Work Like A Realtor / Broker Like A Woman
Home, sweet home. Home is where the heart is. A house is not a home. It feels like home.
There are tons of idioms about the home, and so many of them seem to revolve around the feelings of love and comfort that we associate with “the home.”
Many have wonderful memories tied to a home from their childhood. We imagine what our dream home will look like. Rent, own, or nomad, having a place to can call home is part of our hierarchy of needs as human beings.
Buying a house for the first time in itself is one of life’s milestones, one that says “Welcome to adulthood” in a way that even marriage or a new job doesn’t quite match. It represents a level of privilege in our country. It’s a part of the American Dream.
We’ve all heard about “the housing crisis” and about the rising cost of homes in our country. Sometimes this news can make homeownership feel like more of a lofty dream than an achievable reality.
You know another idiom about homes? A woman’s place is in the home.
Today, we’re shining a spotlight on a woman who has found her place, and while it does have to do with homes, she’s instead bringing homes to other people. In an industry that sometimes is plagued with more negative public opinion than it deserves (but maybe it deserves it a little too), hearing from someone with another perspective can be refreshing. In this case, it can be downright motivational.
If you’ve ever had a realtor before, did you take the time to hear their story? Maybe next time, you should. Buying a home is likely the most personal purchase you will make and your realtor is intimately involved in the process. Finding someone who approaches their work with the same kind of passion and care as the realtor we talked to is what everyone should hope for.
MEET LIZ, A REAL ESTATE AGENT FROM SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA.
Let’s start with your story. Share how your life experiences led to your current profession.
When I was in high school, I only had one ambition: to be in the Peace Corps. I knew I wanted to get away, to help people, and travel. I wanted to go out into the world (think deep village in Mexico somewhere), live in a hut, and play with the children. I wanted to make people’s lives better, teach English, help build clean water systems, etc. I was very idealistic.
I went to college with that same idea. I knew that I just needed a degree and from there I could apply to the Corps. I chose the thing that came the most naturally to me and pursued an English major. I was set to do a semester in Costa Rica and start to fulfill my dream of traveling and living abroad. Then, three months before my departure, I became pregnant with my oldest, Nathan.
While it was a severe disappointment to miss out on the trip at the time, that kid saved my life. I was partying and who knows if I would have even made it to Costa Rica, or made the right choices once I got there.
That is the moment when life drastically changed. Dreams weren’t just put on hold, they were no longer possible. Not only did I have to revise my plan, I had to completely rewrite it. Oh, the fear I felt at the time..interesting, the way life works out in the end.
Through a series of revisions and re-writes, I found real estate. I was in the middle of looking for my own home to buy, newly married and with my second baby on the way. I found myself so interested in the process that I had an “ah ha!” moment. I felt fairly confident in my abilities in sales (thanks to the restaurant business) and in managing a business (also restaurants). I also was confident that I could get my license, because once I start something, I finish it.
I did what I only know how to do, I put my head down, I juggled 10 different things at once, and I worked very very hard until that new dream became a reality. And now, I find myself not having to re-write that part of my life anymore. I found my gig. I am helping people and I get to bring in my love for others and pour it into my work. Also, working for myself increases my precious time with those I love the most.
What do you love most about your career?
One of my favorite things about real estate are the connections I make with my clients. Whether they start as friends, family, or strangers, we go through something special together. Purchasing and selling real estate is one of the biggest decisions in most people’s lives because it impacts their financial stability. Can they live without this asset? How much can they afford? How will it affect their day to day lives? What about quality of life? And how will it affect their financial stability when they are older? These are just some of the questions we tackle together, as a team. When it is all over, we’ve shared something special. I feel closer to my family, friends, and clients. And hopefully they feel like they can call on me for anything because they trust me, because I helped them.
Describe your first job and how your experience working for the first time helped you with your work today?
My first job was a deli worker. There is this little Italian deli called Carmine Lonardo’s in Aurora, CO. It was right down the street from my school. I remember wearing the tightest dress I had and caked on the makeup when I worked there. At the time, I believe I was the only girl that worked there. Maybe the owner, Carmine, just wanted a pretty counter girl. The rest of the employees were surly high school boys. Everyone was respectful, and treated me like a sister or a little girl, which I was at the time being only 14. I had to get a work permit and when I came back in to fill out the employee paperwork, Carmine looked like he was going to have a heart attack. He had no idea I was so young. He was a good man and treated me with the most respect I had ever had in the restaurant industry since. He didn’t cuss around me, and if he did, he apologized. He wouldn’t let the boys give me a hard time, and there was never any sexual harassment (not so much the case later on in life as it seems like it’s standard in restaurant culture). I loved that job and I look back on it fondly. I felt like my boss and co-workers were family and that is something that I have always looked for in jobs since. If I didn’t feel that familial connection, I left quickly. Looking back, it seems as though a lot of my professional decisions were driven by love. By want of it, need of it, or fulfillment.
How did you get the job you are currently in? Was it something you actively pursued or one of those jobs you sort of stumbled into by accident?
When I started studying for real estate, I didn’t know what firm I was going to go with. I figured I would cross that bridge if and when I passed my exam. I was at a pool party one day with my kids and my sister introduced me to some friends at the party. After some chips and salsa, and a couple of beers, I ended up discussing real estate with one of her friends, who happened to own his own brokerage right in the neighborhood we were moving into. It was a small mom-and-pop brokerage he was taking over from his father. He was growing the business and needed an agent. It kinda just worked out. After a little over a year of working together, we found out that we compliment each other very well in the workplace, like a yin and yang. Where he was needing, I was supporting and vice versa. I would definitely not be where I am without all of the support he has given me over the years.
What setbacks or challenges did you face to get to where you are today? What did you learn from these experiences?
When I tried teaching, I realized pretty quickly that I was not supposed to be a teacher. It takes a special person to teach children, and I did not have that in me. I felt like a failure at the time. I asked myself, “What was it all for?” At the time, I was six months out of grad school, had completed eight years of college, and had nothing to show for it. I hated the profession I chose. I felt pretty low at the time. But looking back, I learned something about myself that I didn’t know. I was on the path of self-discovery, learning about what makes me happy, what makes my family happy, and where my sense of accomplishment comes from. Was all the school a waste? I do not believe so. I made relationships that will last a lifetime. I learned about the world, expanded my mind, and was exposed to so many different perspectives and experiences of others that instilled in me a deep sense of empathy and gratitude. So, I wasn’t going to be a teacher. That experience just gave me a chance to rewrite my story again.
How does being a woman influence your approach to your practice and your career? Have you felt any adversity, discrimination, harassment or other challenges that you feel were due to your gender at any point in your working years? What about your current profession? If not, what do you find unique about your work environment that helps prevent this?
I have met adversity when I have a client or another realtor that doesn’t treat me as an equal. Clients have tried to go above my head because they wanted to “confirm” my opinions with someone higher up (who happens to be a man). Whether or not that is because they think he has more experience versus a distrust because I am a woman, I don’t know.
I have had agents or brokers treat me like a child, like I don’t know what I am doing (either by older women or usually men).
What is so great about my job though is that when I voice these concerns, my broker/partner totally backs me up. He is so empowering and validating. If someone questions me, he either says he has complete trust in me and to take it up with me, he validates my opinions, or he brainstorms with me ways to deal with it by myself so he’s not involved which gives me the autonomy to handle it. He lets me decide the best course of action, and I love that about working with him.
I have had bosses undermine my authority in the past when I was in management and there is nothing like being in a position of authority, but being completely powerless. It’s a miserable place to be because you have no agency to make change. I won’t even go into discrimination and harassment in the restaurant industry. That is a whole beast on its own!
I really try not to get wrapped up in gender in my job. I don’t know why. I guess it is just not something I think about on a day to day level. I do, however, get nervous at Open Houses and showing appointments when I don’t know the area or the people I am meeting. I am very aware of my personal safety and dangerous situations. A couple of realtors have been targeted in the past couple of years, where they meet a new client and never come home. That is terrifying to me, so I have to tell my husband or family where I am going, who I am meeting, that I’ll call them before the showing, and then 15 minutes later. If they don’t hear from me, they are supposed to call me. If I don’t pick up, something has happened. I am not sure men have to do the same or worry about their personal safety in the same way.
What is your philosophy about work? What do you believe people need to do in order to succeed? Where did you learn this?
I guess my one take away is organization. If you are organized, set clear goals for yourself every day, you will get done everything you need to. But to have to hold yourself to checking off everything on your to do list, you will accomplish your goals. Goals, actualizing them, is one of the greatest feelings. Whether they are small or large, short term or long term, every goal realized is a cause for celebration. And when you are happy and feeling successful, it snow balls.
What advantages helped make getting to where you are possible?
My mom has an incredible work ethic and her example was invaluable. No matter how hard things got, no matter what was going on in life, she always picked herself up and kept trudging on through. She taught me that at a very early age. When I fell, she taught me how to self heal. I would always get an “emotional health day” if I needed it, but the next day, I was expected to get over it and move on. It was the perfect combination of support and tough love.
The connections I made were really helpful too, like the one I made with my current partner, the friendships I made in college, and in my various jobs. I have always felt that I needed a community and wherever I go, I try to build one. I’ll never underestimate the power of support from friends and family. No one can do this life alone and I don’t think we’re meant to.
What are some misconceptions about your profession or the field you work in?
A big one is that we make tons of money in large lump sums. And that the job is easy.
For one, realtors are always working. Always. If a client calls at 7 am, 9 pm, in the middle of your kids’ birthday, you answer the phone. Much to the chagrin of my husband, my phone is always on. On vacation, I set time aside to work. It’s just the name of the game.
Second, we don’t make tons of money. Let’s say you sell a $500,000 house and you represent the buyer. Your commission is 2.5% or $12,500. Now, let’s say you have been in the business a while, you have established yourself at your brokerage with sales numbers as a top producer so they give you an 80/20 split (Sometimes when you start out it could be a 50/50 split, 60/40, 70/30. There are some brokerages that do 100% commission, but then you have to pay desk fees, errors and omission insurance, monthly marketing fees, etc). So, you have an 80/20 split which means $2,500 goes to your broker. Then, because you have to pay quarterly taxes, you have to set aside roughly 25% for taxes (here’s hoping that’s enough). Now, you have $7,500 left. You are supposed to set aside 12-15% of the net ($10,000) for real estate expenses. MLS fees are anywhere from $600 to $800 a year. You have marketing, advertising, all of that gasoline, postage, printing, signs, open house snacks and presentations, etc. etc. etc. That leaves you with $6,300. Are you going to set aside money for your IRA? Medical expenses? Car maintenance? Let’s say you don’t because you haven’t had a sale in 2 months! Your next close isn’t for another month (let’s pray it goes through). You have $6,300 to spread out over three months. $2,100 you can budget for per month with the hope that you have more closings! However, brand new realtors are lucky to get one sale their first year and average about four closings per year in their first five years. And Jane Doe, your new client, wants you to cut your commission, because why not try? Or, because the people over at Super Big Real Estate Corporation can afford to undercut your commission. So, you end up cutting your commission to keep the client (and try not to freak out) and the whole time you are thinking about how you are going to make that $6,300 stretch.
What is one piece of information about the field you work that you know that most of the public doesn’t?
The process of buying and selling a home can be an emotional roller coaster, but it doesn’t have to be. Just like a math equation, there are steps to the process. If followed in the right order, the sale is usually successful. There are three things that are most important when embarking on this process:
Find someone you can trust to walk you through it. If you don’t know an agent, ask around. You’ll have more success with referrals than picking a random off the internet.
Always get a preapproval before you start looking to buy. That way, you know what your purchasing power is, or how much house you can afford.
Don’t trust Zillow! It’s useful for some things, but it is a tool manipulated to get people to buy and sell. The agents pay a lot of money to get in front of you. Costs that will for sure trickle down to the commissions you pay. The “Zestimates” have plagued the industry for years. They are notoriously high and people often think their homes are more than they are worth. While there is some syndication with your local MLS, they do not have status updates like Pending, Back on Market, or Contingent. You are not getting all of the information you need on Zillow. Find a Realtor!
Liz is a San Diego Native but grew up in Colorado. Returning in 2005, Liz received her Bachelor’s Degree at California State University San Marcos. Then, after obtaining a Master’s Degree at The University of Denver, she returned to San Diego permanently to start a career and a family. She now lives in North County San Diego with her husband and three children. Starting with Intrepid in 2014, Liz became a managing partner in 2016, then obtained her broker's license in 2017. Liz likes cooking, dining out, exploring new places, but mostly having fun with her family.