Real estate has always been a family affair for Drew and Tim Nelson. The sons of San Diego real estate luminary Andrew Nelson of Willis Allen Real Estate, the brothers were practically born and raised at listing showings and later earned their stripes in various real estate-related sectors before joining Willis Allen as independent agents more than a decade ago.
Since then, the La Jolla natives have teamed together and hustled their way to becoming top producers in San Diego’s real estate scene. In 2020, the Nelson brothers had more than $118 million in real estate sales volume, about 90% of which came in a roughly 7-month period. Of the homes they represented, more than third of the listings went for above the asking price — a rare feat even in the hottest markets.
The Nelson brothers recently sat down to chat about how they got into the family business of real estate, competition among siblings, and how integrity factors into every business decision they make.
NL: What was it like growing up in a real estate family?
TN: We remember our dad throwing us in the back of his car to run to an appointment to show a property, letting us run around the backyard, probably terrorizing his showing and it’s too much noise and a ruckus. [Laughs] But I guess times were a little different back then. We also remember him having to run in and out of the office because back then it was fax machines and landlines, and you had to come in to do things or you’d miss them. He had to come into the office and do things, but he never missed our baseball games or football games, or taking us to go surf and ski.
NL: Growing up, did you think real estate was something you’d end up pursuing?
TN: Our dad was extremely firm in making sure that we got an education, went to college and got business experience and earned our stripes in different industries before we ever even considered coming back and working in residential real estate. That’s what we both did.
NL: Were there any life lessons learned from watching your dad at showings?
TN: I think our dad really instilled in us the work ethic that is absolutely critical to survive and thrive in this business and also showed us that it’s a lifestyle. It is not a job. You sign up for it thinking you’re going to work eight-to-five, Monday to Friday, but that’s not the case.
NL: When did it really click that real estate was ‘it’ for you?
TN: It all happened very naturally, very organically. Drew was working for a luxury real estate marketing company that ceased operation, and I was working in land brokerage, selling infill and redevelopment opportunities in San Diego, and they decided to shut down the San Diego office. It ended up being a perfect and kind of natural transition for us, from these land and real estate-related roles into residential sales.
DN: I think we both knew we wanted to be in real estate, but we weren’t 100% sure. In fact, we were probably convinced at some point that we didn’t want to get into real estate sales because we had seen how hard of a job it is. We watched our dad work so hard at it over the years and yet, after doing other things, we started to realize that it was an opportunity for us and it was a job we would cherish. The rest is history.
NL: What was your relationship with each other growing up?
DN: [Laughs] We have always had very similar interests. We’ve always skied and golfed together. Being two years apart, we were never on the same baseball, soccer or football teams, but we were always very competitive with each other, which I think is in part because of the way we were raised. Naturally, our dad made everything a competition.
NL: Even in a team environment, is there competition between the two of you?
DN: Competition is a catch-all for ambitious drive in this space. Tim and I are both ambitious and driven, but we’re both fair. We are both very conscious of not allowing being competitive to get in the way of being productive. Even before we were partners, there was collaboration and support there.
TN: We grew up playing golf together, and I think that the golf course enabled us to have a competitive environment where we’re at a level playing field. Golf teaches you a lot of business lessons, particularly when it comes to handling the competitive drive that we both have. We understand that we share the same common goals and interests that enable us to work well together. The kind of glue-of-it-all is the fact that we’re brothers.
NL: Has real estate strengthened your bond as brothers?
DN: I don’t think you could have the real estate partnership that we have without it being a family type of relationship. That’s one of the things we think is valuable to our clients — Tim and I are cut from the same ilk, we have the same sort of ethics and philosophy and mentality about things.
NL: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received from your dad in regards to real estate?
DN: The thing about our dad is that he is a leader by example. What he says is less relevant than what he does. Every decision he makes, everything that he does, every word that he says is based on integrity. No one in the real estate business or any business can go as far as he has and done as well as he has without making all decisions based on integrity. In 2005, Willis Allen incorporated the words integrity into our business slogan — ‘Real estate. Real integrity. Since 1914’. There are times when that’s harder to do than others but our dad has survived for a long time by having everything based on integrity. Tim and I took that from him and continue to apply it to our business on a daily basis.
NL: It’s tough to get to the top of any industry, particularly real estate. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your careers?
TN: One extreme challenge that we both had coming into the business and, frankly, we still have, is to prove we’re not handed everything with a silver spoon. We have to fight for business, and we have to generate business for ourselves. The reality is, we’re in the office all the time, grinding on a nonstop basis to earn the business we have. And we’re happy to say that over two-thirds of our business last year came from past clients and relationships.
NL: What advice would you give your kids if they wanted to get into real estate? Is that a path you’d want for them?
TN: I would be happy because I think that means we would have shown them a good example of what it takes to work hard and that the job appealed to them. But I would tell them what our dad told us: good idea, but go out and get the education, get the additional business experience to make sure that’s the path you’re ultimately going to want to go down. Forcing anyone into anything can often harbor resentment that can grow, especially in bad times. Work experience in different industries and different fields is mission-critical.