The real estate industry has the ability to affect change! If you are in real estate, you are in politics. It’s the hard truth. Our politics are driven by what is best for the consumer. I’m an advocate for property rights. In some countries, women are not allowed to own property or have checking accounts without a male counterpart. We are helping to change that. We promote the importance of homeownership and the pride it brings to families. It’s the foundation for building wealth.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders of the real estate industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Smith. Karen is a Realtor® in Las Vegas and the owner of K. Smith and Team Real Estate. With 20 years of experience as a paralegal, Karen is well versed in the rights of homeowners. She is Chair of the Global Business Committee and President of the FIABCI-USA Mountain States Council, which works to bring sustainable living options to people around the globe. Karen has a proven track record of working with her clients to best meet their needs.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the real estate industry?
When I was 22 years old, I was living in Ohio. I was interested in working in the world of real estate, but was told I didn’t have the ‘right personality.’ I made the decision to go into the legal field and became a paralegal. I spent more than 20 years in that profession. After my youngest child graduated from high school, I decided to move to Las Vegas. I was divorced, and my intention was to get out of the legal field and start a new career. Instead, I found myself working as a paralegal for a Fortune 500 company handling domestic and international patents & trademarks. This company felt like home, and I thought I would retire there. But, the universe had different plans. The company downsized, and I found myself without a job. A family member persuaded me to go into real estate. But because of that personality comment made to me years ago, I had hesitations. My family pointed out that I am a good liaison between the attorneys and clients, was a good listener and had great follow-up skills. I said, “But I’m not a salesperson.” Despite my concerns, I took the required classes and passed the exam the first time! Now, I am a successful Realtor® in Las Vegas, Nevada fueled 100% by word-of-mouth referrals from happy clients.
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?
When I first got my start in real estate I was nervous. I was transitioning from another career and knew there would be a bit of a learning curve. To my surprise, my first transaction was flawless. I kept thinking to myself, “This is a piece of cake compared to my last profession.” That was until I got to my second home sale. Things changed. I was working with a couple who wanted to purchase a home and use it as a rental property. The MLS stated the home was in “move-in condition, turn-key certified.” Since I was new to the industry and didn’t know any better, I took the word of the MLS. When we had the home inspection done, it was nowhere near move-in ready. It had a list of repairs a mile long. I was totally disappointed and so were the buyers. They were taking money out of their 401k to purchase this home and to top it off, the listing agent hadn’t provided the appropriate documents. I was so irritated I wrote an email to the agent suggesting he consider an adjustment. The agent said he would gladly refund the earnest money deposit and cancel the transaction, since the market was hot and he knew he would get another buyer within hours. In this case everything worked out, but I realized not all things written in the MLS are factual. I learned my lesson and to this day have never sold a home without physically looking at the property first.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I was recently elected FIABCI-USA Mountain States Council President. The Mountain States Council is newly formed, covering Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. FIABCI-International (Fédération Internationale des Administrateurs de Bien-Conseils Immobiliers) is the world’s leading international real estate organization, founded in Paris in 1948. FIABCI fosters global business relationships and creates opportunities for members who represent a spectrum of real estate-related professions from brokerage to architecture, design, legal and financial advisors. Since 1954, FIABCI has served in a consultative status to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations to help address serious housing and environmental issues worldwide. I plan on working in unity with FIABCI members and local professionals to enhance awareness of the need for affordable housing that is sustainable in any environment.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The Karen Smith Team is different from other real estate groups or agents. We explain the entire process upfront, and we listen to our client’s long and short term goals. Our team provides options and scenarios for each, then lets the client decide what is best. We understand deadline dates and due dates, and we adhere to them. If we are working with a buyer, we make sure our lenders are ready to close on time or early, depending on the circumstances of the buyer and seller. We answer our phones and respond to all emails by the end of every day. We avoid doing piecemeal, if possible. Our client, the consumer, is number one.
We recently had a couple moving from Louisiana to Las Vegas. They were hoping to find a single-story home with a mountain view. I looked at several properties with them one weekend when they were in town, got to know them and figured out what they needed, all within their budget. We didn’t find the perfect home that weekend. Their request was tough to find at the time since they wanted to stay under $300,000. A month later, a home came on the market checking all their boxes. It even had a view of the strip! I immediately let them know. I was familiar with the area, and deep inside, I knew this home was the home for them. They were still in Louisiana waiting for confirmation of a job transfer. Even though I was out of town at the time, I wrote up the offer and got it accepted. The buyers were still nervous and unsure. This was the first time they were purchasing a home unseen. As soon as I got back in town, I connected with the clients, showing them the home and the surrounding area and assuring them they would not regret this decision. Shortly after, they received confirmation of a job transfer and received an offer on their home in Louisiana. Once the purchase was final, they arrived in Las Vegas to take possession and get their keys. I met them at the home, and for the first time, they physically toured it. They couldn’t believe the views and felt the home was perfect. To this day, they thank me for finding that home and rave about the views. I’ve been to their home for dinner, and we have remained dear friends.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When I was three, my father passed away. I was raised by my grandparents, and my grandfather instilled a strong work ethic in me. I can still hear him say, “If you are going to do something, do it right,” and “Give it 100% or don’t bother doing it.” Even after he retired, he still went into work every day for a few hours to train the new guys. He believed in helping others and teaching them the skills he knew. Back in his day, he worked a full-time job, raised 5 children and ran a printing press. I will never forget the love and discipline only grandparents can provide when acting as your parent. I have so much to thank them for.
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 women-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?
Many women become part-time real estate agents as a way to supplement the family income, whereas a larger percentage of men are full-time real estate agents. Although there is an increasing number of women who become full-time agents, there is still a stigma that this is a male-dominated profession. At first, I felt intimidated when speaking with a male counterpart on a transaction, whether it was a fellow agent or client. I have come to realize, as in my legal career, I am the professional, and I know what I am doing. I am working in the best interest of my client and the consumer. Real estate is much more than buying and selling homes and signing contracts. The more involved in the industry you are the more confident you become. Women need to put themselves out there and not be afraid to take that leap of faith. Times are changing, and women are rising to the challenge. It won’t be long before more women dominate the real estate world.
What 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender balance going forward?
- Women can become more assertive in their wants and aspirations. Just because one company said “no” doesn’t mean the next company will. Keep trying until you find the right fit for you or the “yes” you are looking for. Look to yourself for support, know that you are the only person who can truly make yourself happy and make your dreams come true. Don’t be afraid to ask for moral support or guidance.
- Companies and society should be more open-minded to change. The most important quality in a person is their willingness to succeed, no matter what the age. Just because someone speaks softer, words things differently or has children, doesn’t mean they won’t be successful. Let’s face it, it’s a mindset. Once you change your view, the outcome can become beneficial for many, even people you might not have thought of.
- I want people to stop underestimating the influence a woman can have. More and more women are starting support groups to help others like them rise and encourage women to keep making strides forward. The days of cattiness are over.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
A larger percentage of working women are also tasked with taking care of their children, compared to men. Many men get up, get dressed and go to work. More often, women get up, get dressed, get the kids dressed and fed and then take them to daycare or school. I know this is changing with the times. My daughter has two children. She and her husband alternate the drive to and from daycare and getting the kids prepared in the morning.
Women also face far more challenges and critiques in the workplace. A woman can say the same thing as a man and get a totally different reaction. Women are still judged on their clothing, hair, nails, makeup or lack of makeup, shoes, age and wrinkles.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry?
- The real estate industry has the ability to affect change! If you are in real estate, you are in politics. It’s the hard truth. Our politics are driven by what is best for the consumer. I’m an advocate for property rights. In some countries, women are not allowed to own property or have checking accounts without a male counterpart. We are helping to change that. We promote the importance of homeownership and the pride it brings to families. It’s the foundation for building wealth. I am a member of the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA), National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) and The National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP). I’ve been to Washington, D.C. during the legislative session. I look at real estate like “It’s a Wonderful Life”, I’m George Bailey here to help you create your own wealth through home ownership.
- The ability to teach others and help raise the standards and expectations excites me. I hold myself to a high standard, and I hold those I work with to the same standard. It’s not always easy, but I believe consumers entrust us with their largest asset and in most cases, the largest purchase they will make in their lifetime. They deserve someone who is working on their behalf and guiding them through the process. No one has a crystal ball. The job is to get the buyer or the seller, whichever one you represent, the best deal you can.
- Now more than ever, people have the ability to buy and sell anywhere in the world! Many times, consumers and even agents limit themselves to a specific area. Yes, we know the market we are licensed in. But in some cases, agents can help in other states and countries. I’m a Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) and a Dubai International Property Consultant (DIPC). I spend time traveling the world and meeting Realtors® in other states and countries. I visit with developers in other countries and learn about their market and their projects. I only promote properties and developers I have met with in other countries. It’s important to know you are dealing with trustworthy, reliable individuals.
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?
- The bar to enter the real estate industry is often set too low. There are many part-time real estate agents and others who think it’s about the commission check and the number of transactions done each year. If I had the opportunity to implement reform, I would start with the education process. I went to paralegal school for 18 months. Real estate schooling should take six to nine months to complete, not two to four weeks. We are having clients sign legally binding contracts, so we should make sure we have as much knowledge about the process as possible.
- Many real estate agents aren’t actively involved in their community. I would make it mandatory for them to participate in at least one committee at either the local, state or national level. It could be any committee that interests them.
- Too many agents get caught up in the numbers. I want agents to understand that it’s about the quality of the transaction, not the quantity. Don’t get me wrong, we have many excellent Realtors® that go above and beyond, but there is a reason some consumers have poor impressions of our industry. I want that to change.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
It’s not the quantity of transactions, it’s the quality with which you complete each one. My business is 100% referral based. I’m successful this way because I make sure everyone I work with knows what I expect which makes for a smooth, clean transaction. It’s critical to have systems in place. A team is more than the Realtors®. Your team includes lenders, attorneys, title companies, escrow officers, home inspectors, handymen, contractors, insurance carriers and home warranty companies.
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?
- Never assume everyone is doing their job in the same manner you do yours. My first deal in the world of real estate went great! No glitches, everyone did what they were supposed to, and we closed early. I thought this was great and so much easier than the legal profession. The next several transactions, not so much. That’s when I learned the importance of having my own team of people I can trust to do the job and do the job the same way I would. There are many parts to a real estate transaction, and even though the consumer doesn’t see all of them, just one person not doing their part can make a transaction go sideways.
- Don’t ever judge how much money someone has by the car they drive or the clothes they wear. I learned this in the legal profession. Transitioning into real estate, it has been equally important. A home is often the biggest purchase of someone’s life, and you never know how much money they are willing to spend. You never want to insult a client who is coming to you for help.
- If you are purchasing new home construction, the sales representative of the new home build represents the builder. They are there to assist you, but when all is said and done, they will do what is in the best interest of the builder. If the consumer is serious about purchasing a new build, they should always go to the new build site with their trusted Realtor®. They are there to protect and represent the buyer. When I represent a buyer on new construction, we view the home site together, and I’m there when they sign the contract. I attend the structural inspection, go to the “home center” when the client picks out upgrades and materials, view the property while it is being constructed and attend all walkthroughs. In one instance, I noticed the builder laid the wrong flooring. It was similar in color, but the quality of the flooring was a lower grade. If I weren’t at the “home center” with the client when he picked it out, it would have been his word against theirs. He was able to get a price adjustment.
- Always submit the offer, even if you don’t think it will be accepted. You never know where the seller is coming from and what their priorities are. Until you see it in writing from the seller, don’t assume an offer won’t be accepted just because the listing agent or buyer’s agent says it won’t work.
- Go with your gut instinct. We are taught that once we are in escrow we should do what we can to make sure the deal moves forward to closing. However, I have learned that just because an offer is accepted and escrow is opened, it doesn’t always mean it’s the right deal for your client. You do have to have legitimate reasons for canceling.
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. 🙂
When I was young, I struggled to find a safe place to live with my children. My husband was in the Air Force, and when he returned home, finding an affordable place to live was difficult. My aunts and uncles allowed us to live in a home they owned, rent and utility free, until we found jobs. Shortly thereafter, we purchased the home. I learned that it is possible to get back on your feet when things are tough.
One of my dreams is to help battered women and/or struggling single women with children who are in need of a helping hand. I want to give them the opportunity to live in a home of their own for two or three months, rent free and utility free, just like I did. From there, they could start paying rent or apply for a mortgage to purchase the home. It would then be sold to them 1% under fair market value. I would love to be able to give back to those who encountered difficulties like I did and let them know that they can make it through.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights!