Change is Inevitable. Growth is Optional.” John C. Maxwell

This is my story. It is a story of perseverance, triumph, change, and growth and is the journey that has been the catalyst to my metamorphosis.  This journey began in 2001 when I chose a career path in real estate and it is my hope my story inspires those of you who are on the same career path.

My Transformational Leadership Journey Began With a Career in Real Estate

Many people think that selling real estate is an easy profession. Once upon a time, I was one of them. How hard can it be to close a sale and reap the reward of a 5k, 10k or 20k commission check? I asked myself this question as I pondered a career in real estate back in the year 2000. The career trajectory seemed pretty straightforward. I would take the class required to get my license, pass a state exam, and then help buyers and sellers achieve their real estate goals. I let myself dream a little to escape the harsh reality of being a single mother of four struggling to make ends meet. Real estate seemed to be a perfect match for my interests, personality, and goals. I loved architecture , had an affinity for design, was able to handle multiple complex projects in a dynamic environment complements of my being a single mother, and I liked the idea of being able to rise up the career ladder at my own pace and not have my upward mobility determined by someone else.

At this point, I had no college degree. I had a high school equivalency diploma , 6 college credits and a post-secondary certificate in phlebotomy that landed me a dead end position at a local hospital. The money I was earning as a clerical laboratory technician was nowhere near enough to support my family. Additionally, my position had me “chained” which created an imbalance in my personal life as my children’s schedule conflicted with my work schedule. Scanning through the help wanted ads one day, I came across an ad  for newly licensed real estate  agents .A lightbulb went off inside my head, a career in real estate may be the answer to earning good money while keeping my dignity. I thought of all the possibilities this path could lead to. I could eventually open a real estate brokerage, make big bucks rehabbing and flipping properties, or selling multi-million dollar luxury real estate. I could also go in the direction of a career in housing counseling, non-profit affordable housing or work in the corporate relocation industry.

All this potential for only the cost of a real estate licensing class of $600.00 , passing an exam , and coming up with the start-up  MLS and  licensing fees. It  seemed like a small price to pay for such a big potential on return. I envisioned myself driving a beautiful white S- Class Mercedes Benz to a luxury home and despite having no previous sales experience other than a brief stint as a Mary Kay and Party Lite direct sales consultant, I enrolled in the principles and practices course at the local community college. I completed the course, passed my exam, and started my tumultuous career in real estate. Going into it, I knew there would be the periodic booms and busts typical of the cyclical real estate markets but never could I have imagined the economic devastation preceding the financial crises but like all other disasters one endures, there is a lesson to be learned and from the ashes we rise again stronger, wiser, and resilient.

My Humble Beginnings

The brokerage I started out at was a small independent firm. There was no formal training offered other than watching and listening to the seasoned sales people and asking many questions. I was expected to do floor time three or four shifts per week for three hours at a time. Floor time consisted of answering incoming calls which new agents do in an attempt to capture hot leads calling in on the firms listings. Many of the calls back then before ShowAssist technology was mainstream were from cobroke realtors interested in showing the firms listings. Occasionally , I would get a call from someone interested in previewing a rental or seeking information about a home listed for sale.

After months of answering phones and conducting showings with no deal in sight, I was becoming desperate. I needed a consistent paycheck but was not ready to throw in the towel and watch my real estate dreams slip away. Luckily, I found a job working in a marketing department for a plumbing component manufacturer. This was a part-time position that provided me  a consistent paycheck and also helped me develop a strong foundation in marketing functions which, as I would come to realize, is essential for success in real estate. I worked part-time at this marketing job while perfecting my technique of capturing a lead and converting it into a closed sale.  My first hot prospect was a family who was interested in purchasing a trailer on a leasehold but that deal fell apart. I was devastated but became more determined to close on my first sale.
While conducting floor time one day I received a call on a rental listing . I ended up converting these would be renters  into home buyers and soon closed my first deal. When leaving the closing, commission check in hand, I was elated. Months of hard work had finally paid off. I could now see the reward of my efforts. Looking at the commission check , I thought to myself, I CAN do this. I felt like a butterfly who had just emerged from a cocoon . It was at this moment  I set the goal to open a real estate brokerage. I knew I would have to go through a learning curve that would challenge me but I also knew I would  develop the skills necessary to make it to the next level in my career.
Writing and Affirming Your Goals = Success
I wrote down my goal and began to affirm it daily. I was eventually recruited to work at another independent real estate brokerage that was larger and provided more learning opportunities. While working at this firm, I was introduced to my future business partner by a mutual acquaintance. He was a top doctor and real estate investor with multiple sub-development parcels in the works and was considering opening a brokerage as his next investment pursuit .He had taken an instant liking to me and wrote me a check to complete the additional courses required to obtain my broker’s license. We didn’t  talk again for almost a year and a half . In the meantime, I continued to close sales on a regular basis and completed the prerequisite courses required to take the test for my brokers license .
I had resigned from my marketing position and had my brokers exam scheduled when I received the call about a potential partnership opportunity. The timing was right therefore I seized the opportunity. What I didn’t realize at this point was how challenging it would be to turn around a failing new business venture. You see, shortly after our initial meeting, my future partner had purchased one of the first Weichert Realtors franchises and had opened an elaborate office with another operations partner. The business was failing as a result of poor planning, mismanagement and spending more than what was coming in (in addition to other contributing factors) and I had to turn this mess around.
My First Lesson in Organizational Change Management

My first priority was to get buy-in from the staff I inherited when I was appointed to lead this organization . I did this by creating a vision of where I was taking the business and asked for their input so they had ownership in the new vision. I also had to earn their trust which I accomplished simply by having my words aligned with my actions (i.e. walking the walk and not just talking the talk).

I then got to work  on process improvement initiatives  (i.e .creating the operational framework) as this is the foundation of any effective business.  As the designated broker and operations manager, I was also responsible for managing the firm’s public image and overseeing the development of the marketing materials. I updated the marketing and promotional materials and created new business banners, business cards, and “for sale” signs. This was no easy feat, as I had to establish relationships with the same vendors who had not been paid for their previous work. I eventually obtained the trust of every one of them and negotiated win-win contractual terms.

Recruiting and Developing Talent is Key to a Successful Brokerage

It was now time to implement a recruiting strategy. After attending a week long training , I was fired up and ready to build my new sales team. My cat Jezebel, who was very pregnant when I left for the training, had given birth during my absence. I returned home to find all my shoes removed from my bedroom closet and in their place were the cutest little kittens I had ever seen. I interpreted this as a good sign, my recruiting strategy would be successful and it was, 35 agents eventually came aboard . Continuous recruiting, I quickly learned, is on one of the keys to success in the real estate brokerage business. Developing your teams prospecting and sales skills  is equally as important. I set up a training system and provided one on one coaching to each of  my recruits and was always available to offer help and answer any question.

The Reality of Building a Business

My earlier vision of driving a luxury vehicle to listings would not be realized at this time, the commission income paid overheard , franchise and referral fees in addition to various loans and expenses. In fact, nearly every dime went back into the business. There were times when I had to live off  credit cards and tap into the equity on my home. This, as I learned, is the reality of building a business from start-up.

The Silver Lining of Failure

I fell a little short off the pinnacle of real estate success which is measured by closing one million dollars in gross closed income but I did build a successful  brokerage that was in operations for five years until the financial crisis dissolved my business partnership. The financial crises was tough,I lost everything I had worked tirelessly for. My home went into foreclosure, I filed bankruptcy. I hit rock bottom. In retrospect, this loss was the catalyst to my transformation. I became more determined than ever to rise from the ashes and reinvent myself.As I was enduring the devastation of a business failure,  I thought my world had ended. What I didn’t see during that “dark” period was the silver lining of failing.
You see, failing is integral to success. For me, it was the driving force behind my continuing my education, it motivated me to return to school to further cultivate my business management and leadership skills where I continued all the way through completion of my masters degree. I  soon reestablished my real estate business and redirected my career in the non-profit sector where I  lead the implementation  of a State of Connecticut sponsored regional housing mobility counseling relocation collaborative I developed from a state contract.Under my leadership, over 1,000 program participants received relocation counseling  services. I have learned through my work in the non-profit sector that giving back is the real key to success which is why I am now committed to building a business that values social responsibility.
In closing, change is a constant part of  every aspect of life and in business this holds true as well. The ability to navigate a changing environment is essential for success in any industry as is creating a vision to guide your business. Additionally, in the real estate brokerage business there are three core components to developing a successful business which include: 1) continuously recruiting new talent , 2) developing talents prospecting and sales skills, and 3) spending less than what is coming in.
As you navigate the highs and lows of the real estate business you will grow , transform , and learn resilience. You may start in the business as a partnership but finish alone as I did and that is ok because this is your jouney. There will be crossroads, times when the external forces take you down a different path and times when you may find your way back into the business again. If you persevere long enough the tide will change and you will be riding the wave again.