Canvas Rebel: Challenging Industry Norms: Meet Courtney Poulos

Canvas Rebel featured ACME’s Courtney Poulos.

We were lucky to catch up with Courtney Poulos recently and have shared our conversation below.

Courtney, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. Let’s start with a story that highlights an important way in which your brand diverges from the industry standard.

I created ACME Real Estate in 2011 to fill a void in our industry — founding a female-fronted, quality not quantity real estate brokerage focused on talent development and not facts and figures. I was inspired to reinvent the boutique experience for buyers and sellers in Los Angeles at ANY price point, and create a marketing mechanism that focuses on editorial campaign and public relations more than the standard one-size-fits-all photos and MLS printouts type of listing representation (which was the acceptable norm at the time). When ACME hit the scene, it was a time when many agents had gotten out of the industry and the remaining agents were not enthusiastic about the market. We provided a fresh approach, a retail approach, staging our homes as if they were surf shops, creating marketing materials that rivaled tiny magazines, and engaging with the homebuyers in a way that educated them on how to build empires beyond the singular purchase.

The classic corporate brokerage recruits by algorithms of profit, the higher-performing agents get a lower split but bring in more visibility. They are harder to recruit and expect more because of their volume, but they cost the brokerage more in liability and create less profit. Brand new agents carry high liability. Our industry has a very low barrier to entry, and many people enter the field completely unqualified to handle millions of dollars of consumers’ money. Mid-level agents tend to jump from firm to firm, they are the ones most courted because they hit a nice balance between experience and brokerage profitability. Corporate brokerages tend to recruit using this matrix, and offer cash incentives, a “paid culture,” or offer promises of lead generation, for example, to entice agents.

ACME, on the other hand, created a grow-from-within environment. Not unlike the talent managers of the 70s and 80s, I personally trained each and every agent at the firm, and ensure that our quality of representation is unparalleled. Our retention rate far exceeds our competition, creating the challenge that creatively inspires me on a daily basis–how can we continue to create the systems that support agent growth into the luxury market.

As talent developers, our legacy is long–we have launched the careers of now industry-known stagers, photographers, and social media influencers. Our eye for the “it factor” is strong, and I am always searching out the next real estate superstar.

As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?

I’ve been making my mark on the industry since 2005. Like many dynamic leaders, my success has grown in proportion to two things: my dedication to high quality and my commitment to quality representation. Whether I’m pairing people with the perfect buyer or seller, mentoring my team, or sharing my insights with the world, I turn real estate into a life-transforming experience.

When I founded ACME Real Estate in 2011, I set out to create something unique — a design-savvy lifestyle firm. Backed by my nine-year career in marketing and PR, I began offering a comprehensive service, replete with remodeling, staging, and a full suite of marketing solutions. ACME quickly grew into a phenomenon, attracting top Los Angeles talent and earning me numerous industry awards. I have since become one of the most in-demand Realtors® in the country. And now, in partnership with Broker Heather Unger, we’ve expanded my LA-based brokerage into the Florida market, ACME Florida.

I currently co-host the real estate podcast “Under All is The Land,” host Season 2 of “The American Dream: Los Angeles,” am a former member of the Forbes Real Estate Council, and a recurring panelist at Inman Connect, Awesome Females in Real Estate, and the California Association of Realtors® WomanUP!® initiative (where I also emcee). I’ve even appeared on television—both as the host of FYI’s “My City’s Just Not That Into Me” and in season 12 of Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles.” In 2020 and 2023, I was recognized with the HousingWire Woman of Influence Award. In addition to running ACME’s powerhouse teams in Los Angeles and Florida, my main mission is empowering women to achieve financial independence through real estate. If I have my way, every woman on the planet will have the tools they need to do just that. I maintain a full slate of speaking engagements and have written the premier book on the subject, “Break Up With Your Rental: The Professional Woman’s Guide to Building Wealth Through Real Estate.” You can see me currently in a national commercial for Homelight, our partner who is dedicated to creative financing solutions for buyers and sellers.

Let’s talk about resilience next – do you have a story you can share with us?

When I first started ACME, I had the honor of representing one particular design client who represented 80% of my business. We created our businesses as “sister companies” and he inspired me to push beyond the conventional in my marketing and even in community networking. I was naive, a very new business owner, I poured all of my energy into this client and the partnership, believing that it was indestructible. In fact, on one deal, as a thank you, I represented both sides of a transaction and gifted the commission back to him as a thank you for all the business he had brought my way (which amounted to nearly 90K!). I contributed a portion of my commission on the buy and the sell side, believing that I was rewarding him for his loyalty to ACME.

And then I got a phone call. “Courtney, I’m dating a Realtor now and I’m giving her all of our listings.” My guts dropped. And I saw my entire world, the brokerage I had built on the partnership, crumbling in mere moments. The money I had given? Gone. The respect I had given? Gone. The optics? Very bad for me.

So many lessons for me to learn: I had to learn my value. From that moment, I have made it very clear to all of our clients that ACME is not a discount brokerage. I don’t confuse business priorities with loyalties we associate with friendships and partnerships, and I will never underestimate the power of one person to pull the plug for their own reasons. Real estate in LA is a ruthless business, and the smiles and friendliness do not necessarily translate into fidelity. We earn our commission because we spend thousands more on our clients than our competition, we support and grow our clients, we provide resources our clients need, such as our newly launched in-house high-end design firm, Per Forma. The “breakup” allowed ACME to expand its client base and ultimately resulted in double growth in the following year. It was a blessing in disguise. A hard pill to swallow at the time, but a mistake I will never make again.

Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?

Life does have an extreme way of changing one’s path, doesn’t it? The year was 2005. I had just relocated to the Washington DC area from LA, and found myself a job as an editor for a Federal subcontractor for the Department of Health and Human Services. I had lived in LA since 1997, and had spent my time here as an actor, singer, waitress, pr person, talent agent, receptionist, scheduler, etc. I had worked 3 jobs for most of my life and LA was no exception. The hustle was real. Moving to DC felt very grown up, and after being self-employed for so many years prior, working a 9-5 was not easy. Mandatory lunch breaks. Fluorescent lights. Human resources meetings. 401Ks. Let’s just say everyone was eagerly awaiting the end of the day so we could hit happy hour. It was miserable.

I had a supervisor, let’s call her Barbara. She was a control freak, and loved to put me in my place. The week she went on vacation, however, I had the opportunity to work directly with the owner of the company on a special project. I was thrilled to show what I could do, and the owner was very happy with the outcome, in fact rewarding me with a bonus. But when Barbara came back in town, she threw a fit that I had been given such a project, and had the audacity to attack the owner for going over her head to assign me the project. But most offensively, I was told to “work more slowly” so we can “bill the federal government more hours.” I knew this was not the place for me and hit Craigslist for the job ads.

That’s when my life changed. I interviewed with the divine Ms. Polly Driscoll, head to toe in Ralph Lauren, a refined but not uptight lady, simply elegant but with a quality of approachability that made me want to “be her when I grow up.” I got the job and became her real estate assistant. Polly, compared to Barbara, believed in me, she taught me a long-game approach to relationship-building, she taught me how to prioritize quality of life, and how to reward those who have contributed to our success. Polly is my inspiration.

When I turned in my notice to Barbara, she gave me a $30 gift card for groceries and told me “I was going to need it.” It was a veiled insult, let’s face it. She was a hater. The reality is, I doubled my salary in that first year working with Polly. And I have never looked back.

Now, it is my mission to be the Polly for those who need someone to believe in them, teach them how to succeed in this business and invest heart and soul in the work of quality (in life and in career). We must pay it forward.

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Image Credits @shotbywadz

Los Angeles CA Real Estate & Homes for Sale