A businesswoman, former JET Beauty, and self-made real estate mogul, Summer Wheaton’s path to success is a true example of grit, hustle and celebrity-like status. A Hampton University graduate, Summer discusses how the tenets of faith, finesse, and perspective all came together to help her stack her paper and create a one-of-a-kind career for herself. After leaving college, she wrangled opportunities at a variety of entertainment companies, including BET, Ad Age, CBS and TopShop to name a few. However, after realizing she wasn’t a 9-to-5er and that her social media clout was starting to rise (she has over 55K followers on IG and counting), she found a mentor that would inadvertently change her life for the better. In this interview with BAUCE, Summer shares how she stays afloat in the ruthless world of high-end real estate, and how she persevered to place herself in positions to win.
How did you go from being a student at Hampton University to becoming a “fabulous” real estate tycoon on IG?
Summer: It’s a culmination of things. I’m from LA so it was really hard to find shopping in Hampton – I became a psycho online shopper. Everyone in my dorm would talk about how I always had something new in the mail. I went from being really excited about a brand that was new at the time, to coming back home during a break and finessing, if you will, my way into the office. I researched the company and made a fake appointment with the head of human resources. I acted on instinct and knew they were taking interviews, they didn’t have [one] for me, but I had my résumé ready insisting I thought I had an appointment. They gave me her email, so I set myself up for an interview. It ended up going full circle from shopping online at Hampton to figuring out how to get into the office during a break.
When I graduated I was able to get an internship at Nasty Gal. At the time it was a huge phenomenon, everyone shopped there, it was a dream job. I recreated a lot of things they had done because they did not know their real target market. They didn’t realize young Black girls like myself were their biggest market, and they were failing to pay attention to us. I was one of the only Black people in marketing and the youngest, I was their target audience. I met a lot of girls who were influencers at the time like Keke Palmer, Karrueche, Heather Sanders, Naz (Nazanin) Miguel’s girlfriend – Girls diverse to the Nasty Gal brand. They opened a new conversation for us at the roundtable. It was exciting, something I’d never been able to express. I found myself loving how to put pieces together, persuading people to see a bigger picture. That was the first time I realized I love selling.
And then what happened? Did you say something about a Saudi prince?
Summer: I found myself moving over to Forever21 where they offered me an Assistant Buyer position. That happened so quickly the buyer I was supposed to take over for decided to keep her job, the assistant buyer didn’t move up, and I was out of a job. That freaked me out. I ended up moving to Morocco where I worked with this Saudi Prince trying to invest in a new artist and looking for an image consultant. At the time I was very social because of my job with Nasty Gal. I knew a lot of celebrities – I don’t know if you remember DJ Tay [James] who was Justin Bieber’s DJ? He was like my big brother, so I was hanging out with Justin, and all the people I grew up with who were now celebrities.
This Prince and his girlfriend were impressed with my new position and invited me to Morocco while they finished [their artist’s] album. We flew private there, I brought my entire wardrobe, the best of the best, all my Nasty Gal one of a kind pieces. It was an amazing experience. I left early and flew commercial back – and all my luggage got stolen in Paris. Every single piece I thought I couldn’t live without, I was now without. I was in Paris with a backpack and came home with nothing. Here I am out of a job, out of clothes, and didn’t know what to do.
Wow. How did you bounce back from that disaster?
Summer: I remembered Topshop reaching out to me as their Event Coordinator a long time ago, but at the time I was interviewing with Forever21, so I didn’t really respond. I ended up reaching back out to them seeing if the position was still open and it was, I interviewed and got the job. It was a lesser job than I thought, for lack of better terms, but was a good experience for me because I got my clothes back. I was able to bridge the gap between my clients and friends where I was a personal shopper for them, I would give them an entire experience, and they were really excited with the number of people I brought into the store.
During that time I came across my mentor’s page, someone who was a realtor to the stars. While I was at Topshop after reaching out, she finally met with me and said if I got my license I could be her assistant. I got my license in like three months and ended up being her assistant for two weeks. I quickly became a partner, and with that growth, it went from admiration to a little resentment. She wanted me to stay under her thumb and be an addition to her team, as opposed to a partner on my own. Once I left Topshop I ended up going to work for the Partners’ Trust full time as her assistant. The broker that hired me was the CEO and he took me under his wing and told me it might end up that way. She wanted to be the star. I realized it was me or her, I’d have to choose to continue to be unhappy, or go out on my own and take a leap of faith.
I decided to walk away from my mentor, though it was bittersweet it was the best decision of my life. I was able to work with anybody I wanted. Sometimes you think this is my entire world, and realize closing that door opens up so many others. That’s when I realized I really love the hustle. Every job led to the next experience in my life, from working at clothing stores to e-commerce with corporate. I positioned myself to have multiple options, now working for myself as a CEO. It comes with its own challenges because with great responsibility comes great risk and obstacles. Instead of hustling trying to find clients they call me, which is really cool.
What kind of properties do you specialize in and to what clientele?
Summer: Well just from a nondisclosure standpoint I can’t really say all of the clients that I’ve housed (I wouldn’t try to have you break an NDA!), but I specialize in off-market short-term rentals, which are all the high-end properties from Malibu to Beverly Hills to Bel-Air to West Hollywood. Most of my clients consist of celebrities, entertainers, singers, comedians, and athletes. 90% of my business is athletes and professional entertainers.
What was the first sale that solidified your star-studded career and to whom?
Summer: I’ve worked with a lot of partners in this business because you don’t have access to every house on your own, it’s just a conflict of interest to represent the owner as well as the client or tenant. The first time I was able to close a deal by myself without the use of a partner was the moment that I realized I could juggle both, and I’d been told by my previous mentor that I would never be able to. (What?! What kind of mentor would say that?) Well, the type of mentor that you walk away from. That solidified it for me, that I could do things on my own, take care and make sure my client was happy, and it’s a really gratifying moment.
I mostly deal with young entertainers and athletes, and for the longest, they were probably told that they would never amount to anything, or would never have this moment to do whatever they wanted to do. To give them a sense of their dream is extremely gratifying for me. To see their eyes light up when they see a house, or my favorite is when they try to play it cool but their friends are the ones yelling and can’t believe it because they’re excited too but just having their poker face.
This year you attended major events like the BET Awards and Art Basel. How do you celebrate success and what doors have opened for you?
Summer: I celebrate success in being able to do what I want. There’s no other freedom. I think of money as a tool, and not as a reward. I use tools to create rewards for myself like help my family, travel – I think a lot of people think because I live in LA, and there are so many girls that do this, that my flights are paid for, people are flying me out and paying for things, but it’s all on me. It’s all my own bills, everything I do. I live by myself no one else is paying my bills (Yeees!). That’s the greatest reward, to not have to rely on anyone to tell me what I can and cannot do. I’m going to London, Paris, Saint-Tropez, Ibiza, and Bermuda. It’s such an exciting experience to travel the world, and not have to think should I ask permission, who can I go with or what can I do? When you have your own money you’re able to make your own decisions.
What else have you overcome while operating as a BAUCE woman in your industry? Any advice for our BAUCE readers on how to break into real estate or establish a dream career?
Summer: So many people ask me how I broke into real estate, and how they can. A lot of people, especially my friends, see how easily I am able to close deals or how easily it comes to me. But it really is for a specific type of personality. I don’t like to tell people this is how you break into real estate because it’s so different for everyone. But I can tell you that persistence, consistency, tenacity – a thick skin are the tools you need for success in any business or industry.
You’re gonna have haters, people who say you can’t do it. As cliché as it is, the people who say you can’t do it, that’s my fuel to prove them wrong. The people that say I can’t do both, or my vision is too big, or as a young woman I won’t be taken seriously, and as an attractive woman, you’re really not taken seriously. I think it’s about wading through the BS, the false truths that you tell yourself and other people may tell you from their own perspective. A lot of people have been skewed in a certain way. Even our own parents have been skewed in a way where they don’t believe that we can achieve certain things because it wasn’t done in their generation, or it wasn’t seen before. Luckily we are in the generation of innovators, creators, and it’s an innovative moment in time where everyone is becoming an entrepreneur.
To the entrepreneurs, I would say read books, get the blueprint. What I live by, my mantra in life is: learn, master, manipulate. Some people may perceive it in a negative light, but I think it’s important to learn something, know what the hell you’re talking about so when people try to debate, or poke holes in your truth, you’re able to back it up with facts. Then when you master something, you’re able to be innovative, creative, and learn new and better ways to do it than your predecessors. If you manipulate the reality you’re in, then you help it grow. Make sure you’re the winner in a capitalist society. You don’t want to step over anyone, but if you know your craft, and there’s something you can do to make it better, why not? Why not prove the haters wrong, manipulate their perspective and show them it can be done?
What are some upcoming projects you’re working on?
Summer: Things I can’t say right now, but I’m really excited about this new project where I will hopefully be a business owner (Yes!). I really love being creative, and real estate is a stepping-stone for me. I mean I love it, I love negotiating, allowing people to move into the homes of their dreams, thinking outside the box and to figure out a way for it to be done. All of my clients are demanding in a certain way. They expect the best and I want to give them the best.
I want to do something where I have a legacy that’s tangible. It’s amazing to create legacies for people, but it’s even better to create a legacy for yourself. I want to start doing more things where I’m able to create something that’s a community gift, but it’s also my own legacy, it’s somewhere my family, children, and parents can come. That’s what I’m starting to do now, I’m doing more consultant work with startups, and creating my own businesses.