Real estate has always been an integral part of Youssef Zeroual’s belief system. He bought his first home in 1997, just two years after immigrating to the United States from Morocco. He had arrived in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1995, by himself, not knowing the language or the culture. Yet, he got a job as an assistant pastry chef and enrolled at Northern Virginia Community College and gained his footing.
Youssef was born and raised in Casablanca, Morocco. He grew up working at his mother’s restaurant and pastry shop from the age of 7, and eventually became the pastry chef for the restaurant. After moving to the U.S., he worked his way up from assistant pastry chef to sous chef, head pastry chef, and then switched to restaurant management, hotel management, and even got into IT management at the same time.
Youssef also bartended while in school and earned his MBA at George Mason University. Throughout that time, he was able to slowly bring over his two brothers, sister, and mother from Morocco as well (although his mother ended up returning home).
Investing in real estate was always the goal for Youssef — it was part of his retirement plan. When he had the opportunity to purchase his first investment property in 2003, he knew he had to get a real estate license in order to gain access to the MLS database and inventory. Once word got out to the people around him, however, they all started asking for his help to find places as well. Six months later, Youssef was so busy that he decided to quit his job and become a full-time agent with Weichert, REALTORS®.
“It was hard having a family that was new to the United States, having a couple mortgages, and deciding to go from a stable paycheck to a ‘maybe you’re going to get paid.’ It was a hard decision, but I decided to trust in God. You have to have faith to jump,” Youssef explains.
With so much on the line in the beginning, Youssef knew he didn’t have much time to make real estate work for him. He quickly found a niche, working with the low to mid-price-range clients, showed up at the office every day to put in his minimum of eight hours, and worked as hard as he could.
That hard work and discipline did not go unnoticed. Not only was Youssef named Rookie of the Year in 2004, but also Nikki Johnson, a 20-year real estate veteran, approached him to become her partner.
“When Nikki approached me, I thought that maybe I was in trouble or something,” Youssef laughs. “I didn’t think she even knew my name. I had only been in the business for six months. When she asked to be partners, I knew I had made the right decision to enter real estate.”
“Real estate really helped me realize my financial goals to be able to travel, which I love, and have financial freedom, while being able to help my family financially and emotionally. Plus, you’re doing something that is helping people, and they are so happy and appreciative of your help that they don’t stop talking about you to others. One hundred percent of my business has been referrals for the past nine years now. I even tried to retire or leave real estate a few times, but it’s hard when you have referrals when they say they only want to work with you.”
Outside of real estate, Youssef enjoys traveling, playing tennis, running, and spending time with his family. His two brothers and two sisters and nephews and nieces live within five to ten minutes of each other and love getting together for meals, trips, and an occasional tennis match.
Youssef is also active with multiple small charities, helping poor communities overseas, mainly in Morocco, supplying water access to remote villages and assisting needy families financially.
While Youssef has considered stepping back from real estate a few times, he currently has no plans to do so. “My clients’ trust and the desire to help them achieve their homeownership dreams keeps me going. Seeing their smiles at the settlement table is a huge motivator,” he says.
“Real estate has helped me achieve my goal of building my rental retirement portfolio, have friends from all walks of life, and has allowed me to travel all over the world. We are blessed to be part of such a great market and to depend on the richest, largest employer in the world — the U.S. government — which keeps our market always moving and HOT.”