Real Estate Insider: Courtney Self of Hunter Mason

Courtney Self started Hunter Mason Realty a mere five years ago after a 28-year sales career that started right out of high school. South Bay DIGS chats with this Realtor of the People about why she loves multi-family real estate, first-time homebuyers and Old Town Torrance.

As told to Constance Dunn
Photography by Kieron McKay

What first brought you to real estate?

Courtney Self: My mother. I tell her all the time, [chuckling], ‘This is all your fault.’ We moved from Boston to Tucson my senior year of high school. My parents had retired and bought a mobile home park there, about 75 units, along with apartments, a laundry room and overnight RV rentals—a whole business. My mom was really excited and wanted to go to real estate school because she felt that it would help her manage the properties. She said, ‘You want to come with me?’

So I went to real estate school with her at night. I was 17. Then right out of high school, during my first year of college, I sold real estate.

You started your firm five years ago. What made you think, personally, the time was right?

CS: A couple of things. First of all, I had been in real estate for so long—28 years. I still loved it, but at the time I wanted a new challenge. And what could be more challenging than starting your own company?

 Initially my goal was to get out of selling and just support the agents, but after a while I thought, ‘Unless I’m out there selling, I have no idea what my agents are up against. I’m not as in-tune with the market.’ So I still sell real estate—I’m what you call a ‘selling broker.’ I’d also like to bring my children into the business when they’re older. They’re 10 and 13, so they have a little ways to go. But since I named the company after them, they have to do it [laughing].

Your firm has a broad mix of specialties, everything from short sales and foreclosures to mobile home parks. Is there a particular specialty the firm is presently focusing on?

CS: No, because all the agents are independent contractors. We have about 30 of them, and they work in their own areas and price points. I do referrals, so I end up working with a certain type of person rather than a specific type of property or geographic area, although you’ll find a lot of my sales are concentrated on North Redondo Beach town homes and Old Torrance multi-family. I personally love multifamily. That’s really my passion in real estate.

What do you love about it?

CS: I really enjoy working with people, and I develop a really strong relationship with my clients. When I say ‘multi-family,’ most of it’s two to four units. I’m not dealing with these multi-million dollar investors. I’m dealing with people who own a duplex or a triplex. Or, maybe one rental property.

My husband and I own about 18 units, and it’s the best way to make money. We bought our first property, living in one unit while renting out the other units. Then we moved onto the next property. We kept them all and before we knew it, we had a pretty good-sized investment portfolio. I strongly believe in income property—especially for a realtor—because we’re self-employed. We have no retirement fund. If you don’t have money set aside, what are you going to do?

Are there any nearby geographic areas that you feel are undervalued, or where perhaps first-time homebuyers are smart to take a look?

CS: I love first-time buyers. They’re so excited, but it can be a challenge to get a decent home in the South Bay for a price that a lot of people can afford. Old Town Torrance is great. It’s an area that I’m always promoting. It’s the original downtown part of the city of Torrance and there’s great historic value there, too.

 Also, if someone is looking to live in a nice, single-family home neighborhood—tree-lined streets, mature landscaping—and they need to live near the freeway, I take them right down to Long Beach. Long Beach, particularly the Bixby Knolls and California Heights areas, are great. So is a little neighborhood further south, which is actually in North Orange County, called Los Alamitos. I have a lot of people who want to live in Palos Verdes and they end up buying there. The schools are excellent and you can get a little more for your money.

You’ve been very successful in what can be a competitive business. What attributes do you think are essential for doing well in real estate?

CS: Well, you have to be able to firmly grasp the concepts in the contracts. Understand that you’re dealing with someone’s largest single investment in most cases, and you have to treat it that way.  You’re not just out there selling a toaster or TV—you’re selling someone’s home. You have to truly know what you’re having your client sign up for.

 And you have to have a passion for being successful. It doesn’t mean you have to love real estate, live and breathe it, but you have to really want to be successful because this business, it can be tough. It’s one of those businesses where you don’t come in in the morning and clock out in the afternoon and you’re done for the day. This business is with you 24-7. I always tell my agents, ‘Real estate is not a job, it’s a lifestyle.’

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