Los Angeles real-estate-agent-to-the-stars Josh Altman has the easy laugh of someone who has made millions and lost them during the span of his career.

A classic rags-to-riches story Altman, originally from Massachusetts, arrived in LA 13 years ago with no money and started flipping houses while working in a mail room. A millionaire at 26, he lost everything at 27 when the US economy collapsed.

“It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you recover from it. It’s how you bounce back from an experience like that,” he says.

And bounce back he did. Altman is one of the most successful US real estate agents working in the high end of the market – he’s sold more than $1.5 billion worth of property over the past three years. A self-confessed workaholic, Altman is enjoying riding the wave of success. “Right now, I’m at the top of my game,” he says.

So naturally, he’s a man in demand. Spending time in Australia this week (with his brother and business partner Matt) to impart his expert knowledge, Altman, 37, will talk about a hot topic he – and many of us – are obsessed with: the real estate market and how to make it work for you. 

He’s well-known to Aussie audiences. Altman accepted a central role on US reality TV show Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles six years ago, and viewers have got to know his aggressive, alpha male style (his nickname is The Shark) over the seasons. The Bravo network hit show is broadcast in 70 countries.

If you buy smart, even if you don’t get as much square footage, I always say go for the location

Altman says if you do your homework the more likely you’ll achieve your real estate goals. “At the end of the day, it comes down to people feeling comfortable where they’re putting their money,” he says.

“It doesn’t matter what market you’re in, always buy in a prime location, even if it costs you a little more, he advises. “If you buy smart, even if you don’t get as much square footage, I always say go for the location.”

“I’ve been in down markets and I’ve been in up markets, and the people who get hurt the least in a down market are the ones who still lived in a prime location. I also like to look at places or areas that can’t be replicated.”

I’m a big fan of holding onto property for as long as possible

While he mixes with Hollywood celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Ashton Kutcher as well as business leaders and political heavyweights, Altman says it doesn’t matter who you are, the principles involved in buying and selling property are the same for everyone, including those who are 50+.

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Altman has achieved extraordinary success in the competitive real estate market

“I’m a big fan of holding onto property for as long as possible,” he says. “My mentors told me hold onto it until you can’t hold it any more to see quite a return on their investment.”

Altman still enjoys flipping houses – buying a house that needs work and doing it up and making a tidy profit – but it’s more of a hobby these days. He says it’s a great way to make money and get to know the real estate market. What you need to achieve success is an experienced, reliable team, he says.

Make sure you’re talking to local agents who are experts in the area and have a good track record

“Most of the problems I see with flipping houses occurs when people are not familiar with the process and haven’t got people around them to help,” says Altman. “You need to have tradespeople you can trust, a project manager you can trust. There’s a lot of money to be saved if you have the right people doing it for you.”

But, when it comes time to selling, don’t leave anything to guesswork. When putting a property on the market, Altman says shop around. “It’s important to meet with a few agents,” he shares.

“Make sure you’re talking to local agents who are experts in the area and have a good track record. Talk about your options. Use your gut instincts to choose an agent you believe will do the best job for you. But keep it all business.

“One thing sellers do is that they take offers for their property too personally, that can be a mistake. When you’re selling a house, you really have to step out of the situation. You have to realise it’s an investment. Work with your agent and remember that with a very low offer you can negotiate up.”

Another component, especially when starting out in your real estate search, is to surround yourself with a solid support system. Networking plays a part, too, so don’t be afraid to get out there and meet people.

“The best thing you can do is call and meet up with a bunch of local agents. Take them out for lunch or dinner and pick their brains,” says Altman. “Also, talk to your friends. The last thing I would do is invest with somebody I don’t know or hasn’t been referred to me by someone or doesn’t have a track record. You need to find an agent who wants to help you because they want to earn your business.”

For those interested in investing in real estate in a bid to secure a safe or early retirement, Altman says it’s best not to be too risk-averse, though it’s wise to be fiscally sensible.

“I’ve made some pretty good money off some small investments. Make sure before you commit to anything that you can afford to lose it. That’s important,” he says.

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Altman says the key to his success is calculated-confidence in his book 'It's Your Move'

You can buy an investment property where you know the rental market is very strong.
Whether you buy an investment property near where you live or in an area far away from you is a personal choice, says Altman, but he prefers to keep a close eye on the bricks and mortar he buys. “I personally like to be able to see the properties I invest in,” he says. “I like to be able to drive by, see them and touch them.”

Altman adds it doesn’t matter if you want to invest in property in another state or another area of the city you live in as long as you are confident you have made the right decision.

If you’re in your 50s and haven’t taken that first step in buying property, Altman says it’s never too late to start. His motto is: “Recognise an opportunity when it’s in front of you, go after it and capitalise on it.”

Take your time and build up your knowledge. Being confident about the decisions you make is a crucial step in the process.

With their monthly payment when they own a house is often going to be cheaper than renting

“Sit down with a local agent, those who haven’t bought yet could perhaps be surprised at how cheap it is to buy something right now with interest rates they way they are right now, a lot of people don’t realise that with their monthly payment when they own a house is often going to be cheaper than renting,” says Altman. “If they have a nice nest egg saved up it’s a great way to get into the market.

“You can buy an investment property where you know the rental market is very strong. And you can buy something and keep it for a long time and rent it out. You can get some great returns on that.”

Of course, everyone wants to know the secret to Altman’s incredible success. He says he’s passionate about what he does but there is one thing that has helped him tremendously.

I love real estate. I’d be doing it even if I wasn’t making the money I’m making

“You want to listen a lot more than you talk,” he advises. “That is a classic mistake that people make, you know when other people talk and you listen, and if you ask the right questions, there’s a lot of tips that other people give away.

“I love real estate. I’d be doing it even if I wasn’t making the money I’m making. In days gone by, in my free time, I used to drive around and look at houses just for the love of it.”

While many viewers of the show may see Altman as a driven businessman, they would also have seen a man increasingly prepared to show his vulnerable side, particularly his admission that he’s made many mistakes, both professionally and personally.

Never buy what you can’t afford

He says, “I’ve made dozens of mistakes! Right before the [US] economy collapsed, I bought a house that I really shouldn’t have been able to afford, but I reached for it because I got emotional about the property. Never buy what you can’t afford.
“It’s important to accept any mistakes you make. Learn from them and stay strong no matter what you’re doing.” 

Josh Altman with wife Heather Bilyeu

And that includes his love-live. Altman’s worn his heart on his sleeve about nearly losing his now-wife, fellow real estate agent Heather Bilyeu, whom he married in April after admitted that working relentlessly had nearly lost him the most important person in his life. 

“Being on television has opened doors and given me opportunities I wouldn’t probably have had. If it all ended today, I’d go back to just being a real estate realtor [agent]. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.

“I’m having fun. It could end any day; that’s okay. It’s been an amazing ride and learning experience. And I got to meet my wife on the show.”

Josh and Matt Altman are at The Star Sydney on June 14 and at The Plenary MCEC in Melbourne on June 15. The Brisbane event has been cancelled. For more information on how to buy tickets, visit his website here.

*Disclaimer: The advice given in this story is of a general nature. Seek professional advice before selling, investing or buying property.  

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