Engage and contribute to your community. When you’re creating spaces for people to live, it’s important to know how people are living and engaging to begin with. Furthermore, giving back through volunteering is such a great way to lift your own spirits, as well as team build with your company.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders of the Real Estate industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erin Black.
Erin is the Head of Marketing at Chasen Companies, a firm that acquires, develops and manages luxury multifamily, commercial and single-family properties primarily in the Greater Baltimore and Washington DC markets. Since joining the firm in 2019, she worked closely with the firm’s CEO to revamp the Chasen Companies’ brand in order to vertically integrate the business and lay a strong foundation for the future as it continues to utilize its own expertise across several areas versus outsourcing to other partners. She also leveraged her 12 years of account experience at marketing agencies to elevate Chasen’s communication strategy, online and offline presence, and how the firm goes to market. As a result, the firm was recognized by Inc. 5000 as the Number 1 Fastest-growing firm in DC Metro in 2020.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?
My passion for the real estate industry began while I was working as an account manager at a marketing agency. One of our largest clients was a global building products manufacturer. Through years of client collaboration, product innovation, and communicating it all creatively to homeowners, I started to really appreciate and love the industry.
From there I have worked in a variety of roles in hospitality communications and now commercial real estate — and it’s been exciting to see how they all connect, leveraging experiences from one to the other to bring new ideas to life.
My real estate career experience has inspired me to fully gut and renovate two homes — one of which my husband and I just completed this December.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
I am always amused by how small the world really is — especially when it comes to the real estate industry. One example is when my worlds collided at the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas last year. Within one expo hall, I ran into my old building products client and my past agency colleagues, all while touring the space with my current team at Chasen to pull ideas for our multifamily designs.
The takeaway is while the world seems so big at times, you realize that some of these industries are so small. It behooves you to keep close contact with those you have worked alongside and been inspired by all throughout your career. You never know when you will run into them again, or need their support or guidance. I realized during that trade show for the first time that I really had made lifelong friends in this industry and I really do gravitate towards the real estate industry in all parts of my life — career, hobbies, and friends.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Recently, I helped lead a team at Chasen Companies to kick off virtual tours of our apartments. We partnered with a local virtual reality firm that has enabled us to offer these amazing tour experiences from our leasing office via an augmented reality headset. This has enabled us to prioritize safety during this pandemic, while also showcasing our spaces in a memorable way to potential renters while they look for their new home.
Our team was also the first to bring a virtual concierge service to the Baltimore market. Hello Alfred was really only in much larger cities and we saw the need for this type of experience in Baltimore for our residents. It’s been such a worthwhile experience to bring a service to residents during a time where they don’t want to be out shopping and among other people. We are helping to alleviate that burden and I’m glad we were able to offer it at such an important time.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our work goes well beyond the structures we build. Chasen Companies is truly building communities and neighborhoods. We’ve figured out a way to build modern while respecting historic properties, all while revitalizing Baltimore neighborhoods, and we’re seeing the impact of this already. Today, people are walking, shopping and experiencing parts of historic neighborhoods that have been neglected for decades due to dilapidated, vacant structures lining the street.
Another area where Chasen Companies stands out is how nimble we are. Our firm is four years old — we’re still building the framework of our company, but the trust and dedication of our team has resulted in a lot of success to date. We are leveraging technology in ways many other developers and property managers are not in our region — from virtual concierge services to unique wellness offerings that we update regularly based on what tenants need. For example, we recently added a Peloton bike as an option for renters to have in their unit upon signing a lease — in addition to gym memberships, knowing people are wanting to work out in their homes more often.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
In addition to my supportive husband, I’m grateful for a former supervisor who I worked with in a few different roles — I admire her so much. She made me realize that you can really have it all — a career and a family. There will be struggles, and mom guilt, but it’s OK to ask for help. Once you realize this you can succeed in both.
I have a young family right now so this is really top of mind. I worked in NYC for a global advertising group, then moved to Baltimore where I worked at creative agencies, before shifting to an in-house communications role, and then taking time off to raise my young daughters. I’ve slowly transitioned back to work with flexibility that enables me to do this successfully. This has allowed me to grow and do both — have a career and family. The path doesn’t always have to be 9 to 5, full time or nothing. Have the strength and discipline to build what works for you.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. The Real Estate industry, like the Veterinarian, Nursing and Public Relations fields, is a woman dominated industry. Yet despite this, less than 20 percent of senior positions in Real Estate companies are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what do you think is the cause of this imbalance?
Real estate, especially commercial real estate, has been a male dominated market for so long and continues to be. Just over the past 10–15 years I’ve seen the opportunity open up for women to grow their careers and take over leadership roles in real estate and other industries.
There are so many other areas for women to enter the space now as the real estate space evolves and welcomes innovations across the board. Talented women are bringing expertise from industries like hospitality and marketing, technology and innovation. As we see more diverse backgrounds at the table, we’ll see even more opportunities to make the industry better overall. For example, because Chasen Companies builds, owns and manages real estate, I get to touch on so many elements in the process and make an impact far beyond what one would think a traditional marketing role would.
What 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support greater gender balance going forward?
From an individual standpoint, women must support other women, and men must support women as well.
I’m glad we’re seeing women speak out more about the importance of supporting other women, and that needs to continue.
Companies must continue to promote females to the C-Suite and to leadership roles on boards.
I’m also thrilled to see a female gain the role of Vice President for the first time. Hopefully this will shift society’s perspective of women in leadership roles.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
One challenge is that most of the people in the room are often men. This can be uncomfortable for women, sometimes making them feel nervous about speaking their opinion. However, this is an opportunity to stand out and be remembered.
I believe women are still not shown respect, especially in the real estate industry. I have not personally experienced this in my role now but I have seen this in past roles/experiences and among clients. I do think that one way to help overcome this is for women to seek both female and male mentors. This way, male mentors can better understand the different challenges and stressors women face as they work together along their career journey. In my experience, through these mentorship experiences, respect will be able to build on both sides — resulting in stronger support networks all around.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry?
1. Opportunity. From innovation, to market growth, and expansion of smaller firms like us who entered the industry just a few years ago.
2. From an innovation standpoint — there are a lot of exciting ways we’re showcasing this right in Baltimore. We aren’t a major market like New York or Los Angeles who are seeing so many innovations come to life every year. Here in a secondary market like ours, people are excited about small wins, and firms that are continuing to innovate are succeeding.
3. I also believe the industry continues to maintain historic properties as much as it can — and I hope that continues. We don’t need cities and towns full of brand new-looking buildings on every corner. People appreciate the historic buildings in their towns and it’s amazing when those can be preserved but also modernized for communities to live and work in these spaces today, and for future generations.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
At some point, growth does concern me — we need to prioritize our environment as much as we can, and keeping / maintaining green spaces, parks, conserving, is important.
Global impact and preparation both concern me as well. After this year, we’ve seen how fast of an impact something across the world can have on us. COVID-19 completely upended our lives, caused many people to become ill and die, and many to lose their jobs. It also derailed supply chains — greatly impacting our development projects — and I think this is something companies need to prepare for.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
Give your team guidance but don’t hover.
The best way to learn is by doing.
Let your team speak for themselves. Actively listen, and be open and welcoming to feedback.
Ok, here is the main question of our interview. You are a “Real Estate Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the Real Estate industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?
- Develop a thorough understanding of the people and processes involved in your world — this includes the industry, in your firm, and that of your team/organization.
- Organization and accuracy are so important, especially when it comes to timelines. Timelines are everything in real estate. If you can’t execute against a timeline (which as we’ve seen this year — can be very challenging) the effect can be catastrophic on the business.
- Depth of industry experience and success are not mutually exclusive. Just because you have not been in the industry from the beginning of your career, or even for 10+ years, doesn’t mean you cannot lead or make an impact in real estate. Believe it not, you likely know real estate and many factors in the industry can be applied from other experiences — you just may not realize it.
- Be observant. How are people living, working and spending their time? This is always changing — depending on the season, the health of a community, location, innovation, and more. There’s an opportunity to incorporate modern design into modern living experiences, and leverage this as a key selling point for your business.
- Engage and contribute to your community. When you’re creating spaces for people to live, it’s important to know how people are living and engaging to begin with. Furthermore, giving back through volunteering is such a great way to lift your own spirits, as well as team build with your company.
Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Think about one building or area of your town that just needs love. You may walk past it every day, or drive by on your way to work or the grocery store. It may be a green area full of weeds, a dilapidated wooden structure, or a vacant lot.
Now think about if you could transform that area into something special — something everyone in the community could benefit from. What would that look like?
Now think about what’s stopping you from making that transformation?
I’m so proud of the way our team has done this in areas of Baltimore — taken vacant lots and turned them into livable, attainable spaces for the community. I’m looking forward to doing this more in 2021 — and hope that those who read this feel inspired to do the same — even if that means mowing a small green space and cleaning up litter to make their community a little brighter.
How can our readers follow you online?
LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/erinblack2/
Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights!