Say, “Hey, I want this project. I want to get in front of this client.” Just tell everybody and talk about it with anybody that’s willing to have the conversation with you.

Lindsay Favazza: I love it. I think the universe brought us together today and I’m very, very excited for that. I hope that you’ll stay in touch with us and keep us posted on all the new things you’re doing.

Hana Cha: Absolutely.

Lindsay Favazza: I definitely think that this episode will get a lot of traction just because it’s such a niche that you have and it’s unlike any episode that we’ve ever done.

Hana Cha: I really love it.

Lindsay Favazza: I am so grateful to you for sharing and for reaching out to us. That’s amazing. Usually, we have to beg people to come here. To having you reach out to me, it was like, “I don’t have to do anything. I just get to interview her. This is great.” Thank you so much for that. This has been wonderful.

Hana Cha: Thank you too.

Lindsay Favazza: Any closing parting words that you have for the audience before we end?

Hana Cha: I would just say real estate is such a fascinating industry, and if you truly love this business, there is so much more out there in this space than you know. I don’t care how much you know, there is more. Just continue moving forward, continue being passionate, and make sure you are always just feeling fulfilled and passionate about the deal, the client, the thing you are chasing, and everything else will fall into place.

Lindsay Favazza: I love it. Thank you so much, Hana. I really appreciate it. Thank you, everybody-

Hana Cha: Thank you, Lindsay.

Lindsay Favazza: -for listening today. Like I said, if you want access to The Assembly that she was talking about before or if you want to see her social media or do any of those things, you can go right here. You can also go to the show notes in the episode and check it out. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much to our listeners. We really appreciate you. We’ll see you on the next episode of the Agents Who Crush It in Real Estate. Thanks, everybody.

 

Thanks for joining us on the Agents Who Crush It In Real Estate podcast. We hope you’ve learned some valuable takeaways. Be sure to take action and grow your business. You can check out the Episode Notes and more content from the show at CrushitinRE.com/podcast. And if you’d like this episode, and you’d like to hear more stories, please share with others, post on social media or leave a rating or review. To catch all the latest from Anthony you can follow him on Instagram at Crush It In Real Estate on Facebook and YouTube. Thanks again and we’ll see you next time.