Masculine, Feminine

March 25, 2013

Courtesy of Frederick Peters, President of Warburg Realty

Recently one of my newer agents commented to me that she had no idea making it as a residential real estate agent would be so hard. It often takes a year, sometimes closer to two, before agents start making sales deals. Some never really get started. Because there is a low bar for entry (getting a real estate license is almost embarrassingly easy in New York State) people seem to imagine that there is also a low bar for success. Nothing could be further from the truth.

At the time I entered the business, residential real estate agency was primarily a woman’s business, as commercial was primarily a man’s business. Nonetheless, the successful residential agents of the generation above mine, at least here in Manhattan, were smart, tough, and unsentimental. Being successful businesswomen in their generation had made them more relentless as agents; most of them had to fight so hard to be successful that they had adopted many of the male traits associated at that time with major earning power: ruthlessness, competitiveness, and acute ambition. Within our “women’s business”, the most successful women were often aping masculine traits in order to make a name for themselves.

Over the years, the situation has changed. In our industry, as in most others, there has been a growing awareness of the value of emotional intelligence. Society increasingly rewards sensitivity mixed with strength. Being thoughtful or considerate in professional situations is no longer seen as a sign of weakness. Interestingly, this has taken place even as more young men enter the residential sales business as a first career. Both sexes have benefited from the change towards a more feminized version of professional behavior. And today, it is not just women who value the flexibility of an independent contractor’s life. New agents increasingly understand that, while you can make your own hours, no one succeeds in the New York market who regards brokerage as a part time job. Flexible time simply means that we are working or on call ALL the time.

When I entered the business in 1980 the prevailing image of the New York residential real estate agent was still a woman in mink who unlocked a few doors, then collected a large check. While that has never been an accurate view of our business, it has taken time for the stereotype to die. Now (I hope) that image is on the wane. Today’s successful agents are well informed, strategic, hungry for knowledge, driven, and client-centered. They must be closers, direct and firm, while always remembering that ours is a service business. They are collegial in their relationships with peers and helpful to, not threatened by, the next generation of up and comers.

Who is attracted to brokerage, and why, has changed substantially since I first entered the business (believing I could do it part time) years ago. Today, liberated by technology, people in every walk of life are increasingly interested in flex time and the ability to work from non-office locations. Real estate has always offered the benefits of mobility, excitement, and flexibility. But, as I tell every aspiring agent who comes to me for advice, those benefits come at a price. You have to create your own business every day, every month, every year. Most people can’t do it; this is an extremely difficult career in which to achieve real success.

On the DISC personality assessment we administer to our interviewees, we have learned that high D (Dominance) and I (Influencer) scores tend to be the best predictors of brokerage success. That seems to me to be the perfect pairing of traditionally masculine and feminine traits. You have to be both tough and gentle to make it in the brokerage industry.

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