BTU #158 - Lockheed Martin to Residential Real Estate (Sean Ponder)

“He said, “This is great advice that I bet 99% of you won’t take. Buy a home everywhere you’re stationed. Real estate will always be good in a military town. If you sell it – great. Or keep it rented – great. And I did look into it but when I was preparing for my transition to DC, I really wanted to buy because I hadn’t bought in San Diego and thought I had missed an opportunity there. So I did a lot of that research and had my criteria myself. I made my agent’s job really easy. And that got me to thinking, ‘Why can’t I do this myself?’
— Sean Ponder

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Sean Ponder is an Associate Broker at S&G Realty, where he assists home buyers, sellers, and developers in the Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC areas. He started out at the Naval Academy, after which he served as a submarine officer for five years as part of the crew of the USS Salt Lake City (SSN-716). He worked at Lockheed Martin for nine years before joining S&G Realty.

Why Listen: 

Real estate! How buying a house and binging on HGTV led to a career in Real Estate. I have been trying for the last several months to get a Veteran in real estate on the show. Sean is the first person I’ve had not the show to speak about this career path. We also talk about a lot of other topics relevant to any career path. We discuss the Pros & Cons of working with headhunters, and how this may set your salary starting point lower than if you are able to go directly to a company. We also briefly chat about Lockheed Martin, where Sean started the first nine years of his civilian career. We also touch on the Reserves.

Our Sponsor: 

  • StoryBox - People trust each other more than advertising. StoryBox provides the tools and supports businesses need to take the best things customers say about them, and use them to drive more sales and referrals. StoryBox offers a 10% discount to companies employing veterans of the US Armed Forces.
  • Audible is offering one FREE audio book to Beyond the Uniform listeners. You can claim this offer here, and see a list of books recommended by my guests at

Selected Resources: 

  • Books
    • The Zillow Speaks Book - breaking down the data behind different real estate markets and identifying trends to help agents better understand the market
    • The millionaire Real Estate Agent by Gary Keller
    • The Shift Gary Keller

Transcript & Time Stamps:


Joining me today from Washington, DC is Sean Ponder. Sean is an Associate Broker at S&G Realty. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 2002 and served as a submarine officer for five years. After leaving the Navy, he worked at Lockheed Martin for nine years before he eventually joined S&G Realty.


What was the transition out of the military like for you?

The first word that comes to mind is stressful. When I was making my transition out of the Navy, we were in the shipyard decommissioning the USS SALT LAKE CITY. We had a fairly reduced staff so I was on port/report for much of that process. So I didn’t have a lot of extra time to be job hunting. So I mainly used headhunters and did some searching on my own. This allowed me to get a great amount of exposure to a large amount of companies in a short period of time. I also wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do so the headhunter route seemed to make sense. And that’s how I came across Lockheed Martin.


Could you talk a little more about what that was like working with a headhunter?

It was a good experience overall. I think if I had to do it over again, I would do a little bit more research on my own. The downside of working with a head hunter is that they have to get paid somehow. There are lots of great companies that recognize how valuable an asset veterans are. But in a job that they would normally pay $100,000 for, you only end up getting a salary of $85,000 because the head hunter is getting that other $15,000. You’re essentially a discounted employee to that employer.


How would you describe the type of work you did at Lockheed Martin?

I started off in business development in a marketing type role. But Lockheed Martin had offered me two positions in business development. One in DC and one in Moorestown, NJ. Moorestown wasn’t a desired location for me so I ended up going with the position in DC. In that role I was essentially the go-between between the engineers and the customers. I helped bridge that gap and translate the engineer speak into language that made sense to our customers.

Eventually, I was given the opportunity to become the Executive Assistant for the President of MS2 which is one of the largest sectors at Lockheed Martin. The President at that time was a Naval Academy grad and I had a great interview with him.  I worked for him up to his retirement and then for his successor. So I was in that role for a total of three years right up until I got called into active duty in Djibouti for 14 months. Lockheed was very supportive while I was gone and when I returned, I went into a business development role. I had a portfolio focused on unmanned systems. I did that for about a year and then went into a business development role in Lockheed’s service company and focused on a healthcare portfolio. Then I eventually started my transition to real estate.


What are some indications a veteran might like working for a company like Lockheed Martin and what are some indications that they might not like this kind of work?

What stood out to me was how supportive they were of military. I’m from a small town in Florida and there is a large Lockheed branch there. We had some family friends that had worked for Lockheed so when I was interviewing there, I reached out to them and they had nothing but positive things to say about the company. The fact that I had the opportunity to speak to a bunch of people that had been with Lockheed for their entire career indicated to me that people were very happy at the company. I can’t say enough great things about the culture there in terms of ethics and support of military. That played a huge role in why I stayed as long as I did.


What originally sparked your interest in real estate?

When I moved to DC, I wanted to buy a house. I didn’t want to rent. I still regret not buying a house when I was stationed in San Diego.  When I was in the Navy, I had an instructor who said, “This is great advice that I bet 99% of you won’t take.  Buy a home everywhere you’re stationed. Real estate will always be good in a military town. If you sell it – great. Or keep it rented – great. And I did look into it but when I was preparing for my transition to DC, I really wanted to buy because I hadn’t bought in San Diego and thought I had missed an opportunity there. So I did a lot of that research and had my criteria. I made my agent’s job really easy. And that got me to thinking, ‘Why can’t I do this myself?’

So I started looking more into what it takes to become a real estate agent. DC has such a great market for real estate. I continued to do research and also became an HGTV addict. Eventually I decided to go ahead and get my real estate license. I spent the first year working part time while I was still at Lockheed Martin. I made six sales in that first year which is more than a lot of full-time real estate agents do in a year. After that I was definitely hooked. I kept doing it part-time for a while and eventually left Lockheed Martin to do real estate full-time.


If someone knew that they wanted to go into real estate, is there a path to go straight into real estate or would you recommend people do something similar to you in which they start doing it part-time while working full-time in another position?

I’m a fairly conservative guy so it was more comfortable for me to continue working while I started out in real estate. I felt like if I didn’t kill it, I wasn’t going to get paid. So it worked better for me to continue working full-time at first. It can be a while before you start getting a regular paycheck. So if you’re comfortable with that then sure, dive right in. But if not, it might be better to keep working at your full-time job while you get going in real estate. There are also programs for veterans looking to get into real estate. Most states through their state VA offices offer tuition assistance to pay for real estate licensing courses for veterans. You can also use some of your GI Bill benefits to pay for the licensing fees.


What certification and exams do you need to take in order to become a real estate broker?

The requirement varies state by state depending on the hours. But there’s usually a classroom hour requirement which focuses on how real estate transactions work. You’re also learning more about the different insurance requirements and money deposits as well as giving proper care to your client. Once you reach your hour requirement, you can sit for the exam. Depending on the state, they may also require a background check. I’m licensed in DC, Maryland, and Virginia so I had to take various exams to meet state and district requirements.


How long does that process usually take?

It depends on how much time you can devote to it. Because I was still working full-time, I took my classes on Saturdays as well as Tuesday/Thursday evenings. That process took about three months. Then there are schools that offer classes all-day everyday and you could complete all your class requirements within a couple weeks.


What kind of buckets are within the real estate umbrella?

A broker is a salesperson but a salesperson doesn’t have to be a broker. Basically a broker is at a higher level. Before you can become a broker, you have to have been a salesperson for a certain amount of years. When it comes times to a collect a commission, the broker will receive the commission and then give a cut to the salesperson. A broker is responsible for overseeing the salespeople and make sure things have been done properly.

As far as the differentiation between commercial and residential real estate, the line can get blurry. I blur that line all the time. A big thing in DC is mixed use properties. I also frequently work with commercial developers. The big difference between the two is the type of property. However if you are licensed salesperson, you can sell both commercial and residential.

One difference between commercial and real estate is that typically commercial brokers are working during business hours. They’re meeting with clients that are conducting real estate transactions as part of their job. Residential, on the other hand, because you’re dealing with homeowners that have jobs. So a lot of your interaction with them happens in the evenings and weekends.


What does your typical day-to-day look like?

No day is quite like the day before. Typically I’m awake at 4:30 in the morning. I spend about an hour going through emails and getting organized. I wake up my son and get him ready for school. While I’m in the office, I could be doing anything from calling back leads to scheduling showings and researching properties. In the evenings, I usually work with clients until 7:00. Saturdays and Sundays are busy because people are off so a lot of open houses and showings happen during these times. It can be a lot of late nights and early mornings. Time management is definitely key in this business.


What are the best and worst parts of your job?

One of the things that caused my to transition from Lockheed Martin was that I wanted more time at home with my family. Even though my schedule is very busy, I actually spend way more time with my family now than when I was at Lockheed because I can create my own schedule. I have a lot of flexibility during the day so for example if I need to take my son to a doctor’s appointment, I can do that easily. If my wife needs to go to work early or stay late, I have the ability to change my schedule. We maintain a family calendar because I constantly have to keep family commitments in mind when scheduling showings. And I also have to schedule my Reserve weekends in there too.


Is there a typical career progression for someone working in real estate?

Most people don’t end up getting their brokerage license. The reason for getting it is if you have an interest in having a leadership role in your brokerage firm. For example, as a licensed broker, I can be delegated certain tasks that a salesperson wouldn’t be able to do. But you can have a long and successful career without ever getting a broker license.


What is the typical way people get their foot in the door when starting out in real estate?

By law, a salesperson’s license is issued to the broker. The salesperson then works on behalf of the broker. You can not be an independent salesperson, you must be working under a broker.


Can you briefly outline the compensation structure for a salesperson?

There is a not a fixed salary for a salesperson. Most firms are strictly commission based. Some companies offer a base salary but then offer less commission. Typically commissions range for a transaction from 3% to upwards of that.


What advice would you have for someone that is interested in getting into this field?

If they’re interested and in the DC area, I’d say give me a call. We’re always looking for more agents to add to the team. The best thing you can do is shadow someone already working in real estate and see how you feel about the things that a salesperson or broker does on a daily basis.


Do you have any resources you would recommend to our listeners?

There are a ton of books out there – Zillow Talk which breaks down trends in the real estate market. Also the Millionaire Real Estate Agent.

Podcasts – there are no shortage of them. One that I really enjoy is BiggerPockets.


Do you have any last words to share with our listeners?

I love what I do. Everyday is different and exciting. It can be frustrating and things don’t always go according to plan but I wouldn’t change anything. I highly recommend real estate as a career for anyone interested in construction, real estate, and working with people.