Realtor discovers perfect new career
By Maggie FitzRoy
Like many Realtors, Michael Starling went into real estate cold, with no experience and no customers.
But from the get-go, he achieved impressive success, hitting the million-dollar sales goal early and then following that up by selling enough homes to reach the multimillion mark.
Starling credits his achievements to the fact that he loves his still fairly new “24/7” career, adding that he went into it as if he had just finished college as a young man. He soaked up as much information as he could at his brokerage’s training program.
“After that, you really have to work your network,” he said.
Fortunately for Starling, being born and raised in Jacksonville and then working in the region for many years helped him, since he already knew so many people.
Starling transitioned to Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Network Realty, after three years with First Coast Sotheby’s.
He had what he called “a good start” at Sotheby’s. In 2015, he realized $1.5 million in sales between April and December.
In 2016, he sold almost $5.3 million. In 2017, he sold $6.1 million. And since switching to Berkshire Hathaway in March this year, he is on track to exceed last year’s sales.
At 61, Starling said he happily works seven days a week, with “no desire to retire. It keeps your mind sharp,” he said. And “I’ve finally found my passion.”
Being reared in Northeast Florida, Starling said that gave him a big network of potential customers. But from the beginning, he found real estate was a great fit for his personality.
“I had always been thinking about it,” he said, even during his 25 years in sales in the cellular industry. He just wishes he had gotten into it earlier in his life.
“This matches me,” he said. “I’ve been the happiest I’ve ever been. It’s been amazing.”
Starling grew up in Jacksonville’s Southside, attended Bishop Kenny High School, then graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in journalism.
After graduating from UF, he went to work for The Florida Times-Union, where he was hired to write and sell ads for the newspaper’s special sections. He moved to retail advertising sales in 1979, and spent four years there, when Downtown Jacksonville had a lot of retail businesses.
When the city’s department, jewelry, clothing and specialty stores began moving to the suburbs, Starling made a career move that in retrospect proved perfect timing. He was offered an opportunity to get into the cellular industry at its beginning, when the first cellphones were car phones.
After watching the industry mushroom to the point where everybody had a cellphone, he took a position with a company that designed and built cellular networks for the government. That job took him to New York City after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. And after 18 years, he said it gave him the financial cushion to go into commission-only real estate sales.
“I consider myself very lucky,” Starling said. In his career in journalism, he was there when newspapers were the No. 1 medium in their “glory days.” In cellular, he watched it expand greatly during the rise of the digital age.
And finally, in real estate.
Soon after getting into real estate, his first listing was on the Arlington River, the property of a friend of a friend.
His first sale was new construction in Middleburg. A friend and his wife wanted to buy after years of renting, and he took them house hunting.
“I found them a gorgeous new home,” he said. “A lot of agents struggle to get a listing and a sale. To have both handed to me made my entry into real estate tremendous.”
He gets a lot of referrals and loves working open houses. He met his largest Berkshire Hathaway clients — a husband and wife — at an open house. He sold their portfolio of rental properties, sold them a vacant lot on the St. Johns River in San Marco, then sold them their new build on that lot. He also listed their current home in San Marco.
Starling specializes in San Marco and San Jose, but sells the entire Northeast Florida region. He teams up with agents who specialize in areas where he is not an expert. A recent $1 million listing in World Golf Village went under contract in 30 days.
“A home is the most important and expensive asset most people will buy,” he said. “It’s emotional, and good agents manage emotions. That’s what you have to do to be successful.”
He appreciates the training and support he has received at Berkshire Hathaway.
“How they support their agents is beyond reproach,” he said. “The level of support I’ve received has been overwhelming and yet appreciated.”