From Saving Lives To Putting People In Their Dream Homes, Mike Saladino Loves Helping People

The Chicago police sergeant turned real estate leader shares his experiences and what excites him about the future of the industry.

EE: How did you first get involved with the real estate industry?

MS: I studied at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, majoring in finance with a minor in real estate. Initially, my plan was to do something in corporate real estate or work in finance. My dad was a police officer, and in 1999, for the first time in 10 years, the city of Chicago announced they were going to offer police officer exams.

Growing up with my dad as a strong role model I always wanted to be a police officer, so I took the exam, and in 2001 I was called to the police academy while still away at college. I left to start training, and after I finished the academy, I completed my bachelor’s degree. I went on to earn my Master’s degree and started working in residential real estate during the day and working police shifts at night.

I actually got my real estate license 2008 when the crash was the worst. Everyone said I was crazy, like, ‘Why are you joining now?’ I was just joining to learn—real estate wasn’t my main source of income and was something that I enjoyed. That year, I was promoted, and at the time was one of the youngest sergeants in the department. But after three knee injuries and five procedures, the doctors told me I couldn’t be a police officer anymore and I was forced to leave the department.

I closed 12 or 13 deals my first year, and every year after that I increased or doubled my production. As I continued to grow and build a business, I realized that I needed help, so I started to build a team to support me because oftentimes I can’t go on showings due to my physical limitations, especially when I am on crutches.

Like the police department, real estate can be a stressful job with odd hours. But at the end of the day, when you have the opportunity to save someone’s life or put them in their dream home, it’s all worth it. I can go to bed easy, and I’m happy to wake up in the morning and do it all again. I think most realtors are like that.

EE: What do you love about the industry?

MS: I love being able to help people. I joined the police department not for the money, but to help people. The home-buying process is a happy moment in a person’s life. I enjoy guiding them and giving advice so it goes smoothly. Some people may only buy one or two houses in their lifetime, so they are not experts with the process and need someone they can trust to hold their hand and walk them through.

Owning a home is part of the big American Dream. My grandparents came from the Philippines, and they bought their first home here in Chicago, which my family raised me in. They took great care of it and took immense pride in their home, their piece of the American Dream. I actually still live a couple of blocks from where I grew up and have lived in the same neighborhood my whole life. One of my brothers bought his first house next door, and all of my family still live close by. Buying a home is about planting your roots and building a community. People drive by and say “Hey, that’s the Saladino house.” You might not know the address, but you know which family lives there. Helping my clients to get their piece of the American Dream and belong to a community is one of the best rewards I get from being a realtor.

EE: What do you wish you could change in real estate?

MS: I think the biggest thing for agents is training. Not that there isn't enough now, but the more training, continuing education and involvement by the agents, the better the transactions can be. Some people naturally learn and want to keep learning. Others get their licenses and just want to work. The industry is changing constantly and that’s true for any industry. You have to continually learn so you can keep up with the fast changing technology and better serve your clients.

EE: What's the biggest change you've seen in the industry since you started out?

MS: Technology, for sure. For some of my first deals, there were no smartphones. You had to be at the office or at home to check your email. When Blackberries first came out, people started to expect instant communication and answers to their text messages and emails.

In the beginning, I got caught up in emailing back at 10:00 pm or 4:00 am. But now I try to look at it as a business, so after 6:00 or 7:00, I’m going to be with my family and my kids. If it’s not an emergency, I won't respond until the morning. I set the expectation with my clients and they respect that. It’s about setting boundaries and not burning out. It’s good and bad—email and technology have also allowed me to work from home or out of state so while at the same time I can be more productive it also increases the demand to be available 24/7.

Technology has also helped to educate the consumer a lot more, which is great. Access to all of this information online hasn’t negatively impacted me—people still want an advisor to dissect this information because there’s so much to take in. They still want someone they can trust to guide them through the process and to look out for their best interests.

EE: What excites you about the future of the industry?

MS: I think all the technology that keeps coming out will continue to improve the client experience. It’s a matter of learning it, mastering it, and then implementing it, so that it becomes useful in my business and for my clients. That's exciting. Keller Williams has committed itself to becoming a tech company that also sells real estate. There is a big focus on artificial intelligence with apps and consumer-facing products that will be released in the near future.

There’s so much information that comes in from transactions as well as raw data. The technology will help streamline my time so I am able to dissect and boil it down more quickly than I could on my own. It also gives the consumer more control and power with their searches to automatically find what they’re looking for. It will give the consumer a better experience from the beginning of their property search to even after they close.

There’s a lot more accountability and training in the industry, and more agents are living up to higher standards. We’re at record-high numbers of agents right now. People are putting their best foot forward, and they will continue to excel in the industry.