The idea that we, as a collective, could make a fast jump from a male-dominated leadership environment to all of the sudden turning the tables is unrealistic. But it IS happening. As a collective, there are still remnants of patriarchy that invade the psychology of women in the workplace. Real estate is a beautiful opportunity for women to excel in leadership because we are a PEOPLE business, and intelligence and emotional intelligence work to the financial benefit of our clients and our colleagues. It’s a natural fit.
Asa part of my series about strong women leaders of the Real Estate industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Courtney Poulos, Broker/Owner of ACME Real Estate, a boutique design-focused brokerage headquartered in Los Angeles, CA. Courtney is a member of Forbes Real Estate Council, a repeat panelist at Inman Connect and Awesome Females in Real Estate, and is a panelist and emcee for the California Association of Realtors WomanUp!® Initiative. She recently was the host of FYI Network “My City’s Just Not That Into Me,” where she played real estate matchmaker with buyers and sellers nationwide. She has been selling real estate since 2005. She is a current member of the Board of Directors of Greater Los Angeles Realtors Association (GLAR).
Courtney’s stated mission is to help women achieve financial independence through real estate investment. Her latest book, Break Up! With Your Rental: The Professional Woman’s Guide to Building Wealth through Real Estate, is available nationwide. As co-founder of the Northeast Los Angeles Business Culture, Courtney brought together over 50 small business owners in a transforming neighborhood to create community and cross-promotional opportunities, applying social media marketing and outreach. Courtney hails from the East Coast, graduated from University of Maryland at College Park’s esteemed Philip Merrill College of Journalism with a degree in Journalism/Public Relations, and spent 9 years working in arts and entertainment public relations prior to entering real estate. In her free time, she enjoys being a mama, maintains the brokerage website for design and real estate, www.acme-re.com, military-style workouts, singing karaoke at dive bars, and enjoying a nice glass of Malbec under twinkle lights.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Courtney! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?
Ihad about a million jobs, everything from singer/actor to front desk reception, waitress, magazine editor, music industry marketing, PR, talent agent, and more! I found myself living paycheck to paycheck no matter how hard I was working. Finally, my last job before real estate was working at Federal government subcontractor in Washington, DC, which included mandatory human resources meetings, fluorescent lights, required lunch breaks, and manufactured inefficiency. I answered a craigslist ad for an assistant position and met an extraordinary woman, Polly Driscoll, a 28 year veteran of the real estate industry. She taught me the foundations of having a successful real estate business, to focus on the people, not the product, and to create an environment that nurtures repeat business and long term relationships. This has been instrumental in ACME’s success.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occured to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
OMG, there are so many. Once, I asked my assistant to attend a final walkthrough on my behalf, and when she showed up, there was a guy on the front porch with a machete, and a flood happening at the water line. Apparently the squatters next door had hacked into the water line for the house my buyers were buying, and they were trying to break in to stop the flood. Needless to say, my buyers did NOT proceed with that sale and my assistant nearly had a heart attack! I’ve seen quite a bit, I have had guns pulled on me while trying to show property, I’ve even shown properties that clearly had recently contained dead people/animals, with all the gag-inducing odors. Sometimes being a real estate agent, especially when you’re working with flippers/renovation artists, means untangling some hairy situations. One must be brave.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I AM! I recently wrote a book called, “Break Up! With Your Rental: The Professional Woman’s Guide to Building Wealth through Real Estate,” and am completing the online course that will complement the book. I’m so excited to share insider secrets and strategies, teaching young women how to take advantage of real estate as a wealth-builder, not just as the white-picket fence fantasy. Financial independence is the great equalizer, and I have found there is no simpler way to do it than through real estate acquisition, whether you’re buying to live in, flip, or hold as an income property. If you don’t come from money, you aren’t often taught about how it works. All debt is BAD and there’s a “work your way up” old school mentality. But it’s not WORKING for most people. The secret is, even on a $37,000 a year income, there is some house, some where, that you can buy and turn into a long term investment income stream.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
People always ask what ACME stands for, it’s not an acronym! Basically, at the beginning of my career in Los Angeles, I acquired a client who was an established and branded renovation artist. People knew his brand more than they knew me, so I wanted to put his branding and logo on the yard sign, with my agent and brokerage information at the bottom in smaller print. My broker said no. You see, for conventional brokers, that logo on the yard sign is like a billboard. They want the public to see the brokerage brand first. I wanted people to see my client’s brand first. So I got my broker’s license and started ACME, a generic brand name, to demonstrate that we put our CLIENT’S interests and branding ahead of our brokerage branding. We are a service brokerage, and we excel in distinctive marketing and promotion of our clients’ homes. It is a unique proposition.
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?
Polly Driscoll, I mentioned her in the first question. Back in 2005, when I got my license, I still had the paycheck to paycheck mentality, and that’s when I became Polly’s assistant. Polly had an established career and was close to retirement, she was head to toe in Ralph Lauren, and her shoulders were broad and wide at first meeting. I was so impressed by her authenticity and grace. I thought, “I want to be you when I grow up!” She had established systems, one of which was to send out client gifts on odd holidays, such as Valentine’s Day. As her assistant, I was responsible for ordering something like $8,000 worth of cookies from a fancy little bakery, packaging them with a personal note and mailing them to her past and current clients. $8,000 to me at the time was a million dollars, I couldn’t believe she spent that on cookies! But lo and behold, multiple new listings came from that mailing, earning plenty more than $8,000 in commission, and I started to look at the investment in my client base differently. I started to look at money differently. When your checks come in lump sums, you can pay off debts more easily, or make bigger marketing efforts that take a long-term vision. The most important thing Polly did other than teach me how to think about my own personal business and how to generate those relationships in the long term, is she pushed me to make my first real estate purchase. I didn’t think it was possible — but it totally was, and it started me off on a path to financial freedom. I am eternally grateful to her for that, and my gift is to share that with other women who think they can’t do it.
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?
It’s a multifaceted question. For one, historically, women have only in the past 50 years gained the right to get their own mortgages without a husband, for example! We are still fighting for equal pay in most industries, and for the right to our own agency in our personal and professional lives. Since the 1960’s, the post-normalcy single-male provider economic condition has been breaking down. We now have women in the workforce that are realizing their capabilities and effectiveness in leadership, which is why the gap, while it seems so large, is beginning to narrow. The idea that we, as a collective, could make a fast jump from a male-dominated leadership environment to all of the sudden turning the tables is unrealistic. But it IS happening. As a collective, there are still remnants of patriarchy that invade the psychology of women in the workplace. Real estate is a beautiful opportunity for women to excel in leadership because we are a PEOPLE business, and intelligence and emotional intelligence work to the financial benefit of our clients and our colleagues. It’s a natural fit. Initiatives such as the California Association of Realtors’ WomanUp! Initiative are providing the groundwork, training, mentorship and guidance to inspire and encourage women who have the instinct for leadership, but have not been trained inside the industry thus far. We are making headway every day, and must continue to nurture this narrowing gap toward equality.
What 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender balance going forward?
- Encourage, train, and promote from talent within the company. Seek agents and executives that show initiative and emotional intelligence, who can lead with a hybrid male/female leadership energy and who seek to impact and inspire their colleagues and recruits toward leadership (an abundance model).
- Hold male and female employees to the same accountability standards. No more, “Boys will be boys.” Adhere to a culture of respect, and convey this accountability during the hiring and firing process.
- Create pathways to financial success and independence, such as through real estate, so that as a collective we can alleviate ourselves of the “Cinderella syndrome” and focus more on our inherent strengths and capabilities independent of marital status. Financial education is a must.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Ha! I remember once being chased around my office by one of my bosses…not sure what he thought would happen if he actually caught me! I’ve never seen that happen to a man!
Biggest challenges include:
- Constant mansplaining. Ugh, this one is the worst. I have been seated at panels, for example, where every time I would attempt to make a comment or express a position, I was silenced or talked over by a man in leadership who wanted to make it clear to me that I was inferior or unqualified to finish my sentence.
- Focus on exterior appearance. Women, even in the real estate industry, are held to a different standard of “prove-it” professionalism. I have been known to call my heels “work boots” but still… we are barely out of the shoulder pad era! Of course, everyone has their own style, so if you want to wear suits every day, do it! But our external beauty, weight, etc. should not be a consideration of our value or talent.
- Being called a “girl.” This one is frustrating. I was at a home inspection (representing the seller) and I asked the inspector how the foundation inspection was going. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it, girl. Leave this to me.” I wanted to vomit. At the time, I was 37 years old. I’m not a girl, and I don’t expect to be called one so you can feel dominant.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry?
Real estate is inventive! We impact our clients’ lives! As individuals, we have an opportunity to share our lessons learned and contribute to others’ growth!
The creativity of my design and renovation clients is so inspiring. In each moment we have the opportunity to transform neighborhoods, homes, and income streams. We are able to promote equality in the housing market, and gender equity in our industry without fear, and we can encourage leadership from within. Real estate is one industry where you get out of it what you put into it, and I’m just so thrilled to be able to create new pathways to success for my clients and agents, and to support my colleagues in other markets in their growth, too! It really is a 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 that rookie agents aren’t being trained in ethics and professionalism.
- I’m concerned that we don’t have nationwide MLS standards, and most MLS systems are privately owned and operated. For example, we need days on market count to stop the moment an offer is accepted. In some places it does, in other places it doesn’t. The days on market data is therefore unreliable.
- I’m concerned that in the environment of “e-buyers”, the public doesn’t understand what the risks/rewards of alternative purchasing methods are, and will find themselves upset if they find out later on that money has been left on the table.
- We can’t have brokers be the “police” for their own agents. It’s like the police policing the police. It doesn’t work. Brokers, especially as they are competing for recruitment numbers, do not want to risk losing a warm body. Lately, I have had several transactions where even a conversation with the cooperating broker did not resolve the issues. There needs to be more accountability.
- Transparency in offer submission. I propose an electronic submission receipt so that buyers know their offer was submitted, and sellers know they are submitting all offers.
- Clearer pathways to make change. All Realtors need to know to whom they can submit their ideas. Our industry, our tech, and our public are constantly changing so we cannot stay stuck in the 90s with our mechanisms!
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
Get involved! I have learned so much from my involvement with the WomanUp! Initiative and in my capacity as Board Member of the Greater Los Angeles Realtor Association. It is important to have one ear on the ground, so your position is relevant, but also to understand what decisions are being made at the state and local levels that can impact your brokerage.
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?
- One must see beyond the paycheck. That means hiring great inspectors, not just the easy ones, negotiating (sometimes uncomfortably) for an issue or repair that is truly of importance to your buyers and sellers, performing ethically, even in difficult situations where a client is pressing you to make a bad call. You have to take a long term vision. Your clients will remember your knowledge, your strength and your diplomacy, and will respect you more if you see beyond the one house, one paycheck.
- You don’t have to dress up every day to be taken seriously. I have met a ton of super successful agents who have tattoos, wear sneakers, etc. and are perfectly adored by their clients and colleagues. It’s most important that you leave an impression of confidence and competence.
- A phone call can go a long way. We text too much and leave too much tone to interpretation. Sometimes a simple phone call can diffuse a situation easily. If you aren’t comfortable on the phone, practice! I know of one super successful agent who doesn’t even use a CRM, she just picks up the phone every day and does a couple of client calls per day. She sustains her relationships that way.
- Audit your social media. I know it’s a torrential downpour of real estate listings on most feeds, but the more diversity and curated content on that feed, the more eyes and likes you will receive. If exposure is what you need, make a name for yourself with great content. Reach out to local businesses in your neighborhood and profile them, be that person people know in your area by stepping out from behind the computer and crosspromoting. It’s free, and it’s so effective.
- Stand your ground. Desperation is a turn off. I only work with clients who commit to me, exclusively. If you treat your time as valuable, so will your clients, and they will be honored to receive your time and attention. A lot of beginner agents turn into door openers, at ACME I teach my agents how add value and establish their own value in a way that brings esteem to all parties.
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. 🙂
My personal passion cause is teaching professional women how to create wealth through real estate. In my experience, most of us are not trained in how to manage money or how to grow our wealth. We jump out of college into professional careers, we are sold a 401K, and use our bonuses on disposable goods and travel. It’s time to take a grown up approach to how we spend our money, and that means buying real estate. Whether to live in, flip, or as a longer term investment opportunity, real estate makes it possible for women to create their own nest egg, so to speak — to save themselves, to build their own wealth independent of any partner. This kind of financial confidence allows us to make smarter decisions in our lives, including careers and partners, and breaks us, as a collective, out of the gender-jail most of us were trained to accept as a condition. Money is the great equalizer, and we deserve to have our agency, our creativity, and our prowess rewarded. Buy wherever you can, whenever you can (within reason, of course), and break out of the idea that you have to buy where you live! Investments can happen nationwide.
How can our readers follow you online?
@breakupwithyourrental, @acmerealestate, acme-re.com, breakupwithyourrental.com
Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights!