Laurel Starks is a recognized expert in family law real estate and has sold over $180 million in sales volume, placing her in the top 1% of agents worldwide. In this capacity, she has advised, consulted and testified in hundreds of divorce cases, and serves as a court-appointed expert in the disposition of real property. Attorneys, judges and other legal professionals have come to rely on Laurel’s knowledge, judgment, integrity, as well as her ability to explain complex real estate matters to those affected by them.

In this episode, Brian and Laurel discuss the responsibility and importance of educating agents in the divorce niche and how Laurel has dominated this niche.

In this episode, we talk about…

  • 1:13 – How did laurel become passionate about divorce?
  • 4:16 – Laurel shares tips on how agents can get into the divorce niche now!
  • 10:10 – Where do most of the divorce agents listings come from?
  • 19:12 – Over 75% of students have gotten an ROI from the course investment with these methods.
  • 23:20 – Closing remarks and strong advice from expert Laurel Starks

Show Transcript

Brian Charlesworth: [00:00:35] Hi, everyone. Welcome back to the GRIT podcast. I’m Brian Charlesworth. I’m the founder of Sisu and I’m your host of the show. And today we have our first female on the show. it’s a big honor. Thank you for joining us. We’re here with Laurel Starks. And she is the founder and CEO of The Ilumni Institute. She is a recognized expert in family law, real estate.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:00:58] She’s the author of the book The House Matters in Divorce. She was also named as an Inman innovator. And I want to talk more about that and how you got name that I know that’s a big honor. She’s also a writer for multiple publications and also a public speaker around the world. That’s a lot of things you’ve done there. Is there is there anything I miss like a professional athlete or anything like that?

Laurel Starks: [00:01:23] I was. Now I have never run The Iron Man. I’m lucky to go get the mail. So, yeah, no professional athlete.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:01:31] Well, that’s an awesome intro. And obviously, I stole that from your your stuff. So I just want to find out as I as I did some research on you, Laurel, there was I mean, there’s so much about divorce. How did you get so passionate about divorce?

Laurel Starks: [00:01:48] My second listing that I ever took was a divorce listing. And then I got into this business. I had been in the airline industry prior to being getting into real estate. I didn’t have any kind of legal background. I’m not a lawyer. And I got into real estate and then I was appointed by the court through a friend of mine who was an attorney to list and sell this house. And it was the War of the Roses. I had a wife who needed to sell a house yesterday, and I had a husband who told me to pound sand that he was never going to sign any of my paperwork in a never column again. And yet I had to get this thing sold. So I thought it was very fascinating niche. As I got more into it, I realized that there was really no education for it. There was also there was no protocol for how to kind of handle it. And yet there was a huge need. I also recognized that there is a broken system out there in the family law world as it pertains to dealing with real estate. And there was a big need for family law attorneys, courts and litigants to become educated and have somebody who is really versed in their world from our industry serve it.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:03:12] So obviously, I left something out of your introduction, which is that you actually do sell real estate. You’ve done over one hundred and eighty million in volume. You do run a team. Are you a solo agent? Tell us more about that.

Laurel Starks: [00:03:24] Yeah. So I built a team in 2012. I started my business as a solo agent and then I built my team in 2012. And then I went I had a team from 2012 to about 2017. And then I dismantled my team. I went back to being a solo agent so that I could develop the alumni institute and educate the industry. So I had that, too. That means that two businesses I currently am and very active real estate, divorced real estate listing agent. So my real estate business focuses in on the divorce niche. Ninety five to ninety eight percent of what I do is divorce real estate. And then I also have the alumni institute.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:04:13] Ok. So being focused on divorce, I know a lot of people focus on divorce who are focused on investing that I buy or type model. Are you doing that as well as that part of your real estate business or just selling real estate to people who are going through a divorce?

Laurel Starks: [00:04:28] I sell the houses in divorce cases. So when two people own a home together and they are getting a divorce and they can’t agree on a realtor or they need you know, they need a realtor to list and sell the property. That’s where I come in.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:04:43] Ok. So there are a lot of realtors listening to this and people who run teams and brokerages as well. How did they get into this niche? Because obviously that’s an issue you’re building an entire business off of. If they just wanted to take a section of their business and say, I’m going to hire a couple people and you’re going to focus strictly on this niche. How would how would they go about that?

Laurel Starks: [00:05:07] Yeah. So, I mean, basically, this is one of those niches where it’s very deep and complex. And I highly recommend that people get educated before they really get into the niche, because the legal process that’s going on in the sale of a home in a divorce case, it trumps everything. It really governs everything. So if if real, if we as realtors show up and we want to focus on getting divorced listings and focus on the divorce niche without knowing the rules of the game, it is like walking onto a soccer field trying to play. And you don’t even know, you know, where the goal is and you don’t know what the penalties are. So it’s it’s very important, first and foremost, for realtors to become educated. Illinois Institute is is passionate about is educating realtors so that they can be effective. And then there’s really two ways to build it. One way. Once you once you know what you’re doing. One way is to maximize your own database. So most of us know people who’ve gotten divorced. If if haven’t been divorced ourselves. And our database is either going to have people in it that are getting divorced, that are going to get a divorce or that no people getting a divorce. So realtors will need to be the number one person that comes to mind when somebody in their database either is or they know someone who’s getting a divorce. And then the other way to build a business is through attorney referral.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:06:47] Okay. I was going to ask you, though, is it is it attorneys driving the business? Is it the law driving the business or is it a husband or wife driving the business? Where does most of your business come from in that?

Laurel Starks: [00:06:57] My business comes from the family law community. It comes from divorce attorneys and it comes from the courts.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:07:04] Okay, great. We’ll hear more about that. So because you’ve learned so much about this space and people like me who have sold real estate but don’t really know anything about this. You’ve created the Alumni Institute. Tell us about that. Why did you create that? Obviously, people like us need to get educated. So tell us, what is that and what’s the process of going through that? And things like that.

Laurel Starks: [00:07:30] So one of the things that I am very passionate about is, is the is the life and the well-being of the family who’s going through divorce and everything we teach. That’s really the cornerstone. So when realtors get on a case or they get assigned a listing, somehow some way they got a listing that is involved in a divorce. There’s a big responsibility that comes with that. And it is important that we are able to successfully and swiftly close them. There can be a lot of toxic environments going on until the house is sold. There can also be a lot of money that is riding on the sale of the house. So it’s important that realtors know how to prevent and mitigate the conflict and how to navigate through these complex listings. Days on the market continue to add up. That means that people aren’t able to move on with their lives. That means that children are in toxic homes sometimes. And the the the more that a realtor is, say, unsuccessful at getting a property sold, it can it can mean attorneys fees because they’ve got to go in and have another hearing about getting the property sold and who are they going to sell it with. Or it can mean more hearings about who, what offer to accept or what, who’s going to be responsible for repairs and upkeep of the property and all of those sorts of things. So. So understanding that there is a lot at stake in these listings from the lives of the divorcing lot against to them and their children, to the money that they need from the sale of the house to rebuild their future. When I got into this, I realized that there was this big, heavy responsibility. I also to this day, about half the listings I take are as a result of a failed listing. So they had been listed with somebody else who did not know how to handle it. And then they the listing expired or they just became so exasperated with the agent that. They replaced the agent and they brought me on the case.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:09:54] How did they get a hold of you? What’s your marketing to get into people like that?

Laurel Starks: [00:10:01] I am a asset to family law attorneys. So I work alongside attorneys. I help attorneys understand real estate as it pertains to family law. I help them sometimes craft their orders. So when they need to go and get an order in order to sell the house, there’s a lot of language that goes in these court orders. And we need to sometimes help them make sure that they are correct so that we can execute them. There’s a lot of information that that they’re gonna want to include in those. And so that is the family law attorneys are really my my farm, OK?

Brian Charlesworth: [00:10:43] So. So you’re the expert. I listed my house with somebody else. It expires. Just in a scenario here and now, my attorney tells me, you know, you get with Laurel. And that’s how that’s how you’re getting these listings, is that right?

Laurel Starks: [00:11:03] Yeah. So the attorney will oftentimes I mean, nobody has a unilateral ability to make these decisions. So the attorney might suggest their trip to their client that you need to get floral. They will also speak with opposing counsel and say, you know what? My recommendation is that we bring on an expert to really handle this listing, because this case, you know, is is high conflict or whatever. And then if opposing side agrees, then they will have me. Come on. Sometimes they don’t agree. Sometimes they say, no, no, no husband has a brother, whatever he wants to listed. And then they’ll go before the court. And then the court sometimes makes that decision.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:11:43] Ok. So you are the expert. How long did it take you to become an expert and how long would it take somebody today to become an expert? Assuming that I’m guessing by going through the alumni institute, I can become an expert. I can become certified. I see something here that you are the issuer of the CBRE, which is certified divorce. Real estate expert credential. So what does that mean?

Laurel Starks: [00:12:11] Yeah. So it took me. Listen, I’m always a student. I’m forever a student. So I will say that anybody who embarks on this is is always going to be forever learning. How long did it take me to really feel like I had a handle on it? It probably took me about five to seven years to really feel like I. I felt rather masterful in identifying the issues in family law, in working with the parties and making sure that I’m able to identify high conflict personalities. I’m able to work as a neutral and and really be super effective. So how long will it take someone else? My goal and all of us. So the alumni institute is is made up of not just me, but we’ve also got a founding faculty of family law attorneys, judges, financial experts who all came together to create this whole program. And it is our goal that we lop off about, you know, three to four years of that type of learning. So that really within within the six to become a CBRE, it’s a six month program. And they will become then as CBRE within six months there. Like I said, there’s always going to be learning. They’re always a student. And we’re there to continue to guide and to mentor our agents.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:13:41] Is that something you do twice a year? Do you do that every month or how frequently do you do you do this program?If I — let’s say I’m listening to this podcast today and I decide I’m going to become an expert. This is a market that I would love to have these that these attorneys feed this business to me. But I realize I need to be an expert for that. So how soon can I get into to this training?

Laurel Starks: [00:14:03] Sure. So our next trip, we do it twice a year. And so when one six month program ends, we begin another one. And our next one is April 19th. And is it starts out by a live of life, fighted five day class here in Southern California. And then it continues online through an apprenticeship online for the remaining six months. And then the next one will be in October. So every October and April.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:14:31] Ok. So the first five days, I’m going to be in sunny California. After that, I am going to go online. How frequently how much of my time is this going to take over the next six months for me to decide, is this something I want to become?

Laurel Starks: [00:14:47] Sure. So if we have got every every month we have what’s called a learning lab. If you think about it like two tracks. So we have the learning and development piece, which is continuing to become an expert. So how to do fair market valuations is this month. How did you fare market valuations for courts that are, you know, biased communication, all of those types of things that goes on for sale for the six months. But the other track is also the business development. So once you leave California, then you will be we will be guiding you. And we’ve got a playbook on how you go and build those relationships with attorneys for the six months you are doing alongside. You’re doing you’re doing both. Almost like a student athlete. We are continuing to teach you and you learn. But then also you’re out in the field and you are meeting attorneys. We prep everything from what you give them to what you say to how you ask for appointments. All of that. It’s a very. Very specific playbook on how to build a business in this. And so we’re right there to guide and coach you every single step of the way as you’re out in the field building it, and then you’re going to start to get some business. You’re going to start one of our one of our students. She is testifying in court today and we were working with her over the weekend on getting her report together. And so, you know, we we work with we work with our students as they get the business, they get the listings. They, you know, they get all of that. So it’s it’s a very intense six months. Most of our students at towards the end of the six months, they’re like, oh, my gosh, I need more. So.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:16:41] So am I going to have time for anything else if I do this?

Laurel Starks: [00:16:46] Yup, so very good question. We only take experts in real estate to become CBRE. So the requirements at a bare minimum, the requirements are three years real estate experience. Forty five transactions. And in good standing with your license. So all of our students are in the top 5 percent. They all have got active businesses. So it’s very important to be able to time Baucus. And we have done a lot of the we provide a lot of the assets for our students to use to go deliver to their attorneys. A lot of the you know, we have the whole marketing system done because we know how busy our client, our students are. And we recommend about 10 hours a week to successfully build the business.

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Brian Charlesworth: [00:17:52] Ok. That’s right. That’s what I was looking for. So if I want to commit 10 hours a week into this. How many listings might I be able to get? Let’s say a year from now, let’s say a year from now, I’ve become an expert. Give me an example of what kind of business I can expect to get from becoming this expert. Just as far as when I say business, can I expect to get just listings around divorces, which obviously you can talk to this as well. But obviously the husband’s gonna go buy a home. The wife might go buy a home. So there’s there’s additional business opportunities there as well. But what what’s the really the opportunity that sits there for me as a real estate agent or team owner and that I’m going to say I want to learn this and I want to go testify in court. That’s another question. How often do I have to testify in court? Because maybe maybe that’s not something I want to spend my time doing.

Laurel Starks: [00:18:49] So as a CBRE, we provide we are a resource for our attorneys and what comes along with that is testifying. So it is not going to be helpful for an attorney if they have a realtor on a case who is not willing to testify. That’s not helpful, because then you have you’ve got a wife saying something, you’ve got husband saying something, and you don’t have that that neutral person who’s willing to to get on that on the stand. So I would say to me that if you do 10 transactions, how many are you going to testify on? Typically. You know, it I testify on about 20 percent of my listings.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:19:35] OK. OK.

Laurel Starks: [00:19:36] And we also testify on some other things. So we testify on fair market values. I testify to that. We testify on title issues. So it’s not just real estate itself. You know, working in a listing, but it’s also other pieces where they need a real estate expert to testify. So how what you know, what can you expect? Well, I can tell you is, is that 75 percent of our students have received an oral lie from their investment in the class. In one year, which is really, when you think about it, pretty unheard of. Because Zillow has got. I think it’s less than a couple of percent farming, doing a geographic farm. It takes about two years, according to NA, to get an R a Y from your investment in a neighborhood farm. So in this we have got fantastic, outstanding results. How many actual pieces of business? That is a number that is going to be tough for me to be able to just quantify. I mean, you know, you get out of it what you put into it.

Laurel Starks: [00:20:54] Absolutely. And so we have got students who have completed, you know, zero. We’ve got students who have completed two. We’ve got students have completed 10. And it just this is this is a long game. It is. It is. This is marathon business building. But the good thing about it is, is that, you know, when you’re working in like Zillow or you’re or, you know, depending on online leads or you’re doing open houses, calling expired. The minute you stop lead generating your business stops. In this business, you build a reputation and you build an expertise and then that starts to grow. We call it courtroom viral. You’re your reputation starts to just mushroom and in in the courtroom because your name is thrown out there all the time and attorneys are in the hallway with their clients. And a stipulation they’ve got to make, you know, they got to pick somebody and they’ve got a nother attorney walking down and they say, hey, you know, a realtor that I could use? Yeah. Laurel Starks put her name in the stipulation. I mean, that’s literally how it works.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:22:09] So we have Judge Judy and we have testifier Laurel Starks, something like that. So you brought this up? I wasn’t going to address this, but you talked about the investment, the ROIC. What kind of investments required to to really become an expert here?

Laurel Starks: [00:22:26] Sure. So our our six month program is $5000 to attend our life, five day class with our faculty, and then it’s fifteen hundred dollars a month for the remaining six months for the apprenticeship. So it’s a total of a fourteen thousand dollar investment.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:22:47] Okay. Shifting gears a little bit. And it’s still still involves divorce, but the house matters and divorce books that you’ve published, I’m guessing that all talks about. I’m guessing that you’re targeting if I’m going through a divorce as a homeowner. That’s a book I want to read. Is that right?

Laurel Starks: [00:23:09] Exactly. So the the target reader audience for that book is, is divorcing homeowners, untangling the legal, financial and emotional ties to the house and divorce. Now, many professionals have read it. Lawyers have read it. Judges have read it. I’ve got a couple of judges at my local courthouse that practically want to mandate that their clients read it as well. A lot of realtors have read it, financial divorce, financial analysts, lenders, all of that. So there’s a lot of good information, even though the audience is the is the direct consumer. There’s a lot of really good information in there.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:23:48] I’m guessing you give a signed copy to all of your clients who are going through a divorce

Laurel Starks: [00:23:55] Of course.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:23:56] OK. What other what other advice, Loral, would you want to give? To anybody thinking about doing this.

Laurel Starks: [00:24:07] Yeah. So, you know, understanding that this is more than just a shiny objects. I always know realtors, we love to sort of divert ourselves to what is going to give me the biggest R-N.Y. And where am I going to get the next bang for my back? This is really about purposeful work. It’s about meaningful work. It’s about taking our real estate skills and applying them to something that’s gonna make a difference. The family law system is truly in need of realtors who are experts at this and who are versed in this who can help make the system better. And I would just say that if this is something you feel like as a calling, if it’s a passion, if it’s strike you, we definitely want to talk to you. And, you know, it is the byproduct is that you build a great business. I mean, you build I’ve got my I was the I was the number one realtor in my entire region from Palm Springs to Pasadena last year. And then I got the award again this year focusing on this niche. But that’s the buyer.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:25:26] Now, was that a KW plaque? I saw there?

Laurel Starks: [00:25:28] Yup.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:25:29] Okay. So you were number one in your region at KW, in which region is that?

Laurel Starks: [00:25:35] The Inland Empire region? And it spans from Pasadena to Palm Springs a couple hundred miles. Okay. Right. You know, it is the byproduct is the business that is built as a result of the passion in the water and the purposeful work. So.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:25:52] Okay. So you’ve got to have a passion for this. You don’t just jump in for the money. It’s more about have reason to do this. You say there’s a shortage. How many how many realtors are experts out there and how many are needed? I mean, how big is that shortage?

Laurel Starks: [00:26:11] Yeah, that shortage is well, our vision and our goal at the Alumni Institute is to provide the directory that lawyers and judges all over the country use to find realtors to sell houses in all of their cases. So there are a million divorces on average a year. 70 percent of them involve real estate. Not all of those sell. There’s a fraction of those that that sell, you know, somewhere. I’ve heard statistics somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 percent of the ones that involve real estate do sell within within the first two years of a divorce. So there’s a huge there’s just a huge need.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:26:57] A million divorces in the US. You’re saying you’re right. If I want to find out how many there are in my county. What do I what do I do? How do I find that out?

Laurel Starks: [00:27:06] Yeah. So all of the data for divorce is sort of a little bit rogue and sort of scattered. So each state keeps their own statistics somehow. There’s not exactly a reservoir or a database that is broken down by each market that we found. So you can’t. But but there are statistics. Court courts keep statistics on it, on on. There’s filings and then there’s completed divorces. So those are two different things. You can have a lot of people file for divorce, but then they reconcile. So you can just, I would say, use good old Google and and see how many there are in your own market. But but it is our vision and our goal that the only people who who handle real estate listings in family law cases are CBRE.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:27:57] Makes sense. OK. Stepping outside of the divorce Rome for a minute. What what kind of things do you like to do for fun in your personal time?

Laurel Starks: [00:28:07] I like to travel. So I was in the airline industry before I got into this. And I’m an avid traveler. I’ve been to six continents and my children. Our goal, my husband and I. Our goal. We had kids was to take them to every continent before they graduate high school. So we’ve done six. We’ve not made it to an article yet.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:28:28] Oh, that’s awesome. So I love it. So do you guys go someplace every year?

Laurel Starks: [00:28:34] We do. So last year, 2019, we went to — my husband and I went to Italy. We stayed in Rome and then the Amalfi Coast and parts of Tana. And then my family, we went to Dubai and to South Africa. OK. That was an amazing, amazing trip. So this year we are going to actually we’re going to Mexico. My husband and I are going to prove to me. And then we’ve got a European family trip planned for London, Amsterdam, Germany, Austria, Switzerland.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:29:12] Great. I did a I did a trip to Dubai, actually, when I was in the world of franchising, sold the master franchise over there and had someone. They flew us over there and completely just took care of us for two weeks and we did everything. I mean, they just entertain us the entire time. It was it was an amazing.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:29:32] What’s that?

Laurel Starks: [00:29:33] When was it that was?

Brian Charlesworth: [00:29:36] It’s been about 10 years now.

Laurel Starks: [00:29:39] It’s an amazing city. It’s probably – it’s evolved a lot since you since you went there. It’s kind of like Vegas. It just keeps building up.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:29:47] Yeah. So they did have the tallest building in the world when I went there. So of all those places you’ve been. What’s your favorite place?

Laurel Starks: [00:29:59] South Africa.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:30:01] Really?

Laurel Starks: [00:30:01] Yeah. So there’s something about it.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:30:04] How long ago were you there?

Laurel Starks: [00:30:06] So I went and we went last July. And then I had also gone when I was when I was I was I went ninety like nineteen ninety five. And then and then we my family we went last July and we went to we went to Cape Town, love Cape Town and we went to, we went on safari at a Goronga which is outside of KRUGER. And it was just it’s, it’s a magical, magical place. I wish it wasn’t so far away.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:30:41] Ok. So we have some friends who have been telling us they want to go to South Africa. I’ve heard that it may not be the safest place, but it sounds like I need to contact you and get a you can you can schedule our itinerary for us.

Laurel Starks: [00:30:56] I’ll send you my itinerary. OK. OK. We were very, very safe so long as we stayed within our, you know, where we were. That was amazing. So happy to share my tent. I’m happy to talk travel. Anytime anybody wants to talk about travel.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:31:11] Great sounds. Sounds fabulous. So outside of divorce, what’s your favorite book or favorite source of learning?

Laurel Starks: [00:31:21] Oh, my favorite or my favorite source of learning. I am a big I love to read business books. I’m a student of John Maxwell. I’m a student. And then I and then I also like to read things like Oprah has some books. So I like to I try to do some feel good stuff. I tend to not be a fiction person. I just for whatever reason, I like to read sort of more realistic stuff and. Yeah.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:31:57] You like to read stuff that you’re going to learn and grow from?

Laurel Starks: [00:32:01] I guess, yeah. Right. That’s kind of that’s kind of boring, but I tend to be in that mode as well.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:32:07] Yeah.

Laurel Starks: [00:32:08] Yeah I do.

Brian Charlesworth: [00:32:09] So. So if anyone wants to hear more about the alumni institute or reach out to you, what what’s the best way to get a hold of you.

Laurel Starks: [00:32:19] Yeah. So you are welcome to email me. [email protected] You can also go find out more information on our website, which is

Brian Charlesworth: [00:32:40] Okay. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being on the show today. Completely different than most of our shows. And it’s it’s been fun to or learn about this really niche category in real estate. So we really appreciate you joining us today. And we’ll stay in touch when I get ready for that trip to South Africa. OK.

Laurel Starks: [00:32:57] Please do. I’ve got lots, lots to share. All right. Thanks so much for having me on.

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