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Las Vegas’ top real estate agent learned business basics in a deli

At the tender age of 19, Brandon Roberts was given a unique opportunity.

The Salt Lake City native’s father sold him his deli, and Roberts, who was already working in the food and beverage industry, said it turned out to be the opportunity of a lifetime.

“Really what I bought was my own job,” said the 51-year-old, who bought City Cafe in 1992. “Because I came from the restaurant business where you worked 24/7, weekends and holidays, and this was a breakfast spot in an office building with a captive audience, Mondays to Fridays so it was a good deal.”

Roberts said he learned the ins and outs of running a business, everything from money management to managing employees. It’s some of the skills that led him to become the broker/owner of Signature Real Estate Group and to being named the agent of the year for 2023 by Las Vegas Realtors.

Working at the deli, he was up at 4 a.m. and serving patrons right up until closing time. Luckily, Roberts said he got some free advice on a daily basis from an older employee who worked for him, a lady named Irma Castro.

“She taught me a lot about patience and temperament. I remember, it would be just before closing time and you just had everything put away and someone would always come in, and I would throw a little temper tantrum, and she lectured me quite good.”

Roberts owned the deli for about five years, putting in endless hours, but then he started looking for a change. His friend had been recruited from a rental car shop to get into mortgages and tried to recruit him. Roberts said he didn’t want to do mortgages, he wanted to sell the homes for the mortgages.

“I said I want to do real estate and he got me some information for the school. And I enrolled and that took three months to get through and then I turned around and sold the deli and went full time into real estate.”

It was 1996 and residential real estate in the U.S. was anything but an easy game given interest rates were still coming down from their historical highs in the 1980s and early 90s. Roberts said his first son was born that year, and getting into the game was anything but a sure bet.

“I did that for five years and then I opened my own brokerage and struggled with that for quite a few years. You think you know what you’re doing, but you really don’t. And it wasn’t until I bought a franchise that I really started to figure it out and that gave me the blueprint.”

Soon, Roberts had three offices and more than 350 agents working for him, and the opportunity came up to buy the regional rights for Nevada, which meant he could sell franchising rights in places like Las Vegas. However it was 2007 and the real estate industry was about to go through a once in a lifetime downturn.

“And I had never lived anywhere but Utah and I thought, ‘Well, I’ll run my offices up there and come down (to Las Vegas) and sell some franchises, how hard can it be?’”

Turns out really hard. Real estate firms across the country were closing at an alarming rate as the industry was on its knees, and once again Roberts said he had to learn valuable lessons the hard way.

“I learned a lot of life lessons, and I ended up selling my offices up in Salt Lake and moving down here to protect that investment.”

Roberts ground out the downturn, and after five years had actually opened six offices in Las Vegas, which would be the foundation for his current firm, Signature Real Estate Group. But Roberts admits he was tired and worn out from basically kicking off his real estate brokerage career during the economic downturn.

“I had to decide what to do, I was pretty much broke, I was exhausted and had lost pretty much all of my money. And it was one of the scariest times of my life, but also one of the most exciting because I got to figure out what the next chapter was going to be. And I didn’t know if I was going to go back to Salt Lake, or somewhere else. But that’s when we made the decision to open Signature, so in May of 2013 we did and I have never looked back.”

Roberts has since turned his firm into one of the most successful in the area as he now has approximately 700 agents working for him in multiple states. Looking back on all the ups and downs of his career, Roberts said one thing always stands out for him as a mantra.

“I’ve always just gone to work,” he said. “I show up, every day. And that’s one of the traits that I learned working at the deli, you go to work every day, I got up at 4 o’clock in the morning and I had to open that place up, every day… if you hide your problems, they’re not going to go away, you’ve got to face them head on.”

Contact Patrick Blennerhassett at pblennerhassett@reviewjournal.com.

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