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“The number one thing is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes” with Jason Hartman & Tami Bonnell

Make it personal. I’ve had the privilege of breaking records and I can tell you that the number one thing is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Do homework on the person, not just on the product so you get to know the individual. People want a trusted advisor, but they’re not going to […]

Make it personal. I’ve had the privilege of breaking records and I can tell you that the number one thing is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Do homework on the person, not just on the product so you get to know the individual. People want a trusted advisor, but they’re not going to trust someone if there is no relationship.


As a part of my series about strong women leaders of the Real Estate industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tami Bonnell.

Tami Bonnell is an internationally renowned speaker and 30-plus-year veteran in the real estate industry. She is an information junkie and is passionate about investing in people. Tami is an active member of the National Women’s Council of REALTORS®, NAWRB’s Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council and was honored by STEMconnector® as one of its 100 Corporate Women Leaders in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Instrumental in building 3 major brands, Tami joined EXIT Realty Corp. International in 1999 and was appointed CEO in 2012.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?

MyDad brought me to the real estate industry; he was a developer and builder. Sometimes we had breakfast for dinner and sometimes we had steak for dinner depending on the economy. We went through extreme highs and lows and I’ve been fascinated by the business ever since I was a kid. I used to beg to go with him to collect rents on Saturdays and I used to beg to watch him at the planning board. I always knew this was something I wanted to do. As soon as I was around 13 years old, I started cleaning houses on site for builders. A salesperson made a mistake one day and I was able to step in — that’s how I started selling houses. I think it was in my blood from the very beginning.

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?

After I became a manager of other people, one day I had arranged for a man to come in for an interview. I was sitting at the front desk because the receptionist had to leave to tend to a family emergency. He started calling me sweetheart and asked if I’d mind getting him a cup of coffee, which I did, and he then said, “I’ll put in a good word for you with your boss. I’m here for an interview.” Then I introduced myself. He looked like he was going to fall through the floor.

From that day forward, every time I interviewed someone I asked the receptionist to leave and I took her place at the front desk because I decided that how the candidate treated the receptionist was an indication of how they would behave in their role.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Wehave a lot of new leaders coming on board who are incredibly well qualified for their job. In the coming year I have a tremendous number of speaking engagements with opportunities for education working with groups to help empower women to take more active roles in leadership, whether by being broker/owners or managers, or becoming regional owners.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

EXIT Realty is a company built on human potential. Our business model which provides an opportunity for EXIT associates to earn single-level residual income above and beyond their commission means they are giving to charity, putting their kids through school, buying a second home — our people are making their dreams come true. We truly have a heart at EXIT and the following story is one of many examples:

Chuck and Kathy owned regional rights plus a brokerage. When Chuck suffered a heart attack, they sold the brokerage to Chris and Joe so they could concentrate on the region. Chris was sponsored* into EXIT by Chuck and Kathy’s daughter-in-law, Patricia, who is an agent with EXIT. Chuck and Kathy’s son was involved in a head-on collision with Patricia and their children in the car and suffered severe brain injuries preventing his return to work.

Chuck and Kathy then sold the region to Chris and Joe so they could be good parents and grandparents, spending their time with their family where they were needed most. At the time of the accident, Patricia had 13 transactions in process. Chris sent out an emergency email and the magic of our company is that within 15 minutes, all 13 of those transactions were handled by other agents in the brokerage and not a single one of them took a penny in referral fees. They just did the right thing and shepherded the deals all the way through closing to make sure Patricia got paid.

Because Chris was sponsored into EXIT by Patricia, EXIT Realty Corp. International pays her the equivalent of 10% of the gross commission Chris closes to a maximum of $10,000 per year. The year of the accident, Chris hit his cap by June knowing that the money Patricia received from EXIT’s head office would pay her mortgage. Every year he challenges himself to cap as quickly as he can so he knows their mortgage is covered.

Everyone was willing to do whatever it takes, and to me, that’s the heart of EXIT.

*For information about EXIT’s unique business model, please visit joinexitrealty.com or text 4MM to 85377.

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?

There are so many people I credit, but the story I would like to share involves a gentleman named John Burchette.

Many years ago, my brother was hit by a car on the highway after his car broke down. He was unconscious for a couple of weeks and they weren’t sure if he was going to make it. He was in the hospital for months, undergoing 22 reconstructive surgeries, and passed away as a result of complications following the 22nd.

I was managing a lot of people for John at the time, and I said, “I’m going to have to take a leave of absence because I need to make sure my brother is taken care of.” John replied, “I’m going to keep paying you. You can do homework at the library on some new projects I’m working on. You do whatever is necessary. You’ve already made me more money than I will ever pay you because I’m a good businessperson, but I’m also a human being. You deserve this.” I remember leaving there crying and saying to myself, “That’s the kind of leader I want to be.”

I was fortunate later to become involved with EXIT and our Founder and Chairman, Steve Morris, who is also that kind of leader. He chooses to put people first and it turns out that putting people first is an excellent business model.

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?

Two things. First, I believe the imbalance is caused by lack of exposure more than anything else. People need to see themselves represented and unfortunately, in the real estate industry the 60%-67% of women see that broker/owners or people in leadership positions are men. It’s the way we’ve always done it, so until now, women haven’t raised their hand very much.

We are doing everything in our power to change this and so are other groups. I feel very optimistic about the Women’s Council of REALTORS’® “POWER” initiative (Providing Opportunities for Women Entrepreneurs in Real Estate) where I am often a speaker. WomanUP!® which started with the California Association of REALTORS® also helps give women that exposure.

The second thing involves catching people doing something good. When you see someone doing something good, help them see their potential. People become what we tell them they can be.

Thankfully we are starting to see a shift.

What 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support greater gender balance going forward?

Ibelieve the three things are exposure, experience and awareness as discussed earlier. When you see someone doing something and you believe they have the talent to be doing something bigger, you need to speak up and say so.

Companies can show they have diversity in their leadership, and society can do the same thing.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Ibelieve it’s unconscious bias. All of us have preconceived notions from how we were raised; it could be the environment, our parents or the school system. When I first started working on the road, people would ask if I had permission from my husband to be there.

People have been used to seeing men in leadership positions for so long that when they see women in those roles, their biases kick in. Likewise, if women haven’t been exposed to those experiences and role models, often they don’t speak up as much as they should.

Studies show that we’re more likely to trust and relate to people who look, sound or feel like us.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry?

Home ownership actually changes and adds value to communities, and it can change the entire trajectory of a family by helping to build wealth. When there is ownership, people take pride in that ownership and they want to participate in the community.

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’m concerned about people who are too focused on money so they’re not doing the right thing.

The barrier of entry to the business is too low so people don’t get in for the right reasons.

This is a relationship business and a lot of companies are coming in with a focus on technology and market share which I believe does a disservice for the consumer.

What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?

Put yourself in their shoes so you understand where they’re coming from. Communication isn’t me giving you information, it’s you understanding the information I’m giving you.

Paint a picture for your team so they can see themselves bigger because people become what we tell them they can be.

Humanity and humility matter.

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?

Ihave four points to share.

#1 Make it personal. I’ve had the privilege of breaking records and I can tell you that the number one thing is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Do homework on the person, not just on the product so you get to know the individual. People want a trusted advisor, but they’re not going to trust someone if there is no relationship. So often people want to jump right in to making a presentation instead of getting to know that human being and finding out what is really important to them.

#2 Have knowledge at a 30,000-foot view so you can have a picture of the trends and potentially spot windows of opportunity, a 2,000-foot (state) view for trends closer to home and at a street level view of your local market. For example, the luxury market is down about 36% so if I were entering the business today, luxury wouldn’t be the first niche I would jump into.

#3 Be aware of where your talent lies. It’s important to know what you’re good at naturally. Are you a good networker? Are you great with technology? Are you good with math which might mean you should work with investors?

#4 Have a six-week action plan. Block off four hours every six weeks to work on your business, not in it, but make sure you work on both your business and your life. This business can take control because it’s a career where you’re responsible for yourself. All of a sudden, business dominates and you’re not finding the joy in your life but the joy actually makes other people more attracted to you because you have a work/life balance.

The best example I can offer goes back to the recession. Let’s say you knew ahead of time that things were shifting because you had that 30,000-foot view and you could see that there were going to be a lot of foreclosures. You knew that making connections with representatives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be ideal for those circumstances and you built a relationship with them first. Let’s also say that you did homework on your clients and developed empathy so that if they had to deal with a foreclosure you could help them go through it as gracefully as possible. How much better off would your business have been and how many more clients would you have gained because you became a confidante and a true trusted advisor?

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. 🙂

Ifeveryone put themselves in the other person’s shoes and led with their heart so they made all their decisions from a position of love, imagine how much better everything would be.

How can our readers follow you online?

Please visit www.tamibonnell.com

Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights!

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