Former Students Turning Heads with Real Estate Brokerage
By David Ogul
A pair of former Cal State San Marcos students are leading one of the fastest growing independent real estate brokerages in the country with total sales volume this year projected to surpass $3 billion.
Serial entrepreneurs and former CSUSM students Oliver Graf and Sam Khorramian founded Big Block Realty in 2012. To launch their San Diego-based real estate brokerage, they quickly teamed up with a local lawyer and broker to build out their vision of leading a brokerage that would transform the traditional model. Instead of real estate agents splitting their commissions with the brokerage, commissions that can total several thousand dollars on a single sale, Big Block agents keep their entire commission in exchange for a $300 monthly fee to be part of the Big Block brokerage.
“You have to be willing to break the box,” Graf said. “You don’t have to go out there and do things the way they’ve always been done.”
Graf and Khorramian say CSUSM was integral in developing their business acumen. Graf, who earned a business degree in high tech management and graduated in 2001, noted he and Khorramian would never have met had it not been for CSUSM. Graf also credited several CSUSM professors and the university’s In the Executive’s Chair program for fueling his business acumen. Graf, in fact, returned to CSUSM in 2016 as a In the Executive’s Chair host.
Graf, 39, who was born and raised in Irvine, said he chose CSUSM because he wanted to stay in Southern California and the university had a respectable business program with a strong entrepreneurial slant.
“It seemed like a good fit,” he said.
A native of the Inland Empire, Khorramian, 37, said he was sold on CSUSM after taking a tour of the campus. Almost since the day they met as fraternity brothers on campus, the two have been involved in numerous business ventures, from drop shipping, to screen printing, marketing for online casino websites and even event planning.
Their venture into real estate came through a friend, a successful marketer, who found success selling second mortgages during the heady days of the mid-2000s. Graf and Khorramian soon began selling second mortgages themselves. After a few years, however, they foresaw turbulent times ahead.
“We studied the market a lot back then and what we noticed was more and more homeowners taking out high-risk loans,” Graf said. “People were basically using their homes like an ATM machine with variable rate, interest only, or negative amortization loans.”
Realizing such loans could be problematic if the market shifted, they transitioned into real estate, specifically distressed home sales. When the Great Recession hit, they were positioned to assist the explosion of upside-down homeowners.
“We used to help owners work with banks to short sale the property for less than what was owed on the mortgage,” Khorramian said.
A few years later, as the housing market began to recover and the amount of distressed home sales decreased, the duo decided it was time to switch course once more. They launched Big Block Realty with a 100 percent commission model.
The model caught on; just 18 months after founding the company, Big Block Realty had grown to more than 100 agents. By 2015, Big Block Realty had grown to more than 300 agents and opened a 5,000-square-foot headquarters in the heart of Mission Valley, along with a second office in Chula Vista’s Eastlake community. Since then, Big Block has been listed on the Entrepreneur360 list of leading entrepreneurial companies in the country and named on the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing private companies in America four years and counting.
With almost 1,000 agents now part of Big Block Realty, the company is grossing more than $3.5 million per year. They estimate their agents will close approximately 5,000 transactions this year for a sales volume of more than $3 billion. The business partners also own complementary escrow, property management and real estate software companies.
Graf’s message: “Be persistent and don’t take no for an answer.”
Added Khorramian: “Never give up. We had probably seven or so miserable failures before we got to Big Block.”
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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