Coffee Break with Dave Umphress

And we're back! Our first Coffee Break interview of 2020 may not have taken place in a coffee shop per usual, but we still had a chance to catch up over take-out coffee in a socially distanced conference room with DMAR member David Umphress - Owner, Investor and REALTOR® at the Umphess Group at Keller Williams Realty Success. Dave not only has an impressive real estate track record but is well-known for his philanthropic work and was the recipient of the Community Service Award at the 2020 Excellence Awards. 

October 20, 2020



DMAR: Can you tell us about yourself and how you got into real estate?
Dave Umphress
: I got into real estate accidentally. I had a background in nonprofits and then once we decided that Denver was home, I started working in what I studied, which was teaching. So I taught for three years. While I was teaching, I ran into a guy who was looking for someone to join his real estate team. He ended up talking me into getting my real estate license and coming and learning from him. It was funny, a couple of years before I got into real estate, my brother and dad both got their licenses but the thought of me joining them was so far from a possibility. I had zero interest. So it was pretty random to end up in real estate.

But the transition into real estate felt natural. From day one, I just loved it. I came out of something working 18 hours a day; if you get into real estate and you're willing to work put in the work, there is a never-ending opportunity in this industry for you.

TWEET THIS: "... if you get into real estate and you're willing to work put in the work, there is a never-ending opportunity in this industry for you." 

DMAR: How long have you been a member of DMAR and why did you originally join? 
I've been a DMAR member since the beginning. Early on, somebody talked to me about the value of a single-board system and how it'd be great if Denver was one board and we were all together. Whoever I talked to that first year also thought DMAR was the place to be and encouraged me to fly that flag. So yeah, I've always been a DMAR member and I definitely see the value of being a member. To be honest, being on the south side of town here, people have asked me, "Why don't you join a different board?" But it's never even crossed my mind. I like DMAR a lot.

DMAR: As the owner and principal at the Umphress Group, can you tell us what your role is and what you think is the benefit of working with a  team?
I'm still in production a bit, mostly just those clients that I’ve worked with in the past. For the most part, though my role is leading the team, which includes coaching and training agents, helping put out fires and working with clients who agents are working with. The biggest value I think I can bring to my team is pioneering a good reputation in this part of town so people want to work with us because of the brand and brand recognition. I hope that I'm a good business partner for my agents and they find value in it. [Laughs] Who knows?

DMAR: What would you say is your team’s focus in terms of specialty or geographic area?
There's 15 of us spread all around the Metro area - one as far north as almost Boulder and one down as far as Pine but most are in the Littleton/Highlands Ranch area. We primarily focus on Denver and south of that. We do a lot up in Arvada, Thornton and Northglenn, but for the most part, the majority is in Littleton, Lakewood, Highlands Ranch, Castle Rock and around there.

DMAR: What are the challenges of working with a team?
Honestly, I made much more money when it was just me as a solo agent. But I firmly believe that if I help 15 people get what they want out of their entire career, then I'll be just fine. Hopefully, that leads to better retention and ultimately better satisfaction not only for my agents but for our clients. I'm a geek on stewardship. I think we're all given certain things that we should steward. And to me, one of the biggest things I can steward is this business that's growing and I can do that by helping other people build big lives. I think there's a huge benefit to it. I don't think it's necessarily for financial reasons though. Lots of people start a team thinking they're going to get rich running it and they don't quite realize that you're going to work double the hours and make half the money.

TWEET THIS: "Lots of people start a team thinking they're going to get rich running it and they don't quite realize that you're going to work double the hours and make half the money." 

DMAR: Have you always been with Keller Williams?
I have, yes. The team I jumped in with when I first started was in the Golden Keller Williams office. When I left that team, I was living here in Littleton. So it just made sense to get a fresh clean start and come to this office.

DMAR: Does your team have a mission statement or a value proposition that perhaps differentiates you from other real estate teams?
We have a short version and a long version, but the short version of our mission statement is to transform lives through real estate. And if you drag that out, we say that we intend to transform lives through real estate inside our own homes, in our city and around the world. We break it up into those three things. If we are selling a lot of real estate that's not changing the lives of the people on the team and the staff members and their families, their spouses, their kids... I think we've missed it. It's easy to get excited about all this philanthropic stuff and just say, "Let's go help other people," but if it's not changing our lives, then it's probably not very sustainable.

Transforming lives in our city is pretty obvious. Let me say that again because that's important: our city. Six years ago we started a partnership with an organization called Blood:Water Mission, which is a grassroots organization working with communities in sub-Saharan Africa. Blood:Water themselves is based in Nashville but they find, vet, empower and come alongside grassroots organizations throughout Africa.

As an example of their work, this phenomenal girl, Hermella, escaped extreme poverty in Ethiopia to make it to university, which is a really big deal. While she's a senior in university she hears that Matt Damon is coming into town. So she goes and stalks him for three days and finally gets to go on a tour with him and his group who are going to look at a well. She goes with them, sees this well and it completely wrecks her to see the water crisis in her own country that close. She leaves her great engineering opportunity to start this organization called Drop of Water, which is an Ethiopian organization that helps water projects, HIV/AIDS projects, sanitation and hygiene projects in very rural areas around Ethiopia.

Blood:Water works alongside people like Hermella and empowers them, trains them and gives them support running an organization - which a lot of times is the biggest transition from an idea of a 22-year-old college student to running a hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars organization.

We're passionate about partnering with Blood:Water to empower people in sub-Saharan Africa. The biggest difference in the last year for us though has been our local focus. It's easy to get excited about international projects. It's easy to just give money to things that you're rarely going to see or deal with. I'm there about once a year to meet the people and hang out and see the projects and things like that. But for the most part, the rest of the team isn’t there. We've been motivated in the last year to start making more of an impact on the city of Denver, because this is where we live, work and play. It's sometimes harder to roll your sleeves up, get your hands dirty and actually make an impact locally.

For us, we're working on starting a nonprofit right now within the team that just focuses on affordable housing for low-income folks in Denver. Some of the recent racial tension has inflamed some of this desire as well. We don’t necessarily focus on any specific racial group in terms of affordable housing, but the reality is lots of times minority groups are more affected by the affordable housing needs.

For a lot of people, affordability obstacles requires credit repair, down payment assistance and coaching and training to help with the big picture of what the value of ownership is. And eventually, if needed, helping them come up with the funds for a down payment, to the point where they can do something that they never dreamed possible: own a home. But the point of the nonprofit is to create a system. With a system, we can create education. We may educate 100 people and only two or three come out owning a house, but it's still worth it for those two or three. And it might take five years or 10 years, but it's worth it. 

DMAR: We’ve all been talking about affordable housing issues for years now. It’s such a large and somewhat systemic issue that it can feel overwhelming for people to think of an actual solution. If a REALTOR® wants to get involved, what do you think are some ways that they can do so?
That's a great question and it reminds me of the story of this boy walking along the beach, finding a starfish, picking it up and throwing it back in the water and then finding another starfish, picking it up and throwing it back in the water. This man walks alongside him and says, "What are you doing? You're never going to save all the starfish, there's too many." And the boy says, "No, but I can help this one." And he throws that one back. "And this one," and he throws that one back.

It's easy for us to look at an issue like affordable housing and say, "We're never going to fix it. There's always going to be impoverished people. There's always going to be affordable housing issues." But we can help one person at a time. For me personally, I have a unit in Aurora that's been a Section 8 rental for seven years. I could easily kick this tenant out and make double the rent in this house. But for the woman living there, it makes a big difference to let her stay there. She has a one-bedroom stipend and she's living in a two-bedroom apartment because we don't want to kick her out. She's paying a hundred bucks a month for an apartment that should rent for $1,600 a month... sometimes it's just helping one person at a time. 

TWEET THIS: "It's easy for us to look at an issue like affordable housing and say, 'We're never going to fix it. There's always going to be impoverished people. There's always going to be affordable housing issues.' But we can help one person at a time." 

DMAR: We had originally scheduled this interview back in March or April and obviously things have changed a lot since then. How has the pandemic affected your business and what have you had to do to adapt?
It slowed things down for a couple of months. Obviously, everybody stayed pretty locked up, but our team tried to stay connected. We were on Zoom calls together three times a week. We were working very hard to keep things under contract. We said the entire time, as soon as this thing opens up, we need to be ready to go because so we don’t miss an opportunity. We've already passed last year’s production with what's closed and what's under contract, and we will far exceed 2019's production.

The pandemic slowed things down, but it also opened up a whole lot of need and a whole lot of opportunity. A lot of people still needed to sell. I had a client close two weeks ago who had lost her job. She just needed to get her equity and she was fine because she had hundreds of thousands of dollars of equity, but she had to get it out. Now she's renting and she'll be in a good spot financially. I think there's a lot of that right now, people who didn't have any intention of selling and all of a sudden they needed to. And we're a very listing-heavy team. It's been a rough year for buyers but it's been a great year for sellers. So if you're already set up to work with a lot of sellers, then it worked in your favor.

DMAR: Do you think any of the changes we’ve seen as a result of COVID-19 - more people working from home, remote notarization, changes in showing homes, etc. – will stick around, or do you think everything will go back to “normal” eventually?
I think real estate was an industry that was due for disruption by technology. We had seen some of it already but not to this extent... The level of complication in our industry is unnecessary. There were so many things that could be done remotely that weren’t just because it's not how it's always been done. We've had several clients in the last couple of months buy completely sight-unseen – they never saw the house upfront and they didn't see the house at the walkthrough. They just saw the house weeks after they closed and moved in. When you think about it, it's a really big decision. But at the same time, it's not that difficult. You can walk through an entire house virtually. 

DMAR: What does a typical workday look like for you and is it different now than it was pre-COVID?
I had a baby two weeks ago and so things got a little complicated. Right now work looks a lot different. I've always been a morning person; I get more done between 6:00 AM and 8:00 AM than I probably do the rest of the day. So for me, pre-baby and during COVID-19 as well, being in the office and ready to go by 6:00 AM and getting things done before people get in is clutch. Agents on the team come in around 8:00 AM and three days a week we have a team call at 9:00 AM. I do a lot of following up. If I had a meeting the night before, I may need to send a market analysis or listing agreements.

I geek out on real estate like it's my job… which it is. Every day I'm reading articles and watching videos. I just love this industry. I love seeing what other people are doing around the country. I'm kind of an education nerd. For me, the morning is always work and development. Once the team gets in, it's all about meeting with people on the team. I do one-on-ones with agents to talk about their goals and how I can help them hit those.

DMAR: Does Keller Williams have any mentorship program? Did you have a mentor?
Oh, for sure. I've been coached. Everybody at the top of anything has several coaches. Early on, I was fed this truth that you have to have a great coach. So even from the beginning, I had a mentor in the market center and then that turned into a regular coach. I think no matter where you are in this industry, you've got to have people who are unbiased looking at your business and telling you what you don't want to hear. There is a gluttony of people in this industry who think they have it all figured out and it's pretty exhausting. Real estate probably needs more coachable people who put it all on the table to a coach and say, "Show me my blind spots," because we all have them.

DMAR: If you're not well-connected or you're just younger or new to the industry, how do you go about finding a mentor?
The best advice I'd give to that person is, go somewhere where there are other people who you want to be like. If you're at a brokerage with five people and there's nobody you want to be like, then you're in a bad spot. I learned more in the first nine months in this industry by just following somebody around doing a lot of deals. That person helped me close 26 transactions my first year, which was priceless because after that I could fly and I didn't have to fumble through things. I had seen lots of transactions. I'd seen lots of deals and contracts and I didn't get paid as much on all of them, but I closed a lot because I had learned so much.

TWEET THIS: "... go somewhere where there are other people who you want to be like. If you're at a brokerage with five people and there's nobody you want to be like, then you're in a bad spot."  

If you’re new, go work for free for somebody. Go find an agent who you want to be like and shadow them. Take them to coffee, go get a beer with them. Go do whatever you can to learn from that person.

DMAR: The Denver market is still hot. We certainly have an inventory issue, which we've been facing for a while, but it almost seems like COVID-19 was just a glitch in terms of its impact on our market. What are you seeing right now? Do you think the market is going to slow down at all?
I think we're going to see supply start to creep up. I think we're going to see lots of forced sales. Like it or not, lots of people are not going to have an option other than to sell. We're going to see a lot of people with a fear of the next six months, whether it be the election or what's happening in the economy, just say I'd like to cash out right now. I think the eviction crisis is going to lead to a lot of landlords saying, “Forget it. I'm done being a landlord. I just want out.” So we're going to see a lot of that inventory. And I think we're going to see investors who are hoarding lots and lots of inventory who find now to be a strategic time to unload some of that.

But personally, if I had the opportunity to unload something right now, I wouldn't. I think it's a great time to hold onto stuff. I think it's a great time to buy. Believe it or not, even though prices are doing what they're doing, I think with pending inflation and high prices, I think we have a lot more room to run. And I think with interest rates this low and people needing to park their money somewhere, we're going to see more and more people want to pull money out from the coast and park it in strong inland cities.

DMAR: Other than COVID-19, what do you think are the biggest challenges that the real estate industry is facing right now both locally and nationally?
I think a challenge that the industry is always going to face is just a low-barrier of entry. Anybody can get in and participate in a part-time fashion while they're doing something else. That hurts the professionalism and overall reputation of our industry. I think affordability is also an issue, and perhaps always will be. Real estate is such a solid investment that investors do things that first-time homebuyers can't. If you can only afford a $300,000 house, and an investor wants that $300,000 house and has cash, you don't have a chance. I don't have the solution to that, but I think that's a challenge.  

DMAR: If you weren't selling real estate, what do you think you would be doing?
I'd probably still be teaching PE. I’ve always loved business and buying and selling anything imaginable. My truck is full of junk I'm going to sell. I bought a drum set yesterday - I don't play the drums - but I'm going to resell the set. I probably buy three or four bikes a week to resell. I just love the idea of cleaning up and re-marketing something. So I would probably be investing in real estate if I wasn't selling it.

DMAR: What are your favorite activities or hobbies outside of work?
Hanging out with my kids is probably the best thing ever. I've got a four-year-old named Sam and a two-year-old named Cadence, and now I've got a two-week-old named Ava. But hanging out with them is by far my favorite thing to do. But the other answer would be, I just love playing sports – hockey, tennis, soccer... really any sport imaginable, even if it's something I'm terrible at. I actually love playing sports that I stink at because it's a good opportunity for me to be ‘not good.’ That's one of the biggest things that somebody could practice… going and doing something they're not good at. I think as a society, we focus on stuff that we're good at or that we receive an accolade for, and going and sucking at something is a really healthy practice.

DMAR: Is it hard to have a work-life balance with such a large team plus three small kids?
I am a big fan of presence over balance. In this industry balance is hard. And that's not a cop-out. I think there is such a thing as balance. To have that, you need to build a business that allows you to free yourself up. The demand in this industry is almost 24/7. If somebody has a house they want to see at 8:00 PM and you haven't built a system that allows you to hand that off to somebody else, then you're probably going to be the one showing it.

But my wife and I have accepted the fact that we're going to have chaotic seasons and we're going to choose to be present in those seasons with each other, with the team and with whatever else we're in. I practice presence wherever I am. How much do you even get done if you're doing 10 different things at once, and you're always looking at your phone? People feel very unimportant when you're with them if you're not present.

So I've just accepted the fact that I’m in an industry where balance is a bit tougher and I choose presence instead. You get to August typically and you have time, you get to December and there's time. So I keep my head down and go hard from May until July knowing that I'm going to have a month to breathe. 

DMAR: What are your feelings about 2021 and what are your goals for next year?
 I think 2021 has a strong rebound in store. We've seen so much pent up demand, particularly for Millennial buyers. I think we're going to see a lot of inventory come to market, so the transaction count will be up. For a REALTOR® or for a team that is set up to be able to handle more transactions, I think it could be a phenomenal year. For a REALTOR® who is very buyer-focused, I think it could be a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel. 

For me, our team hopes to close a $100 million in volume next year. I intend to take this office to the number one office in Littleton. I am also focused on finally getting our nonprofit up and running and to start working with our first family.