Tarek El Moussa Flipped His Life Around — And Wants You To, Too

Key Takeaways:

– Tarek El Moussa shared his success story at Inman Connect New York, discussing how he turned distress into opportunity.
– El Moussa started his career selling Cutco knives, but felt lost and unmotivated until he decided to get his real estate license.
– He struggled as a new agent but found success by focusing on expired listings and making 50 conversations a day.
– El Moussa experienced financial success but lost it all during the market crash in 2007.
– He pivoted to investing in properties and eventually pitched the idea for HGTV’s Flip or Flop, which became a success.
– El Moussa faced physical and mental health challenges, including a cancer diagnosis, but persevered and overcame them.

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Tarek El Moussa of TEM Capital underwent a long journey to become one of TV’s most recognizable home-flipping personalities.

Even after he thought he had made it, life kept throwing curveballs his way, including a housing recession, multiple health scares, divorce, mental health issues and more. But El Moussa has come out on the other side, and was able to share his success story with attendees at Inman Connect New York on Wednesday.

“Today I’m talking about turning distress into opportunity,” El Moussa told the audience. “We all face struggles, we all face pain, and it’s about what you do with those struggles and what you do with that pain.”

A rough start to a sales career

At about 20 years old, when El Moussa was just starting his professional career, he sold Cutco knives and was struggling personally and professionally.

“I found myself completely lost, unmotivated, 60 pounds overweight, slept 14 hours a day, had no energy, no drive — I felt my life was over,” he told the Connect audience.

All of El Moussa’s leads were in a sales book back then, and one day, he lost the sales book.

Standing at an ATM, reflecting on the paltry balance in his account, El Moussa realized he had to make a change.

As luck would have it, a billboard on the side of the road for “Wise Old Real Estate School” would point him in a new direction: To get his real estate license.

But as anyone in the industry knows, success as a new agent is hard to come by. El Moussa didn’t close one deal during his first six months in the industry, despite being “hungry and motivated.”

Still, with pennies to his name, El Moussa decided to sign up for a seminar with legendary coach Mike Ferry, which opened up his eyes.

“Mike convinced me I was going to be the richest guy in the world. He convinced me I was going to be the most successful agent in the world,” El Moussa said. So he signed up for coaching to the tune of $1,000 per month, “which back then, with inflation, was like $17 million per month,” El Moussa said, and watched the debt rack up on his credit card as he moved into his mom’s garage.

After that, El Moussa got focused and put together a 90-day plan to drum up some business.

Finding success in real estate

My one goal was simple,” the Flip or Flop star said. “To have 50 conversations a day with expired listings.”

Ninety days later, El Moussa had made $120,000 in commissions.

The 90-day process certainly wasn’t a smooth one, though, El Moussa explained. When he first started making calls, he would read from a script, and it was pretty obvious.

“And they would ask me, ‘Are you reading off a script?’” to which El Moussa would politely reply, “I appreciate that question.”

But El Moussa said he didn’t care about the putdowns or curses he’d receive from the other end of the line, as long as he made his allotted calls per day. Eventually, he got much better at talking to people. “You are never going to convince someone of something they don’t want to do; the trick is to talk to enough people to find someone who does want to sell,” he said.

So what did he do then?

“About four months later, I moved into a $1 million house,” El Moussa said, and bought a new car. “All my neighbors [thought I was] a drug dealer, it was awesome.”

But the market crash in 2007 took all that away from him. El Moussa had to sell it all, move into a shoebox apartment and ponder desperate moves like stealing lemonade from Subway.

El Moussa knew he had to pivot yet again — and this time, he decided to transition his focus from expired listings to properties with notices of default. He was back in business, started getting appointments again and acquiring short sales. But acquiring those types of listings could be a lengthy process — on one property that had numerous liens, El Moussa had to wait nearly a year for the deal to go through, and he only earned a few thousand off of it.

Tarek El Moussa onstage at Inman Connect New York 2024 | Photos by AJ Canaria Creative Services

Making Flip or Flop

Then he started to take notice of how flippers went in and turned a property over quickly while making a decent profit.

“That was the exact moment I realized I was on the wrong side of the real estate equation,” El Moussa told the ICNY audience.

He decided to become a real estate investor and started calling everyone he knew to tell them the exciting news — and try to recruit some partners to help finance.

In those early days of investing, El Moussa faced a lot of doubters who thought he was crazy, but the doubt just added fuel to El Moussa’s fire. He found a millionaire investor and started making valuable connections, including one with a real estate investor in Las Vegas who also had his own local TV show. Meeting that investor sparked a new idea for El Moussa, which would become HGTV’s Flip or Flop.

When El Moussa returned home to California after meeting the investor at a seminar in Vegas, he told his ex-wife, Christina Hall, that he was going to get them a TV show.

“She laughed, ‘Are you crazy?’” El Moussa recounted.

El Moussa went to work researching production companies and sending out cold email pitches for their home flipping show and actually got a call back from one company, which is all it took.

El Moussa and Hall shot a home video to send to the company, and, “Of course, we did everything wrong,” El Moussa said. Over the course of filming, El Moussa electrocuted himself and burned his feet with acid.

But, the production company liked the couple’s style and decided to film a pilot to shop around to networks. HGTV took a bite, and they signed a contract for Flip or Flop.

Despite not fully knowing how he would pull it off, El Moussa said he and Hall went all in on the project, since at that point, they had nothing to lose.

El Moussa poured all his time and energy into the show and spent nights driving around town searching for abandoned houses the couple could flip (one of the terms of their agreement with HGTV was that their projects be done in abandoned properties).

“I learned if I keep showing up, I’m going to get lucky,” he said. The pair pulled it off, and the show became a success.

Rising above physical and mental health challenges

But more challenges lay ahead for El Moussa.

“Going into Season 2, I received an email from the network,” El Moussa told the audience. “It was from a registered nurse in Texas.” The nurse had noticed a lump on El Moussa’s neck while watching the show and told him he should get it checked out by a doctor right away.

El Moussa had been coughing a lot recently, and his doctor had been giving him a variety of treatments for allergies, but the symptoms had persisted.

At this point during his address to the ICNY audience, El Moussa had to pause for several moments to compose himself, while recalling the traumatic point in his life journey.

“So I decided to go to a different doctor and they stuck a needle in my neck,” to test the lump, El Moussa said. The results found that it was “atypical,” which meant it could be benign or cancerous — but they wouldn’t know until they performed an operation on his neck.

What was supposed to be a one-hour surgery became a five-hour surgery, El Moussa said, and when he woke up in the hospital, El Moussa saw his then-wife, Hall, crying over him. He had stage 3 thyroid cancer and had to have his entire thyroid removed.

While at the hospital, El Moussa also received an ultrasound, at which point he learned that he also had testicular cancer. He was about 31 years old.

“I thought that was it for me,” El Moussa told the Connect audience.

But even then, El Moussa didn’t give up — he told HGTV he wanted to continue filming the show and to document his struggle with cancer.

“I beat those cancers,” El Moussa said proudly on the ICNY stage. “I am 10 years cancer-free today.”

“Those were very rough years; my hormones were all over the place,” El Moussa continued. “My mental health was in the toilet; I had manic highs and lows … Eventually, it all came to an end in 2016 when my ex-wife left me. That was hands-down the most difficult part of my life.”

El Moussa checked himself into a halfway house that also held addicts of hard drugs, like meth and heroine. “Talk about a wild experience,” he said.

“Through all the pain I’ve gone through, I’ve learned how to overcome that pain, and I know what it takes to truly turn my life around,” El Moussa said.

El Moussa remarried in 2021, and now has a nearly one-year-old son with his wife, Heather Rae El Moussa. He also has a book coming out next month — Flip Your Life — about his personal journey and how others can change their lives for the better, too.

Email Lillian Dickerson


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Property Chomp's Take:

Inman Connect New York is one of the most anticipated events in the real estate industry, and this year, attendees had the opportunity to hear from Tarek El Moussa, the star of HGTV's "Flip or Flop." El Moussa shared his inspiring success story and how he turned distress into opportunity.

El Moussa's journey to success was not an easy one. At the age of 20, he found himself lost and unmotivated, struggling both personally and professionally. But a billboard advertising the "Wise Old Real Estate School" caught his eye, and he decided to pursue a career in real estate.

Starting as a new agent, El Moussa faced the challenges that many in the industry are familiar with. He didn't close a single deal in his first six months, despite being hungry and motivated. However, he decided to invest in coaching with legendary coach Mike Ferry, which changed the game for him.

With a renewed focus and a 90-day plan, El Moussa started making 50 calls a day to expired listings. Despite facing rejection and skepticism, he persevered and eventually found success. Within 90 days, he had made $120,000 in commissions, which allowed him to buy a million-dollar house and a new car.

Unfortunately, the market crash in 2007 took everything away from him. El Moussa had to sell his house, move into a small apartment, and face desperate situations like stealing lemonade from Subway. But he didn't give up. He shifted his focus to properties with notices of default and started acquiring short sales.

During this time, El Moussa realized that he wanted to become a real estate investor. He reached out to everyone he knew for support and financing, despite facing doubt from many. He made valuable connections and eventually pitched the idea for "Flip or Flop" to a production company. HGTV took an interest, and the show became a success.

But El Moussa's challenges didn't end there. During Season 2 of "Flip or Flop," he received an email from a nurse in Texas who noticed a lump on his neck while watching the show. It turned out to be stage 3 thyroid cancer, and El Moussa had to undergo surgery to have his entire thyroid removed.

Despite these physical and mental health challenges, El Moussa remained resilient. He continued to show up and give his all to the show, and it paid off. "Flip or Flop" became a hit, and El Moussa's career soared.

El Moussa's story is a testament to the power of perseverance and resilience. Despite facing numerous setbacks and challenges, he never gave up on his dreams. His journey is a reminder that success is possible, even in the face of adversity.

Inman Connect New York provided attendees with the opportunity to hear firsthand from El Moussa and learn from his experiences. Whether in person or virtually, the event allowed participants to immerse themselves in the pulse of the real estate industry and gain valuable insights into the future of the field.

As El Moussa shared his story, he reminded the audience that struggles and pain are inevitable, but it's what you do with them that matters. He encouraged everyone to embrace challenges as opportunities and to never give up on their dreams.

Inman Connect New York was undoubtedly an inspiring and enlightening event, showcasing the resilience and determination of individuals like Tarek El Moussa. It served as a reminder that the future of real estate is unfolding now, and with the right mindset and perseverance, success is within reach for anyone in the industry.

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