Real estate agents are free to be themselves in today’s red-hot housing market. Out: gold blazers. In: face tats.
The valley’s real estate boom is beckoning. Schoolteachers, furniture designers, professional dancers and more are abandoning their careers to join the more than 70,000 licensed agents who peddle property in Arizona. According to the state Association of Realtors, there are nearly 14 percent more local real estate sellers today than there were five years ago, all clamoring for the attention of homebuyers.
One local realtor has grabbed a big hunk of that attention by flaunting what others scoff at: the tattoos that cover him from chin to ankle. On billboards all over the Valley, Keller Williams’ Justin Mercer proudly flashes the ink he says helped bag him a place in the top 1 percent of his company’s high-volume sellers and as one of realty club WeSERV’s “Forty Under 40” superstars.
“I’m one of a kind,” Mercer insists, “in an industry full of same-old.”
What sort of work did you do before?
I taught public school for two years, and it wasn’t paying the bills. Then I drove a semi for 13 years, but it ruined my marriage and my relationship with my kids, because I was never home. I was tired and miserable. I always wanted to work in real estate, and I thought I couldn’t because of my appearance. I was so unhappy. I thought, “I’m gonna make how I look my thing, and brand myself as the realtor with tattoos.”
It seems to have worked.
I’m a success. But I’ve also gotten attacked by other realtors. They say, “He looks like he should be in prison. I feel sorry for his kids.” It puts a chip on my shoulder. I think, “You’re making fun of me? OK, I’ll sell 50 houses this year. How many do I have to sell before you’ll shut up?” The haters motivate me to do more.
Many of your tattoos are significant.
I’m a mama’s boy, so some of these are for my mom. I’ve got a memorial tattoo for my dad. My kids’ faces are on me, visible and in painful places – my son on the side of my head, my daughter on my neck, my other son on my face.
Are people coming around to your look?
They can be pretty harsh. Someone sent me an email the other day: “I saw your billboard, you’re a stain on society.” I always say, “Give me 30 seconds of your time. You may not like the way I look, but get to know me a little bit before you hate me.”