You have to be a “rainmaker.” People are not going to find you. You have to find them. Many people who join the business are not capable of developing the relationships necessary to drive the business. It’s a lot of time, effort and investment in people.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders of the Real Estate industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lori Arnold.
Lori Arnold is broker/owner of Coldwell Banker Apex, Realtors®, the largest woman-owned Coldwell Banker in the U.S. The Texas firm started as one office with five agents and has grown to 19 offices with over 900 agents. In 2019, Lori was elected chairperson by the members of the Coldwell Banker MOB (Multi-Office Brokers), which represents the top 10 Coldwell Banker brokers in the U.S. She is the first woman to ever be in this role.
Lori grew up in a real estate family and began her career at 19. By the age of 27, she transitioned from a top producer into the role of the broker of her parents’ company, Apex Realty, and the company later joined Coldwell Banker in 1993. Coldwell Banker Apex, Realtors® has grown into a third-generation, family-run business that was on track to close over 9,000 transactions in 2019. Coldwell Banker Apex, Realtors® also has an award-winning, full-time relocation department and a property management division that services over 1,100 tenants. Coldwell Banker Apex, Realtors® is proud to be the largest woman-owned Coldwell Banker in the US.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?
Myparents owned a small real estate firm. I swore I would never be involved as I saw how “all consuming” real estate can be. I thought my mom was so single-minded and everywhere I went with her, she seemed to know everyone and all she could talk about was real estate. What I learned after many years in real estate is that those conversations were actually started by others, as most people have a true interest in the real estate market. People want to know how interest rates are doing, what the market is like in general, and most importantly, what price their neighbor’s home sold for! I actually started in real estate while in college at the age of 19. I always tell people that I sure hope this works out as it is the only thing I know, having spent a lifetime in the industry! I do still love it as much today as I did when I started.
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?
My most interesting story really falls under the category of inspirational. As I mentioned before, my parents started their own real estate firm when I was about 12 years old. But what I did not share was the reason behind opening their own firm. My dad was blind. He lost his sight as a young man after serving in the army. He and my mother took a huge risk by deciding to get their real estate licenses and open their own company. My mother was a force of nature and a very strong woman who helped carry our family financially due to my dad’s blindness. My dad was so intelligent. He ran the backend of the operations at the time. He could remember anything and recite our clients’ names and phone numbers to us by memory. Both my mom and dad defied the odds in their own way. My mom was selling 100+ houses a year alone, without the support of today’s technology. In fact, the local Association of Realtors® gave a monthly award for the top producer, until she earned it so many times in a row, they discontinued the award. Later in my career, I hired a manager who told me this story because she had hoped to win the award but never did! I took away so many lessons, but I think the overwhelming one was that obstacles are not meant to stop you from doing something, they are simply put there to allow you to learn things that you might not learn any other way. I also learned that our attitude determines everything. My parents could have both taken the attitude of defeat, that life was unfair, and why was this happening to them? But neither one did. They improved their life, their children’s lives and set the foundation for what would become the largest woman-owned Coldwell Banker in the US.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
It’s an exciting time in our company’s growth history. We have had the privilege to grow the markets we serve over the last couple of years. Currently, we are expanding to three new markets. It took our company 22 years to hit our first billion-dollar year in sales but the second billion only took four years. Last year our sales were up by half a billion compared to the year before. For us, each one of those sales represents a family whose life we helped to improve.
Bringing the Apex Advantage to agents so they can grow their business is exciting as well. We have spent the last decade building backend and marketing systems that really catapult agents’ careers. About a year ago, I had an agent reach out to thank me for helping to transform her business after she made the switch from another real estate firm. Her business had increased by over 100% in just one year. Her story prompted us to review the hires we had made and we saw that we had over 90 agents with similar stories. I couldn’t have been prouder! The increase in the income for those families is important. I believe that money is not the end-all but the beginning for many families. Once families can cover their needs, they often will reach out into their communities to cover the needs of others and a very important cycle begins.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think our company stands out because it is founded on family and relationships. Today, I have over 900 of the most dedicated, caring and kind real estate agents and staff that take the responsibility of serving our clients very seriously. One of the reasons I affiliated my small company at the time with Coldwell Banker was that the company’s founding principles resonated with me. Coldwell Banker was born out of the ashes of the Great Earthquake and devastating fires in San Francisco in 1906. The founding partners chose a philosophy to “put the client’s interest above all else.” In our market, there are not many family-owned, large companies left. My son and daughter-in-law are now integral parts of our company as the third generation. Servant leadership is practiced in our company every day by our staff and associates. Another way we are different is the longevity of the agents. Real estate agents are known for changing brokerages frequently. We are a relationship-based company and have deep, lasting relationships with the amazing people who work here.
Sales organizations often experience issues with the ego that some salespeople may have. We decided over a decade ago that we would hire only the most ethical agents with high standards of integrity. We also decided we would only hire kind, dedicated agents who would put the clients’ needs first. Lastly, we decided that our organization would no longer hire divas. Divas come in all shapes, sizes and are both male and female. We don’t care how much real estate they sell; they will need to sell it for another brokerage. With over 900 agents, I can truly say we don’t waste time with intra-company politics of any kind. I love how my agents love one another and our staff. It’s a beautiful thing that few companies can truly say.
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?
I have had so many people contribute to my success, but one always stands out. In 1993, when I first affiliated my small company with Coldwell Banker, I was assigned a business consultant. I was so young and naïve, I thought he was my personal business consultant and I was his only client. His name is Tom Lainson. He truly taught me everything I know about leadership and running a quality organization. He was so patient. I had a real “ah-ha” moment a few years ago when Coldwell Banker wanted to do a promotional video on my company. In talking with the production company, I mentioned the mentorship I was so fortunate to receive from Tom. The production company wanted to focus on my coaching programs for my staff. They asked how I learned to coach and what was the coaching modeled after? It was that day that I tied the mentorship to more than the success of my company. I realized I was emulating the wonderful coaching I had received from Tom. I owe him so much for the kindness and care he showed me as a young owner of my company.
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?
This may be the hardest question that I am asked regularly and still don’t know that I have the answer nailed down. Some people will say it’s because women take time away from work during the years their children are young but I’m not sure if that is really it. I believe it’s more subtle than that. I believe we all tend to hire in our likeness. Because so many owners are men, I think they tend to hire men into leadership more than women. I think it’s something we all must be aware of, and make sure we’re considering all qualified candidates equally for leadership positions.
What 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support greater gender balance going forward?
- Develop a general awareness that women are qualified and interested in senior level positions.
- Mentor both men and women so the candidate pool is full of qualified people as the leadership positions open within your organization.
- Look inward for the subtle biases that may exist that you have never thought about. Being open and discussing these things sometimes helps you realize that you may not be giving everyone the opportunity they deserve.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I think the biggest challenge is women often have a hard time “finding their voice.” So many women have been raised to be agreeable and to go with the program. Women who are assertive can sometimes be viewed differently than men who are assertive. Finding your voice is important. You don’t have to be disagreeable to have a point of view to share. It’s all in how you share it.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry?
- First time homebuyers always excite me. There is nothing like purchasing your first home. It can be the beginning of financial stability for a family. It’s a place where memories are made. We are lucky to be a part of one of life’s biggest decisions.
- It excites me that my agents are busy building communities. It’s more than just a house when people relocate to our area. I have an agent who understands how daunting it is to move from another state. She went out of her way to see that her client’s every need was met, including stocking their refrigerator, making sure they had lists of service providers such as doctors, and even overseeing the moving truck on moving day so the family could just enjoy spending time in their new home for the first time. That is understanding that a home is just one piece of the community puzzle.
- I am always excited about the entrepreneurial nature of the real estate business and how it can change a family’s future. By taking a risk and working hard, real estate provides an avenue that can often increase a family’s income substantially. Watching those changes happen for families is exciting. It’s also one of the highest paying professions for women with the skills to succeed, and opens all kinds of new avenues for women. I have so many single moms who earn a fantastic living while having the flexibility to be present for their children.
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?
- I’d like to see more rigorous standards when it comes to getting a real estate license. These real estate transactions are so important for the clients that agents really need to be experts in all things real estate. And with all sorts of new technology disrupting the business, consumers are raising their expectations even more. It’s important for agents to be able to meet, if not exceed these expectations in order to find success in this industry.
- Limited service agencies are a concern. Often the clients choosing these companies do not get the representation they deserve. My son’s last home was listed by a limited service agency. The property was on the market substantially under market value. It was listed wrong on MLS in an area that did not attract attention. We found it by accident. Once we got to know the owner, it became clear they had no idea their agent had not priced their home properly. They lost a substantial amount of money as the company was located in another area and totally unfamiliar with the area in which they listed the house. That should never happen to a consumer.
- iBuyer programs that do not paint a true picture to the consumer. They advertise their offers are “market value” when common sense tells you that no one can buy houses to flip at “market value” and stay in business. Many have hidden fees that only reveal themselves deep into the transaction, often when the consumer has already committed to purchasing another home and has no choice but to move forward. The lack of transparency is a detrimental to the consumer. However, Coldwell Banker’s iBuyer program, RealSure, is completely transparent. There are cases where someone may want to sell their home as quickly and as easily as possible, even if they’re willing to take a cut on price. With RealSure the consumer receives a cash offer for their home that is valid for 45 days, but also sees what the home is predicted to get if it is marketed with agent expertise. This gives the consumer the comfort to sell their home at any time, while also being fully transparent about what their home could get if they work with an agent.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
I think you must have high standards and goals. A clear vision of where your team is going and why they are going there. The “why” behind what we all do is important. Work occupies a huge number of hours for all of us and we all want to know that the time invested meets with our own personal “why.”
I also think leaders need to invest in the leaders of the company. Strong mentoring and providing resources for success is so important.
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?
- It’s more than “loving people” and “loving houses.” We often hear those two phrases when a new agent wants to enter the business. Because every agent is an independent contractor, they are running a business within a business. Not only do you have to enjoy people and houses, you have to learn to run a business.
- Resilience. TV real estate reality shows make real estate look easy. The ups and downs of individual transactions and daily activities make the emotions of real estate hard to handle. One has to be resilient to be in the business. Industry stats say that 87% of people who join the business today won’t be here in five years. That is a crazy high turnover. Resilience helps.
- You have to be a “rainmaker.” People are not going to find you. You have to find them. Many people who join the business are not capable of developing the relationships necessary to drive the business. It’s a lot of time, effort and investment in people.
- Realizing how much you do not know and having a passion to keep learning is key to a successful agent. Even after 38 years in the business, I learn new things every single day. A passion for career-long learning is a must.
- Picking the company that will help you succeed is such a key factor. The finances of real estate are much more complex than new agents realize. There are multiple factors they should consider and often the cheapest firm to work for is where your bottom line will be the lowest. Finding the right fit is key.
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. 🙂
I believe it’s crucial to provide affordable housing for our society. Working with great organizations like Habitat for Humanity to provide affordable housing for deserving families who work to obtain their homes and donate hours to help others obtain a home. I encourage more people to get involved. Meeting the people who have received homes from the donations of my agents and our company has really opened my eyes to the need. It’s also opened my eyes to the tremendous impact owning a home has on a family’s financial future in ways beyond the mortgage. It is a life-changing experience for the families who receive these homes.
A few years ago, one of my manager’s parents was in the hospital. While she was spending time there with her parent, she spoke about how she worked for Coldwell Banker Apex Realtors®. The nurse stopped and asked her to repeat the name of her company. The nurse went on to tell her that she and her family were the recipients of one of the homes Coldwell Banker Apex had built. She told her how it changed her family’s future forever. Because they had a home they could afford they had the ability to save money for her to go to school and become a nurse. Her husband also went back to school. It really showed me how much homeownership can change a family’s trajectory!
How can our readers follow you online?
Company Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/coldwellbankerapex/