I Went From Waiting Tables to Selling Homes to Gaga and LeBron James
i went from waiting tables to selling homes to gaga

I Went From Waiting Tables to Selling Homes to Gaga and LeBron James

  • Santiago Arana is the tenth best-selling US realtor and sold property worth $580 million last year.
  • He worked his way up from being a busboy by networking and finding a mentor who was like him.   
  • Arana found success during a housing market crash by upping the marketing of his personal brand.

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Santiago Ar ana waited on some of Hollywood’s biggest stars in between English lessons and real estate training.

Just a few years later, he was selling multi-million dollar homes to their friends – all during a brutal housing market downturn.

Arana is the tenth-highest selling agent in the US, moving property worth $581 million last year, according to Real Trends.

He told Insider that constant networking, finding a mentor, and increasing marketing during a downturn were key to his success, which includes handling several multimillion dollar listings.

Optimize your time, and get a mentor

Arana arrived in the US from Bolivia at the age of 22 and worked as a busboy by day while learning English at night. He moved up to become a waiter after three months and serving the rich and famous expanded his horizons. 

“I was waiting on Brad Pitt, Oprah, Kevin Costner,” Arana said. He was amazed that customers would routinely spend $3,000 on dinner, and began to think how he could join them.

Arana was constantly networking while working in restaurants. Even when Arana was waiting tables, he was obsessively calculating how he could earn the most money in a set amount of time.

“I was always thinking: what’s a better restaurant, what’s a more expensive restaurant? What’s a restaurant where I’m going to meet the most interesting people?”

That led Arana to the legendary Orangerie, where he decided to get into real estate.

After bouncing between restaurant shifts and door knocking to convince people to sell their home with him, Arana said he needed to find someone “like” him as a mentor. He found Rodrigo Iglesias, an Argentinian luxury realtor, who he kept calling for three months before getting a meeting. Arana said this partnership allowed him to sell homes way above his reputation.

How to get ahead in a housing downturn

LeBron James' home.

LeBron James’ home, which Arana sold to the basketball player for $22.5 million.

Marc Angeles /Unlimited Style Photography

The housing market appears to be cooling down, with a correction expected. Nearly one in five sellers have been forced to lower their asking price, while luxury homes sales have dropped by a fifth. With housing affordability it its lowest level in years, it is a hard time to be an agent.  

Yet it was during the 2007/8 housing market crash that Arana began to find success. “I was dead focused on the door that was closed that I wasn’t looking on the 10 windows, doors, garage doors that were open,” he said. 

Arana began knocking on doors in wealthy neighborhoods, ran open houses on weekends, and put his signs out at 6am to benefit from “free marketing.”

He said: “By putting my signs out there during a crisis while everyone else went quiet, all of a sudden people were saying ‘who is this Santiago?'”

Arana said his moves while other realtors shut down made sellers take notice. He began selling homes to people were trying to shift them before they were repossessed by banks. 

“That was the defining time when my career took off,” Arana said. By 2012, he made his first $1 million in commissions.

“When people gained the confidence to buy and sell, I all of a sudden became a household name in LA. So as the market picked up, my phone exploded, and I had more listings than I knew what to do with.” 

The boom led Arana to sell homes to stars he might have waited on years earlier, including Lebron James, Lady Gaga, and Larry David, and marketing nine-figure homes

Arana said his approach would work again if things turn ugly again.

“There are things you can’t control like the economy, the stock market, a pandemic. And there are things you can control: what am I going to eat, can I go an door knock, can I pick up the phone,” he said. “And you just focus and keep doing that, then magic is going to happen.”

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