You may already know Pearl Nelson as the driving force of hip-hop trio Champagne Champagne, a high-energy staple of the Seattle music scene and beyond, or through his punk band White Tears. After a decade of hectic schedules—in one period of just six months Champagne Champagne recorded an album while on the road for that year's Warped Tour and then went to Europe for a month—Nelson took a few years off. The much-needed break gave him the opportunity to follow his other passions: coffee and homes.
He’s making music again, with an album likely coming out around late December. But it’s clear that real estate has become more than a profession. Nelson takes every education opportunity that comes his way, making him a growing encyclopedia of options for first-time buyers, especially those taking more offbeat paths to homeownership like getting a rehab loan for a fixer-upper, opting for lease-to-own, or buying a duplex with a friend. His background as a musician, Nelson says, gives him the "sticktoitiveness" to be self-motivated and shape his career in his own way.
“I wanna help musicians, artists—I want to help punk rockers, rappers,” he says. “I want to help the tech person, I want to help everyone. The POC community, LGBTQ community. I want to help and be a part of that fabric.”
We sat down at, of course, Caffe Vita at KEXP to talk about ambitions, pandemic puppies, and building a network that can make homeownership dreams come true.
(Interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who: Pearl Nelson of Pearl Nelson Real Estate and Skyline Properties
Years in the business: 3
Elevator pitch: If you're looking to purchase or sell your home in the Seattle and surrounding areas, and you need someone who's trustworthy, hardworking, dedicated, focused, creative, and positive in helping you attain and reach your goals, Pearl Nelson is your guy.
When he found his path to real estate
It starts and ends with music. I decided I was kind of done doing music at that time and I decided that I needed to get sober and get off the road and stop touring. I started doing sales for Vita, so I got into the sales world, which I ended up really enjoying…and then I decided to get my real estate license and that's how I came to it. I've always wanted to do it, I think even while I was doing music.
It took a while to get there and figure out this path because I really loved doing sales, but I didn't like being sales-y. So through that process, I found a way to be of service. Instead of feeling sales-y, I just feel like I’m helping the people I get to work with.
When he stopped trying to look like “a real estate agent”
The idea of what I thought a real estate agent [needed] to be accepted—I don't know if other people have dealt with this, people of color have dealt with this…weird dynamic. I don't know how to describe it. It's just something internal. I had a lot of hair. I had a big Afro for a long time and I think it's beautiful and I love it. At a certain point, I was like, Fuck that. I'm growing my hair back. I want my crown back.
I still wear jeans and T-shirts. I dress up every once in a while, but I still wear my Converse. I still want to hold on to that punk rock ethos that I always had. When I first got into it, I made myself into a box that I thought I needed. But now, after years, I figured out that I don't need to fit in that box and it's better to be myself because people appreciate it, and I appreciate it. I can be my authentic self.
On building a network that can make it happen
I work with good lenders, I work with some good title companies. I built my ecosystem of people. A good credit person that could be like, “Hey, you might not be able to do this now, but you know, let's check back in a year from now, let's do this to get there.” And it's happened. It's happening for a friend right now who's a great musician.
And there's lenders that can do that. There's different programs like [the] Washington State first-time homebuyers program. There’s CoBuy, which is a great program—you might not be able to buy it yourself, but you and your friend, it's like having a roommate.
So directing people to where they can go to get the process [done], like finding a good lender who has worked with musicians and saying, “Hey, this is not traditional, but this is what we need to make it work.”
On today's redlining
I'm just going to say it: I feel like there's some new-age redlining, so if you can't qualify for a conventional [loan], you might not even be able to even put in an offer on that home because they only accept conventional.
We see it all the time, people being priced out. You see that happen in the Central District, and you can kind of see it happening in Tacoma's Hilltop [neighborhood]—so I’ll tell my friends, Hilltop, even though it has this reputation, this is like the new CD...that might be a good place to look and invest.
I left real estate for a little bit a couple months ago and I was doing commercial development because I wanted to learn that side of the real estate world…but now I'm just getting the information myself because I think what they're doing in the Central District with Africatown is amazing. Developing is, I think, the next frontier…community land trust work, that kind of stuff, that’s how you stop that new-age redlining, is learning those skills.... I think that's going to be key for our communities.
When he got a pandemic puppy
Atlas is the cutest little miniature schnauzer. She's so cute. Active, you know? It’s been really good for my mental health. We got a pandemic puppy because we needed it. It gives you a reason to go outside and walk, and they love you so much.
The only problem is when I'm on a Zoom or something she wants all my attention. She's been barking lately and it's so embarrassing because it's my turn to speak or say something. and I'm like, "Augh, hold on!"
On his dreams for Seattle’s future
My hope and my dream is that artists and creatives have an opportunity to come back to the city and have places to flourish and grow and be able to create. Especially when we're talking about Capitol Hill—that was a hub for art—and even Belltown at one time. Artists move where it's affordable. So finding places that are affordable so you can live in Seattle eventually again, whether it's through programs where it's a multigenerational household or friendships that can acquire property and hopefully build equity, it might be the way.... I really want to see the artists and musicians and creatives find places here. That's it. I hope we can have places to be.