Women have been immersed in the real estate business since its beginnings in the late 1700’s1. While the number of women working as real estate professionals has ebbed and flowed through wartime, financial hardships, and other national crises, today, women make up a substantial portion of the real estate workforce. In fact, according to the National Association of REALTORS®, 67% of all current REALTORS®2 are women, and that number continues to increase steadily.
In this rapidly growing and fast-paced market, real estate brokers are continually looking to grow their firms and hire agents, but they must also do so with care and conviction. Real estate agents ultimately represent the firm that they work for, and these firms have valuable, and oftentimes, legendary reputations to protect.
This month, we feature four women who are successful residential real estate professionals in the San Antonio area. They are active in recruiting agents, offering support to clients, as well as participating in the growth of their firms. They have each also witnessed the climate for women in real estate change over the past few decades as more and more women find their own personal and professional achievements within the real estate industry.
Standing Out in a Saturated Market
Carolyn Rhodes, sales manager, (covering The Dominion, Boerne, and New Braunfels) for Kuper Sotheby’s International Realty, spent many years in Houston, where she excelled in many facets of the real estate field, founded her own brokerage, and worked in real estate marketing, before making her way to the San Antonio area, where she landed with Kuper Sotheby’s in 2015.
“If it’s happened in real estate, I’ve done it,” said Rhodes. “I was a top producer, a top listing agent, and I’ve done a ton of construction, too.” Rhodes cites her life-long interest in home design as the spark that led her to her career at Kuper Sotheby’s. “My favorite hobby is houses and decor. It’s all that I do. I am obsessed!” Rhodes added, “I’m talking to Realtors on the phone, and watching HGTV while getting ready to go to open houses on the weekend!”
When asked about the recruiting practices of her firm, Rhodes explained, “Our brokers and agents are high achievers–they’re in the top 10% of the marketplace.”
The real estate marketplace often becomes saturated with agents when the housing market is moving fast. “It gets saturated with people who think it would be a fun and easy career,” explained Rhodes.
However, commitment and obligation are keys to a successful career as a real estate agent. “It is fun, but it’s not easy. Some people don’t make it beyond their first transaction,” stated Rhodes.
Lisa Nuttall Munoz, Broker of Record for Keller Williams Heritage, added, “This is not a part-time industry. This is a service industry, and it requires the utmost professionalism and competence.”
Munoz came to the real estate industry from a career in corporate finance, where she worked for 12 years. But it was her personal real estate agent, Kimberly Howell, who, in 2001, encouraged Munoz to try her hand at real estate. Munoz joined Howell’s team at Keller Williams while Howell later went on to start her own successful brokerage, Kimberly Howell Properties. “I trusted her [Howell]. She was a great agent, and so I made the right decision. I’ve been with Keller Williams Heritage ever since!”
Munoz warns that real estate is not for the casual agent. She explains, “[Agents] should be focused on this 100% as a career, not as a hobby. Successful realtors should engage in training initially but also continually.”
Real estate firms and brokerages each operate a little differently, but possibly none as uniquely as Keller Williams Heritage.
Munoz explains, “[At Keller Williams Heritage,] Our primary model is an ‘interdependent’ model, meaning that the broker basically works for the agent.” In this model, Keller Williams Heritage acts as a franchise, and the brokers fully support the agent in building, growing, and sustaining their own business.
“We offer a huge support group, which includes on-staff attorneys, one-on-one technology services, and training that is second to none. We are a very pro-agent business. We allow them to brand themselves and run their business. We’re there to support them because they are our clients,” added Munoz.
Known for selling some of the city’s most elite addresses, Jennifer Shemwell, President of Phyllis Browning Company, is one of the most respected names in San Antonio real estate, following closely in the footsteps of her mother, Phyllis Browning, as a luxury real estate agent, trendsetter, and community leader.
Finding the Right Recruits
When recruiting new agents for Phyllis Browning Company, Shemwell is emphatic about finding just the right candidates. “A high level of professionalism, a strong grasp of real estate knowledge, grace, compassion, and a passion for helping others, as well as internal drive and good, follow through with details,” are all traits that Shemwell demands from potential agents.
Luxury real estate firms have stringent guidelines to follow when seeking agents to work for them. Carolyn Rhodes with Kuper Sotheby’s explains, “What makes us [at Kuper Sotheby’s] stand out is that we are absolutely attached to our luxury brand, and we utilize tools to help our agents market themselves at a level that’s equivalent to the brand.” And, as a result of their high standards and luxury brand, Kuper Sotheby’s does not recruit much–their agents come to them.
Rhodes continued, “We behave at a different level, and our marketing is at a different level, as well. We utilize professional photos, video with music–that was our brand standard before it was anyone else’s. We were hyper-focused on the online experience for the client before other firms were.”
Jennifer Shemwell, a graduate of Yale University, started out working for a stock brokerage firm, but it was in 1992 when she got the opportunity to work for the U.S. Government at the World’s Fair in Seville, Spain, that everything came together for her.
“It was while working in Spain that I realized how much I loved being on my feet, giving tours, and helping people to have a wonderful experience. I fell in love with people,” remembers Shemwell. Being fluent in three languages, as well as a sharp negotiator, helped Shemwell to rise to the top of her field and make a name for herself in real estate.
An Industry That Supports Women
All of these women echoed the sentiment that real estate is a highly favorable career option for many women. It was one of the first career paths that afforded women the opportunity to support themselves and a family. As Carolyn Rhodes explained, “This business gave women who were divorced or widowed the chance to earn as much money as they wanted to…and no other business does that.”
Factors such as flexible work schedules, good earning potential, and a field that is accessible to many, have helped women to grow and prosper in the field of real estate. The real estate industry was one of the first to offer the promise of financial independence for women when most other professions could offer nothing of the sort. While these ladies were hesitant to discuss exactly how much an agent can make in the current economy, it is fair to say that the insurgence of women in the real estate workforce has changed our economy, as well as the lives of many women and their families through the decades.
When real estate agents are shopping for a brokerage to work with, Shemwell advises that it is essential to find a firm committed to helping the agent succeed and whose values align with the agent.
“Is that brokerage committed to offering the real estate agent continuing education and software systems to grow their business? Do they have a management team and corporate trainers to help with questions and ideas? We do because we [at Phyllis Browning Company] know how important it is,” explained Shemwell.
As Carolyn Rhodes put it, “if you have a broker who will listen, the sky’s the limit [for agents].”
Tracie Hasslocher, MRE, who is a Licensed Real Estate Broker and owner of Hasslocher Boutique Realty, found herself out on her own (after the stock market crash of 2008) as real estate agents began to disappear in search of other job opportunities. It was during this time that Tracie realized that she rather liked working for herself. Hasslocher obtained her broker’s license and, in short order, opened her own boutique real estate company, Hasslocher Boutique Realty.
These days, Hasslocher still prefers to work independently. “I decided to continue on my own because I like having contact with my clients. They don’t have to go through anybody to get to me, and I feel that my clients deserve to talk to me when they are making probably the biggest purchase in their lifetime,” explained Hasslocher. She added, “I can spend all my time focused on my clients and not on agents that are under me.”
While Hasslocher is not opposed to one day having other agents come on board with her, it is not something that she is currently seeking. “I’m not saying I won’t ever have any agents under my brand again, but I enjoy being on my own,” she said.
‘Sphere of Influence’ is Important in Real Estate
While she’s not actively recruiting agents for herself, Hasslocher does have an insight to offer into what brokers are looking for when they are scouting for new agents. “They’re looking for positive people…people who have a ‘sphere of influence’ because that’s what you’ll rely on to get your business,” noted Hasslocher.
“Who do they know? Maybe they had a previous career, such as the military, or retired people as a second profession. Brokers look for people who are going to produce, but also people who are out in the community and going to be able to get that business,” added Hasslocher.
As Jennifer Shemwell of Phyllis Browning Company affirmed, “We are in a growth mode. We attract agents with prior real estate experience or serious experience in another industry.”
These days, the men and women who are beginning new careers in real estate look different than they did, even a decade ago, and they are bringing new perspectives and value to the industry. “I’m seeing people who want to come into the real estate business after they’ve already had a successful career,” noted Caryoln Rhodes, of Kuper Sotheby’s. “They come to the table with ideas from other businesses, educational backgrounds, professional skills, and expecting advanced technology. It’s totally cool!”
Lisa Nuttall Munoz of Keller Williams Heritage goes on to explain, “There are many active agents in this market. At Keller Williams Heritage, our agents are business owners, and, as a business owner, they must be purposeful in the growth of their business.”
“Building relationships, serving the clients, continuing to keep up with changes–including technology, housing trends, regulations–all of this is important to maintain a strong relationship with clients and a successful business in such a competitive climate,” offered Munoz.
The same secrets to success in the real estate industry can also be applied to any industry. Munoz added, “As founder and CEO of Keller Williams, Gary Keller says, ‘Go out and get your unfair share.’ No one is keeping you from going out and building those relationships and building your business. You’re an independent agent.”
The real estate industry can quickly become saturated with agents and brokers, and, at times, it can be hard to stand out in this highly competitive climate. Often, agents are encouraged to do anything for a sale, but Hasslocher has a different approach to this problem. “I don’t feel like it’s about being competitive with anyone else. It’s about letting people know that you’re competent and giving them the confidence that you’re able to do the work for them,” said Hasslocher.
“Some people are all about winning awards, and that’s great, but it all comes down to how are you going to treat your client?” points out Hasslocher.
Jennifer Shemwell added, “Real estate is a puzzle, connecting people to their dreams, as well as the path to their next home so that it feels effortless and easy. I’m proud to say that people know me and many of our Phyllis Browning Co. agents for connecting them with opportunities and access they otherwise may not have.”
The climate for women in this industry is ripe for the picking. “Women continue to have a voice and are making a very impactful drive in this industry, including at many leadership levels…and not just in real estate, but in the other industries that serve the real estate industry,” noted Munoz.
By Jenny Jurica