Name: Shlomo Benzaquen
Originally from: Passaic, New Jersey
Made Aliyah: 2003
Lives in: Kochav Yaakov
Job: Franchise Owner and Broker, RE/MAX Momentum
Shlomo Benzaquen and his wife Susie are a force to be reckoned with! Stepping into their office in Givat Shaul, Jerusalem, you can feel the motivation, energy, excitement, and love for their new business. Computers beeping, iPads flashing, and cellphones buzzing, it is hard to imagine the crazy journey this dynamic duo endured to get to where they are now.
Hailing from New Jersey, this couple has gone through a whirlwind to say the least: “If anyone had reason not to come, it was us!” says Susie. However, they have persevered through difficult family situations, unemployment, dramatically shifting career paths, and much more, to get where they are today.
They now find themselves owners of a growing and successful real estate office, RE/MAX Momentum, catering mostly to the Anglo community of Jerusalem and the surrounding area. With this incredible achievement under their belts, as well as four generations of their family now living in Israel, these two could not be happier.
With tremendous insight and bravery, a pinch of luck, and a leap of faith- the Benzaquen’s ability to reinvent themselves and make their Aliyah work is truly inspiring.
What do graphic design, Birthright Israel, cell phones, and selling homes have in common? I sat with the Benzaquens to find out…
What did you do before moving to Israel?
In addition to being a graphic artist, I was a recruiter for Birthright Israel. I did marketing for them and I also was a counselor on the trips.
How did you find your job?
Upon making Aliyah, I was managing about 25- 30 Birthright Israel groups per season. I was promoting cell phone packages to many Birthright participants in Israel. The cell phone company eventually hired me due to the number of sales I was sending them!
I continued doing recruitment for Birthright Israel, as well as renting out all the phones to the participants upon their arrival. On top of that, I began growing the cell phone business, setting up a website, marketing, and building new departments. I did this for five and a half years, often working twenty-two hour days!
Under new management, I lost my job in the cell phone industry, and was subsequently unemployed for almost two years. I decided to become “atzmai” (independent), and worked on several projects that utilized my graphics capabilities, including creating ads for the OU Center’s 1000th Edition of Torah Tidbits. I connected with a realtor while working on an ad for her company. She was impressed by my sales abilities, and asked me if I ever considered working in real estate.
In 2012, I took a course with RE/MAX Israel called “Zinuk Laasakim” (“Jump Starting Your Business,”) and became a certified real estate agent. Within fifteen months, I rose to the top agent in my office, entering the president’s club, and then “Moadon Hazahav” (“The Golden Club.”) I was then faced with an opportunity from friend who was also a RE/MAX agent, who was looking for a partner. I decided to take the plunge and partnered with him for about a year. Then, I decided to buy the franchise.
What do you do now?
I became the franchise owner of RE/MAX Momentum in January 2015. We currently have 21 agents working in our office. Our office is a real melting pot of olim and Israelis. We have agents that speak several different languages so we have a real advantage when dealing with Olim as well as people from ‘Chutz L’Aretz’ looking to purchase property here in Israel. We use all the newest technology in the industry, as well as social media marketing. We pride ourselves on our American style customer service. RE/MAX was the first to introduce the “American-style” open house here in Israel.
Susie has a background in real estate from New Jersey. Here she works behind the scenes mainly with the bookkeeping, and she has begun to take on more of the administrative tasks of the office including supporting our agents, helping to implement our vision and ideas, marketing, website postings and making personal connections. Most importantly, she makes sure I eat lunch!
What do you love most about your job?
I love that I am my own boss, and am able to help the agents in my office build up their own names and reputations. Realty is flexible, and the sky is the limit in terms of the amount of financial potential!
What is the most challenging part of your job?
It’s a tough business. It requires a lot of work, and it takes time to build up your name and reputation. Agents need to have the correct expectations from the get go in order to succeed.
How important is Hebrew to the field of realty?
The better your Hebrew, the better off you are. Our advertising is done in both Hebrew and English, (as well as in French and Spanish when needed) so fluency is a plus. We conduct all of our office meetings and courses in Hebrew as well.
Is there good earning potential in this industry?
There is great potential, but you need to have faith and perseverance, because there are no guarantees. You earn two percent plus “ma’am” on each sale you make, which is split with the office/broker. Keep in mind that the longer you are in the business, the more your reputation grows. Eventually, people will start knocking on your doors. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t make any sales at the beginning. Do the right marketing and you will be successful. Like any other business, it is reasonable to expect that it will take a combination of effort, investment and time to be profitable.
What extra qualifications do you recommend for someone interested in realty?
It is required to take an exam in order to become a licensed real estate broker, “Mivchan Hametavchim.” Tests are given every few months. In order to work as a RE/MAX agent, there is a required course given through RE/MAX Israel. If you have sales experience, that is a big plus and certainly if you enjoy working with people it helps.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business in Israel?
Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself.
Don’t get stuck in your ways, and be open-minded and flexible.
Get your hands dirty. Between jobs, I worked for 3 weeks as a shiputznik on a construction site!
Be determined and refuse to quit! You can’t build a business overnight.
If you have to have a dream, do whatever it takes to achieve your dream.
Get out there, meet people, make connections- and you will make it! Don’t be afraid to network… When I was working recruiting Birthright Israel participants, I had no idea that it would lead me to this!
How do you feel about living in Israel?
I wouldn’t have it any other way. In my opinion, there is no future for the Jews in America. I think that the best years of your life should be in Israel.
We had every excuse not to come, but feel that we should have done this a long time ago. My family acclimated really well and we now have four generations living on the yishuv with us. In the U.S, I was designing– wrapping paper! Now, I am selling the dream of living in Israel. There is nothing more gratifying and more ideological than that!